The Legend of Tarzan
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // $35.99 // October 11, 2016
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted October 13, 2016
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The Movie:

The character from Edgar Rice Burroughs' book of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (or Greystoke, or John Clayton) has been interpreted and reinterpreted through the years. Shortly before his death, producer Jerry Weintraub decided to tackle it as well, following in the titular namesake of Sy Weintraub (no relation) who had brought Tarzan to initial public notoriety. In this one, however, Jerry's had a minor twist to it.

Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer (Hustle and Flow) adapted the book into a screenplay that David Yates (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) directed. In The Legend of Tarzan, the titular character is played by Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood), and compared to past films that show Tarzan as a child who grows up in the jungle, in this film, Tarzan is now Clayton and in England. He and his wife Jane (Margot Robbie, Focus) live happily in England, until an invitation to go to the Congo comes up. With some degree of reluctance, Clayton, Jane and an American escort named George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) go to Africa to view the Congo's progress since Belgium claimed in a few years before, though a plot to take Tarzan and Jane is afoot.

There are a crapton of movies with Tarzan at the forefront, and I've seen a few like the old films that Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe did, and I've seen Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan with Christopher Lambert, though that was when it first came to video a million years ago, and I wasn't impressed by it then. Though some marks for originality do reign in The Legend of Tarzan, as rather than going through Tarzan's well-known origin story, we see Tarzan, grown-up as Clayton and years removed from his time in the jungle, and conflicted about returning to it. Examining this part of the Tarzan mythology was intriguing, though as far as this film goes, only serve more as illustrative and routine touchpoints to set up a backstory.

The other part of the story in the film is Tarzan and Jane returning home while a two-headed villain tries to capture them. A Congolese tribal leader named Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou, Guardians of the Galaxy) has asked a Belgian envoy named Mbonga (Christoph Waltz, Spectre) to bring Tarzan and Jane to him. In exchange for this, Mbonga will deliver Leon priceless diamonds to deliver to the Belgian King Leopold. This part gets too involved in the film, which impacts it in a couple of ways: first is the easier part, where the reasons for Mbonga's motivations, while admirable, don't really serve as enough reason to introduce Mbonga in the first place. Almost from the jump where Leon and Mbonga first meet, everything is flashing back and making the viewer catch up, which while admirable, is something the film couldn't pull off. On a related and second note, the flashbacks trying to show us Tarzan's backstory simply aren't enough to illustrate his roots, reasons to leave and not come back. The flashing back is there, it's just not effective.

Skarsgard is fine as Tarzan, though at times he's channeling the character on HBO that perfected his quiet, brooding expression. Robbie is adequate, and Jackson brings the most joy of the trio, with occasional one-liners and emotional gravitas going through him the most. Leon is Mbonga's surrogate so as a result Waltz carries the action for an antagonist, and while he is capable it's not his best work.

It's nice that someone wanted to try and find new ground with a familiar character in The Legend of Tarzan, but it's almost like watching the recent Stephen Sommers reboots of The Mummy, in that it takes something that a lot of people liked back in the day, trying to tell it a different way but fully embracing the kitsch that goes along with it. And in the result it does more harm to the figure than good. It was a nice thought, but it should have stayed that way.

The Blu-ray Disc:
The Video:

The AVC encode which Warner befits The Legend of Tarzan looks really good. Image detail on facial and skin textures, and on things like healed scars, possess a lot of detail and flesh tones are faithful to the film. Moving further out, the jungle sequences have a multidimensional appearance to them and colors of the green vines or the browner brush look vivid and beautiful. Moving even further out, the (albeit CG) exterior shots of the Congo look beautiful, with oranges and yellows of a computer created magic hour looking beautiful. I don't think it's the best transfer I've seen in 2016, but it's up there.

The Sound:

The Dolby Atmos 5.1 track roars to life early, when the Belgian troops bring in an ‘automatic' machine gun of the era to fire at the natives. Fights, such as an early one with Tarzan and an old ape friend of his (who considers him a traitor) includes ample amounts of channel panning and directional effects, as does most of the movie. The penultimate scene of a steamboat exploding gets the subwoofer involved early and providing thunder to emphasize the destruction. The film lacks a touch of environmental effects in the jungle but it's easy to forgive for the amount of work put into the rest of the film. Beautiful to listen to.

Extras:

There is more here than I would have expected, starting with "Tarzan Reborn" (15:10), in which the cast and crew share their thoughts on the iconic character, and this particular retelling of the story. Skarsgard talks about his preparation for the role and the ensemble shares their takes on his interpretation. They also talk about some story ideas and historical references to boot, and compare previous Tarzans to this one. It's an interesting piece. "Battles and Bare Knuckle Brawls" (15:05) looks at the tentpole fight sequences in the movie, the intent of them and the challenges into pulling them off. "Tarzan and Jane's Unfailing Love" (6:01) looks at the romance of the pair, while "Casting the Virtual Jungle" (15:16) examines encapsulating a soundstage with all that jungle, and includes lots of visual effects pass throughs and previsualizations. "Gabon to the Big Screen" (2:28) covers a lot of this ground in shorter form, while "Stop Ivory" (1:30) is a PSA designed to do just that.

Final Thoughts:

The Legend of Tarzan is a more than known character, slightly turns him in a new angle for the viewer. They tell you loudly "SEE HOW DIFFERENT THIS TARZAN IS!!!!!" while forgetting about what made Tarzan so memorable, and then throw in a convoluted conflict to boot. The disc looks and sounds fantastic, and the extras are even good yet brief. But those things aren't enough for a film that's supposed to be fun and (presumably) respectful, but does neither.



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