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Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981)



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"Do you know you're more beautiful than any girl I know?"

In 1981, husband and wife John and Bo Derek teamed up to make one of the worst Tarzan movies ever made. It starts out all right -- an old gentlemen tells the story of Jane Parker to several others. It's never said who any of them are, which is a little strange, but no matter. Note that I say Jane rather than Tarzan. Tarzan is barely in this movie. His first appearance is 45 minutes in, and I suspect he has more screen time during the closing credits than previously. And he doesn't do much besides lie around, pick up Jane now and again, and have slow motion fights with things. The slow motion gets old real fast, particularly during a tension free, way overlong wrestling match with a snake that Jane wrapped herself in to advance the plot. It's a dull, boring scene, but I should be thankful. Pretty much all the rest of Jane and Tarzan's scenes consist solely of them staring at each other.

Director and photographer John Derek is about as talented as his wife. The camera has the irritating habit of not pointing at what viewers want to see. This is most evident during a scene where Jane's father's safari scales an escarpment. The editing is so disorienting, it's not clear how many people are climbing the rope at any given time or, for that matter, who they are. The rope snaps, as all ropes must in these situations, and someone screams to his or her death. I have no idea who died, how many died, who got left behind, or how many got left behind. A scene where natives inexplicably capture and run away with one of the company is similarly disorienting -- some people scream, everybody comes running, and the characters figure out what's going on long before the audience does because the stupid camera refuses to point at the action. I don't often say things like this, because I believe the art and craft of filmmaking is much harder than a skilled filmmaker will make it appear, but how hard can it be to point the camera in the general direction of where things are happening?

The film's single asset is Richard Harris -- how on earth did he get into this mess? -- whose performance is slightly overacted but admirable, involving, and intriguing in its eccentricity. It's too bad the script overwhelms any impact he might have had.

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