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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hercules (2014)

Because Hollywood apparently likes to do things in pairs we were treated to two Hercules films in 2014 as if the world was clamoring for another sword and sandal epic starring everyone’s favorite familicide, that’s the murdering of one’s family for those not in the know, and shockingly enough this version actually touches on that aspect of the myth, well kind of.

“Screw you, Renny Harlin!”

Based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars this version is helmed by director Brett Ratner who is most known for directing the Rush Hour movies and not epic heroic period pieces so I went into this with heavy trepidations. I’ve yet to see any version of Hercules come close to the mythology so I was not expecting much from the guy who kneecapped the X-Men franchise, so color me surprised when this turned to be quite entertaining.


The movie begins with a narrator telling us how Hercules (Dwayne Johnson), son of the god Zeus and a mortal woman, tries to stay alive while the goddess Hera wants her husband’s bastard dead. The gods command Hercules to complete Twelve Labors of increasing danger and if he survives them Hera will finally allow him to live in peace.  Apparently Olympian paternity laws are really complex. We then get a brief montage of Hercules fighting the hydra, slaying the Erymanthian Boar and killing the indestructible Nemean lion.  Pretty awesome right?

Hakuna matata

The film then cuts to our narrator (Reece Ritchie) hanging over a spike and being threatened by pirates. What we’ve been hearing is him telling these rogues the story of Hercules in the hopes that fear of this approaching demi-god would cause them to flee to parts unknown. They of course laugh at his feeble attempt to scare them off but then, clad in the skin of the Nemean lion, Hercules arrives and slays the pirates. But what’s this? He was not alone, Hercules actually has a posse of heroes on his side and it is with their help that he has achieved so many of his heroic deeds.

The Dirty Half Dozen.

I am not a fan of the demystifying of fantasy stories; I just don’t see the need to give us “realistic” versions of King Arthur or the Trojan Wars, it’s like being given a bag of Halloween candy and then being told that all the sugar and sweets have been removed, but that said this movie treats the myth of Hercules as an elaborate propaganda machine used to wage psychological warfare on his enemies, and I must say that is pretty damn clever.

“It totally had seven heads and I kicked it’s arse!”

Hercules here is a mercenary and he and his pals are just trying to get enough gold together so that they can retire and live like kings, though Hercules just wants to find peace and quiet to hopefully forget his dark past. His dark past revolves around the time he worked for King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes) and when one horrible night he woke up to find out that he’d brutally murdered his wife and children. Since that ghastly night he has been haunted by images of himself fighting Cerberus over the corpses of his family.

Hercules, everyone’s favorite chew toy.

So when the lovely Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) comes to Herc and friends on behalf of her father Lord Cotys (John Hurt) who will pay their weight in gold for helping them, this seems like a dream come true. The problem is that Lord Cotys is ruling over a Thrace torn by civil war and threated by a tyrannical warlord Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann) who apparently leads an army of centaurs and mind controlled madmen, and all Cotys has left to fight this monster is a bunch of farmers. He wants Hercules to shape them into fighting force and lead them against Rhesus and save all of Thrace.

“No one make fun of his hat.”

Does Hercules have the time it takes to show these farmers how to fight and learn the importance of The Shield Wall? Does the evil Rhesus actually have magical powers and centaurs on his side? Is Lord Cotys on the up and up or is there treachery in the works? Did Hercules murder his family or was he the victim of an elaborate frame job? All these questions are answered in a rather fun romp led by the ever charismatic Dwayne Johnson.

Who wouldn’t trust John Hurt?

Though this movie is a “realistic” version of the Hercules story it still has the Greek strongman throwing a horse through the air with on arm and has him tipping over temples that would have given Samson a hernia. So realistic is being used here in the broadest sense of the word. Most of the time this works because Dwayne Johnson seems to be having so much fun with the part, but still moments like when we discover that the Hydra was just a bunch of dudes in serpent masks is kind of lame. On the plus side Hercules has some great character actors on his side as in the case of the seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane) and his childhood friend Autolycus (Rufus Sewell) as well as hot Amazon archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), and berserker and man of few words Tydeus (Aksel Hennie).

full cast

This movie is leaps and bounds better than The Legend of Hercules, which sadly hit theatres first thus probably mudding the waters and hurting the box office for this one, but now you can catch it on Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D and it is well worth your time.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Many Faces of Spider-Man

Amazing_Fantasy_15Everyone’s Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man was created back in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and with decades of incredible adventures under his belt it’s not surprising that he became the flagship character for Marvel Comics, but how tumultuous was his career and how has he fared in other mediums outside the four colour pages? Today we look back across those years to examine the many faces of Spidey.

Who wants to see a teen-age superhero? The answer to which of course turned out to be millions of young readers, but at that time when comic book shelves were full of scientists and adult superhero teams the decision to create a comic book starring a high school kid was a bit of a risk. Peter Parker was to be no kid sidekick but a hero in his own right. He was not a millionaire playboy or a super soldier but just a guy with the same kind of problems we all face, well maybe a few extra ones.  Stan Lee created a character that most of his readers could really relate to and what also cannot be understated is the importance of Steve Ditko’s costume design which was eye-catching and iconic.\
The classic red and blue webbed suit would remain virtually unchanged for decades with only slight alterations by varying artists with probably the only change of note in those early years was the removing of the webs from under Spider-Man’s armpits.

his costume

The most startling change was in 1984 when Spider-Man and slew of other heroes and villains were whisked away to fight in the Secret Wars for a godlike being called The Beyonder. His traditional red and blue suit was damaged and when he attempted to have it repaired by one of the mysterious machines provided he unknowingly exchanged his costume for a shape-shifting alien symbiote that would eventually become one of his greatest enemies.
In 1992 writer Peter David and artist Rick Leonardi re-imagined a futuristic wall-crawler taking place in the year 2099 where brilliant geneticist Miguel O’Hara, while trying to replicate the powers of the original Spider-Man, has a lab accident that once again results in the creation of another super powered crime fighter.  You’ve got to love science!

Now of course Spidey’s look and even story structure has had many more adjustments over the years whether in the numerous comic book titles bearing his name or in his eventual leap to the big screen but his first foray off the pages of his comic was in the late sixties…

Spider-Man (1967-1970)

This cartoon was jointly produced by Canada and the United States with Canada providing the voice work while the USofA did the animation, and with the second and third season being produced by notable animation legend Ralph Bakshi this was one fantastic cartoon. Not only did it include a host of Spidey’s top villains but it had simply the best theme song to date.

Actor Paul Soles did excellent work providing both Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s with distinctive voices and until J.K. Simmons came along in the Sam Raimi trilogy Paul Kligman was the definitive J. Jonah Jameson. The show did suffer from budgetary problems and at times lifted entire animated sections from Rocket Robin Hood but it was still a fantastically fun show and a major part of my childhood. Though even as a kid I occasionally wondered what the hell Spider-Man’s web lines were attached to as he swung above the New York Skyline.

TV Spider-Man 

In 1977 CBS gave us the first attempt at bringing a live action Spider-Man to the world and to say their results were poorly conceived is being a bit generous. Nicholas Hammond played Peter Parker/Spider-Man a university student bitten by a radioactive spider and who occasional battled thugs. Not one super-villain from the comics ever made an appearance on this show; the closest we got was when he fought a ninja and a Spider-Man clone. The effects were laughable at the best of times and never approached convincing.  His wall climbing consisted of a stuntman in a Spidey suit being dragged up the side of a building while waving his arms about and his webs were thick white ropes that either wrapped around the villains with the aid of reverse photography or formed into net that was lamely tossed over the hapless foe.
hammond as Spidey

Worse is that they couldn’t even get his powers right. In the comics his Spider-Sense warns him of danger while in this show when arriving at a murder scene Peter receives a flashback of the crime being committed the night before. So basically this Spider-Man has some bullshit psychic abilities. Despite the show having surprisingly decent ratings it was cancelled by CBS because they were starting to be labeled the “Super Hero Network” as they had such shows as The Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman as well as other failed attempts like Captain America and Doctor Strange. Why this bothered them when it was making them money is beyond me.  True fans of Spider-Man were certainly not saddened by this early cancellation of this incarnation.

Supaidāman (1978-1979)

I’m sure some of you readers knew of the Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man series and maybe even had seen an episode or two but one incarnation of Spider-man you may not have come across was in production at roughly the same time and surprisingly of much higher quality, only it took place in the magical faraway land of Japan.

japanese spiderman 
Spider Strike!

Supaidāman was a live action Japanese series produced by the Toie Company and dealt with a young motorcycle racer Takuya Yamashiro (Shinji Todō) who got his powers from the last survivor of Planet Spider who had been hunting the Iron Cross Army across the known universe. This is a bit of a departure from the Marvel Comics version and aside from the awesome Spider-Man costume and a few Spiderlike abilities such as wall crawling and Spider-Sense there isn’t a single thing from this show that comes from the comic. This Spider-Man often calls upon the alien spacecraft Marveller that can also turn into a giant robot called Leopardon to defeat his enemies.

giant robot 
Everything is better with giant robots.

This show was the result of a three year licensing agreement between Marvel and the Toie Company that allowed them to use each other’s properties however they wanted and though this show is nothing like the Marvel Comic it was badass incredible to say the least. The stunt work was simply fantastic and for the first time we see an athletic Spidey doing “Amazing” and “Spectacular” things as he leapt and swung into combat against insurmountable odds. That Spider-Man would eventually hop into a giant robot to finish of his foes may put off some purists but this show was just too fun not to love.

He may not be the Green Goblin, but I’m not complaining.

Now I’m sure some of you are thinking “Hey, Nicholas Hammond and Shinji Todō were not the first live action Spider-Men, what about The Spidey Super Stories on The Electric Company?”

“Spider-Man, where are you coming from?”

Yes, in 1974 the PBS children’s show The Electric Company aired various skits to help kids learn to read and one of them starred a Spider-Man that only spoke in word balloons as he thwarted petty crimes. Spider-Man (Danny Seagren) faced off against such foes as Dr. Fly, The Spoiler and Count Dracula and many featured actor Morgan Freeman known at the time as Easy Reader. As silly and low budget as these skits were they actually put to shame some of the stuff from the Nicholas Hammond version.

Back to the drawing board.

The Eighties saw some decent Spidey action in various cartoons; Spider-Man (1981-1982) and then Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981-1986) which had Peter Parker rooming with Iceman and Firestar in a cool tricked out pad that could instantly transform into a crime fighting base. Later the show was paired up with the Hulk and became The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man.

There doesn’t seem a time now when there wasn’t a Spider-Man cartoon being aired and with the popularity of the live action movies we ended up getting some really excellent Spidey stories; 2003 saw MTV give us Spider-Man: The New Animated Series starring Neil Patrick Harris as Spidey which was treated as loose sequel to the Sam Raimi movies.  Speaking of which…

Spider-Man (2002)

Aside from Blade in 1998 and Bryan Singer’s X-Men movie in 2000 Marvel hadn’t had much luck with their live action properties but that was all to change with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. He may have altered some aspects of the comic such as organic web shooters but Tobey Maguire really nailed the Peter Parker character and add to that the visual wizardry of John Dykstra you finally had a Spider-Man a wide general audience could get behind. A 100 million dollars first weekend certainly got everyone in Hollywood’s attention.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Spider-Man 2 was even better with a much more interesting villain than Power Ranger clad Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), this time Spidey faced off against Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and their battle atop the elevated train still holds up today as one of the best superhero fights in cinema history.

When Titans Clash!

Sadly the trilogy curse struck the series when Sam Raimi was forced to incorporate Venom into the movie, a character he had numerously stated he had no interest in using, but studios eager to satiate a rabid fan base forced this issue and Raimi eventually caved in. The result of course was a train wreck of Emo Peter Parker dealing with a vengeful Harry Osborne (James Franco) the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) trying to get money for his sick kid, and Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) who would become a discount Venom.

A perfect storm of suck.

When will producers realize that stuffing multiple villains into one movie does not make it more exciting? You would think that after the disastrous 1997 Batman & Robin they would have got the message. One last note on the Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy is on Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson who I think was miscast from the get-go. She just didn’t seem to me like the vivacious Mary Jane from the comics and then each successive movie she was treated more and more like a whiny git. When Bryce Dallas Howard appeared in the third film as Gwen Stacey one couldn’t help but wonder how the series would have looked if they’d had her from the start.  To be clear I blame the writers and producers for this and not poor Kirsten Dunst who was given a thankless role.

spectauclar spiderman 

Only running two seasons Greg Weisman and Victor Cook developed what I believe to be the best adaptation of Spider-Man to date. The biggest missing element from the Raimi movies was Spidey’s trademark banter and in this cartoon you got that it in spades, his quips and jibes while battling his foes were pitch perfect. Though not slavishly accurate to characters from the comic book this show captured the feel and fun one associated with Spider-Man. As of this writing it is still my favorite adaptation of Spider-Man.
spider-man douche 
Enter Spider-Douche

In 2012 director Marc Webb rebooted the Spider-Man franchise with Andrew Garfield as The Amazing Spider-Man and though the effects for his web swinging were markedly improved what was missing was the Peter Parker we knew and loved. Garfield’s version was just a pompous git who deserved to get his head shoved in a toilet, Spider-Man’s persona is supposed to be the cocky and brash one while Peter is the shy nerd, but in this movie there was no real difference as both were arrogant jerks. And don’t get me started on that basketball material he called a costume.

Costume manufactured by Cirque du Soleil

In the sequel things got even worse as Peter is even more of a dick as he constantly jerks Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) around while once again fending off three villains. Seriously people, what the fuck is wrong with having just one villain? The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a cluttered mess from the start and doesn’t come close to earning the pathos of Gwen’s death in the end.  In the comics Peter is not responsible for her death but in this movie when he breaks the promise he gave dying Captain Stacey to nolonger date Gwen it lays her death clearly on his shoulders. Though the person with the most guilt on his hands would be Marc Webb for wasting such talented actors as Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti on such dreck. On the plus side the costume is better, the web swinging even more impressive, and the use of 3D actually warranted at times.

But I’m sorry, this is not the Rhino.

Special mention must go out to one of the most “interesting” attempts at a live action version of Spider-Man, and by interesting I mean so balls to the walls crazy that it resulted in several performers being hospitalized.
“It’s time to play the music.  It’s time light the lights.”

Music by Bono and The Edge and directed by Julie Taymor Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark may go down in the annals of Broadway history as one of the most disastrous productions ever. Described as “the most technically complex show ever on Broadway” with amazing aerial stunts the show certainly sounded promising but with numerous delays and costly overruns the production was troubled from the start, and with a script that weaved in elements of the 2002 movie with that of the Greek mythological story of Arachne it certainly had a lot to overcome.
Hit or Myth?

Watching clips and seeing photos of the costumes from this production I really wish I’d been able to land tickets. It looked gloriously goofy.
the gang 
Rogue’s Gallery or Village People?

With the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicking butt in every aspect there is hope that someday Sony Pictures will make a deal with Marvel Studios so that they can include Spidey in one of their pictures but until then I’m betting we will be getting a third reboot with hopefully someone more likable than Andrew Garfield.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Batman: The Complete TV Series

Atomic batteries to power. Turbines to speed.” With those few words back in 1966 kids all over the world new that high adventure was at hand and that dynamic duo were about deal out swift justice to the colourful and kooky criminals of Gotham City.

intro 1966

Created by William Dozier this 1966 incarnation of Batman has led a turbulent history going from being the most popular show on television to later being thought of as horrible camp and a slap in the face to comic book fans, and now once again it’s being looked at fondly for what it was a fun and exciting comedy that anyone could enjoy no matter your age or inclination.

the Batcave

 I was born the year this show first aired so I did not see it during its initial run but it has of course aired again and again over the years to either delight or appal its viewers, but when I saw it as a young boy I was simply enthralled. To me Adam West was Batman and I spent countless hours recreating his television adventures with my Mego toys as the world created by Dozier and company was bright, fun and all-together awesome to a five year old me. To this day I still hold that opinion. Sure Adam West is not the Batman Bob Kane envisioned back in 1939 nor is he the Great Detective of the Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams stories from the early seventies, but for many a young child he was a superhero come to life.

Adam West and Burt Ward in Batman.

 For me what makes this show still work is that no character on the show was playing it for laughs. Don’t get me wrong this show was a comedy and often contained legendary comic actors but there was never a wink at the camera, no matter how absurd the situation everyone played it straight. Leading the charge was actor Adam West who somehow managed to keep Batman’s dignity despite some of the bizarre things he was called on to do.

The Bat-Tusi

 The world of Gotham City and Batman had two distinct faces, none of them sadly belonging to Harvey Dent, one world consisted of Police Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) and Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) who’d find themselves facing some dastardly crime and must call up the Dynamic Duo on the Bat Phone thus interrupting Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and Dick Grayson’s (Burt Ward) day of listening to Aunt Harriet (Madge Blake) prattle on about piano lessons while the ever stoic Alfred (Alan Napier) looked on. The other face of Gotham City being that of the criminal underworld; a collection of some of the craziest individuals to ever plan a caper, fiends who lived in a world full of vibrant colour and whose sole joy seemed to be in trying to thwart Batman. The use of the “Dutch Tilt” camera angles thus putting all scenes with the super-villains a little off kilter was pure genius.

dutch tilt 
Skewed Reality

Speaking of villains it is no way hyperbolic to say that Batman has the best rogues’ gallery in all of comic-dom. From the madness of The Joker to the sensual wiles of The Catwoman no other hero can lay a glove on Batman’s list of adversaries and the sixties Batman show did not stint on this.

The riddler 
“Riddle me this, Batman!”
The first episode “Hi Diddle Riddle” featured guest villain The Riddler (Frank Gorshin) whose dastardly plan hinged on suing Batman so that he’d be forced to reveal his true identity in court. I’d be hard pressed to name my favorite villain from this show, as there were so many brilliant actors giving incredible wild performances, but if push came to shove I’d have to name Frank Gorshin’s Riddler. His Riddler was the only villain on the show that came close to being scary. His manic laughter and wild cavorting made him seem truly dangerous and downright frightening at times. In counterpoint The Joker (Cesar Romero) seemed more like your drunken uncle trying to entertain at a kid’s party, not at all helped by Romero’s refusal to shave of his mustache and just pancake the white make-up over it.

the joker needs a shave 
The Clown Prince of Crime needs a shave.

Giving Frank Gorshin a run for his money was Burgess Meredith as The Penguin and like Gorshin’s character defining performance of the Riddler whenever I think of The Penguin it’s as he was portrayed so perfectly by Meredith that leaps to mind. From his trademark “Waugh-Waugh!” (Trivia: The Penguin squawking laugh came from the actor’s throat being irritated by cigarette smoke as Burgess Meredith had quit smoking twenty years ago) to his distinctive waddle he fully captured Gotham’s fowlest criminal.

The Penguin 
A Dapper Bird.

Though the Riddler may have been the most dangerous of Batman’s foes and the Penguin the best dressed, on this show there was only one other that came the closest to ending the Caped Crusaders crime fighting days and that would be Catwoman (Julie Newmar). I’m not sure how many young boys watching this show got yanked into puberty while watching Julie Newman cavort around in that skin-tight cat-suit but between her and Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman I bet they raised adolescent testosterone levels in North America by factor of sixty percent. Put simply she was sex on toast and if anyone was going to get Batman to hang up his cowl it would have been her. Now of course she wasn’t the only actress on the show to play Catwoman as Eartha Kitt provided a fantastic portrayal of the character for several episodes and actually came off a bit more threatening than either Julie Newmar or Lee Meriwether who played Catwoman in the movie, but the byplay between Adam West and Julie Newmar just had that extra bit of magic.

Julie Newmar 
Julie Newmar was Purrrrfectly wonderful.

It is impossible to understate the pop culture phenomenon that was this show when it originally aired, Batmania had truly swept the globe. Actors clamored to land a spot as this week’s “Guest Villain” resulting in the show creating original rogues for the onslaught of actors wanting parts, thus we got the likes of Zelda the Great (Anne Baxter), Louie the Lilac (Milton Berle) Shame (Cliff Robertson) , Lorelei “The Siren” Circe (Joan Collins), Chandell/Fingers (Liberace), Egghead (Vincent Price) King Tut (Victor Buono) and the Bookworm (Roddy McDowal). Needless to say not all of these were winners and most were easily forgotten. To help include more actors clamoring for a spot on the show they introduced the bit where Batman and Robin would wall climb up a building via the BatRope and a celebrity would pop out of a window for a bit of a chat.

Holy Green Hornet 
“Holy Crossovers, Batman!”

The Batman television show ran for three seasons and then was quietly cancelled when the ratings took a rather sharp turn for the worst. Some believe the joke had pretty much run its course and that the three years it had was a pretty good run for show of that type. That this Batman still remains popular today and not at all dated in my opinion, attests to all the talented people who worked so hard on it. Now after decades of waiting fans can finally re-watch these awesome adventures at their leisure and in stunningly beautiful high-definition, and if any show deserved this treatment it’s the sixties Batman as the colours just leap off the screen. Though Hi-Def does not do Cesar Romero’s “hidden” mustache any favors

• I loved that the show didn’t bother with origins. The series starts in the middle of Batman’s career with all his foes fully formed and out and about.
• Police Commissioner Gordon and his hapless police force don’t even try to solve a crime once they figure out it’s one of Batman’s villains at work.
• Aunt Harriet or any guest of Wayne Manor never seem to question a red phone in Bruce’s study.
• I really wish we got the Batgirl spin-off with Yvonne Craig.
• A lot of people tend to fall into the Bat Cave’s Atomic Pile.
• The Batmobile in this show is the coolest version ever

batmobile tv 
Sorry Chris, but this beats the Tumbler.

I love the Batman television series and sure some of that love is from looking at it through nostalgic coloured glasses but overall it really was a well put together show with a great cast and fantastic production design. I highly recommend getting this on Blu-ray as it is simply gorgeous.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Many Faces of Tarzan

Tarzan_All_StoryTarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1912 in the pages of All-Story Magazine and told the story of a man raised by the great apes of Africa and his eventual meeting with Jane Porter the love of his life, but of course that is not the end of the story.

For over a century fans of jungle adventures have thrilled to the stories of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle whether they were one of the twenty-four books written by his creator Edgar Rice Burroughs or of the countless others given to us by various writers in practically every medium known to man. He has appeared in book form, comics, cartoons, movies, radio and television programs and certainly shows no signs of stopping, and so today we will look across the years at one of the most popular pulp action heroes every created.

The first thing one should take note of is that the portrayal of Tarzan as given to us by Burroughs has rarely been seen in any medium, many of the versions of Tarzan he is shown as a laconic savage with limited intellect but with a noble heart while in the books he quickly became an eloquent man of the world who could speak several languages fluently and along with Jane ran a large plantation, and if you wanted to hunt or run a safari in his part of Africa you better have his permission. This is not say he wasn’t also running through the jungle, finding lost cities and hanging out with Tantor but there was always more going through his mind than, “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”


There are over 200 Tarzan movies out there so our look at his various incarnations will be an overview at best and spotlighting the most notable ones. His first foray off the printed page was in the 1918 silent film Tarzan of the Apes starring Elmo Lincoln and stayed fairly faithful to the first half of the book while the remainder of the book was used for the sequel The Romance of Tarzan. The hardest things for viewers to swallow was Jane (Enid Markey) falling for this Tarzan as dear Elmo Lincoln wasn’t all that good looking and also was a tad overweight.

1918 Tarzan 
I guess head trauma could explain the attraction.

There were several more silent film Tarzan stories in the 1920s but it was in the 30s that things really took off for the Ape Man when five-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming Johnny Weissmuller put on the loin cloth and took to the trees.

Tarzan, the ape man (1932) 

This series is most notable for giving us the famous Tarzan yell, his pidgin English and his chimpanzee pal Cheetah Note: Tarzan did have a monkey companion in the books but he was named N’kima, why the film producers thought to have the jungle man call a chimpanzee after something from the large cat family is beyond me, it just made Tarzan seem even more of a simpleton.  Joining Weissmuller was the beautiful and talented Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane and aside from the occasional jungle action scenes it is O’Sullivan who really holds these movies together.

Jane seen here wishing they’d invent television.

Her society girl turned jungle groupie was charming if a bit odd at times as one wonders what she was getting out of this relationship other than maybe earth shatteringly great sex. Many of the stories dealt with evil white men trying to get up the Mutari Escarpment, where Tarzan and Jane lived, to find the Elephant’s Graveyard so that they could plunder it for the ivory. This usually resulted in many black bearers getting horribly killed and then Tarzan coming to the rescue with an elephant stampede. There wasn’t a problem Tarzan couldn’t solve with a good ole elephant stampede.

Seriously, elephants can do anything.

After 1948 Weissmuller retired from the role and producer Sol Lesser brought in actor Lex Barker who for some reason insisted on emulating Weissmuller’s “Me Tarzan, you Jane” schtick which must have been confusing because in his five films he had five different Janes. This series at least tried to escape the back lot and film some actual location stuff in Africa but alas there weren’t notable for much else.

Tarzam and cheetah 
Gordon Scott is Tarzan!

Enter Gordon Scott a bodybuilder who under producer Sol Lesser was encouraged to go the Weissmuller route with his depiction but after four films the series was taken over by producer Sy Weintraub who brought the character back to the books and allowed Scott to drop the simpleton act. They also dropped Jane so he could meet fun and interesting other blondes.

Tarzan poster Greatest Adventure

In Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure we were treated to an intelligent and loquacious Tarzan and a breath of fresh air to fans of the character. Sadly Gordon Scott only made one more Ape Man picture, Tarzan the Magnificent, before passing the torch to…

ron ely 
Ron Ely is TV’s Tarzan

Sy Weintraub wasn’t done with our jungle hero quite yet though now the adventures were for the small screen. Ron Ely as Tarzan was in the same mold as Gordon Scott’s portrayal of Tarzan as an intelligent worldly man who just found the jungle to be a much better place to hang out in rather than supposed civilization. This show ran from 1966-1968 and saw Tarzan dealing with more nasty white men encroaching on his domain while also dealing with witch doctors and rogue animal attacks. Once again Jane is missing from the stories and finds Tarzan kickin it back with Cheetah and the local natives. Note: I’ve always wondered where exactly did Tarzan go to get his hair cut as in most versions up to this point Tarzan is usually sporting your typical fifties short haircut.


In 1976 Filmation studios created Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle an animated series for CBS which ran for four years but only had 36 episodes. In these cartoons we finally see jungle adventures that are closer to the books as well as taking much of the language and characters from the jungle world of Burroughs’ creation such as Jad-bal-ja, the Golden Lion, Tantor the elephant, and N’kima his monkey sidekick. Gone is Cheetah the chimpanzee but alas Jane is still missing in action.

In these animated adventures we finally see Tarzan discovering lost cities and having the kind of adventures movie budgets of the time couldn’t pull off. He even managed to visit Pellucidar in the episode “Tarzan at the Earth’s Core.” It’s really not surprising that it took animation to finally bring us the most faithful adaptation of Burroughs work.  Opposed to…


The eighties have a lot to answer for and one of its major crimes, aside from Glam Metal and the mullet, is the 1981 Tarzan, the Ape Man. Jane is finally back and is being played by Bo Derek, mostly famous for being Dudley Moore’s object of desire in the Blake Edwards hit 10, and alongside her is Miles O’Keeffe as Tarzan who is pretty much just beefcake to Derek’s cheesecake.

bo derek poster 
This poster a good indication of what kind of Tarzan movie you’re getting here.

There is absolutely no screen chemistry between these two and while Tarzan comes across as not too bright, as he is often portrayed, but here he is also the blandest Tarzan to date. Bo Derek on the other hand seems to be tripping the light fantastic as an airhead version of Jane who we could see getting lost at the local petting zoo. Along for the ride is Richard Harris as Jane’s father and it seems clear to me that he was being paid in Scotch by the quart. Directed by John Derek this is easily one of the worst Tarzan movies out there.  Though if you’ve always wanted to see an orangutan sexually molest a naked Jane or watch a chimpanzee trying to and suck on her nipple then this could be the film for you.


In a complete 180 from the Bo Derek/Miles O’Keeffe version of Tarzan the British take a crack at it with director Hugh Hudson’s at the helm of Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes which is a serious take on the Tarzan tale, a very, very serious take. This film looks fantastic and most of the actors including Christopher Lambert as Tarzan do a fine job, but if you are trying to make a serious and grittily realistic version of Tarzan, well that’s your first problem right there, Tarzan defies realism. A small baby would not survive days let alone years in the jungle no matter what maternal instinct a local ape has, nor could a person raised by apes ever develop the capacity to learn languages. Tarzan is a mythic figure, one full of adventure and fantasy, and if you try to drag it into the real world you lose the magic that makes him such a beloved character.

not creepy 
Tarzan, noble savage or creepy dinner guest?

Rick Baker’s special effects make-up for the apes in this movie were nothing less than extraordinary and the scenes of them with Tarzan are the highlight of the film, sadly Ian Holm shows up to drag Tarzan back to civilization where we are forced to watch a dubbed Andie MacDowell as Jane trying to connect with the jungle man. Needless to say this is not as fun as finding a lost city or starting an elephant stampede. Eventually once again Tarzan becomes unhappy with the supposed “civilized” world and moves back to Africa. We can only hope that he quickly shacked up with La the Queen and High Priestess of the Lost City of Opar.  Speaking of lost cities…

Casper Van Dien with bow & arrow in hand he trudges into this Tarzan for a “New Generation.”  Tarzan and the Lost City is a step back towards the more adventurous aspect of Tarzan stories with more of the pulp action feel one expects but alas the low budget and limited acting skills of Casper Van Dien pretty much doom this production from the start. Jane March plays this movies version of Jane who is quite put out when her wedding to Tarzan is put on hold due to a call from one of his old pals back home. It seems those pesky white men are at it again this time their murdering the locals and defiling their graves in the hopes of finding the Lost City of Opar. Sadly this is not the Opar from the books and the whole production, even though shot in Africa, comes off looking rather cheap.
A year later Disney puts their stamp on the franchise with a beautifully animated movie that finally shows Tarzan flying through the jungle canopy on more than just a vine swing.  Much as how I imagined it when reading the books as a kid.

disney tarzan 
Tarzan (1999)

Like the 1976 cartoon many of the characters from the books make an appearance; Kala (Glen Close) the ape who raised him, Kerchak (Lance Henriksen) the leader of the Apes, Tantor (Wayne Knightt) the elephant and of course Jane (Minnie Driver). Though the Kerchak in this movie is a gruff leader who believes Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn is a danger to his fellow gorillas.  Note: This is the first time Tarzan has been raised by gorillas. In the books they were a mysterious race of great apes, almost a missing link.  Kerchak from the book was also a main foil for Tarzan being he was the one who killed Tarzan’s father and who the ape man eventually kills to become Lord of the Apes, while the Disney Kerchak though a tad hostile towards Tarzan he never gets murderous.  The main villain in this movie is once again nasty white hunters and Tarzan is back to being the jungle simpleton. Those issues and the uninspired Phil Collins soundtrack stop this from being one of the better Tarzan adaptations though still quite entertaining.

kala and jane

Trivia: Glen Close provided the voice of Kala the ape but this isn’t her first voice work for a Tarzan film she also provided the voice for Jane in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes when they found Andie McDowell’s southern accent a bit too Un-Janelike.  Also interesting is on how many times Jane has been portrayed as British and in the case of Greystoke even related to Tarzan for some reason.

tarzan the ape man

So there you have it a quick look at Tarzan through the ages which I hope you found entertaining if not educational. As sure as the sun sets in the west we will get more Tarzan adaptations, a current production with Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan is set for 2016, and I’ll be sitting there front row center with my bag of popcorn ready to be whisked away on a new jungle adventure with everyone’s favorite ape man.