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Warner Home Video presents
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)

"It's an extraordinary example of man's superiority over beast. Not only did he survive, he made himself their master. Their lord, as it were."
- Sir Evelyn Blount (John Wells)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: August 11, 2004

Stars: Christopher Lambert
Other Stars: Sir Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm, Andie McDowell, James Fox, Nigel Davenport, John Wells, Paul Geoffrey, Cheryl Campbell, Glenn Close
Director: Hugh Hudson

MPAA Rating: PG for (violence)
Run Time: 02h:16m:49s
Release Date: June 08, 2004
UPC: 085391137528
Genre: adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Over the course of his prolific career, in between churning out the Mars series, Edgar Rice Burroughs cranked out a whopping 26 Tarzan novels, beginning in 1914. When Hollywood took a stab at retelling the story, it turned the literary character into an iconic animal pelt-wearing, vine-swinging jungle hero that permanently typecast the likes of Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe. In subsequent years, their have been numerous attempts to reinvigorate the franchise, and even talent deficient nudist Bo Derek was involved in an ill-fated production in the mid-1980s. And, of course, what was Tanya Roberts' Sheena but yet another sexified female alteration of Tarzan, itself an offshoot of the 1950s comic character. While the Weissmuller films from the 1930s are enjoyable serial-action pulp, the series became stagnant by the time he was dragged to New York City for the appropriately titled Tarzan's New York Adventure in 1942.

In this fairly faithful 1984 adaptation of Burroughs' book from Chariots of Fire director Hugh Hudson, an 1895 shipwreck off the coast of Africa strands the sixth Earl of Greystoke, John Clayton (Paul Geoffrey), and his wife, Alice (Cheryl Campbell). As they struggle to survive in the following months deep in the jungle, the birth of their son John not only leads to the death of Alice, but poor John Sr. as well, who ends up on the wrong side of a fight with a very aggressive ape. The ape clan then whisks the young infant off, raises it as their own until he grows up and turns into an unkempt Christopher Lambert. All is right with the world for a few decades, until Belgian Phillippe D'Arnot (Ian Holm), the survivor of a Pygmy-decimated British zoological expedition, discovers the mysterious jungle man.

The second half of the film concerns the return of John Clayton (Lambert) to the family estate in Scotland, much to the delight of his grandfather, the senior Earl of Greystoke (Sir Ralph Richardson). Here's where the internal conflict kicks in, as Lambert's Clayton has to try to fit into a new world, one that for all of its proper finery is as alien to him as another planet would be. Some burgeoning sexual sparks build between Clayton and Jane (Andie McDowell, appearing here in body only, as her twangy drawl was overdubbed by Glenn Close), and the whole "torn between two worlds" element builds to a completely satisfying and expected resolution.

It's odd that up until this 1984 project, the most thrilling and satisfying film version was the original Tarzan, The Ape Man, from 1932. With Hudson's take, working in part from Burroughs' book and a screenplay from Robert Towne, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes has the distinction of working the hardest to portray the character as realistically as possible. Whether during the scenes in Africa or his return to Scotland, the sets and production design are elaborately first rate, contributing to what could have easily become a stuffy and dry costumed period piece.

A huge part of tackling that realism involved presenting a believable jungle world during the early years of the title character, who interestingly enough is never once referred to as Tarzan; instead he is known more accurately as John Clayton, the seventh Earl of Greystoke. Makeup effects master Rick Baker created some truly incredible ape costumes for this film, and considering that the first 73 minutes are set in Africa (and 40 of those minutes are dialogue-free), it is imperative that the world of the apes come across as believable as possible, something that Baker seems to be able to do in his sleep. The sequences between the infant John Clayton and the apes who would become his family, as well as the subsequent montage that covers his eventual maturity into Christopher Lambert, are exciting, violent, and even emotional, and all conveyed without a line of dialogue.

While the screenplay takes some liberties with Burroughs' original book, especially with regard to the ending, Hudson has risen above other before him to actually capture the look and feel of this legendary literary character with abundant realism.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Issued in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Warner's treatment of Greystoke is an admirable one, albeit with a few extremely minor squabbles. There is some grain and speckling issues to contend with here and there, but overall the print doesn't reveal all that many nagging imperfections. Blacks levels suffer a bit on this transfer, coming across somewhat muddy, most apparent during the jungle scenes during the film's first half. Colors, on the other hand, look natural and resplendent during those very same jungle sequences, as do the deep golds, reds and greens of the Greystoke estate.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: A newly remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track is available here, and while not possessing an overly prominent sub channel, does deliver some well—placed rear channel cues. The jungle scenes make good use of apes chattering and screeching from behind, and the Pygmy attack sequence sports some ominous drum thumping that rises from the rear of the sound field. Dialogue is clear and presentable, and the separation across the front speakers is pronounced, with appropriate directional movement adding a pleasing spatial element.

A French language mono track is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 37 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Hugh Hudson, Garth Thomas
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Director Hugh Hudson and associate producer Garth Thomas, both of whom possess nearly identical speaking voices, provide a meandering commentary for this release; while it has more than a few blocks of interesting production insight (especially during the Cameroon sequences), too much of the track consists of reiteration of what's happening onscreen. A couple of humorous anecdotes, such as Sir Ralph Richardson's penchant for motorbikes and white rats, are lost in between long stretches of them explaining the story. It's curious that Hudson mentions an alternate ending that didn't test well, but it's unfortunate that its nowhere to be found on this disc. Bummer.

A theatrical trailer for the feature is also included.

The disc is cut into 37 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English, French, or Spanish.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Certainly one of the most faithful adaptations of the Burroughs books, this entry in the Tarzan oeuvre is also one of the most lush. Sure, there's no Bo Derek getting naked in this version, but by splitting its time between Africa and Scotland, Hugh Hudson's alternatingly stylish and violent retelling of the jungle legend is a deft and authentic blend of 1890s high drama and action.



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