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What We Know So Far: This adaptation of the famed Edgar Rice Burroughs character sees the titular hero (Alexander Skarsgård), after years of life living in London with his wife (Margot Robbie), called back to his former home in the Congolese jungle as a Parliamentary Trade Emissary, clashing with the ruthless Captain Rom (Christoph Waltz) at a mining installation.
The Trailer: Official # 1
David: Before I get started, I’m wondering if there is a color correction error with this trailer as it is heavily saturated in bluish-green. It’s really distracting, similar to the Twilight series. Moving on. Nothing is new under the sun and so we have yet another remake or re-imagining or re-something of a thing done more than enough times already. Each generation seems to get a take on a story that has come before. Now it is Tarzan, the boy raised as an ape in the jungle who is brought to England and “civilized.” At least they are foregoing most of the origin story (for now) and starting with the established tale and going in a new direction. I’ll get this right out of the way after the first look at this trailer: It is NOT a Quentin Tarantino film as some of the cast might lead you to believe. It is directed by David Yates, best known for the Harry Potter series, but with Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson sharing the same screen, it’s hard not to make that leap.
This leads me to two of my four problems with this trailer/film. One and two are Waltz and Jackson. Once again, Waltz refuses to be cast as anything but a corrupt, ruthless bad guy (leaving out Django Unchained) and it’s just distracting and edging very, very closely to parody. Jackson can be truly great, but he has chewed up scenery for so long, it’s hard for me to take him seriously. The two have a lot to prove for me in this film, but both are capable to do so. Three is the apes. While CGI must be employed and we are still eight months away from release, the animated gorillas are a mixed effort for sure. With the recent Planet of the Apes series setting a high bar, Tarzan has a lot to do to reach that mark. While a quite moment of one ape discovering the baby Tarzan (John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke) in his cradle the only exception, the remaining apes look rough. Fourth is my new current rage and one I seem to be revisiting time and time again in these Sneak Peek posts: 3D. My position is clear on this already. That said, there are some great things happening here and I think the rest of the cast looks great. Skarsgård is terrific and is eerily reminiscent of Christopher Lambert in Greystoke: Lord of the Apes (1984). Robbie also makes for a great Jane, and I hope adds some depth and empowerment to the character. I’m really intrigued by Djimon Hounsou as Chief Mbonga and what this conflict with Tarzan is all about. I’m swinging (Tarzan reference) more toward the positive on this and have hopes for something fresh.
Dan: I was hoping for a more serious or grounded approach to the Tarzan story. This version looks like a family adventure with characteristics instead of characters. While Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz are Award nominated thespians, I’m more aligned with David’s way of thinking here. However, Margot Robbie is an intriguing choice for Jane. While receiving tons of attention for Wolf of Wall Street, Robbie was totally compelling in Z for Zachariah with a more internal performance. It looks like the studio cast a CGI model for Tarzan. I really despise computer animated stunt doubles, ever since The Matrix Reloaded. It might look better to simply have a parkour guy on a green screen, and use CG to swap heads at worst. The shots where Tarzan swan-dives into the air look like a video game. Another FX pet-peeve of mine is the impossibly flying camerawork. This trailer showcases a few offenses of the virtual camera operator whizzing by the King of the Jungle, so we can barely see a blur. Some of this vine swinging stuff feels like Spider-man slinging his webs around. While the original source material is fascinating, especially its nature vs nurture elements, this adaptation looks to be more focused on action and adventure – which would be more exciting if it looked at least kind of cool. The craziest most over-the-top shot (designed to be a still image on Twitter) is when Tarzan super-punches in slow-motion lunging in the air at a giant gorilla, also primed to strike. It’s like something out of The Avengers. How heavy-handed will the themes be? Is Waltz the rich white guy villain representing industry? How action-based will this story be? And how distracting will the I’m-not-Skarsgard CG be? Granted, the release is still months away, and the trailer footage may look better on the big screen as intended.
David Says: If you’re going to make a Tarzan film there are two things that must be handled properly. One misstep and it fails utterly. First is the famous Tarzan yell, a call so universally recognized one doesn’t even have to know about any of the films to know what it is. I’m not quite sure what to feel about “the yell” in the clip, as it is familiar but not true, ye that might be the best thing about it. To let it be the traditional call would surely tip the film into comedy. Number two is the swinging tree-to-tree. Last seen (and done poorly) in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (2008), this is something that is perhaps the most defining feature of the character. Without it would be like grounding Superman and preventing him from flying. Here, in the clip, there are several moments of Tarzan zipping about the jungle canopy, and for the most part, looks suitably fantastical. My Sneak Peek Moment comes whenever we see him swinging, all of which makes me want to see it more. Make me believe and I will follow.
Dan Says: One of my favourite parts of the novel is when Tarzan explores the jungle and stumbles upon the tree-house his parents lived in. Searching their belongings, he discovers a book. He opens it up and stares in amazement at this curious object. The King of the Apes looks down at the letters confused. He thinks they are insects, and tries to pick them up to eat with his finger. What seems unnatural to a contemporary English audience, is actually quite a “natural” response indeed. This is only one example of the nature vs nurture themes within the legendary text. The most interesting parts of the story is how a human is adopted by a family of apes, integrates into their society, and absorbs their culture. Therefore, my Sneak Peek Moment comes when Tarzan returns to his ape family after years of absence. How we get to this Moment is unclear, but speculation suggests he’s accepted by them (after a slo-mo fight?) and defends his ape family. It looks like Tarzan will restore order not only to the tribe, but also to the jungle. The low angle shot is moody and atmospheric, set under a stormy night. Tarzan stands beside a gorilla, in the rain, while others from the tribe stand by their side. This is a good example of CG, which I think works best in low lighting or silhouettes. The trailer should have ended with this impactful Moment. Unfortunately, it spoils the mood. After the title comes up, Samuel L. Jackson cracks a joke that crickets applauded loudly, before we see the Avengers super-punch 2000 in slo-mo.