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The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/11/2016
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/4/2016
It seems that every summer is labeled as the "Summer of Sequels and Remakes", but the summer of 2016 really stood out as a time when the studios clearly felt that audiences only wanted familiar characters. Save for The Secret Life of Pets and Suicide Squad, every other number one movie was something which we'd seen before. (And Suicide Squad is more of a spin-off than an original movie.) Most of these entries were related to recent movies, but Warner went way back with The Legend of Tarzan, once again reviving a character which first appeared in 1912. Hollywood likes remakes and sequels because they are typically easy money, but would filmgoers be interested in a relic like this?
The Legend of Tarzan opens in London, where we see John Clayton, Earl of Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard), living a civilized wife with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie). John is asked to lead an expedition to Africa at the request of King Leopold of Belgium. At first, John refused, but Dr. George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), an American, convinces John that he, the man once known as Tarzan, is the only one who can do the job. John agrees and Jane insists on going with him. They soon find themselves in Africa, where they see many old friends, and John once again displays his bond with the animals. All seems well, however, John and John don't know that their journey is a trap planned by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), as an elaborate scheme to raise money for King Leopold.
Full disclosure, I'm not a fan of Tarzan. I can remember flipping past the old black and white movies on Saturday morning TV as a kid and having no interest whatsoever. I certainly appreciate Disney's 1999Tarzan, but the overall appeal is still lost on me. Given that, I approached this new live-action version with some trepidation. Yes, the movie boasts a good cast and a director who is a veteran of several Harry Potter movies, but Tarzan, really?
From the outset, it's clear that this movie wants to take the well-known character in a new direction. As noted above, the film does not open with the wild, savage Tarzan being discovered by explorers. Instead, when we first meet him, he is the epitome of aristocracy, with his gray suit and studied mannerisms. His long hair is the only clue that something more primitive lies underneath. This is not Tarzan -- This is John Clayton. He has left Africa behind and is very reluctant to live there. In other incarnations of the character, we are used to "Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle" -- someone who seemed to love where he lived. This film delivers a far more complex character. This is a man whose parents died in Africa and he looks on the continent as a place where he was forced to fight for survival.
Of course, John does return to Africa, but even then, the film avoids falling into the cliches. He meets with a tribe which is filled with old friends and demonstrates his touch with animals, but remains clearly in a civilized mode. It's only when Jane is threatened that John strips off his boots and shirt and begins to swing through the trees. Not only does he revert back to his old ways in terms of his appearance, the way in which he takes on his opponents grows more savage as the story proceeds. He eschews strategy for charging directly into battle. (Save for a twist at the end.)
So, in more ways than one, the makers of The Legend of Tarzan have taken this familiar character and transformed it into a superhero movie. This is essentially an origin story, except the character had his powers all along. Still, the way in which he fights turning back into a savage nearly parallels how many superheroes discover their powers. Once Tarzan swings into action, the scenes of him traveling by vine through the jungle don't look all that different from many moments in the Spider-Man films. John is pitted against a super-villain in Leon Rom, a madman who uses Rosary Beads as a weapon. (Really?) The entire film builds towards their final encounter. (Doesn't Christoph Waltz get tired of playing this character?)
If you can't already tell, I was pleasantly surprised by The Legend of Tarzan. I appreciate the fact that it avoided the "Me Tarzan, you Jane" approach and went with something more modern. I'm still not a fan of a guy swinging through trees and fighting animals, but the movie is briskly paced and the only slow scene does pay off in the end. Skarsgard is well-cast as Tarzan, and the quiet intensity which he brings to some scenes speaks volumes. Margot Robbie continues to look and sound like Jamie Pressly and Samuel L. Jackson plays Samuel L. Jackson. The movie shows off some nice scenery, but some of the green-screen work is questionable. If you are like me and were wary of a new Tarzan movie, give this one a shot. The story and action may win you over.
The Legend of Tarzan feels just vine on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good and the image has a nice depth. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a very powerful track. The stereo and surround effects are abundant during the action sequences, offering a deluge of audio coming from all around us. The sounds from the rear speakers are nicely detailed. The subwoofer effects resonate, adding power to the battle sequences. This set also includes a Blu-ray 3D where the film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc carries an MVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at 25/13 Mbps. The depth here is very impressive, as the actors are distinctly separate from the background. The background is a bit blurry at times. The colors look good, and don't have the dark look which can be found on some 3D films. This Disc has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 384 kbps. It sounds fine, but it's no lossless track.
The Legend of Tarzan is also available on a 4K UHD Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and features a 2160p HD transfer. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain whatsoever and no defects from the source materials. The crispness of the image is very, very impressive, but the colors seem off here. It's not washed out per se, but the colors aren't very vibrant. The greens of the jungle should be more lush and green. It's a small issue, but it was noticeable to me. This Disc carries a Dolby Atmos 7.1 track which shows amazing separation and power, creating the feeling of being swallowed by the movie.
The Legend of Tarzan Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. "Tarzan Reborn" (15 minutes) touches on the history of the character, but mainly focuses on the new approach which was taken by this film. "Battles and Bare-Knuckle Brawls" tackles three fight scenes from the film -- "Tarzan vs. Akut" (5 minutes), "Boma Stampede" (5 minutes), and "Train Ambush" (5 minutes) -- showing how they were choreographed and created. "Tarzan and Jane's Unfailing Love" (6 minutes) examines the relationship between the two characters and how Skarsgard and Robbie approached it. "Creating the Virtual Jungle" (15 minutes) shows us how the film was shot on set and stages using visual effects. "Gabon to the Big Screen" (2 minutes) gives a brief look at some of the location shooting.
Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long