In its never-ending quest to find recognizable properties to reboot, remake, and recycle, the Tarzan has had its share of ups and downs. Across the 1930s and 1940s, Johnny Weissmuller starred in 12 Tarzan films, and a number of lesser-known actors starred in another 12 movies and a TV show. In modern times, however, the series has failed to gain traction: a two-part relaunch in the 1990s was unsuccessful, and a subsequent live-action effort has been in development since 2003 with no obvious progress toward production. The most successful Tarzan since Weissmuller's was probably Disney's, which made a significant chunk of change and spawned two direct-to-video sequels, but doesn't seem to be a particularly celebrated entry in the studio's catalog. The most recent effort is this, Constantin Film's 2013 CGI animated Tarzan, which was meant to be a major 3D release but only scored some small runs overseas before being dumped to Blu-ray in the US. It's no wonder, too: this one's a limp stinker.
In this version, which the box copy proudly says is "completely reimagined for a new generation", Tarzan is a contemporary kid, temporarily living in the jungle while his father (Mark Deklin) assists James Porter (Les Bubb) in his search for the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs, which, for reasons totally unexplained by the film, hold some sort of otherworldly power that could provide a source of energy for the entire world, if properly harnessed. Unfortunately, Tarzan's dad and mom (Jaime Ray Newman) are both killed when their helicopter is sucked into a magnetic field created by the meteor. Over the years, Porter remains in the jungle, working as a tour guide while he continues his search, visited intermittently by his daughter Jane (Spencer Locke), who immediately catches the young boy's eye. One day, Jane returns, accompanied by William Clayton (Joe Cappelletti), the greedy CEO now in charge of Tarzan's father's company, who is also looking to find the meteor and take control of its power.
In theory, evil businessmen coming to the jungle to do greedy things is nothing new for the Tarzan series, but this iteration is over-the-top and underwritten at the same time. It seems to take place in the real world, then introduces the meteorite, which we see killing the dinosaurs in a pre-title segment that clearly exists just to get dinosaurs in the movie (as it flies in, watch for a clear glimpse of the continents on Earth still broken up as they are today). The meteor creates a giant spooky-looking land mass the size of a small city; the idea that nobody is able to find it is unintentionally hilarious. The film also desperately relies on a narrator (Jason Hildebrandt) that is not one of the characters in the story. Hildebrandt sounds like he's simultaneously imitating the rhythm of Bill Kurtis' narration for Anchorman and the sound of Alec Baldwin's narration for The Royal Tenenbaums, and it is so constant that it often feels like watching an audiobook, with lines that go over details the viewer can plainly see.
With the story a nearly incomprehensible hack job, it's up to character to save Tarzan. Unfortunately, character motivations are minimal and often inconsistent, with Porter's obsession suddenly turning into Greystoke's obsession once he's passed away. This version of Jane also isn't a posh society girl resistant to the idea of the jungle; instead, she's an environmentalist who is more than happy to give up city life to live with Tarzan after knowing him for all of a few hours. If there's anything worth mentioning here, Spencer Locke gives a decent performance as Jane given how little she has to work with, but it's basically only enough to make the film tolerable. Lutz's performance as the title character is generic and unmemorable, despite being one of the actors who provided motion capture reference for their characters as well. With so much of the heavy lifting done by the narration, and Tarzan lacking in chances to emote verbally, the role could've been played by anyone. The interpretation of Tarzan here is also strange: Tarzan's parents are killed when he appears to be five or six; it seems implausible that he would regress into an ape-man, and even less likely that he would literally forget he was a human being, something implied early on in the film.
The finishing blow for Tarzan is the animation, which is not horrible, but like the rest of the film, is frequently inconsistent. Occasionally, textures and scenes will appear so rough it's hard to believe they were finished, while other times characters will emote and move in a reasonably believable way. Faces tend to shift uncomfortably between looking okay and looking like The Joker, with unusual contortion of lips and musculature standing out between nicely-realized movement. Surfaces sometimes fail to connect, like Tarzan's foot coming in contact with the ground, or when the character picks up a limp body (Jane twice, a gorilla once). Director / screenwriter Reinhard Klooss also fumbles when it comes to action and tension, skipping right past obvious moments (such as Jane's first vine swing) and allowing characters to behave in ways that don't make sense (a scene of the characters exiting a cave in the meteor in what is clearly meant to be a panicked rush features them walking casually toward the exit). Some of it might've looked good in 3D -- Klooss seems to have a nice handle on planes within the frame -- but of course, this Blu-ray isn't presented that way, leaving Tarzan swinging into the void.
Tarzan is presented as a Blu-ray Combo Pack featuring a DVD and UltraViolet Digital Copy of the movie. Honestly, there are so many bad Photoshop covers that look like animation to begin with, I almost wonder if there will be consumers who don't look very closely at the packaging and mistake this for a live-action movie -- the box copy does not mention it's an animated feature. There is also no mention of it originally being in 3D. As of the moment, this is a Walmart exclusive, with no apparent 3D Blu-ray or standard retail edition in the cards.
The Video and Audio
Predictably, Lionsgate's 2.40:1 1080p AVC video presentation and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track are pretty impeccable. Although black levels seem a touch crushed and banding is visible in one or two brief moments, the picture is vividly saturated, impeccably detailed, and consistently eye-popping. The sound is the more impressive of the two areas, with a thunderous and immersive mix that was likely given extra care and effort in order to provide a measure of polish that the animation sometimes lacks. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Three featurettes make up the extras. "Behind-the-Scenes With Kellan Lutz and Spencer Locke" (8:00) is a general look at the making of the movie that shows off far more of Lutz and Locke's charisma than the movie itself does. "Becoming Gorillas" (7:19) is a fairly fascinating look at the extensive motion capture work that went into the film, full of B-roll of Lutz and a team of stuntmen co-stars leaping and jumping around one of the largest mo-cap stages in the world. It's a shame that none of the energy and effort in this featurette seems to have translated to the screen. "The Making of Tarzan" (11:01) wraps up the disc with a clip-heavy EPK that hits all the expected beats about the story, production, and animation. All of the extras are presented in HD.
Trailers for the "Robotech" double feature Love Live Alive and The Shadow Chronicles and Power Rangers: Megaforce play before the main menu. No trailer for Tarzan is included.
There are some good elements in this Tarzan (mostly in the casting and some of the visuals), but the movie is a mess, fumbling its story and characters at every opportunity. The Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic (albeit, without the 3D option), and it comes with some cursory but decent extras, but the feature presentation just isn't worth the effort. Skip it.
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