A shipping disaster in the 19th Century has stranded a man and woman in the wilds of Africa. The lady is pregnant, and gives birth to a son in their tree house. Soon after, a family of apes stumble across the house and in the ensuing panic, both parents are killed. A female ape takes the tiny boy as a replacement for her own dead infant, and raises him as her son. Twenty years later, Captain Phillippe D'Arnot discovers the man who thinks he is an ape. Evidence in the tree house leads him to believe that he is the direct descendant of the Earl of Greystoke, and thus takes it upon himself to return the man to civilization.
John, John, John of the jungle. Upon release mixed notices greeted this attempt to get to the crux of Edgar Rice Burroughs' jungle man creation, The Lord of the Apes, Tarzan. It's a bold movie in many ways, one of those occasions when a fondly thought of character from days of yore is given the serious make - over treatment. Which as film history tells us is often very tricky. Plot trajectory has a lost child of the British aristocracy reared by apes in the African jungle after his parents were shipwrecked there. Feral but wonderfully skilled with it, the child becomes a feral man of some substance, but when he is discovered by explorers he is taken to Britain and his ancestral home. Lord Greystoke becomes his title, but his loyalties, confusion and emotions continue to pull him in two directions. The story as written obviously becomes a two-parter. The first part is the best as Greystoke is born into the jungle and we are up close and personal with the ape community. The action is very well marshalled, the effects work of a high quality, and the realisation of the situational dynamics is superb. Not forgetting, either, some mighty emotional thumps as the dangers of mother nature's creatures tugs away at the old heart strings, the rules and brutality of the jungle given weighty filmic thrust. Shifting gear to the "jungle man in aristocracy Britain" thread, the pace slows down considerably as Greystoke dons a tux and gets the hots for Miss Jane Potter. It's this section of film that proves problematic. Narrative is bogged down by philosophical brain farts, further compounded by Andie MacDowell's (Jane) voice being dubbed by Glenn Close and the fake noises coming out of Christopher Lambert's (Greystoke) mouth, they are both very disconcerting issues. Thankfully Ralph Richardson (in his last film before he passed away) is on hand as Grandfather Greystoke to give the pic a warm and tender center. Tech credits are a mixed bag, with John Alcott's photography impressive on both continents and Rick Baker & Paul Engelen's makeup work is from the high end. Sadly, John Scott's musical score is not nearly epic enough, while director Hugh Hudson is guilty as charged when it comes to not keeping seamless the transitional change over from jungle to mainland, more so as the great Ian Holm gets short shrift here. What a waste! Yet it's a film that's easy to warm too. Stirring and touching in equal measure, it has enough qualities to off-set the flaws. 7/10