Welcome to the Archive. Following the infamous “Format Wars” (R.I.P. VHS), a multitude of films found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their admittedly niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Disc On Demand and Streaming service devoted to some of the more idiosyncratic pieces of cinema ever made. Being big fans of the label, we here at Cinapse thought it prudent to establish a column devoted to these unusual gems. Thus “The Archivist” was born — a biweekly look at some of the best, boldest and most batshit motion pictures the Shield has to offer. Some of these will be recent additions to the collection, while others will be titles that have been available for awhile. With over 1,500 pictures procurable on Warner Archive (and more being added every month), there’s no possible way we’ll get to all of them. But trust me when we say we’re sure going to try.

Come as you are: Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, Ape-People, and People-People! All are welcome here, at The Archivist! Maybe you’re having trouble finding your place? Maybe you’re experiencing an identity crisis? Valentine’s Day has come and gone. Maybe you’re looking for love in all the wrong places? Maybe your most promising suitor’s head was torn off by a famous bear? If you are experiencing any of the above, this week’s edition of cinematic spelunking was hand-selected just for you!

When I chose The Clan of the Cave Bear and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, I had no idea what perfect companion pieces they would make. They both covered the subject of fitting into unfamiliar societies, and they both had seemingly endless titles. That’s really all I knew. What a surprise when it turned out they could hardly be more fascinating when they were viewed in the same evening!

The Clan…OTCB stars the quite talented Daryl Hannah as Ayla, a Cro-Magnon (the species of humanoid ancestors from which most of us evolved) who, at a very young age, is half-dead and alone after losing her mother in one hell of an earthquake. A tribe of Neanderthals happens upon her, and although their leaders are reluctant, a loving couple is allowed to adopt her. Ayla must now find her place in this world of less evolved and brutally stubborn people.

The movie plays, unintentionally (?), like a socio-political allegory. At every turn, Ayla is beaten physically and emotionally by the more superstitious and xenophobic members of her new tribe. As it turns out, what became of the Neanderthal is no mystery at all. Most of them survived and became conservative legislators. Women have an oppressively small role in their society. Outsiders are feared, and Ayla’s very existence will apparently anger their gods. She really pisses them off when she reveals her unmatched skills with weaponry while saving the life of a child. Several moments like that one had me thinking this might be a great female empowerment film, or maybe even a fine feminist piece, but the movie is staunchly determined to conclude that these people absolutely cannot coexist.

This is a thoroughly intriguing film that just can’t help but trip over its own goofiness. The Neanderthal make-up, though nominated for an academy award, hasn’t aged well, and is hard to take seriously at first. The score, by the great Alan Silvestri, also falls surprisingly short, as its synth sounds awkwardly bump heads with lovely prehistoric images. I have to say, this is never-the-less a film you have to track down just so you can be in awe of how daring it is. To make a movie in 1985 with sparse dialogue mostly consisting of vague hand-gestures translated in subtitles is one thing, but to use that entirely fictional language to tell a story about a time so many religious people reject (even today) is entirely another. Plus, it was one of Bart The Bear’s (The Edge, The Great Outdoors) first movies. You go, Warner Brothers!

Now, from goofy, to crazy. Greystoke: TLOT, LOFTA delivers (or so it claims) the most faithful adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel Tarzan of the Apes. That is apparently dubious, but it does tell an incredible version of the often-filmed tale. John Clayton (played by Christopher Lambert, who is never once referred to as “Tarzan”) is the son of a marooned couple who die not long after his birth. He is adopted by a female gorilla and spends many naked years desperately trying to find himself among his animal family until a party of British zoologists discovers him. By that time, he has become a man, now way less naked than before (maybe Lambert had a no-nude contract), and is the “lord” of his tribe of gorillas. He agrees to leave the only world he has known, and he and Ian Holm return to England to live at the Greystoke Estate with his only remaining relative, his grandfather (played by Sir Ralph Richardson in his final role). There, his identity crisis only worsens, particularly after falling in love with a human woman (Andie MacDowell). Despite a lot of visual splendor (including astonishing make-up effects by the great Rick Baker), and excellent performances, this movie is a crazy mess, and that can mostly be attributed to the shenanigans going on behind the scenes.

The screenplay was written by Robert Towne! Chinatown Robert Towne! Script doctor of Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather Robert Towne! Too bad he was fired before he could direct Greystoke. Apparently the commercial failure of his most recently written and directed film Personal Best lost him the job. He retaliated in officially replacing his name with that of his dog. That’s right. Robert Towne’s dog received whole credit for writing this script. With all that slobber on the pages, rewrites must have been a bitch. Strike one.

The film was placed in the capable hands of Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire), who apparently wasn’t big on restraint when he took over the project. As I mentioned before, Rick Baker’s ape suits are jaw-droppingly detailed and they found some convincing players to fill them, but do we really need to see a mother carrying around a dead ape baby like broken toy? Do we need to see the same mother’s teat dripping with milk while she tries to feed that dead offspring? These harsh realities would be worth showing if they were treated with some delicacy, but the images are thrown at us with the same carelessness this mother gives her dead ape after she finds young John Clayton. Strike two.

Fortunately, there isn’t a strike three (although Andie McDowell’s every line being ADR’d by Glenn Close is pretty weird). This movie might have problems so big as to force the viewer to laugh unintentionally, but it is so full of gorgeous shots, strong acting, fascinating ideas, and bizarre moments, you just can’t stop watching it. I was especially pleased with the film’s lead. Believe it or not, a few years before he was a snickering Scottish guy with a samurai sword, and several more years before he was a snickering guy with lightning coming out of his eyes, Christopher Lambert was a promising young actor. He seems to be in another, better organized drama. He still snickers a couple times, but I think his performance could have been something really special in a movie that didn’t wind up with such an indifferent anti-climax after a long trek through a lot of strangeness.

I could go on, but then again, so could you…like…with that whole “life” thing you have.

Another pair of must-see films from the depths of Hollywood’s historical jungle, and you can practically only get them from one place: The Warner Archives!

Now find fit yourself into a society of popcorn and beer! It’s

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