Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Many Faces of Tarzan

Tarzan_All_StoryTarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1912 in the pages of All-Story Magazine and told the story of a man raised by the great apes of Africa and his eventual meeting with Jane Porter the love of his life, but of course that is not the end of the story.



For over a century fans of jungle adventures have thrilled to the stories of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle whether they were one of the twenty-four books written by his creator Edgar Rice Burroughs or of the countless others given to us by various writers in practically every medium known to man. He has appeared in book form, comics, cartoons, movies, radio and television programs and certainly shows no signs of stopping, and so today we will look across the years at one of the most popular pulp action heroes every created.

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The first thing one should take note of is that the portrayal of Tarzan as given to us by Burroughs has rarely been seen in any medium, many of the versions of Tarzan he is shown as a laconic savage with limited intellect but with a noble heart while in the books he quickly became an eloquent man of the world who could speak several languages fluently and along with Jane ran a large plantation, and if you wanted to hunt or run a safari in his part of Africa you better have his permission. This is not say he wasn’t also running through the jungle, finding lost cities and hanging out with Tantor but there was always more going through his mind than, “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”


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There are over 200 Tarzan movies out there so our look at his various incarnations will be an overview at best and spotlighting the most notable ones. His first foray off the printed page was in the 1918 silent film Tarzan of the Apes starring Elmo Lincoln and stayed fairly faithful to the first half of the book while the remainder of the book was used for the sequel The Romance of Tarzan. The hardest things for viewers to swallow was Jane (Enid Markey) falling for this Tarzan as dear Elmo Lincoln wasn’t all that good looking and also was a tad overweight.

1918 Tarzan 
I guess head trauma could explain the attraction.

There were several more silent film Tarzan stories in the 1920s but it was in the 30s that things really took off for the Ape Man when five-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming Johnny Weissmuller put on the loin cloth and took to the trees.

Tarzan, the ape man (1932) 

This series is most notable for giving us the famous Tarzan yell, his pidgin English and his chimpanzee pal Cheetah Note: Tarzan did have a monkey companion in the books but he was named N’kima, why the film producers thought to have the jungle man call a chimpanzee after something from the large cat family is beyond me, it just made Tarzan seem even more of a simpleton.  Joining Weissmuller was the beautiful and talented Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane and aside from the occasional jungle action scenes it is O’Sullivan who really holds these movies together.

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Jane seen here wishing they’d invent television.

Her society girl turned jungle groupie was charming if a bit odd at times as one wonders what she was getting out of this relationship other than maybe earth shatteringly great sex. Many of the stories dealt with evil white men trying to get up the Mutari Escarpment, where Tarzan and Jane lived, to find the Elephant’s Graveyard so that they could plunder it for the ivory. This usually resulted in many black bearers getting horribly killed and then Tarzan coming to the rescue with an elephant stampede. There wasn’t a problem Tarzan couldn’t solve with a good ole elephant stampede.

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Seriously, elephants can do anything.

After 1948 Weissmuller retired from the role and producer Sol Lesser brought in actor Lex Barker who for some reason insisted on emulating Weissmuller’s “Me Tarzan, you Jane” schtick which must have been confusing because in his five films he had five different Janes. This series at least tried to escape the back lot and film some actual location stuff in Africa but alas there weren’t notable for much else.

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Gordon Scott is Tarzan!

Enter Gordon Scott a bodybuilder who under producer Sol Lesser was encouraged to go the Weissmuller route with his depiction but after four films the series was taken over by producer Sy Weintraub who brought the character back to the books and allowed Scott to drop the simpleton act. They also dropped Jane so he could meet fun and interesting other blondes.

Tarzan poster Greatest Adventure


In Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure we were treated to an intelligent and loquacious Tarzan and a breath of fresh air to fans of the character. Sadly Gordon Scott only made one more Ape Man picture, Tarzan the Magnificent, before passing the torch to…

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Ron Ely is TV’s Tarzan

Sy Weintraub wasn’t done with our jungle hero quite yet though now the adventures were for the small screen. Ron Ely as Tarzan was in the same mold as Gordon Scott’s portrayal of Tarzan as an intelligent worldly man who just found the jungle to be a much better place to hang out in rather than supposed civilization. This show ran from 1966-1968 and saw Tarzan dealing with more nasty white men encroaching on his domain while also dealing with witch doctors and rogue animal attacks. Once again Jane is missing from the stories and finds Tarzan kickin it back with Cheetah and the local natives. Note: I’ve always wondered where exactly did Tarzan go to get his hair cut as in most versions up to this point Tarzan is usually sporting your typical fifties short haircut.

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In 1976 Filmation studios created Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle an animated series for CBS which ran for four years but only had 36 episodes. In these cartoons we finally see jungle adventures that are closer to the books as well as taking much of the language and characters from the jungle world of Burroughs’ creation such as Jad-bal-ja, the Golden Lion, Tantor the elephant, and N’kima his monkey sidekick. Gone is Cheetah the chimpanzee but alas Jane is still missing in action.


In these animated adventures we finally see Tarzan discovering lost cities and having the kind of adventures movie budgets of the time couldn’t pull off. He even managed to visit Pellucidar in the episode “Tarzan at the Earth’s Core.” It’s really not surprising that it took animation to finally bring us the most faithful adaptation of Burroughs work.  Opposed to…

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The eighties have a lot to answer for and one of its major crimes, aside from Glam Metal and the mullet, is the 1981 Tarzan, the Ape Man. Jane is finally back and is being played by Bo Derek, mostly famous for being Dudley Moore’s object of desire in the Blake Edwards hit 10, and alongside her is Miles O’Keeffe as Tarzan who is pretty much just beefcake to Derek’s cheesecake.

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This poster a good indication of what kind of Tarzan movie you’re getting here.

There is absolutely no screen chemistry between these two and while Tarzan comes across as not too bright, as he is often portrayed, but here he is also the blandest Tarzan to date. Bo Derek on the other hand seems to be tripping the light fantastic as an airhead version of Jane who we could see getting lost at the local petting zoo. Along for the ride is Richard Harris as Jane’s father and it seems clear to me that he was being paid in Scotch by the quart. Directed by John Derek this is easily one of the worst Tarzan movies out there.  Though if you’ve always wanted to see an orangutan sexually molest a naked Jane or watch a chimpanzee trying to and suck on her nipple then this could be the film for you.

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In a complete 180 from the Bo Derek/Miles O’Keeffe version of Tarzan the British take a crack at it with director Hugh Hudson’s at the helm of Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes which is a serious take on the Tarzan tale, a very, very serious take. This film looks fantastic and most of the actors including Christopher Lambert as Tarzan do a fine job, but if you are trying to make a serious and grittily realistic version of Tarzan, well that’s your first problem right there, Tarzan defies realism. A small baby would not survive days let alone years in the jungle no matter what maternal instinct a local ape has, nor could a person raised by apes ever develop the capacity to learn languages. Tarzan is a mythic figure, one full of adventure and fantasy, and if you try to drag it into the real world you lose the magic that makes him such a beloved character.

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Tarzan, noble savage or creepy dinner guest?

Rick Baker’s special effects make-up for the apes in this movie were nothing less than extraordinary and the scenes of them with Tarzan are the highlight of the film, sadly Ian Holm shows up to drag Tarzan back to civilization where we are forced to watch a dubbed Andie MacDowell as Jane trying to connect with the jungle man. Needless to say this is not as fun as finding a lost city or starting an elephant stampede. Eventually once again Tarzan becomes unhappy with the supposed “civilized” world and moves back to Africa. We can only hope that he quickly shacked up with La the Queen and High Priestess of the Lost City of Opar.  Speaking of lost cities…
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Casper Van Dien with bow & arrow in hand he trudges into this Tarzan for a “New Generation.”  Tarzan and the Lost City is a step back towards the more adventurous aspect of Tarzan stories with more of the pulp action feel one expects but alas the low budget and limited acting skills of Casper Van Dien pretty much doom this production from the start. Jane March plays this movies version of Jane who is quite put out when her wedding to Tarzan is put on hold due to a call from one of his old pals back home. It seems those pesky white men are at it again this time their murdering the locals and defiling their graves in the hopes of finding the Lost City of Opar. Sadly this is not the Opar from the books and the whole production, even though shot in Africa, comes off looking rather cheap.
A year later Disney puts their stamp on the franchise with a beautifully animated movie that finally shows Tarzan flying through the jungle canopy on more than just a vine swing.  Much as how I imagined it when reading the books as a kid.

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Tarzan (1999)

Like the 1976 cartoon many of the characters from the books make an appearance; Kala (Glen Close) the ape who raised him, Kerchak (Lance Henriksen) the leader of the Apes, Tantor (Wayne Knightt) the elephant and of course Jane (Minnie Driver). Though the Kerchak in this movie is a gruff leader who believes Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn is a danger to his fellow gorillas.  Note: This is the first time Tarzan has been raised by gorillas. In the books they were a mysterious race of great apes, almost a missing link.  Kerchak from the book was also a main foil for Tarzan being he was the one who killed Tarzan’s father and who the ape man eventually kills to become Lord of the Apes, while the Disney Kerchak though a tad hostile towards Tarzan he never gets murderous.  The main villain in this movie is once again nasty white hunters and Tarzan is back to being the jungle simpleton. Those issues and the uninspired Phil Collins soundtrack stop this from being one of the better Tarzan adaptations though still quite entertaining.

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Trivia: Glen Close provided the voice of Kala the ape but this isn’t her first voice work for a Tarzan film she also provided the voice for Jane in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes when they found Andie McDowell’s southern accent a bit too Un-Janelike.  Also interesting is on how many times Jane has been portrayed as British and in the case of Greystoke even related to Tarzan for some reason.

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So there you have it a quick look at Tarzan through the ages which I hope you found entertaining if not educational. As sure as the sun sets in the west we will get more Tarzan adaptations, a current production with Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd as Tarzan is set for 2016, and I’ll be sitting there front row center with my bag of popcorn ready to be whisked away on a new jungle adventure with everyone’s favorite ape man.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959)

You will not find the phrase, “Me Tarzan, you Jane” in this production, hell you won’t even find Jane in this 1959 Tarzan film produced by Sy Weintraub and as a fan of all things Tarzan I must say I couldn’t be happier. Gone is the Pidgin English speaking ape man and in his place is a complex and literary hero, as for the missing Jane well even Burroughs tried to kill her off back in 1919 in the story Tarzan the Terrible so I’ll let that slide. Clearly Weintraub understood that tying Tarzan down to just one blonde isn’t a necessarily good thing for continuing jungle adventures. Burroughs certainly felt the same way as after failing to kill her he constantly gave Tarzan amnesia, seriously he gets hit in the head a lot in those books, or found some other reason to separate Tarzan from Jane.
This outing was helmed by director John Guillermin who would of course raise to fame with The Towering Inferno, the 1976 King Kong remake and the laughably bad King Kong Lives. He did make one other Tarzan movie, Tarzan Goes to India, but it was nowhere near as good as Tarzan's Greatest Adventure.


In this movie Tarzan is played by Gordon Scott and as I mentioned this isn’t the stilted possibly brained damaged version as portrayed by most actors prior to this film. The Tarzan in the Burroughs books was man who became fluent in several languages and not just human ones, so seeing a thoughtful intelligent Tarzan as portrayed by Scott was a nice surprise. The only criticism I have of his version of the Ape Man is that he has a 1950s haircut and lives in a treehouse with Cheetah the only real two holdovers from the Johnny Weissmuller days.

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“Cheetah, time to swing on over to the local jungle barber salon.”

The movie begins with a group of men sneaking into a native outpost to steal some explosives, two men are killed and colouring is found on one of the dead man’s hands confirming that it was white men disguised as natives. Also the dying utterance of the radio operator was the repeated word, “Slade.” This is a man that Tarzan has a history with so when the jungle drums call him to the scene he is quickly on the case. Tarzan believes that the perpetrators have taken a boat upstream even though there is nothing up there but dangerous jungle. When the local constable asks if Tarzan is going to stay for the burial services for the two dead men we get a glimpse of Tarzan’s views on religion.

on the case 
“No, I need no sermon to tell me how I feel about Dr. Quarles.”

While at the outpost Tarzan meets Angie (Sara Shane) a bush pilot who is a bit cavalier about the deaths of the two men and as the movie goes on it’s her character that truly makes the journey.

Tarzan and a blonde 
“Death is never a pretty sight. We’ll see it again before the hunt is over.”

The villain of the piece is played by the great Anthony Quayle and his Slade is complex character who though a homicidal maniac is also clearly self-aware of his faults. When he finds out that Tarzan is on his trail he knows the danger they are in and almost relishes the thought of facing the Lord of the Jungle. Among his crew is O’Bannion played by pre-Bond Sean Connery, he’s a fun lovin drunkin lout who believes Tarzan is no threat to four armed men.

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“I like my jungle men shaken not stirred.”

Also onboard is Toni (Scilla Gabel) Slade’s much put upon girlfriend, the boat’s pilot Dino (Al Mulock) who may have some series mother issues, and Kruger (Niall MacGinnis) a German and possible ex-Nazi. It seems that Slade knows the whereabouts of a diamond mine and with Kruger’s expertise with jewels the team hopes to become millionaires, if only they can survive Tarzan and each other. The group really doesn’t get along well and much of the body count is due to their own infighting and not Tarzan’s hunting skills.

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“Don’t delude yourself that we’re four to one. Tarzan won’t come in the front door, you know.”

Most Tarzan films leave out the fact that archery was probably one of Tarzan’s greatest skills and served him well in many of his book adventures so seeing him sporting a bow and quiver in this film lifted my spirits. Sadly his accuracy with the bow and arrow in this film left a lot to be desired.

Tarzan-the-Magnificent-Gordon-Scott 
A jungle man and his accessories.

When Angie’s plane crashes after she joyfully buzzes Tarzan in his canoe she finds herself stuck with the Ape Man on this manhunt, and between almost getting eaten by a crocodile, shot at, threatened by a large snake, treed by a lion and captured by the villains she learns a thing or two about real danger.

crashed 
Statistically speaking, it’s still the safest way to travel.

Slade becomes obsessed with the idea of killing Tarzan, laying several traps to take him out and almost gets him a few times as even Tarzan has no real defense against thrown dynamite, but when quicksand, the one arrow of Tarzan’s that doesn’t miss, a pit trap that gets one of their own, and inevitable betrayal winnows the bad guy’s side down to just Slade the fight becomes a brutal mano a mano.

I win 
Who of course wins in the end is never in question.

What is fascinating about this movie is how Angie handles all this; she stoically marches along with Tarzan on this hunt never complaining, when Tarzan is injured she sneaks aboard the villain’s boat to get penicillin, but at the end when Tarzan is off to confront Slade she takes the boat and leaves.  She had seen enough death and sees no need witness anymore.   Though the film ends with Tarzan triumphant it is also Tarzan alone as he watchers her boat disappear into the distance.  This is not how your typical Tarzan story ends and that is what makes this a great one.

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This is easily one of my favorite Tarzan films; there is not one cast member that doesn’t given an excellent performance with Quale a real standout with his twisted portrayal of Slade. Though the film was shot in Africa sadly most of the animals are from stock film libraries and are not well integrated into the movie but this doesn’t do much to harm what is really a taught jungle thriller.

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f you are a fan of Tarzan this is a must see film, don’t Cheetah yourself out of seeing it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Raise the Titanic (1980) - Review

Clive Cussler is an author of over 50 books, many of which have made it on the New York Times bestsellers list, but when it comes to translating them well to movies it’s not gone so well. Dirk Pitt, the hero of most of Cussler’s sea adventures, seems a natural candidate for a film franchise but to date there has been only two films and both of those flopped. Why hasn’t this popular book series turned into an ocean going Bond franchise? Well today we will look at Raise the Titanic the first attempt at bringing a Clive Cussler book to the big screen and see where things went wrong.

“Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink,” This quote from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner sums up the first problem with the movie Raise the Titanic and that it is a movie that deals with water, lots and lots of water, but like salt water not much of this movie is drinkable or palatable. Movies set on the sea or about the sea have always been notoriously hard to make, the elements are just not kind to movie makers and when you compound that with shooting things underwater you are just asking for trouble.  The producers of The Abyss and Waterworld certainly know all about sea problems. The trick of course is in having a good story to make the journey worth it but unfortunately in the case of Raise the Titanic the journey resulted in a rather dull movie.
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Jason Robards lectures us on The Titanic.

The very name of the ship Titanic captures the imaginations of people all over the world so right there you have a hook into your audience, and then you tell them you are going to not only find the wreck of the world’s most famous ship but are going to raise her. How awesome is that? You pretty much have to go out of your way to muck up a great premise like that. Well producer Lew Grade and director Jerry Jameson do just that.

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“Don’t work guys I’ll make enough money for all of us.”

The story centers around the United States government developing a defense program called “The Sicilian Project” which uses sound waves to knock down incoming missiles, this would create an impenetrable shield over North America, but there is one small problem it needs a powerful fuel source that can only be provided by an extremely rare mineral called byzanium. When government agents discover that only place on Earth that has this mineral is on an island off the coast of the Soviet Union they send a mineralogist to find it. Unfortunately he discovers that it had already been mined back in 1912 and we soon find out that a half a ton of it was loaded onto the RMS Titanic. Our hopes for world peace lie at the bottom of the ocean.

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I think someone left the tub running.

The head of “The Sicilian Project” is Dr. Gene Seagram (David Selby) who with the aid of Admiral Sandecker (Jason Robards) and Dirk Pitt (Richard Jordan) will try and get the byzanium before the Russians do. The strangest decision the filmmakers decide on here is that of making Gene Seagram the nominal lead in this movie and not Dirk Pitt. The book Raise the Titanic is a Dirk Pitt adventure so sidelining your hero for the bulk of the movie is a strange and stupid choice.

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This is not my idea of Dirk Pitt.

Instead of us following Dirk while he uncovers nefarious plots and spies we get scenes of Dr. Seagram with his reporter girlfriend Dana Archibald (Anne Archer) dealing with his jealousy over the fact that she lived with Pitt years ago. *yawn* In the book Dana is marine archeologist and is integral in the finding and raising of the Titanic while in the movie she is a love interest that disappears halfway through the movie never to be seen again.  There is one actor that stands out as being just perfect and that is Sir Alec Guinness who plays a survivor of the sinking and who gives our heroes a vital clue, his performance adds warmth and gravitas to the movie and once he is off screen he is greatly missed.

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“I would advise trying The Force to raise it.”

Now comes the next big problem with this movie and that is the underwater action, that being it is almost impossible to make action underwater realistic and exciting. You can do one or the other but doing both is a bit of a trick. If you find scenes of submersible slowly combing the sea floor looking for a sunken ship fascinating than this could be the film for you but the rest of us we are left bored out of our bloody minds. I would bet a mathematician could come up with a formula showing the percentage of underwater footage in a movie is in direct comparison to how successful it is. An extra half hour of Bill Paxton puttering around in his sub in James Cameron’s Titanic could have resulted in a flop instead of a mega hit. But hey, that’s just my theory.

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Slow and murky wins the race.

Well eventually our “heroes” find the Titanic and plans to raise it go into action; they will fill the hull with foam thus forcing the water out of the ship, then they will attach buoyancy tanks and with a few well-placed explosive charges they will rock the ship free and float it to the surface. Sadly accidents will happen and one of the submersibles is trapped on the deck of the Titanic and the only way to save them is to raise the ship in a matter of hours instead of the weeks that were scheduled. That they accomplish this with almost no problem tells me their schedule was for shit.

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“Did anyone pack a caulking gun?”

Science Note: When the submersible develops a like at the depth of 12,000 feet we are told they have only six hours to live before running out of air but in reality they should have died instantly. The pressure at that depth would cause the sub to implode immediately upon springing a leak.

The sequence of the great ocean liner rising out of the depths and bursting to the surfaces is damn impressive. A beautiful fifty foot model was built to achieve this and it does look like money well spent, sadly it was too long of a slog with uninteresting characters for this payoff to be worth it.

There is very little action in this film and at almost two hours it could have used a bit of action injection to at least help keep us awake. Sure we get a bit where we are told a hurricane is on the way which is apparently supposed to add tension but then it never shows up so that’s a wash, and the when the navy ships that are providing support for the operation are called away on a distress call allowing Russians to pop aboard the Titanic and demand they hand the ship over to them or else see it sunk to the bottom with all hands on deck. Pitt in full smug mode makes one quick call and a nuclear attack sub surfaces and a couple of F-16 fighter jets fly over.

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“Take that Ruskies!”

So now that any chance of action has been thwarted it’s now time to go into the cargo hold and find us some byzanium. But gasp, the safe in the hold is full of boxes of gravel. This depresses Seagram but Sandecker says it may be for the best because the byzanium may have ended being used not for defense but for a bigger bomb. This enrages Seagram and he asks, “Then  why in god’s name did you okay this mission?” A very valid question that is answered in the stupidest way possible, “If someone was going to make a byzanium bomb I wanted it to be us.” *sigh* Now later Pitt informs Seagram that the last words of the agent who went down with the ship leads him to believe the byzanium is buried in a cemetery in Sotheby England, and this turns out to be the case but because of the threat of a byzanium bomb is too much for Seagram he decides to leave buried. Making this whole movie pointless.

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Do you think anybody in the audience is still awake?

The Books Ending: Seagram goes into a mental breakdown after it is discovered that the byzanium was not aboard the Titanic but once Pitt figures out where it’s buried he and Sandecker retrieve it and do a successful test of the Sicilian Project.  Why the filmmakers decided on a depressing, “Fuck it, let’s just leave it there” ending is beyond me when the books ending was much more palatable.

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The End.

Producer Lew Grade is famously quoted as saying, “It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic than raise the Titanic.” As it cost over 40 million dollars and took in only 7 million at the box office I think he was screwed either way. It’s just not a good movie and an even worse adaptation.

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So what I’m saying is, go read the book.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Lad and the Lion: Edgar Rice Burroughs - Book Review

The Lad and the Lion is an interesting book as it not only tells the adventures stories of a young man with a lion but a parallel story about a small European country struggling with revolution, but strangely neither story has much impact on the other. Written in 1914 and first appearing as a three part serial in All-Story Weekly The Lad and the Lion is also noteworthy for being the first Burroughs story to be adapted to the screen.
The story begins in a troubled European country, in the world of Burroughs there are no untroubled European countries, a king is murdered and Michael, the young heir to the throne, is hustled out of the country to save his life. Things go even worse for poor Michael as the boat he is on is wrecked by a storm and he finds himself bobbing along in rough seas until he is “rescued” by a crazed epileptic deaf mute who lives aboard a derelict tramp steamer. Having been hit in the head in the head during the storm Michael has amnesia and with no knowledge of his past, language or pretty much anything about the world he settles into this new life as slave to this demented man. The only thing that makes his life bearable is that also on board this ship is a young lion and the two becomes friends, their growing hatred of the man who beats them daily is a great bonding element. After years of spent drifting the trio becomes a duo when the deaf mute goes berserk and almost kills Michael but is stopped when the lion, now full grown, breaks out of his cage and kills the crazed coot. The boat eventually runs aground on the shores of North Africa and Michael and the lion finally escape their long captivity at sea. As the young man still has no recollection of anything the two just wander around together hunting and basically hanging out like two awesome bros. Two pals with nothing but time on their hands, that is until the opposite sex enters the picture.
Meanwhile back in Europeland the new king isn’t very well liked, the revolutionaries who put him on the throne are having buyer’s remorse, and the fact that Prince Ferdinand, the new heir to the throne, is even a worse twit than his father gets the revolutionaries plotting again. The stuff in Europe is very hard to get through and as the book is structured with Michael’s story on even numbered chapters and the kingdom on odd numbered chapters so that you are constantly yanked away from the cool stuff with the lad and his lion, you know the characters the book is titled after, to go to back to the boring stuff of Prince Ferdinand and more pointless conspiracies. Structurally it’s an interesting idea unfortunately it really doesn’t work because we never really get a payoff. Michael and Ferdinand never meet; there is no cool confrontation between the rightful heir and the twit usurper. There is a kind of cool stinger at the end but it’s only good for a chuckle and not enough to justify the countless pages of the boring life of Prince Ferdinand and his dalliances with the gardener’s daughter. We just don’t care.

What would you most like to read about?  Would you prefer adventures of a young man with his ever loyal lion friend as they run across Bedouin bandits, a beautiful daughter of a sheik, jealous rivals, and even a nice lioness to round things off or story about a callous jerk who cares not for his people but just getting in the pants of the gardener’s daughter and spending the taxpayers money on a boat? Yeah, not a tough call.

The half of the book that takes place in Africa is great; Michael meets and falls in love with a beautiful Arabic woman who is daughter to a powerful sheik, there are kidnappings and betrayals, the standard misunderstandings and declarations of love that one expects in a Burroughs book and it is all adventure gold, but then it is constantly interrupted by the second plot line with the annoying Prince Ferdinand which if any reader out there cares about I’d certainly like to hear from them to find out why.
lad and the lion all story
This book could have been equal to some of the better Tarzan books because the story elements that take place in Africa are fun but unfortunately they are seriously hamstrung by the alternate plotline  with the kingdom stuff. It’s not a long book and if you find yourself skimming over the stuff with Ferdinand you will mostly likely get a kick out of The Lad and the Lion.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Many Faces of The Incredible Hulk

A lot has happened to everyone’s favorite gamma irradiated emerald giant over the years, hell he wasn’t even always green, and he’s seen many incarnations from the small screen to the big screen, so let us take a brief stroll through the many versions of The Incredible Hulk.

The Incredible Hulk


In 1962 Marvel’s creative giants Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought the world The Incredible Hulk a story owing much to Lee’s love of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and as Ben Grimm’s orange monstrous form in Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four comic was so very popular why not make a comic starring a monster? Thus we get the story of scientist Bruce Banner caught in the blast of a gamma bomb of his own invention and now tormented by the raging beast within.

Hulk_1_cover


In the Hulk’s first appearance he was a gray skinned behemoth but due to quality of the paper at the time as well as the inks used the Hulk’s pigment varied too much from panel to panel, so after seeing the first issue Lee decided to make Hulk’s skin green. Years later the gray skin would return when in a run of comics by Peter David were the Hulk took on the name Joe Fixit. As Las Vegas enforcer he was a more intelligent version of the Hulk but definitely more morally ambiguous and more in keeping with the Mr. Hyde personality type than his earlier savage Frankenstein persona.

Joe Fixit 
Joe Fixit.

Marvel was quick to capitalize on the popularity of the character and so licensed the Hulk to a Canadian/American co-production for a television show called “The Marvel Super Heroes” where each half hour show was broken into 7 minute segments dealing with either Captain America, The Sub Mariner, Iron Man, The Mighty Thor, and the ever lovin Hulk! The animation for this show was extremely limited even for television cartoons of the time.

 1966 Cartoon Series

“David Banner is believed to be dead, and he must let the world think that he is dead, until he can find a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within him.” This opening narration for the live action television series set the tone for this show that was a huge ratings hit for CBS and would run for five years as well as a few made for TV movies.


Limited by what a live action television budget could allow we never got to see this Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) tossing tanks around or leaping hundreds of miles in a single bound but what we did get was an hour long drama much in the vein of The Fugitive with David Banner (Bill Bixby) on the run from a hounding reporter and a death he was not responsible for. Seeing green painted Ferrigno take on protection racketeers and abusive husbands may have been a bit of a letdown for the fans of the comic but the pathos and warmth of the late great Bill Bixby is what made this show such a hit.  Note: Producers nixed the name Bruce Banner in favor of David Banner because Bruce seemed too gay at the time.

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Definitely a step up in animation quality.

From the 80s to 2010 the Hulk appeared in various animated forms; The Incredible Hulk (1982) only ran 13 episodes and was aired as part of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, in 1996 The Incredible Hulk was voiced by Lou Ferrigno with Neal McDonough voicing Doctor Banner. Then in 1997 they changed the shows name to The Incredible Hulk and She-Hulk which added Hulk’s cousin and also had the Hulk appear in his gray incarnation and was voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. Then in 2010 The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes aired which gave us one of the better versions of the Hulk (Fred Tatasciore) but that show was too good so it was cancelled after just two seasons.

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“Hulk smash puny ratings!”

Of course Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno were not going to be the only live action attempt at this Marvel character so in 2003 director Ang Lee brought the world his interpretation of the…HULK.  Artfully done and with much style Ang Lee created a Hulk that would divide audiences and fans of the Hulk alike.

The Hulk as played by Eric Bana. 
Eric Bana proves it’s not easy being green.

The problem in this film was that Ang Lee thought we needed an hour origin story before seeing any cool Hulk action, he was wrong. Now he isn’t the only director guilty of wasting screen time on hero origins stories when most of the world knows them by heart, but in his case it was just so ponderously slow going that at times I started to lose interest, and I personally just didn’t care much for Eric Bana’s David Banner (Note: Apparently still hiding from the name Bruce) and as lovely as Jennifer Connelly is her Betty Ross was your standard damsel in distress but compounded with the fact that she kept ratting her boyfriend out to the military thus making her poor girlfriend material. Speaking of the military we at least have one good thing to say about this movie and that is Sam Elliot, his Thunderbolt Ross pretty much nailed the character from the comic while also giving a bit more humanity to him.

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Sam Elliot is Thunderbolt Ross.

Memo to producers of Hulk movies: Do not end your comic book action blockbuster with the Hulk having an existential battle with a cloud.  It’s one thing to saddle us with a overlong origin story but to have the final showdown be an almost unintelligible mess is just a dick move.  I love Ang Lee but he may have been the wrong choice for this project, but then again there are worse choices
Enter Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk (2008) which starred an angst ridden Edward Nortonas Bruce Banner who must do battle with Tim Roth who will turn into The Abomination and help tear up Harlem/Toronto.The-Incredible-Hulk-2008-Trailer-1-the-incredible-hulk-1750153-1260-535 This film was kind of a reboot I like as it didn’t waste time giving as another long origin story we just find out how he became the Hulk in a quick flashback, sadly that is the only real positive thing I can say about this version of the Hulk. I think Edward Norton is a fine actor but he was terrible miscast as Banner here and the CGI for his green alter ego wasn’t anything to write home about. We did get a better smack down action finale this time out but the whole thing seemed kind of on the cheap. Worst offence was in the casting of William Hurt as Thunderbolt Ross as he was just terrrribbbble! The producers should have taken a page from the Bond movies which kept the same actor for M over multiple movies even if the actor playing Bond kept changing and brought back Sam Elliot as General Ross.  As this films Betty Ross we get Liv Tyler who’s portrayal of the torn girlfriend is forgettable verging on coma inducing. It’s a shame that this film has the Robert Downey Jr.. cameo thus making it part of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Avengers Assemble!

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) finally brings us a big screen Hulk we can all get behind, director and ubernerd Joss Whedon’s casting of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner was inspired for he brought back some of warmth and humor we got back in the 70s with Bill Bixby. The CGI motion capture work in this film was incredibly well down and the fights Hulk gets into were brilliantly orchestrated and fun. Practically everyone in the audience bust a gut laughing when Hulk growled, “Puny god” after giving Loki the beating of his life.

avengers Hulk


There are apparently no plans to give this incarnation of The Incredible Hulk his own standalone movie which is a shame because any film that could give us more screen time with Ruffalo’s Banner is something I’d be all for, but until then I’ll be happy with him taking on Hulkbuster armor and cosmic threats with his pals.