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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, Charles Travis (Bruce Campbell), is sent by her boss and Charles' father, 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 Herkemer Homolka (Tim Curry) grants it. It is revealed that Herkemer has an ulterior motive; to find the mythical lost city of Zinj, said to contain an ample diamond mine. Peter, Amy, Herkemer, 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: Ex-CIA operative Karen Ross kicks serious ass, in contrast to her Ice Queen portrayal in the novel.
  • 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).
  • Adapted Out:
    Karen: What a waste of lives!
    • Although the government's conflict with the Kigani is referenced, the main characters never come across them in the film.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: In the book, the volcanic eruption was triggered when Ross detonated a dynamite charge. In the movie, the eruption is a Contrived Coincidence.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • Ross. In the book, she is a Jerkass Corrupt Corporate Executive who puts her company's profit above people, blackmails Munro into working for her and sets off an explosive charge in her attempt to start mining the diamonds that ends triggering the final volcanic eruption despite being warned. A company psych profile actually theorizes that she becomes more sociopathic the closer she gets to an objective. The film transfers such qualities to Travis and Homolka (both absent from the book) and gives her the entirely different, humane motivation of finding her missing fiancé. She also dislikes people with the same personality she had in the book, as Travis learns when he pushes her too far in the end of the film.
    • In the book, the people on the crashed plane are a rival company's expedition that also try to hire Munro and "kidnap" Amy in an attempt to delay them at one point. In the film, the plane is sent by Travicom to support the main characters after their communications system is destroyed.
    • In an unusual way, Ross's fiancé. While she has no fiancé in the book, she is in a Dating Catwoman type relationship with a member of the rival company's expedition. In the film, both Ross and her partner work for the same company.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • In the book, Travis is 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, he is a belligerent jerk who is too willing to toss anybody to the wolves to make his company prosper (including his own son).
    • The killer gorillas. In the book, the same properties the company wants the diamonds for made them worthless to the builders of Zinj and they abandoned the site when the other gems they wanted were exhausted, leaving their guardian gorillas to become feral. In the movie, the guardian gorillas are implied to have become so overzelous at protecting the diamonds that they killed their human masters.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
  • Adaptational Wimp: Dr. Elliot may be The Worm 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!"
  • Angry, Angry Hippos: The crew are attacked by a group of hippopotamuses at night.
  • 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: The open eye. It is the symbol of Zinj, and Homolka believes Amy saw the city after finding the same eye in her pictures.
  • Arc Words: "We are watching you", the meaning of that eye.
  • 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 a Czech surname, and Herkemer was adapted from Herkimer, a type of fake diamond named after a New York State county that was named in turn after a German-American brigadier general of the American Revolution.
  • 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 "NO!": Travis screams this when Karen destroyed his satellite.
  • Big "OMG!": Richard's default exclamation whenever something bad happens.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted. The first named member of the expedition to die is Richard. Munro survives, and Kahega almost makes it to the end.
  • 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: Congo D.R. and The Central African Republic are real countries, but their portrayal lends mostly to this trope. Lampshaded by the Zairian captain who criticizes this trope.
  • But Now I Must Go: Amy joins a troop of silverbacks in the wild after saying goodbye to Dr. Elliott. Seeing the male who leads the troop, Elliott remarks "Handsome fella," and tells her it's okay.
  • 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 a Kafka Komedy, 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 fiancé 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. Although it can be argued that Charlie has a very loose counterpart in the book however: Karen has an on and off relationship with a member of a rival expedition, who dies in the plane crash.
    • Both of the major Butt-Monkey and/or Plucky Comic Relief characters, Herkemer Homolka and Dr. Elliot's assistant Richard, do not appear in the novel.
  • 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, Charlie mentions about the ground shaking because of the volcano. Then at the end of the climax, it just erupts naturally.
  • Collapsing Lair: The City of Zinj is completely demolished by the volcano going off.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The City of Zinj was built, inhabited and abandoned for centuries without the volcano erupting enough lava to destroy it. But the moment it is visited by the main characters, it happens (at least in the book, it's a little more justified by the character's actions in setting off dynamite).
  • 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).
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Travis is a very mild version — more of a self-centered Bad Boss.
  • Crazy-Prepared: When Ross starts unpacking their gear at the first campsite, it’s clear she’s prepared for anything. Heavy firepower (including an automatic machine-gun perimeter), a functional hot air balloon, and personal tent ACs. Amusingly, the last one is where she thinks she’s gone overboard.
    Ross: It's a bit much, isn't it?
    Munro: Hell, I’ll take one.
  • 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 (or rather brain) of one of the men it's just killed at the protagonists.
  • Demoted to Extra: The Kigani Tribe fighting against the Zaire military. In the novel, they are seen from afar by the protagonists a few times but they always manage to avoid them, only to be forced to fight them at the very end before escaping. Here, they are only mentioned twice but are never actually seen, no doubt because their...dietary preferences would be far too graphic to depict in a PG-13 film.
  • Energy Weapon: 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.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: Inverted. Captain Wanta makes clear who is the top dog of the situation (and who he does not likes) by ordering Homolka to stop eating the food he offered as a host. Homolka hurriedly puts the cake (and what he had already bitten off) back.
    Captain Wanta: "STOP EATING MY SESAME CAKE!"
  • Everybody Has Standards: Karen may have broken up with Charles, but as she learns towards the end, she cares more about him than his own father Travis does.
  • 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.
  • From Bad to Worse: Nothing could be scarier than landing in a west African war zone and finding yourself at the mercy of the corrupt local army (who suffer from Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure and have zero sense of humor) while the local rebels are attacking, right? Wait til you meet the wildlife...
  • Gentle Gorilla: Amy is a friendly and docile gorilla who learned to communicate with humans using sign language and a glove that converts gestures to sounds. The movie also points out that most gorillas aren't particularly aggressive, and the gorillas guarding Zinj are the exception from the norm...
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Zinjians bred gorillas to guard their diamond mines againt other humans. The guardian gorillas implicitly took the job a little too seriously and killed all humans, including their trainers.
  • 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.
  • Groin Attack: When one of Captain Wanta's men starts stroking Karen's hair, she gives him an elbow to the groin.
  • 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!"
  • Immune to Bullets: The gray gorillas aren’t per se, but they are extremely tough, very fast, and can tear you limb from limb in the blink of an eye. Couple this with their intelligence and large numbers, and the end result is "they might as well be."
  • 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.
  • I Want My Jetpack: There are gloves that can sign, but they are all prototypes.
  • I Warned You: Before she leaves for Africa to try to find her boyfriend and his expedition, Karen warns Travis that if he's more concerned about the diamonds than the lives of his employees, she was going to make him feel sorry about it. Sure enough, when Travis shows no regard for the fact Karen just told him that his son (the aforementioned boyfriend) is dead in the epilogue, she reminds him that she promised she was going to make him regret it before blasting the company's satellite with the laser, ruining Travis.
  • 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.
    • Averted with Kahega and several of the porters with none of them surviving the movie where as they did in the movie.
  • The Load: Homolka isn't really a villain and isn't really a traitor (at least not to the current expedition), but he does lack any appreciable skills to contribute in any way to the success of the expedition, beyond getting the ball rolling in the first place.
  • 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).
  • More Dakka: Thanks to a mixture of Truth in Television (West Africa being an arms dealer’s paradise and Chinese AK knockoffs carrying a nice profit margin) and Genre Savvy (Munro, Kahega, and their crew know that bigger, heavier rounds are more effective against dangerous animals than 5.56), most of the armed members of the party carry automatic weapons in either .308 NATO (Munro's FAL, Kahega's M14) or 7.62x39. Kahega takes it a step further, carrying a MAC-10 as a backup piece.
    • Ross's automated motion-tracking sentry guns. In the novel, they come standard with suppressors, which the party remove in the hope that the noise will scare the gray gorillas.
  • 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: Put 'em on 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...
  • 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.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The lava shown in the movie is incredibly thin and fast flowing, to the point almost of Narm. But the Congo Basin is the one place on the planet where lava can and does flow like that.
  • Russian Reversal: The film's tagline: "where you are the endangered species."
  • Sacrificial Lion: Richard, Homolka and Kahega.
  • Send in the Search Team: Karen leads a rescue expedition after she (and a lot of other people, including her boss) see the first Zinj expedition be slaughtered on camera. While Karen hopes she will find someone alive, Travis only cares about getting the diamonds the expedition was looking for as fast as possible.
  • 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.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Richard is killed in the rescue team's first encounter with the Zinj gorillas. Homolka is the first man to die in the final encounter.
  • 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.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Amy was born in the jungles of Congo, but when she tries to communicate with the gorillas through ASL, they act indifferently to her strange human dialect and walk away. She gets better towards the end.
  • 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.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Homolka decides it's a good idea to separate himself from the main group to collect diamonds (despite there being an ample amount on the ground in front of him) while in the diamond mine. He's quickly cut off, disabled then surrounded by the apes and killed.
  • 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 Against Their Masters: The Zinj Gorillas are implied to have killed the human population of Zinj after they took their job too seriously.
  • Scenery Porn: Courtesy of scenes being filmed in Africa and Costa Rica.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Escalating 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 an 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?