Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel


Directed by Carl Schenkel; written by Bayard Johnson and J. Anderson Black, based on the "Tarzan" stories created by Edgar Rice Burroughs .Photography, Paul Gilpin . Production design, Herbert Pinter. Editing, Harry Hitner. Music by Christopher Franke. Produced by Stanley Canter, Dieter Geissler and Michael Lake. Cast: Casper Van Dien (Tarzan), Jane March (Jane), Steven Waddington (Nigel Ravens). A Warners release. 105 minutes. PG.

Statistics differ and are unreliable. Still, the champion fictional character in movies is Sherlock Holmes, with about 200 films, followed by Dracula (ca.150), and the Frankenstein monster (ca.100). Figures for Tarzan, though most confusing, probably exceed 100 if the count includes parodies, oddities and the many productions made in India.

The original "Tarzan of the Apes" (1918) was Elmo Lincoln (born Otto Elmo Linkenhelt,1899-1952) who went on to more T-movies, then to just bit parts. The first major sound-era Tarzan --and still the most popular --was Johnny Weissmuller (Peter John Weissmuller, 1904-1984)). Both men were Americans (Indiana-born Lincoln's first profession was as an Arkansas cop).Weissmuller was born in Pennsylvania --although one source says it was in Rumania, near Timisoara, and from parents of Hungarian nationality. It is said that he was a sickly boy who took up swimming on the advice of a doctor. He studied at the University of Chicago, became Olympic swimming champion (5 gold medals) at the 1924 and 1928 games, held a profusion of world records and had already acted before he made his first T-movie, "Tarzan, the Ape Man" (1932). It was a big hit, and,to this day remains one of the best Tarzan films.

Tarzanophiles rate the 1934 sequel "Tarzan and his Mate," with Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan, as the premier Tarzan movie. A recent re-viewing on AMC confirms this judgment. The film is vibrant. Some of the special effects may be transparent, but several others are quite sophisticated and others yet, impressive even today: such as the mutliple prides of lions and the face-offs between explorers and beasts. And of course there's the lovely, initiative-taking O'Sullivan, as a sexy and thinking Jane. She is glimpsed more than once in the buff, something unusual in those days of restrictions by the Hollywood Code.

I believe, though not all critics do, that the summit of screen Tarzanism came with he 1984 "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes." It was revisionist, perhaps even post-modernist, humanistic, ecological, sociological, touching and technically a tour-de-force.

Enough of prolegomena. In the just-released "Tarzan and the Lost City," John Clayton, Lord Greystoke (a.k.a. Tarzan) is in 1913 Suffolk, about to wed Jane, when he is sent by telepathy a vision, a cry for help by his never-forgotten African friends. He takes the first boat to Africa.

The natives are the victims of depredations,violence and murder in the hands of merciless whites led by Nigel Ravens. Ravens, though just vaguely shown as a scientist-explorer-mercenary,is clearly a vile, shifty-eyed plunderer who will do anything for riches, from capturing animals to killing humans for precious stones or gold. His ultimate aim is to find the lost city of Opar with its legendary treasures.

After a six-week voyage, Greystoke is in Central Africa (shot in South Africa). Soon after, Jane surprises him by showing up. She carries a nice wardrobe and her brother's pistol. Much smooching ensues. It will continue punctuating the action, which is politically correct as the blacks are good,the Europeans bad, save for a friend of Tarzan's who, of course, has to die.

The adventures that follow totally lack credibility, even by Tarzanian or cartoon standards. Minor examples: Tarzan breaks in two a heavy rifle on his knee; poisoned by a snake, he lies unconscious, is covered by a huge swarm of bees, recovers magically; he takes Jane to their old tree-house where they dance the Blue Danube Waltz played on an intact phonograph.The record is scratchy, then swells into DTS multi-stereo. The bad 'uns get a machine-gun but miss the couple, while pistol-packing Jane hits bull's-eyes, among the other abundant bull in the story. When trekking with the baddies, as their captive, she suddenly appears with a fresh, clean blouse. Etc.

The film is muddled, incoherent in writing, editing. continuity and staging, heavy-handed in every way. And the characters talk at the other characters, not to them.

With the discovery of Opar, which is like a Mayan pyramid, dumbness skyrockets. Anything arbitrary or preposterous goes. The tale switches gears into magic. Special effects take over. Morphing reigns: statues into drum-beating automatons, statues into warriors, bones into warriors (and vice-versa), something into a colossal cobra, the movie's audience into somnambulists.

Casper Van Dien (Tarzan) is an American whose main claim to fame was in "Starship Troopers"; Brit Jane March (Jane) debuted in Jean-Jacques Annaud's "The Lover," her only good film to date. Van Dien is homo sapiens pectoralis. March is toothsome, and then some. Considered from any point of view, "TLC" is a messy pot-pourri whose only interest is some beautiful vistas and many impressively painted tribesmen. The initials TLC could have also stood for Tender Loving Care, but there's none of it lavished on the movie.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel