Thursday, October 18, 2012

Me Tarzan, Me Suck: "Tarzan and the Lost City" (1998)

Why is it the only successful Tarzan film of the last twenty years was Disney's?

John Clayton, aka Tarzan (Casper Van Dien), is in merry olde England circa 1913 and ready to marry his beloved Jane (Jane March). Tarzan has a vision sent by powerful medicine man Mugambe (Winston Ntshona) to return to Africa.

Apparently, the neato-named villain Nigel Ravens (Steve Waddington) has been looting and pillaging local tribes. Ravens finds an amulet that is the key to a treasure in the entitled lost city. Tarzan returns to Africa and Jane soon follows. She stays in a small town where Ravens takes a liking to her as Tarzan goes back to nature in record time, upsetting Ravens' plans for an exhibition to get the treasure. Young Kaya (Rapulana Seiphemo) wants to fight the white men, but Mugambe and Tarzan disagree.

The rest of the film is a by the numbers exercise in screenplay writing. There are a lot of chase scenes through the jungle, as Tarzan and Jane shadow Ravens and his henchmen, with a culminating battle at the lost city after Jane is kidnapped by the baddies (of course).

This is not just hard to watch, this is painful to watch. Casper Van Dien is all wrong as Tarzan. He is too lean and compact, when Johnny Weissmuller was tall and big. Van Dien also forgets his British accent in every other scene. Waddington tries as well, but his part is so predictable that he cannot possibly offer anything new to it. No actor could. Jane March is fine as Jane, but again, she starts out tough but eventually becomes another damsel in distress, waiting for her big man to come rescue her.

You cannot screw up African scenery, but Schenkel's direction is just plain awful. The film is edited down to nothing but action scenes, so any hope for a new twist on the Tarzan legend is quickly dashed. The computer generated special effects are absolutely terrible. The special ape makeup is often hard to see, as if the director knew it did not work at all. The entire film plays like a double episode of a syndicated action show.

This film does belong on the HBS/EFC Bottom 20, but so does Bo Derek's fiasco "Tarzan the Ape Man." How sad would it be to have two live action films with the same character from the last twenty years on the list? Find Bo's film and rate accordingly! Thank goodness "Greystoke" came along and followed Burroughs' novel the closest, at least through the first half of the film.

"Tarzan and the Lost City" just shows that no one can make them like they used to. The old MGM series has nothing to worry about. (*) out of five stars.