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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

You can take the boy out of the jungle, but ...

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) on IMDb

Plot Overview

After an unnecessary overture-—I suggest starting with Scenes #2—we open on a jungle panorama, apes cavorting, and some wicked lightning. In the storm a mama ape drops her infant who dies.

Flashback to Scotland, the Sixth Earl of Greystoke (Ralph Richardson) presents his little ward Jane with a scarab ring—symbolizing the resurrection—and kids her about marriage, “We shall find some­one suit­able, prefer­ably an English­man.” Lord John ‘Jack’ Clayton (Paul Geoffrey) and his wife Lady Alice Clayton (Cheryl Campbell) are planning a trip to the tropics.

Fast forward. Among some wreckage on a jungle coast, Alice is calling, “Where's Jack? Where's Lord Clayton?” They survive and next we find them in a tree house, Dec. 17, 1885, Lord Clayton musing it's been “ten months since Captain Billings' [Richard Griffiths] gone to find help.” Alice is delusional and succumbs to jungle fever. Jack gets stomped by some curious apes come to visit, the mama taking infant baby John with her.

John grows up living as an ape.

A steamboat comes down the river gathering fauna for science. Their guide Belgian explorer Capitaine Phillippe D'Arnot (Ian Holm) stumbles onto the ape man and from an investigation of the tree house, he pieces together that he's the earl of Grey­stone's son, John Clayton / i.e. Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, (Christopher Lambert). Finding that “John is a mimic of uncanny ability,” D'Arnot gives him a crash language course for six months (and teaches him some manners.)

They make their way  back to Scotland  where the missing heir is warmly received, not least by Jane Porter (Andie MacDowell) who confesses, “I love you, Johnny, I love you”, but the half-wild man might have other plans (“I'm going back.”)


We note the opening lightning strike that spooked mama ape into dropping her kid to its death, the ship­wreck whose captain maintains, “It was not my fault”, and an uncannily provocative chance encounter at the opening of Grey­stoke Gallery exhibiting jungle fauna, which sets Johnny off. These were arguably acts of God. Old Solomon told us, (Eccl. 7:13) “Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?” With God intervening to keep John in two worlds, it's no wonder he says, “Half of me is the Earl of Greystoke … the other half is WILD!” He can't be reset into a totally "civilized" mold as some would like, “It's essential for all of us that he take his place in society.”

There are some curious biblical parallels. A human English­man's baby made in the image of God was delivered to an ape in the jungle on or around Christmas Day when we celebrate the advent of the Christ Child who was the express image of His Father God brought to this world. Then there is the matter of a proper match for Jane. As a little girl she played with ape dolls ascribing to them human characteristics. And as a woman she taught Johnny who hailed from the jungle how to live as an English­man. This all reflects on Paul's saying about a mixed marriage (Christian with nonchristian), (1Cor. 7:14) “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” That God can engineer mixed marriages as well as those between two Christians is intimated in, (1Cor. 7:7) “But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.” One may not be able to altogether prevent such unions. This seems to be a subtle message from the movie, Tarzan and Jane always appearing vaguely as a married couple in a rudimentary way.

Production Values

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” (1984) was directed by Hugh Hudson. It was an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's classic novel, Tarzan of the Apes. Its screen­play was written by Robert Towne (as P.H. Vazak) and Michael Austin. It stars Christopher Lambert, Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm, Andie MacDowell, and James Fox. Christopher Lambert does well in his portrayal of Tarzan, both in the jungle and out. This Tarzan movie is not hurting for good acting, especially from Ralph Richard­son. MacDowell did swell in her role, she's a sight to behold, Her voice was dubbed by Glenn Close on account of her southern accent. The supporting cast is excellent across the board.

The movie is rated PG. The jungle scenes are filmed in Cameroon, The special effects done by Rick Baker were second to none. Coupled with the breath­taking cinema­tog­raphy of John Alcott, Baker's ape creations are wonderful. The apes are people in ape costumes. Being recruited from circuses, mimes & acrobats, and then having gone to two months of ape school, they look amazingly realistic. Kudos to the splendid art direction of Stuart Craig and set decoration and a stately score from John Scott.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

If you're expecting the action and thrills we're used to in Johnny Weissmuller films, you'll be disappointed with this offering. It's more along Burroughs's original line of a man torn between two worlds, and it does that well. I liked it because I'm easy to please, but give me a Weissmuller Tarzan yell any day. It worked fine as a drama.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance. Special effects: Absolutely amazing special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.