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Film / Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

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"Half of me is the Earl of Greystoke. The other half is wild."

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes is a 1984 movie inspired by the Tarzan novels. It was directed by Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire) from a screenplay by Robert Towne and starred Christopher Lambert in the title role.

It tells the story of John Clayton, the heir to the Earl of Greystoke, who is born in the jungle where his parents are marooned, and raised by apes after his parents die. As an adult, he is discovered by the explorer Philippe D'Arnot (Ian Holm) and returned to England and his remaining family, led by his grandfather the Earl (Ralph Richardson). This version of the story is less about swashbuckling jungle adventures and more about exploring his difficulties adjusting to the ways of human civilization.

Notably, the name "Tarzan" is never actually spoken at any point in the movie.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: In contrast to the minor antagonist that Tublat was, Silverbeard never shows a dislike for his adoptive son and actually defends him against White Eyes whereas it is doubtful Tublat ever would have defended Tarzan against Kerchak, and while he does kill Tarzan's biological father, as Kerchak did, there is nothing to imply there was any of Kerchak's malevolent intentions, especially not for the ownership of Lord Clayton's gun. Indeed, Silverbeard clearly shows no signs of having any idea what a firearm even is.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • In the novels, D'Arnot's given name is Paul; in this film, it is Philippe.
    • Tublat's name is changed to Silverbeard and Kerchak is renamed White Eyes, though neither name is actually spoken in the movie.
  • Adaptation Species Change: The lioness, named Sabor in the original novel, is changed into a panther that kills Droopy Ears, Tarzan's ape friend when he is a child.
  • And Starring: "And Introducing Christopher Lambert and Andie MacDowell" in the initial credits.
  • Composite Character: The character of Lord Charles Esker is the combination of the novel’s William Clayton and Robert Canler.
  • Decomposite Character: Despite the Adaptational Heroism, Silverbeard takes the role of pursuing Kala and ultimately resulting in the death of their natural offspring. Kerchak, White Eyes in the film, had that role in the original novel. He is also responsible for the death of Tarzan's biological father, a role held by Kerchak/White Eyes in the source material.
  • Demoted to Extra: The Tribe of Mbonga are not nearly as prominent as they are in the original novel. Kulonga kills Kala, Tarzan kills Kulonga, the tribe attacks D'Arnot's group and that is it.
  • Downer Ending: John and Jane are forced apart, as she can't survive in his world and he can't survive in hers. He returns to the jungle, leaving her behind. At the time, there were plans for a sequel that would reunite the main characters and presumably end on a brighter note, but the first movie didn't do well enough for it to get greenlit.
  • I Am a Humanitarian: The cannibal tribe. D'Arnot even says something along the lines of "Dinner has arrived" being a better translation of what they are saying when the expedition from the British Museum comes across them.
  • Killer Gorilla: They are actually the fictional Mangani, and look more like chimpanzees than gorillas, but Silverbeard does kill John Clayton Sr. and White Eyes is actually the most aggressive of the ape tribe.
  • Lost in Imitation: Christopher Lambert ended up becoming the look for Tarzan with comic book artist Igor Kordey having based his Tarzan off of Lambert, the Disney adaptations following suit, as did Netflix's Tarzan and Jane.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Downplayed with the Mangani. While predominately modeled after chimpanzees, Silverbeard and White Eyes have physical elements of gorillas while Figs has the physical elements of an orangutan incorporated. The Mangani of the original novel were indeed a combination of chimpanzee and gorilla characteristicsnote , making Silverbeard and White Eyes' design make sense, but orangutans aren't even native to Africa, making it seem to be just incorporating any kind of ape into the designs of individuals.
  • Primal Stance: John tends to move in an ape-like posture, emulating the creatures who brought him up.
  • Same Language Dub: All Andie MacDowell's lines as Jane were redubbed by Glenn Close. Reports vary as to why this was considered necessary, with some saying that the inexperienced MacDowell's performance was considered inadequate, while others say that the director just didn't think her accent fit the character.
  • Shield Surf: Granddad, the 6th Earl, reminisces about surfing on a silver tray down the stairs in his castle when he was a wee lad. Grown a bit senile, he attempts it once again during a party, with unfortunate consequences.
  • Signature Roar: Averted. Instead of the iconic ululating yell of Johnny Weissmuller, this Tarzan has a more realistic, raspy victory roar.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: As with many productions of the Tarzan story, the film's first act focuses on his boyhood in the jungle before moving onto his discovery by the outside world as an adult. Five actors are credited as Tarzan: one as a baby, one as a toddler, one as a child, one as an adolescent, and one as an adult. Only adult Tarzan (Christopher Lambert) has any intelligible dialogue.
  • Vine Swing: Despite being a more realistic take on the Tarzan story, the jungle is still full of flexible, rope-like vines that Tarzan uses to travel between trees.