Saturday, September 13, 2014

Movie Review: Tarzan (2013)


No clever opening for this, except watch out for that...meteor!?!

It's that meteor that results in both the destruction of the dinosaurs and a local African legend about its powers. Those rumors have brought billionaire explorer John Greystoke, his wife and son JJ to the jungle, along with fellow scientist Porter, to find it and discover its power, One of those powers, a strong magnetic field, causes the Greystoke helicopter to crash, leaving young JJ the only survivor but before too long he is found by Kala, a gorilla who had just lost her own child and husband and takes in the young boy. Before too long he is Tarzan, king of the jungle! And that's the first 15 minutes. The rest finds the grown-up Tarzan (now played by Kellan Lutz) meeting feisty environmentalist Jane Porter (Spencer Locke), and the evil businessman (has there ever been a good one?) Clayton, who needs to take out the heir of Greystoke and find that rock to secure his fame and fortune, There is also a huge snake-lizard-Sarlaac creature that tries to eat Tarzan and Jane, double crosses and a lot of helicopters heading towards Pandora. I mean that rock!

I don't know how to say it so I'll just give you to straight: this Tarzan isn't the worst Tarzan film ever but it doesn't come close to the top. As you can tell from the plot above, director-screenwriter Reinhard Klooss has updated the story and added an Avatar-like sci-fi element to the proceedings that results in a mess of a movie plot wise. Part of the problem is that so much of the emotional hook of the original Tarzan story-the death of his parents, his adoption by Kala and his rise among the Mangani-is lost in favor of the constant running around looking for the meteor and (in some cases well done) action sequences that overwhelm the thin story. It also doesn't help that Tarzan himself isn't fleshed out more, outside of one good sequence among the ruins of his parents' crashed helicopter and his scenes with Kala. The other characters don't emerge beyond one dimensional, especially the copy and pasted bad guys and some comic relief characters.

The other area of concern is the motion capture, which resulted in several dismissive comments when the trailers were released about the rubbery look of the human characters. While it doesn't reach the heights of Pixar's best it's not the worst. If anything at least Klooss avoids The Polar Express problem of attempting to make his characters look like the actors playing them but facial expressions do get stiff and give an unfinished appearance quite often.

There is some good elements here though. While the humans don't fair well, the apes are animated pretty well, with some nice movement and weight given to them that adds some reality to the story. Also the backgrounds in this are great-gorgeous in fact. From Tarzan's lush jungle home to the meteor the environments are given a top notch job that if anything makes the film look more expensive than it probably was. There is also a good performance from Locke as Jane, bringing some nice humor and emotion to the story that fails to develop elsewhere and her scenes with Lutz adds added depth.

The real audience for this version of Tarzan is kids, so I'm guessing they will probably enjoy it more than adults or ERB fans will. The backgrounds look great but are at the mercy of a poor story that probably needed more work and characters that needed more development. Rating: ** out of 4.

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