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Film / Congo

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"Where you are the endangered species."
Poster tagline

Congo is a 1995 action/adventure film (with a slight comedic streak) based on the novel of the same name written by Michael Crichton (of Jurassic Park fame).

An expedition to the titular Congo on telecommunications company Travi-Com's part to develop a laser weapon ends in disaster when the party is slain by an unseen threat. Dr. Karen Ross (Laura Linney), who used to be the fiancee of one of the members of the party, is sent by her boss, R.B. Travis (Joe Don Baker) to investigate the incident and retrieve the weapon.

Meanwhile, Dr. Peter Elliott (Dylan Walsh), a primatologist, has invented a device that translates sign-language into audible English, and by doing so has given his pet gorilla, Amy, the ability to speak (she is voiced by Shayna Fox). Amy has been having nightmares, so Peter resolves to take her back to her birthplace in the Congo. At first he is unable to find funding, but then Romanian philanthropist Herkermer Homolka (Tim Curry) grants it. It is revealed that Herkermer has an ulterior motive; to find the mythical lost city of Zinj, said to contain an ample diamond mine. Peter, Amy, Herkermer, and Peter's friend Richard (Grant Heslov) meet with Karen and head for Africa. Once there, they meet their guide, Captain Munro Kelly (Ernie Hudson), and embark on the expedition.


Along the way, they encounter Zaire soldiers, hippopotami, and finally the city of Zinj itself, guarded by a pack of killer gorillas responsible for its elusiveness and for the initial expedition's slaughter.

Not to be confused with the 1932 film Kongo. For the two nations frequently called The Congo, see Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic Of The Congo.

Tropes the film follows:

  • Action Girl: Karen Ross kicks serious ass in the movie. In the novel she's an Ice Queen who becomes overly focused on her goal and inadvertently sets off the volcano.
  • Action Survivor: Dr Elliot is the only member of the expedition that survives all the way through the film that has absolutely no idea of how to fight (and when he gets his hands on an Uzi, he needs help clearing out a jam).
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: The book explains that the same properties the company wants made them worthless to the original inhabitants, who abandoned the site when the gems they actually wanted were exhausted and left their trained attack gorillas to go feral. In the movie they just left the diamonds lying around and also there are killer gorillas for no reason.
    • Turned Against Their Masters: The explanation given in The Movie is that the gorilla guards got a little overzealous in their defense of the diamonds and killed the humans who were mining them.
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  • Adaptational Heroism: Ross. In the book, she wants keep the company ahead as much as Travis, putting her goal above safety (at one point considering setting off explosives and potentially trigger a volcano eruption — an early psych profile reading theorizes that she becomes more sociopathic the closer she gets to an objective). However, the film gives has a humane objective (find her fiancee) and makes her dislike people with the same mentality as Travis (and takes revenge when Travis picks a very bad time to act like a jerk). Also, the film removes some of her more amoral moves (like blackmailing Munro to guide them, and the aforementioned placing and setting off of the explosives).
  • Adaptation Name Change: Munro... sort of. In the novel, he's a white mercenary named Charles Munro. In the film, he's a black mercenary named Munro Kelly. However, both versions refer to him simply as "Munro" after his initial introduction.
    • Mega-Corp Earth Resource Technology Services becomes "Travi-Com" on the film. Justified in that ERTS in the novel is a mining and exploration organization that hunts for resources for other businesses whilst Travi-com in the film is a communications company.
  • Adapted Out: The whole sub-plot regarding The Rival corporate group's expedition and how their Cold War with Travi-Com (Earth Resource Technology Services in the novel) hinders the expedition. The plane that is shot down from the sky by the end of the second act instead becomes that of a third Travi-Com expedition, which cements Travis' Jerkass In Sheep's Clothing status.
    Karen: What a waste of lives!
  • Adaptational Villainy: Travis.
    • On the original book, Travis is pretty much Da Chief and a Reasonable Authority Figure, Properly Paranoid because corporate espionage and sabotage is a normal part of business. Although he is not above using underhanded methods, the competition doesn't hesitate to use them either.
    • In the movie however, he is a belligerent jerk that is all too willing to toss anybody to the wolves to make his company prosper (even his own son).
  • Adaptational Wimp: Dr. Elliot may be The Worm Guy/Non-Action Guy in the book, but he had several scenes where he shines as a Badass Bookworm (including trying to capture a gorilla alive with only Amy for help so the expedition could figure out a way to keep them from killing everybody, and blasting some cannibals dead single-handedly with a machine gun before having the standard My God, What Have I Done? reaction). The movie version of Elliot doesn't get that many moments and is pretty useless with a gun.
  • Advanced Ancient Acropolis: Zinj, though only in the "lost civilization" sense; there's no Ragnarök Proofing.
  • The Alleged Expert: From what little we hear from him, Robertson Reynolds (the man that Elliot originally hired to guide his expedition) was one of these (at least in the "plot is too extreme for his level of expertise" kind of alleged):
    Dr. Peter Elliot: Excuse me, we already hired a guide: Robertson...
    Eddie Ventro: Robertson Reynolds, yeah, I fired him.
    Dr. Peter Elliot: You what?
    Eddie Ventro: Robertson Reynolds is a bird-watcher.
    Dr. Peter Elliot: I hired Robertson Reynolds!
    Eddie Ventro: You would! You have any idea what's going on in the Congo as of the radio show this morning? The Kigani have had it with Zaire, and they're eating people. You go in there with Robertson Reynolds, you'll be coming out somebody's bowel movement.
  • All-Natural Gem Polish: The mines's diamonds.
  • All Myths Are True: What's behind Homolka's obsession with discovering King Solomon's mines.
    Homolka : "So that's why Solomon's diamonds were never found. The myth of the killer ape is true!"
  • And Show It to You: Poor, poor Richard
  • Anti-Air: Fortunately the heat-seeking missiles have a problem locking in on a prop-driven airplane. Ross and Munro divert them with Flare Guns (fortunately the missiles are being fired from the same side as the airplane's cargo door).
  • Arc Symbol: Eyes.
  • Arc Words: "We are watching you."
  • Artistic License – Geology: The volcano scene had many geologic sins (diamonds in basalt, etc), but often gets faulted for one part that was actually accurate; the speed of the flow. The Congo is the only place in the world where lava actually can move at freeway speeds due to its consistency (think mud bath, only it would melt your face instead of cleansing your pores).
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: "Why are they putting on parachutes?" / "Figure it out!"
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Herkemer Homolka is so not a Romanian name. Homolka is actually a Czech surname.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Inverted with the portable air conditioner for each tent. Munro eagerly helps himself to one. Any fool can be uncomfortable, as the saying goes.
  • Badass Bookworm: Dr. Ross is a communications scientist, but also a former CIA operative.
  • Berserk Button: Karen Ross is going to the Congo to find Charlie and his team. She is very unhappy when she realizes her boss had an ulterior motive...
  • BFG: The Travi-Com experimental laser that Charlie brought along on his expedition pulls this duty at the climax, with Ross using it to literally cut a path through the killer gorillas to freedom and later to blow away the satellite that Travi-Com depends on to function (Travis really shouldn't have acted like a jerk at a moment she was still emotional...)
  • Big Damn Heroes: Amy appears just in time to stop Elliot from being killed by the gorillas.
  • Big "OMG!": Richard's default exclamation whenever something bad happens.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted; the character played by Ernie Hudson manages to survive all the way through.
  • Blatant Lies: Munro is talking about Homolka's last expedition to find Zinj.
    Munro: "Three members of his safari died of exposure. The fourth was shot by (looks at Homolka) we don't know who."
    Homolka: "It was an appalling suicide!"
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted when Elliot runs out of ammunition for an Uzi and doesn't know how to reload.
  • Border Crossing: The border is closed, so they try flying over it. Which isn't easy when you have army units firing heat-seeking missiles at your plane.
  • Bulungi: Zaire and The Central African Republic were/are real countries, but their portrayal lends mostly to this trope.
  • Butt-Monkey: Homolka — everyone who's met him before treats him with contempt.
  • Calling Me a Logarithm: Richard compares his interrogation by the Zaire soldiers to being in a Franz Kafka story, and this results in one of the soldiers interrogating him about who Kafka is even more harshly than the rest of the questions done before.
  • Canon Foreigner: A number of characters appear that were not in the novel:
    • Bruce Campbell plays Charlie, former fiance of Karen Ross and leader of the first, doomed expedition. Notably, the addition of this character completely changes Karen's motivation for leading the second expedition - in the novel, she is as big a player of Corporate Warfare as Travis and just as eager to find the diamonds; in the film, she explicitly states the mission is to find Charlie and the other missing team members.
    • Both of the major Butt-Monkey and/or Plucky Comic Relief characters, Herkermer Homolka and Dr. Elliot's assistant Richard, do not appear in the novel. Homolka is mentioned on the novel, but nothing comes from it (so in his case he would be an Ascended Extra).
  • Captain Obvious: During Elliot's demonstration, a woman makes fun of her husband for pointing out the obvious while he's all "ooh" and "ahh". The husband doesn't appreciate the insult.
  • Cat Scare: After encountering the first killer gorilla, the team are startled by Amy leaping out at them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The hot air balloon that Karen insists they don't need. Also the experimental laser that Charles' expedition brought along.
  • Chekhov's Volcano: In the novel the protagonists actually set off the volcano when they detonate a series of explosive charges that generate a resonant shock. In the film it just erupts naturally.
  • Collapsing Lair: The City of Zinj is completely demolished by the volcano going off.
  • Convection Schmonvection: In the climax, the gorillas need to actually jump into the lava to start burning, and the team runs around various lava pits with no sign of extreme heat (such as burning vegetation).
  • Corporate Warfare: In the novel corporations are involved in low-key conflict of the Cold War type, including espionage and sabotage.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Travis is a very mild version — more of a self-centered Bad Boss.
  • Cut Phone Lines: Amy goes crashing into Dr Ross' satellite phone. This is what causes Travis to send in another expedition, thinking Karen's expedition has also been ambushed.
  • Darkest Africa
  • Death by Adaptation: Kahega, who was a much more important character in the book, and the survivor from the first expedition the heroes find in a tribal village.
  • Death by Materialism: Homolka is scrabbling for diamonds when he suddenly finds himself facing a killer gorilla.
  • Death by Transceiver: The beginning with the killer gorillas.
  • Decapitation Presentation: On the grey gorilla's first proper appearance, it chucks the head of a man it's just killed at the protagonists.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: Inverted
    Captain Wanta: "STOP EATING MY SESAME CAKE!"
  • Eye Motifs: All over the Lost City of Zinj.
  • Eye Scream: Charlie is calling for his friend when something bounces off his chest. Thinking his friend threw it, Charlie picks it up and realizes he's holding a severed eyeball.
  • Face Palm: Homolka's background reaction on hearing that Munro Kelly is going to be their guide.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: Mostly averted; the laser has no recoil, travels immediately in a straight constant beam and produces deadly amounts of heat and cutting power. It does, however, include a visible beam, appears to cauterize wounds, and is powered by an unprocessed diamond that was chipped out of a rock literally seconds earlier. So basically all the cool parts without any of the hassle or overwhelming gore. The movie also upgrades the W.E.I.R.D. perimeter defensive package from a portable electrified fence to a network of criss-crossing lasers.
  • Great White Hunter: Somewhat straight in the novel, although really Munro Kelly is more of a Hired Mercenary type, and also half-Indian. The trope proper is spoofed in the film.
    Munro: I'm your Great White Hunter for this trip, though I happen to be black.
  • Hollywood Skydiving: The parachute sequence. At least three team members - Peter, Richard, and Herkemer - have never parachuted before and receive no instructions before jumping. Munro is jumping with Amy strapped to him. And the plane is taking antiaircraft fire. Naturally, no one is injured on landing except for Munro, who got some minor scratches when Amy woke up mid-jump.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: When Dr Karen Ross holds out her hand for a handshake Captain Wanta raises it to his lips, only for her to yank back her hand.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: Dr. Ross is trying to buy a place on Dr. Elliot's expedition and tells him to name his price. He retorts, "I'm not a pound of sugar, I'm a primatologist!"
  • I Need a Freaking Drink
    Amy: drop drink.
    Ross: Are you serving that ape a martini?
    Elliot: She's allowed one; it'll calm her down.
  • Irony: Dr. Karen Ross pretends she used to work for the CIA but quit. Her "reason" being they're loveless bastards. However, her boss Travis turns out to be a "loveless bastard" because he cares more about the diamonds than the expedition teams, the first of which included his own son.
  • Ironic Echo: When the laser is unleashed.
    "What the hell is that?!"
    "The latest in modern communications!"
  • It Can Think: "I think they're smart — they're too damn smart." Even more apparent in the book where the apes use stone clubs and cross an electric fence by dropping a tree on it.
  • Jerkass: Travis. Read the "Irony" note to know why. Interestingly, some of Ross' more jerkish actions on the novel (one of which triggers the volcano's eruption) were Adapted Out, turning her into a Defrosting Ice Queen.
  • Jungle Opera: An attempt to update the trope.
  • Just a Stupid Accent: Tim Curry speaks the entire time in Vampire Vords.
  • Killer Gorilla: The film goes out of its way to mention that normal gorillas aren't particularly aggressive - it's specifically the grey gorillas of Zinj that were bred and trained to be aggressive guardians of the city.
  • Large Ham: Homolka; well, look who plays him.
  • Lava Pit: What the Lost City Of Zinj and its mines become after the volcano erupts.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: After the group bribes Captain Wanta for safe passage, the Captain remarks that he's letting them go partly because his people don't want to be seen in an American movie being cruel to a gorilla.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: The Obligatory Joke from anyone seeing Elliot and Amy.
  • Licensed Pinball Table: Released by Williams Electronics several months after the movie. Click here for details.
  • Lighter and Softer: The film is far less dark and violent than the novel, and plays more like a tongue-in-cheek parody of the novel (and jungle expedition movies in general) than a straight adaptation.
  • Lock and Load Montage: Setting up the base camp's defenses.
  • Maniac Monkeys: The apes that guard Zinj are bred to be killers.
  • Meaningful Name: "Herkimer diamonds" are a kind of quartz that are naturally faceted and extremely clear, making them resemble polished diamonds.
    • "Zinj" is a homonym of "singe", the French word for monkey or apenote .
  • Misplaced Wildlife: American leaf-cutting ants in the Congo (the scene was filmed in Costa Rica).
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Averted when the party are attacked by the far more dangerous hippo.
  • Oh, Crap!: In the diamond mine, the crew look up to the cliffs to find them filling with the aggressive gray gorillas.
  • Offhand Elbow Groin Attack: Happens to a soldier who tries feeling up Karen's hair.
  • Only Mostly Dead: According to the film, the Mizumu have different levels of dead (presumably including catatonia as a condition where the spirit has left the body [death] yet the body still breathes). Only the last level is dead-dead.
    • It's this way in the novel too, although the tribe in question there happen to be pygmies.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Homolka. Richard to some extent as well.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Early on Homolka gets sick of Munro's accusations and is about to cut loose with an N-bomb, but Munro's anger at that makes him backpedal at the last second.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: Ross gets a pretty cool one when she gets the laser operational at the climax:
    Ross: We're getting the hell outta here.
    Munro: What about them (the gorillas)?
    Ross: They're about to enter the endangered species list! (fires laser, cuts the group surrounding Amy and Peter literally in half).
  • Properly Paranoid: Travis in the novel, as corporations are covertly fighting each other the way Cold War intelligence agencies used to. In the movie his paranoia is simply a sign of his general Jerkass nature.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: At the end of the movie, Dr. Ross destroys her company's satellite in payback for her boss putting the mission above her fiancée. Never mind that this would inevitably cause thousands of people to lose their jobs...
    • The company was floundering anyway and it was the midst of the dotcom boom. They probably all had their resumes prepared and had no real trouble finding employment afterward.
  • Red Shirt: African porters. Their leader Kahega, on the other hand, is more of a Mauve Shirt.
    • Also Richard. He wasn't even in the novel
  • Race Lift: Munro, who is a White African mercenary in the novel.
    Munro: I'm your Great White Hunter for this trip, though I happen to be Black.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Richard, Homolka and Kahega.
  • Send in the Search Team
  • Sentry Gun: The tripod-mounted automated machine guns of the W.E.I.R.D. defensive package are used on one of the action sequences.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The expedition find themselves facing a pissed off silverback gorilla. Dr Elliot makes it leave by displaying submissive body language. Then he turns around to find everyone's disappeared into the foliage.
    Elliot: Where did you go?
    Munro: I ran away. Sorry.
    • The novel adds an info-dump to this scene mentioning that silverbacks have a habit of attacking people that run away, and thus a mark of cowardice amongst the locals is the bite marks in the ass that normally result.
    • In the film, a number of the African porters also run away in the night. The porters are bribed with money and guns to stay in the novel.
  • Sound-Only Death: The screen cuts to black right as Homolka's skull is crushed by one of the killer apes. We still hear it though.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: A pair of Mizumu appear at the edge of the camp, and Munro tells Peter not to look at them, as they believe their magic keeps them from being seen before revealing themselves. He goes on to say that there are probably twenty more hiding around the camp, truly out of sight.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING! / Dramatically Missing the Point:
    Ross (while talking to Travis after escaping Zinj, and choking back tears): Charlie [her fiancee]. He... he's dead.
    Travis (Charlie's father): DID YOU GET THE DIAMONDS?! DID YOU?!
  • Talking Animal: Amy, thanks to the speaking glove. In the novel she just communicated with sign language, with an occasional mention of Peter translating for her.
  • Tantrum Throwing: After the first expedition is shown destroyed, Travis breaks a monitor with a golf club.
  • Tracking Device: It homes in on the power pack of the laser.
  • Treasure Is Bigger in Fiction: The diamond mines of the Lost City of Zinj are theorized by Munroe to have been exhausted early on, hence why the city became "lost". When found, not only are there still diamonds (and gigantic ones) found on the tunnels, they are literally lying around on the floor for people to pick... if they can survive the gorillas, that is.
  • Translator Collar: Amy's pack and glove.
  • Turned On Their Masters: Both the book and film imply this is what happened with the Zinj Gorillas.
  • Scenery Porn: courtesy of scenes being filmed in Africa and Costa Rica.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Escalting to a whole volcano going off in the climax.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: As Elliott says in the plane, "gorillas aren't dangerous"... but these things certainly are. Because they aren't really predators, but a race of hyper-territorial gorillas bred by the people of Zinj in ancient times so they would eliminate any thief or spy. It's also implied that they are a experiment Gone Horribly Right that caused the very same downfall of the city.
  • Who Is Driving?: Elliot is reluctant to strap on a parachute.
    Munro: Do you know how to fly this plane?
    Elliot: No...
    Munro: Well the pilot and copilot have gone, so what are you going to do?