*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An orphan child is brought up by apes and is latter introduced to his aristocratic family.
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes is based on the original writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Made in 1984 director Hugh Hudson offers an origin story made in a time before origin films were common place. Hudson offers the same epic operatic grandeur he’d brought to Chariots of Fire (1981). Uncredited screenwriter, Robert Towne (Chinatown), goes under pseudonym of his dog (P.H. Vazak) and second screenwriter Michael Austin offer an interesting three act affair, beginning in 1885 shows the downfall of his parents and depicts Tarzan as a child, act II, then as an adult assisting Capitaine Phillippe D’Arnot (played excellently by Ian Holm) out of the jungle and the final act has Tarzan back in the United Kingdom.
Christopher Lambert’ gives a fine performance as he learns to speak English and comes to terms with his heritage. Death hard hittingly runs though this adaptation, humans and animals are all put on the chopping board and it’s quite a slow paced emotional journey. Notable are Ralph Richardson (in his last film) and Eric Langlois as preteen Tarzan. Interestingly, despite the title, the name Tarzan is never mentioned and Andie MacDowell’s Jane is curiously dubbed by Glenn Close.
Makeup genius Rick Baker’s ape characters are for the most part convincing suit designs. With cinematography by John Alcott it’s visually rich – from the African jungle to Victorian Britain and the London Natural History Museum. Greystoke oozes atmosphere and even though a somber affair it leads to the film’s unsurprising conclusion. It’s visuals and time passages are far more interesting than the central character and this is debatably why Greystoke isn’t critical revered as it possibly could have been.
Overall, this is a serious retelling which takes a chance on effects (refreshingly pre CGI), storytelling and casting, they simply don’t make films like this anymore.