Trivial pursuits

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes   | Photo Credit: Warner Bros./Photofest

A Chennai-based friend of mine, with whom I have plucked the gowans fine across Europe and is now heir to a white goods empire, often asks me in Tamil, Nee yaen daa ippidi irukkey?” Which translates simply as “Why are you like this?” but fails to convey as much emotion. The friend, who has had the misfortune of watching several movies with me, and the aftermath, is referring to my obsessive habit of mining trivia from them, rather than simply leaving them alone. This is a curse, or a boon, depending on how you look at it, stemming from years of being a quizzer.

Recently, on a quest for Hollywood popcorn as a change from the normal weightier fare, I watched The Legend of Tarzan (2016) by long-time Harry Potter director David Yates. Prepared for the usual crash bang wallop of big-budget cinema, I was pleasantly surprised by the pains taken by scriptwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer to set a historical context. Rather than locating the film in generic Africa, the writers set the film largely in the ironically named Free State of Congo, a country enslaved and exploited by King Leopold II of Belgium, using his mercenary army, the Force Publique. The King’s main aim was looting ivory, but Cozad and Brewer also bring in the world of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan, and his fabled city of Opar, famed for its diamonds.

The film is a muscular Boy’s Own adventure with some moving moments as well. It freely borrows from that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) where Dr. René Belloq has dinner with Marion Ravenwood, and she tries to steal a knife, replaced here by Rom and Jane, and also references the famous shot of a terrified Sigourney Weaver flinching as a monster opens its maw close to her face from Alien 3 (1992). Rom is also a real historical character and was the King’s enforcer in the Congo, and many believe that the character of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness (1899) and his cinematic extension Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979) is based on him.

Others believe that British soldier Edmund Musgrave Barttelot’s erratic behaviour during one of Welsh explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley’s Africa campaigns inspired the Kurtz character. Stanley is mentioned by Rom in The Legend of Tarzan as someone who got more than his fair share of glory (He is the one who found Dr. Livingstone) when he, Rom, is equally deserving. And there, I have just passed on all the trivia I gleaned after watching the movie.

No mention of Tarzan is complete without Hugh Hudson’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) that remains the finest and most nuanced film about the vine swinger. Tarzan has been adapted more than 200 times for the screen, but no one has quite captured the dark, often surreal world of the original Burroughs novels. Hopefully, that will change when a visionary filmmaker looks beyond the popcorn.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 9:38:21 PM |

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