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  Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes King Of The Swingers
Year: 1984
Director: Hugh Hudson
Stars: Christopher Lambert, Ian Holm, Ralph Richardson, Andie MacDowell, James Fox, John Wells, Nigel Davenport, Ian Charleson, Paul Geoffrey, Cheryl Campbell, David Suchet, Nicholas Farrell, Richard Griffiths
Genre: Drama, Historical, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 4 votes)
Review: In the late eighteenth century, survivors of a shipwreck off the African coast are two British aristocrats: the heir to the Earl of Greystoke and his wife. When they die, only their baby son is left alone in the jungle to be adopted by a chimpanzee who has lost her own baby. The boy grows to be the leader of the tribe of chimpanzees he has joined, until one day a British expedition happens to find him - and when they realise who he is, they mean to bring him back home...

This "I want you to take me very seriously" version of the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic apeman stories was based on a script by Robert Towne. When Towne was removed from the project, he replaced his credit with that of his dog, which shares the screen with writer Michael Austin's name. Throughout the film, the hero is never referred to as Tarzan, which is some indication of the high ideals the drama has.

At over two hours, the film is far too long; the first half shows Tarzan's adventures in the jungle among the apes who spend their time either eating or beating each other up. The second half details his return home as Lord Greystoke, and his attempt to fit into "civilised" society back in Britain. The contrast between these two worlds is the main concern, showing that the humans can be as savage as the animals, while losing marks for believing their superiority over nature (there's an anti-vivisection motif in there, too). Tarzan, although he strikes up some close relationships with people, just can't reconcile this side of humanity with the uncomplicated life of the jungle.

So essentially Greystoke is turned into an adoption story, when Tarzan has to choose between the family that brought him up and the family he is related to. Heavy-handed and drawn-out as all that is, there are three performances that prevent it being a complete disaster. Ian Holm's Belgian explorer, who Tarzan saves, strikes the right note of compassion. Ralph Richardson, as Tarzan's grandfather, is charming and eccentric. And Christopher Lambert really should have been in a better adaptation, endearing and noble as the intuitive apeman struggling to come to terms with his unconventional upbringing and the burden of his responsibilities.

By filming the story straight, it constantly threatens to look ridiculous: for example, how does Tarzan's real father find the energy to build that big treehouse? When Holm teaches Lambert to shave, you wonder why he's bothering as Tarzan has been mysteriously beard-free for the whole film. The apeman's talent for mimicry makes you muse upon what his Frank Spencer would be like. And the "loss of parents" theme is overemphasised to the extent that just about every parental figure we see ends up dead.

If Greystoke is a failure, it is at least an interesting and ambitious one. The actors playing the apes are effective, and Rick Baker's chimpanzee suits look good from a distance, even if they're not quite as convincing close up. Jane is bland (Andie MacDowell is obviously dubbed by Glenn Close) and I'd have liked to have seen this Tarzan pitted against some great white hunters, but you just have to look at the Bo Derek Tarzan to see how to really mishandle this enduring tale. Music by John Scott.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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