Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes Blu-ray delivers stunningly beautiful video and great audio in this excellent Blu-ray release
A shipwreck strands the heir to an English title and his wife in the wilds of 19th Century Africa, where the wife gives birth to a son. When both parents are killed, a female ape takes the tiny boy as a replacement for her own dead infant, and raises him. Twenty years later, an explorer, Capt. Phillippe D'Arnot discovers the man, who thinks he is an ape. Evidence left by the deceased parents reveals that the wild man is the direct descendant of the Earl of Greystoke, whom Capt. D'Arnot attempts to return to civilization.
There's nothing wrong with Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes that couldn't be
fixed by a different script and better direction. Despite a publicity campaign trumpeting the
film's fidelity to the original writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Greystoke took its own liberties
with Burroughs' character. Perhaps its gravest departure was more in tone than event. The
director, Hugh Hudson, is best known for 1981's Best Picture winner Chariots of
Fire. Hudson attempted to endow the "origin story"
of Burroughs' ape man with the same epic sweep and operatic grandeur he'd brought to his
earlier saga of Olympic runners, but in the process he lost touch with the pulp essence that gives
Burroughs' adventure tales their enduring appeal. Rescuing Tarzan from Johnny Weissmuller's
Thirties film caricature of a noble savage is one thing. Making him Hamlet in the rain forest is
The original screenwriter, Robert Towne (Chinatown),
insisted that he be credited with the name
of his dog, "P.H. Vazak". According to one account, Towne was displeased with rewrites
demanded by Hudson. (A second screenwriter is also listed, Michael Austin, whose major
subsequent credit is as writer and director of the little-seen Princess Caraboo.) In another
account, Towne's fury resulted from his being replaced as Greystoke's director, after the box
office failure of his directorial debut, Personal Best (1982). Whether or not Hudson used
Towne's original script, he created a film that looked good, but meandered episodically,
Curiosity and the devotion of long-time Tarzan fans drew enough of an audience to sell just
under $49 million in tickets, which was a respectable showing for 1984 but hardly a blockbuster.
Greystoke has been such a weak performer on home video that the Blu-ray is being issued
through the Warner Archive Collection.
Note: The version of Greystoke released on Blu-ray is the same "extended" version that Warner
Home Video has provided since 1992, which is roughly six minutes longer than the cut originally
released to theaters. A list of the changes can be found here at IMDb.
The commentary by
director Hugh Hudson was recorded for this version, but it is unclear whether it constitutes a
"director's cut".Greystoke falls into three acts. The first begins in 1885, when Lord John "Jack" Clayton (Paul
Geoffrey) bids farewell to his father, the Sixth Earl of Greystoke (Ralph Richardson, in his last
film) and sets sail for a tour of western Africa with his wife, Lady Alice (Cheryl Campbell). Jack
and Alice narrowly survive a shipwreck off the equatorial coast, in which most of the passengers
and crew perish. Captain Billings (Richard Griffiths) survives, and after a few months he departs
on foot in search of help, leaving the Claytons on their own. He never returns.
Alice Clayton gives birth to a son, but the delivery leaves her weak and vulnerable to malaria,
from which she never recovers. Just as her husband realizes that Alice has passed away, their
makeshift tree house is attacked by apes, and Jack is killed. The baby boy is rescued, however, by
a female ape identified in the credits as Kala. (Like most of the ape characters, Kala is played by
a human in a convincing suit designed by makeup genius Rick Baker.) In a prologue sequence
added after the film's theatrical release, Kala is seen losing her own infant as her group flees an
erupting volcano. She takes the Clayton child as a replacement and cares for him as her own.
Believing himself to be an ape, the boy grows in size, strength and agility (he is played by a
series of child actors: Peter Kyriakou, Danny Potts, Eric Langlois). He also learns the intricacies
of ape society and the survival skills that the jungle requires.
Greystoke's second act begins about twenty years after the birth of "Tarzan" (a name that is never
uttered in the film) with the arrival of a Belgian explorer, Capitaine Phillippe D'Arnot (Ian
Holm), who is accompanying a group of scholars sent by the British Museum. They find the tree
house where the Claytons died. The moldering remains of Jack Clayton's journal reveal enough
of their story to pique D'Arnot's curiosity, but then the explorers' party is attacked by a band of
pygmy warriors. Injured and separated from the group, D'Arnot is rescued by an ape-like man
(Christopher Lambert) whom D'Arnot instantly recognizes as the grown son of Lord Jack
As "Tarzan" nurses D'Arnot back to health surrounded by the ape clan of which he is now the
leader, D'Arnot teaches the "white ape" the rudiments of language and a few essentials of
civilization, such as shaving. Eventually, D'Arnot is able to convince the jungle creature that he
has a whole other family waiting to see him out there, beyond where he can see. They set off
together to seek passage to Scotland—a long and difficult journey, most of which happens off-screen. The portion that we do see demonstrates the
peril, as they stop at an inn on the edge of
civilization. The proprietor, Buller (David Suchet), and his regular clientele of reprobates, which
includes Billings, the ship captain who abandoned the Claytons all those years ago, attack
D'Arnot for no particular reason except that he's a stranger. "Tarzan" immediately beats them
back—and burns down the inn for good measure.
In the film's third act, "Tarzan", now called Johnnie by Lord Greystoke, returns to Scotland and
an emotional welcome by his grandfather, who is overcome with joy at the discovery that a
member of his family still lives. Equally pleased to see Johnny, and strangely moved by the
man's odd manner, is Lord Greystoke's American ward, Jane Porter (Andie MacDowell, in her
first film, with her Southern accent overdubbed by an uncredited Glenn Close). Though Jane is
the object of Lord Charles Esker's (James Fox) attentions, he doesn't stand a chance once Johnny
enters the picture.
This is the longest portion of the film and, leaving aside various plot turns, the question that
hangs over it is where Johnny truly belongs. Can he ever really adapt to the life of an English
aristocrat? The question is implicit in the film's visual texture. After spending over an hour in the
African jungle (with real location footage shot in Cameroon), the paintings, tapestries, wood
paneling and elaborate fashions of Victorian Britain appear almost as incongruous to the viewer
as they must to Johnny Greystoke. It's a relief to the eye, as it must be to the character, when he
climbs to the roof of the ancestral manor for a sense of openness and air.
The turning point for Johnny comes during the ceremonial dedication of a wing at the Natural
History Museum endowed by the Greystoke family and dedicated to African flora and fauna.
Johnny reacts to the specimens not as a member of the curious public but as an inhabitant of the
wilds from which these animals were hunted and retrieved. His inadvertent discovery of a private
research area triggers a crisis that leads to the film's conclusion.
Regardless of who is responsible for the final shooting script of Greystoke, its fundamental
failing is that it never draws the viewer close to its central character. This is not to fault
Christopher Lambert's performance, which is impressive. Indeed, it may be too good. Lambert so
successfully embodies the consciousness of someone who grew up without human language and
thinks entirely in the present tense that he becomes almost opaque, a cypher. A film about
"Tarzan" requires a central character who invokes the audience's interest, sympathy and concern,
one who can make the viewer a participant in the story. But Greystoke doesn't give Lambert the
resources with which to establish that kind of relationship with the viewer. The character moves
from one extreme environment (the jungle) to another (a Scottish castle) without ever acquiring
the purposeful trajectory that makes a character a true protagonist. Ian Holm's D'Arnot ends up
stealing most of his scenes with Lambert, not so much because Holm is a great actor (which he
is), but because D'Arnot has a clear arc that makes him more approachable as a character.
Lambert gets no help from Hudson, whose stately visual compositions were sufficient for a film
like Chariots, where the story was conveyed in dialogue, but who falls short when he has to
sustain a narrative on images alone. For long stretches of Greystoke's first two acts, Hudson has
to tell Tarzan's tale without human language, as first the boy and then the man interacts with ape
society in grunts, screeches and gestures. Critical events occur during these passages, and
conveying them with clarity requires precise control over visual storytelling. Hudson too often
loses the thread. After seeing the film several times, and especially after listening to Hudson's
commentary, you can sort out events, but a Kubrick or a Spielberg would have gotten it right on
the first viewing. In filmmaking, story should come first, pretty pictures second.
The Warner Archive Collection (WAC) twice postponed Greystoke to put more work into the
transfer and mastering, and they certainly made good use of the additional time. The late John
Alcott, an Oscar winner for Barry Lyndon, did most of
the cinematography, with uncredited
additional work by David Watkin. According to Hudson, it was Alcott who figured out a way to
get exposures deep in the jungles of Cameroon, where almost no light penetrated.
WAC's 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray has been taken from what appears to be pristine sources
that have been scanned and color-corrected with care and precision. Detail is abundant, whether
in the trees and vines of the jungle or in the equally entangling thicket of antique furnishings and
social protocol at Castle Greystoke. The blacks are excellent, which is crucial both for dark
passages in the wild and for formal wear in civilization, and colors, especially the rich jungle
greens, are vividly rendered. A natural but unobtrusive grain pattern can be observed throughout
the frame, and there is no evidence of filtering, artificial sharpening or other untoward digital
manipulation. The unusually high average bitrate of 34.71 Mbps no doubt contributes greatly to
the exceptional image quality and certainly explains the lack of any compression-related
Greystoke was released in Dolby stereo on 35mm and also received a 70mm release with 6-track
sound. Whatever source was used for the 5.1 mix presented on Blu-ray in lossless DTS-HD MA
5.1, the result provides excellent stereo separation across the front soundstage and a reasonably
effective surround presence for a mix of this vintage that is most noticeable in the jungle
sequences. The dynamic range is surprisingly wide, with bass extension that goes deep enough to
add real impact to the angrier ape sounds and animal battles. The lushly classical score by John
Scott (Wake in Fright) has room to breathe and is well suited to director Hudson's visuals.
Commentary with Director Hugh Hudson and Line Producer Garth Thomas:
Hudson and Thomas provide substantial detail on the challenging logistics of the
production in its various locales (primarily Scotland and Cameroon, but also London) and
on elaborately constructed sets, but the commentary is most notable for what they don't
say. There isn't a hint of any controversy over the script, not a word about Andie
MacDowell's voice being replaced by Glenn Close (even though Hudson speaks at length
about hiring MacDowell for her first movie role, the favorable response she elicited from
the cast and crew, and her subsequent career), and not a clue about Hudson's
participation, or lack thereof, in the restoration of the various scenes added back into the
version on which they're commenting. Too much of the commentary devolves into
narration of obvious plot points (e.g., the significance of the lighted windows at
Greystoke manor going dark near the film's end—well, duh!).
Hudson says on the commentary that he was offered a sequel to Greystoke and turned it down.
It's doubtful whether a sequel would have made it past development, even if Hudson had said
yes. Burroughs wrote over twenty Tarzan novels, so that in theory numerous adventures
remained for his famous character. But what adventures would be suitable for the character on
whom the titles roll at the end of Hudson's film? It's not even clear who Johnny has become,
except that he knows he's not an ape but also that he can never feel at home in English society
(or perhaps even among humans). "Half of me is the Earl of Greystoke", says Johnny. "The other
half is wild." As Hudson has told the story, it's much more than half that's wild. Recommended
on its technical merits as a Blu-ray. The film is a matter of personal taste.
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The Warner Archive Collection (WAC), the Warner Bros. Digital Distribution division dedicated to releasing previously unavailable films and television shows, will bring to Blu-ray Hugh Hudson's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), starring ...
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