Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes aims to retell the story of Tarzan in a serious manner but undermines everything about Edgar Rice Burrough’s hero the audience enjoys watching. As a consequence it ends up being far sillier than any of the previous versions, save perhaps John Derek’s atrocious 1981 film with Miles O’Keefe.
Tarzan Lord of the Apes
The heir to the Earldom of Greystoke and his pregnant wife are shipwrecked somewhere off the coast of Africa. They build a makeshift hut and survive long enough for their son to be born. After their deaths John is adopted by an ape as a replacement for her own dead baby. John grows up to become the leader and spends the early part of the film swinging through trees, killing a jaguar in a fight and hanging out with his tribe.
A group of imperialist British big game hunters have come to Africa to shoot some of the local wildlife. This is promising. Perhaps John/Tarzan (Christopher Lambert) will swing into action or ride into battle on the back of an elephant. Sadly Hugh Hudson is above entertaining the audience. Instead the film turns into a period drama as Tarzan is brought back to his ancestral home in Scotland.
Tarzan Returns to Greystoke
Tarzan strikes up a close relationship with his eccentric Grandfather (Ralph Richardson) and initially enjoys his new life. Jane (Andie McDowall’s body, Glenn Close’s voice) also proves interesting for the young man. Sadly Grandfather passes away after an incident involving a silver tea tray and a flight of stairs. Without his protection Tarzan finds the aristocracy and their ways to be as savage as the animals in the jungle, if not more so.
Christopher Lambert Stars as Tarzan
There are some positives to Greystoke. Rick Baker’s ape suits are convincing and the African scenes work well. Christopher Lambert brings a physical grace to Tarzan and has an otherworldy air about him that suits the part. There is an affecting sequence where Tarzan is taken to a museum exhibition and finds his ape father trapped in a cage.
Hugh Hudson Directs Greystoke
Back in the 80’s Hugh Hudson was being compared to David Lean and he seemed to believe the hype. Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes is every bit as long-winded and overblown as Lean’s work but without the brilliance. So instead of being given the guilty pleasures to be found in the Johnny Weismuller Tarzan pictures of the 30’s we get a faux epic and a lecture on class politics.