At last, it has finally happened — someone who saw a test screening of David Yates’ TARZAN has leaked some fascinating and detailed observations. There is of course no way to 100 percent verify that he’s for real — but from the detail and specificity, I don’t think there’s any doubt. A word on demographics: He’s a black male, 25-44, whose father had a collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs books in the house which he read and thus starts from a place of being familiar with the books. He “didn’t hate” John Carter — says “it was flawed and I’ve seen much better, but … actually thought it was alright.”
One confession: I haven’t put a single word into his mouth, but I’ve re-organized and consolidated, and the questions aren’t exactly the same as the ones that were asked on the place where I snagged this. But they are appropriate to the answers, and having it flow as a coherent Q and A strikes me as fair enough. If anybody feels otherwise, email me and I’ll send you the link to go view it in the original.
Here we go!
Q: You say you “didn’t hate” John Carter. How does this compare?
A: Tarzan is definitely quite a bit better to my mind so I’m not putting them on par with one another. Tarzan is better.
Q: There are a lot of people out there saying Alexander Skarsgard is too skinny to play Tarzan — not enough muscles or physicality. Your take on that?
A: Not at all, he has a fearsome physique and he’s great.
Q: What about the rest of the cast?
A: As you might expect, Samuel Jackson is excellent. Djimon Honsou is appropriately intense and driven, Christoph Waltz is quality and Margot Robbie is actually really decent.
Q: How faithful (if at all) is it to the books?
A: The film doesn’t trample on existing lore but it does update it appropriately. As a black man, I’ve sometimes found “white savior” films to be difficult to watch. I’m happy to say that this is not that kind of movie. The Waziri (though I didn’t hear that word) have minds and martial capabilities of their own.
Jane is actually a mentally and physically capable woman. The villainous plot is a bit strange in parts, the villains over complicate things in classical style, and watching a grown man go “ook ook” is disconcerting. But the action is suitably hyperkinetic, the Mangani are very well realized and the “victory cry of the bull ape” is…suitably fearsome.
Q: So how do you rate it 1-10?
A: If you like adventure movies then I definitely think it’s worth a look. I’ve always found it hard to give films a numerical rating, but I would definitely pay to see it in the cinema if that means anything. It was quite humorous in parts and I definitely wasn’t expecting that. I mean, the villain’s plot is dastardly as can be, yet they still find a way to put humor into a film that touches on one of the most abominable regimes Africa has ever seen. So I’m always happy when I haven’t wasted my scarce free time watching something terrible. In this case, I liked the film and I was also fascinated by the insight I gained into the post-production process, fx editing and audience testing.
Q: Art direction and cinematography?
A: The forest actually looked quite good. There was a certain weight to the trees and the light was properly diffused by the leaves, branches etc. It was huge and yet almost claustrophobic at the same time. From my point of view it had a certain brooding presence and an air of “there could be anyone/anything hidden in those shadows or behind that treeline”. There were different light palettes for the different locations. Ranging from the somber blue-grey of the Greystokes’ stately pile, to the sun drenched Savannah to the shadowy with the occasional shaft of light tropical rainforest. Then the bits that took place in the past have a different look yet again, presumably so that you don’t confuse them with the film’s present day.
Bear in mind that some of the visual effects hadn’t been completed, but those that were had a high quality feel to them.
Q: We know the film uses flashbacks. Do they work?
A: One thing I found interesting — in the flashbacks/memories, it was as though Tarzan was larger than life. Obviously, he’s a big guy anyway, but it’s as though the memory conveyed how they saw him, rather than the objective truth about him. That’s how it looked.
Q: Did it feel sufficiently modern to work with modern audiences?
A: As with most films, the good guys are modern in their outlook and perspectives. The villains, well they were actually toned down as compared to their real life equivalents. Which is all to the good I suppose. A film that portrayed Lom accurately would be very hard to stomach. One of his henchmen made a remark about baboons and “negras” and there was an audible gasp. People would have lost their damn minds if they’d had them talk and act realistically.
Q: How would you describe the action — what kind of action, what quality?
A: The beginning was good, the bark of the maxim gun was so ferocious I half expected it to tear the fog to bits and the sense of menace was very real. In terms of action, I saw it more as an adventure film interspersed with regular bits of action. Thankfully, unlike the old school adventure films, the action wasn’t just crude wrestling and hefty punches from a star who’s desperately sucking in his gut or wearing a man girdle. There was actual technique and agility in the fight choreography.
Q: Talk to us about the apes. How did they come off?
A: The mangani definitely feature and they’re ferocious. I don’t want to describe them, but as you already know about them, I think you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. They are similar to gorillas, but if you know what to look for, they’re clearly something else. I didn’t notice a pronounced sagittal crest for example. They don’t have the gut that gorillas do, they’re plainly more intelligent and vastly more ferocious than real life gorillas.
If I had to guess, I’d say that they went down the same road as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in terms of the effects. That is, motion capture, cgi and high end practical effects. I must stress that I don’t know for sure, I’m just going by how it looked.
Q: Was there anything you really didn’t like about it?
A: There’s one aspect of the film that I was predisposed to dislike and sure enough I found it tiresome. I understand why it’s important, and it is an important part of the Tarzan story but still. The whole “what is this wondrous creature” business with Jane always makes me cringe slightly. At least there’s some humour in it on this occasion.
Q: How long is it?
A: In the version I saw, the film was almost 2 hours long, I think. I can’t be precise because our phones were taken and I wasn’t wearing a watch.
Q: What about the animals? How were they?
A: Now the animals are interesting because they ranged from apparently finished to very rough digital placeholders. Being Tarzan, he has some kind of interaction with the usual suspects, tantor, numa, sheeta, sabor and so on. It isn’t the “ho tantor!” kind of interaction, so I don’t know if you’ll be pleased or disappointed.
Q: Without giving away any spoilers, what about the ending? Does it work?
A: The ending will probably be changed if I know anything about my fellow human beings. I found the end simple enough, others appeared confused. Human beings can change, but it’s a gradual process. Some of the test audience seemed to want to know that a character had changed utterly over the course of a few hours in the film universe. I take the view that such a thing would be very strange indeed. You can’t spell out what he’ll do next because only time will tell and I’m fine with that. Other people…weren’t. In addition, the end was obviously still being edited so I assume there’ll be some changes to the climactic action sequences. It didn’t quite flow in the same way as the rest of the film, but that’s to be expected.
Q: How do you think they will market it?
A: My dad was a huge adventure story, scifi, sword and sorcery and fantasy nut. He had a huge book collection and I read a multitude of the old Tarzan, Conan and other stories when I was a kid. What I’m getting at is that I’m a man in the target age range (25-44 although they stretched it to 54 apparently), who’s very very familiar with the source material. Yet, I still wasn’t sure that I wanted to watch it. The problem is, I don’t know how much resonance the name Tarzan actually has. Does it help them with marketing the film, or is it an obstacle to be overcome in order to get people to judge the film on its merits? I think that the answer to that question and how they deal with it will determine the answer. If judged on its merits as a movie then yes, I reckon it has mass appeal. It’s definitely of its genre though, so anyone who dislikes adventure/action films probably shouldn’t bother. But, the market for such films is huge, so I genuinely hope that people do go and see it rather than dismissing it because of the old “kreegah bundolo many thundersticks” predecessors.
[End of original post. Since then, the conversation has continued, so here’s more:]
Q: Does it make sense to compare it to Disney’s animated Tarzan? or Greystoke?
A: I’d say that it’s better but with one caveat. The cartoon Tarzan was far superior in terms of children’s entertainment. I have no idea what rating this’ll have, but you wouldn’t want a 10 year old to watch it. It can’t be compared to the Lambert Tarzan because they’re totally different genres despite featuring the same main character. I liked Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, but it wasn’t an exciting film, if you see ehat I mean.
Q: What’s you’re prediction about how Burroughs fans will like it or hate it?
A: The conservative Burroughs fans might not like it because there are changes. Africans haven’t made Tarzan their “chief” (which was always ludicrous anyway), the Mangani don’t have human style words and he doesn’t have back and forth conversations with Tantor or Numa or even use those words to describe them. Jane isn’t like Tarzan, but she can function perfectly well within the environment she grew up in. If there weren’t changes, a modern audience wouldn’t pay money to see it. But some will complain about political correctness because Jane is the way frontierswomen have always been and Tarzan is seen as a fearsome but intelligent friend and warrior rather than a near god.
Q: Is Skarsgard’s accent okay or is it weird?
A: I wonder how many people know what Skarsgård sounds like when he isn’t playing a role? Jackson doesn’t do an accent at all. He’s an American playing an American so he just sounds like himself. Skarsgård does an accent, but only in that he always does an accent. It isn’t easily definable which is probably for the best. After all, his character spent his formative years with non-human primates, then a period in a human village in Africa where the people appear trilingual and then finally, another undefined period in England. Lord only knows what such a person would sound like in real life.
Q: What about the relationship between Skarsgard and Jackson? Does it play?
A: The relationship between Jackson and Skarsgård is important to the film’s plot, so I don’t want to say whether they were friends or enemies, foes or allies. They do play off each other quite well in my opinion if that helps.
Q: Was the Tarzan ape cry used any through out the film. if it was used,how close was it to the johnny Weissmuller version cry?
A: It was somehow similar but more animalistic at the same time. It’s maybe more of a roar than a yodel if you see what I mean.
(and now for the book pitch!)
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“A winning book . . . . I have no reservations in recommending John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood. Even if you only remotely hold an interest in the film or the moviemaking method, do yourself a favor and purchase this book. I cannot remember an instance when I read 350 pages of anything in 24 hours, but my level of captivation in how methodically and interestingly the content was presented should substantiate why John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood is a must-read. Grade A.” Brett Nachman, Geeks of Doom.
“A must read for every fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs and John Carter and every film buff intrigued by the ‘inside baseball’ aspects of modern Hollywood.” Richard A. Lupoff, Author of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Master of Adventure
“Extensively researched . . . fascinating . . . an engrossing experience, kind of like watching the Titanic headed for the fateful iceberg. Josh Whalen, AmazingStoriesMag.comp;