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Film / Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981)

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Yes, that's Jane on the poster, despite the film being titled after Tarzan

"Tarzan, the Ape Man is The Blue Lagoon with elephants."
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Tarzan, the Ape Man is a 1981 film starring Bo Derek as Jane, Richard Harris as Dr. James Parker, John Phillip Law as Harry Holt, and Miles O'Keeffe as Tarzan. The movie was intended to retell the Tarzan story from Jane's perspective, a fact which was made clear by the original Working Title of Me, Jane. As it is, audiences are left to wonder why Tarzan seems to be a Satellite Love Interest in his own film.

The storyline, such as it is, is mostly a rehash of the 1932 film by the same name. This version is meant to be a more adult look at the Tarzan mythos, focusing on Jane's sexual awakening, and featuring a large supply of Fanservice along the way. This is Tarzan updated for the sexual revolution, or at least that's what they seem to be going for here. To date, this is the only Tarzan movie to receive an "R" rating.

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While the film made back nearly six times its budget at the box office, reception from general audiences was largely negative. Male audience members hoping to see a naked Bo Derek were disappointed to see what was mostly a romance film with Tarzan in a supporting role, while female audience members were turned off by the more blatant scenes of nudity. It was also ravaged by the critics, and nominated for several Razzies, winning "Worst Actress" for Bo Derek. Since then, it's come to be regarded as a camp classic of the So Bad, It's Good variety.


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This movie provides examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew:
    • At one point, Dr. Parker sings, "Jerusalem." Although the words were written by William Blake in 1804, they weren't put to music until 1916. The movie is set in 1910.
    • In another scene, he mentions "the seat of my pants" in reference to acting on instinct. "The seat of my pants" is short for "fly by the seat of my pants" and comes from 1930s aviation parlance.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: Happens to Jane as she is captured by the generic African savages and prepared as the royal bride for their chief, alongside getting a Body Paint.
  • Body Paint: The hostile natives wear nothing but this and loincloths. After capturing members of the expedition, the natives quickly set about putting Jane into this attire as well. For some reason, they don't seem to care about doing the same to their male captives.
  • The Edwardian Era: Set in 1910, around the time when the original book was written. This may be the first movie to treat Tarzan as a Period Piece, beating Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes by three years.
  • Elephant Graveyard: As in the 1932 version, the expedition is looking for one of these. Budget-savingly, they never actually get there in this version.
  • Hollywood Natives: A tribe of these act as the villains at the end.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The whole point, pretty much.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Jane's dad is killed when a native impales him a giant elephant tusk. Well, he wanted ivory.
  • Incest Subtext: Jane is said to look a great deal like her mother. The loopy Dr. Parker seems to be, at best, only mildly aware that Jane and her mother are not actually the same person:
    Dr. Parker: I loved her too much. So frail. So very... fragile. God, how I loved you.
    Jane: Her. You loved her.
    Dr. Parker: Yes. Her. But you are her!
    Jane: I am not.
  • Large Ham: Ironically, Richard Harris seems to be playing the Michael Gambon version of Dumbledore.
  • Logo Joke: The MGM lion emits the Tarzan yell instead of its usual roar.
  • Male Gaze: Even though this is supposed to be from Jane's perspective, the movie is clearly a lot more excited about her body than Tarzan's body.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Those are Asian elephants, not African elephants. Orangutans and Burmese pythons are not native to Africa either.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Let's face it, they didn't cast Bo Derek for her acting talent.
  • Naked First Impression: Jane is in her underwear when Tarzan meets her for the first time. And before you object that Edwardian underwear is not that revealing, note that she was in the water, rendering said underwear transparent.
  • National Geographic Nudity: We see a lot of topless native women. Then again, we also see a lot of topless Bo Derek, so at least it's equal opportunity this time.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Jane has an American accent while her father's accent is very British. Someone is not bothering with the accent. (Jane is American in the original novel, but is often British in film adaptations.)
  • Out with a Bang: Telling Jane about her mother, Dr. Parker says, "Your conception almost killed her." No, not her birth, her conception. He goes on to explain that he left Jane's mother because he "loved her too much." So, you see, Dr. Parker had to abandon his wife in order to save her from succumbing to his mighty penis. Seriously.
  • Overcrank: In what may be the film's most infamous sequence, a Fight Scene between Tarzan and a snake is filmed entirely in slow motion. It's completely incomprehensible what's supposed to be going on in the fight, and it comes complete with a steady drone of "danger" music in the background. And it goes on a loooooong time.
  • Rule of Pool: Two separate scenes on the docks feature someone falling into the water, Jane the first time and Holt the second time.
  • Romantic False Lead: Seriously, did anyone think Jane might actually end up with Harry Holt instead of Tarzan?
  • Signature Roar: Rather than letting Miles O'Keeffe do his own Tarzan yell, they dub in the old Johnny Weissmuller yell. This is Tarzan's only "dialogue" in the film.
  • Skinny Dipping: Judging from this film, one of Jane's favorite activities.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: "My expedition... no, no, any expedition on this continent is no place for a woman!" Not that Dr. Parker makes any apparent effort to stop his daughter from tagging along.
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