APE-RIL continues with this Week’s Two Cents Roundtable, GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN


Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

The Pick: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan

In honor of Kong’s return in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, this month the Two Cents Film Club is going ape for APE-RIL!! We’re looking at a lineup of ape-themed movies with some surprises in the mix. Our second entry is 1984’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. It’s a rewarding adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burrough’s character that tilts away from swashbuckling adventure towards a more meditative and naturalistic tale about trauma and tragedy.

The Team

Ed Travis

I’m shocked to have found myself moved to tears by the improbably titled Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes. I’d seen the film ages ago, as a child, and I just don’t think I was ready for the emotional wallop that this ambitious film aims for. While it most certainly is ambitious, I’d argue that the ambition lies in how earnest and almost anti-serialized, anti-action it really is. Of course I’m a lover of action cinema, but I’m also an appreciator of wild swings and it feels that Robert Towne and Michael Austin (Oscar nominated for their adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan) were extremely bold to tell a version of Tarzan that wasn’t about pulp adventure, but rather about the tragedy of loss, the meaning of home, and what makes a family. Composer John Scott’s swelling score brought an operatic feel to the human drama on display that I was quite moved by as well. With an opening act largely devoid of dialog, we see the origins of our hero being raised by apes after the tragic loss of his parents, and eventually we’re introduced to Christopher Lambert as John Clayton / Tarzan (though I’m not sure the word “Tarzan” is ever uttered in this film). I was absolutely engrossed by the grounded approach that was taken here – less about fantasy and more about what a man’s soul would really be like if he was formed by the jungle, learned to rule the jungle, and ultimately forced to reckon with the aristocracy of 1800s England to claim his birthright. The stark contrast of worlds and the tragic loss of family that John experiences is powerful and unlike any other Tarzan story I’ve ever seen. I just adored director Hugh Hudson’s (Chariots of Fire) take on Tarzan and I’ll hold it close to my heart for the rest of my days as a potent humanization of a timeless and mythic character.

(@Ed_Travis on Xitter)

Julian Singleton

This Tarzan adaptation was definitely the one that most felt like a true Epic. While latter versions have felt the need to amp up the pacing and add frequent comic relief, Greystoke felt so measured and patient, fascinated with the reality of a character like Tarzan and seriously reckoning on the emotional impact his return to human life would have. I really have to give it credit for opening with a stately beginning in Scotland, only to make the dramatic pivot into a near-wordless coming-of-age drama by way of Quest for Fire. I was so enamored with this section of the film that I was worried at how much Greystoke might lose me in its more “civilized” second half–but I was surprisingly engaged with how much the film’s fish-out-of-water story provided a demented mirror to young John’s experiences in the jungle. Christopher Lambert is fascinating to watch as he attempts to acclimate to British society–but it’s his wonderfully dynamic relationships with Belgian adventurer Philippe d’Arnot (Ian Holm) and his estranged Earl grandfather (Ralph Richardson) that provided a much-needed emotional core to this second half. I wasn’t expecting what I had previously seen as a rip-roaring action-adventure film to turn into a quite moving exploration of the roles and rules given to us at birth, and how they reinforce/narrow how we see the world. But as John says–learning what we are not is the only way to know where home truly is.

(@gambit1138 on Xitter)

Jon Partridge

I first caught Greystoke back when I was around the age of 10. Familiar with the underlying story, I remember being rapt by the apes and practical effects (which sure, haven’t aged well) and the sense that this was something altogether bigger and more emotional than other versions I’d caught glimpse of. A fresh view of the film today and that still holds true. The grandeur is met with a real level of grit, stemming from a naturalistic depiction of this man’s journey, from orphaned child, through a childhood raised by apes, all the way to his discovery and reunion with a life he left behind long ago. There’s an inherent level of trauma and tragedy in all this, and it’s well fleshed out, largely through Tarzan’s (Christopher Lambert) relationships with friend/adventurer Philippe d’Arnot (a wonderful Ian Holm), his grandfather the Sixth Earl of Greystoke (the ever magnificent Ralph Richardson), and love interest Jane (Andie MacDowell).

The whole “white man in a savage land” trope has been milked to death over the years, even in a 2016 adaptation staring Alexander Skarsgård. Greystoke feels rather earnest about it, aided by a more misty, old school approach to filmmaking, as well as being less concerned with depictions of tribal culture or any white savior ideals. These apes are painted as more noble than some of the humans Tarzan encounters. Not difficult in this age of Imperialism and with the backdrop of the British upper-classes. An immersion in the jungle wonderfully balanced by the shock and awe of a shift into the West. Greystoke refocuses the Tarzan myth into an inward looking tale, showing a man’s soul forged in a sense of adventure, attuned to the call of the wild over civility and civilization.

(@Texas_Jon on Xitter)

Austin Vashaw

I definitely caught Greystoke on TV as a kid – probably more than once – and was enraptured by it. But I hadn’t revisited it since childhood, and maybe never seen in its entirety. So it was with some excitement that I anticipated this Two Cents rewatch (and realized that for years I have incorrectly thought it called “Greystroke”).

The film has some striking images and moments that have always stuck with me, like Tarzan’s defeat of his gorilla nemesis and his reunion with his adoptive ape father Silverbeard, ending in the anguished cry of “he was my father”. Even as a kid I was awed by the film’s potent sense of tragedy and sudden violence. One thing that really struck a chord with me was the grandfather character sledding down the stairs to his death, trying to recreate his fondest childhood memory. Even as a kid, in that moment I completely understood his nostalgia (maybe the first time understanding this concept) and braced for the worst, rightly fearing for the kind old man’s life and the change his death would bring. But in the years since I had forgotten about that particular scene, and ironically seeing it again suddenly unlocked that memory and rushed the nostalgic part of my brain.

This was definitely a formative film for me – clearly even more so than I had remembered – and I’m thrilled to see that it holds up magnificently, an earnest and somewhat devastating approach to the Tarzan mythos. I think that earnest vision is precisely the reason I followed its story so well even as a child, and why it has stuck with me since then.

Also, how great is Ian Holm in this?!?

(@VforVashaw on Xitter)

Upcoming Picks: APE-RIL! (In Celebration of Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire)

Upcoming picks:
Dunston Checks In (1996)
King Kong (2005)
Kong: Skull Island (201

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