Monday, 8 June 2015

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984, Hugh Hudson)

Edgar Rice Burrough's classic character of John Clayton, Viscount Greystoke, aka Tarzan, Lord of the Apes springs vividly to life in the most accurate celluloid rendering of the original novel "Tarzan of the Apes" (given a somewhat more unwieldy title here - the only demerit against this spectacular adaptation).

Christopher Lambert (of "Subway" and "Highlander" fame) heads a cast of luminaries such as Ian Holm, and - in sadly his farewell performance - the late Sir Ralsph Richardson as Tarzan's grandfather, Earl Greystoke. With superb direction by Hugh Hudson following his Oscar-conquering "Chariots of Fire", we are swept from the bleak moors of Scotland to the primal uplands of equitorial Africa and back again as we follow Clayton/Tarzan from his birth to shipwrecked aristos, through his youth amongst the great apes and to his return to, and disillusionment with, Western civilisation. A young Andie McDowall gives her debut performance as Jane Porter (of "Me Tarzan, you Jane" fame, although that line is not uttered here, or indeed, in any Tarzan story or movie much to the amazement of many), with a vocal performance dubbed by Glenn Close.

Some of the greatest performances in the movie however come from the apes themselves, or rather the performers portraying the apes. The scenes of the young Tarzan cradling his dying ape mother, and later the adult Clayton discovering his ape father caged in the back of a museum, are extraordinarily poignant. No wonder Tarzan rejects the bland, soulless and vicious humans to return to the wild life among the apes: the simian characters show more humanity than some of the people on display here.

I have seen some commentators calling this film "pretentious", usually whilst championing earlier Tarzans, such as the Johnny Weissmuller efforts of the '30s and '40s. All i can say to that is, if it is pretentious to actually stay true to the original text and character, then there is something strange going on. That's like championing Adam West's Batman over Christian Bale: baffling.

This is a superb movie, and certainly the best portrayal of Burrough's story and characters on screen thus far. I simply can't see it being bettered any time soon, unless someone picks up the rights and does straight adaptations of Burrough's original novels and stories. I can't see that happening somehow, so i'm more than happy to stick with this.


  1. I remember seeing this at the cinema at the time and thinking it was a bit boring, but maybe I was too young to appreciate it.

  2. How can Tarzan be Lord of the Apes? Apes don't have inherited titles.

  3. They're being gentrified by imperialism, like the rest of 19th century Africa. It's very problematic.

  4. Then you should've posted a trigger warning.

  5. Trigger warnings are for saps.:p