The Tarzan origin story is told in this lavish 1984 big-screen adaptation. Based on the novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Stars Christopher Lambert, Ian Holm, Andie MacDowell, and Sir Ralph Richardson.
Directed by Hugh Hudson
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes may not be considered the definitive film version of the literary classic, but it is a very good, and very underrated, film in its own right.
Released in 1984, the film doesn’t stick to some of the tentpoles of the Tarzan story we all know. Instead, the story focuses on Tarzan’s acceptance, and then rejection, of his civilized, human self. We do see some of his journey to claim his place as leader of the apes and then “king of the jungle,” as it were, but this is only in the early part of the film.
The film spends a considerable amount of time between Tarzan and D’Arnot (Ian Holm), as he teaches Tarzan the English language and convinces him to go with him to England. After an extended (and unnecessary) sequence in which the pair run into trouble at an outpost on the edge of the African wilderness, Tarzan finally arrives in “civilization,” where the story truly gets going.
It’s not that the jungle segment of Greystoke isn’t well done (because it is), but the story moves along rather slowly, and the real strength of this film is the second half. I do realize it is odd to say that the best part of Tarzan’s story doesn’t take place in the jungle, but it is when we see his character arc fully play out. We see Tarzan’s personal struggle, and the outstanding cinematography gives the film an authentic, epic backdrop.
The film does divert from the books by not having Jane (Andie McDowell) actually in the jungle when Tarzan is discovered, which really affects the motivation for these two to fall in love. It is also odd that McDowell’s voice was dubbed over, supposedly to sound more “British” – by Glenn Close, no less.
Director Hugh Hudson, who also directed the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, gives the film the proper gravitas and look, and he certainly managed to get some fine performances from the cast. Sir Ralph Richardson (who plays Lord Greystoke, Tarzan’s grandfather) is excellent in what turned out to be his final role. He injected enough heart and soul into a role that shouldn’t have had much, and he was rewarded posthumously with both Oscar and BAFTA nominations for Best Supporting Actor.
Christopher Lambert, whose acting is often criticized as too wooden, is actually quite good as Tarzan. His stoic demeanor actually suits the Tarzan character well, and when he goes “primal,” his performance is far more effective. Ian Holm is great, as usual, as D’Arnot, Tarzan’s mentor and father figure.
There are some issues with the artistic license both producers and director Hugh Hudson took. The pacing is too slow, and the story gets needlessly diverted. The decision to use blatant male nudity for the young actors playing Tarzan is a bit uncomfortable. I wouldn’t have minded sacrificing realism for some well-placed foliage or having him “discover” clothing. There is also more animal-oriented violence than you would expect for a PG film, so it is not suitable for younger children. These issues, however, don’t ruin the film, and the good outweighs the bad. John Scott’s score deserves a mention; it’s incredibly good.
I somehow never managed to see Greystoke before getting the Blu-ray, and I must admit, it is a far better film than I’ve heard. It may not be the perfect Tarzan film, but it is a solid film in its own right, and deserves to be discovered by a new generation of film fans.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Newly remastered for this Blu-ray release, the film looks much better than you would expect, but it does show considerable grain. While the video does well for the most part, you can see its limits in darker jungle scenes and whenever smoke appears on screen. The grain is quite visible, and the video compression struggles to show detail at times. In brighter scenes, the video is quite good, with natural color tones and excellent detail.
The audio is a new DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack, and sounds great. While the quality of some audio elements (like voice-overs) seems a bit tinny, the sound is full and deep, especially the score by John Scott.
An audio commentary by director Hugh Hudson and producer Garth Thomas is pretty informative, and the pair keep the conversation going throughout. You won’t hear many major revelations, but their stories from the set and insight into how many of the scenes are interesting. A theatrical trailer is also included.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR REDBOX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)
Overall Grade: 6.5
Greystoke is a much better film than its reputation may imply. Tarzan purists may have issues, but everyone else will likely enjoy it. The Blu-ray provides a nice video and audio upgrade compared to past DVD releases, though it isn’t perfect. If you haven’t seen the film before, here’s your chance. It is worth watching.
Release Date: July 16, 2013
Running time: 137 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Special features: Theatrical trailer
Audio Commentary: Participants include director Hugh Hudson and associate producer Garth Thomas
Label: Warner Archive