We’ ve had 24 hours now to watch and contemplate Legend of Tarzan official trailer #2. I’ve watched it a dozen times, and have gone through it and pulled out 32 screenshots. Now it’s time to for some reactions.
Overall I would give it high marks for scope, spectacle, and cinematic wizardry. It feels grand, dark, and intriguing — and for a Burroughs fan, closer to the spirit of the books than anything Hollywood has previously done, with the possible exception of the origins portion of Greystoke. As both a Burroughs fan and a film fan, I’m intrigued and I want to see more. The trailer has powerful imagery — after watching it, you feel transported to special world of adventure, which is what Burroughs did with the books. It also feels confident in its pacing, less frenetic than most action-adventure trailers, with a coherent story emerging from it, which is one aspect that is in dramatic contrast to the chaotic main trailer for John Carter that, more than anything else, doomed that Burroughs adaptation.
The Curious Opening
Prior to the release of this trailer, the dominant theme of all the marketing has been “this is different, we are going to show you a civilized Tarzan who returns to Africa and savagery rather than vice versa as in the origins story that everyone knows.” So the last thing I would have expected from the main trailer would be almost the full first minute representing 40% of the trailer being devoted to the origin story–and most of that not even to Tarzan himself, but to his parents. This is a very curious decision — particularly so since the teaser trailer managed to incorporate the key pieces from the origins tale into a few snippets. Every second in a trailer is valuable real estate — it strikes me as strange that anyone at WB would have deemed the parents/baby backstory worthy of so much screen time. Why would they do that? I can think of a few explanations. One, perhaps they felt they were getting feedback from the teaser trailer that it was a little confusing. I know I’ve seen some comments along those lines, although certainly not a groundswell. Another possibility is that they discovered after the first trailer that there is a very, very substantial millenial audience with fond memories of Disney’s Tarzan, and they wanted to make a solid, irrevocable connection – a grown-up version of Tarzan for young adults who grew up with the Disney version. In any event, it’s a unique decision. Imagine a Superman trailer that only got to the explosion of Krypton after 40% of the trailer time had been consumed. Odd, but as noted — I haven’t heard a complaint about this from anyone, so it may have been a wise opening.
“You may not like who you were….you may have enemies there, but you need to go home!”
This line, delivered offscreen as we see Greystoke and an obvously distressed (and heartachingly beautiful) Jane having a moment where it is clear that he is going back against her wishes, and apparently against his own inner desires. This Tarzan — fully gentrified — is different from Burroughs’ Tarzan in a key way, and that is that he seems to have fully embraced his civilized side (Burroughs’ Tarzan never did) and has rejected his savage past and the world that molded him. This is quite different from ERB’s Greystoke, who managed a veneer of civilization but never fully believed it, and who always maintained an underlying value system that saw in the savage world greater honor and integrity than existed in the corrupt world of man. I suspect that Yates abandoned the Burroughs version due tothe Hollywood notion that a hero must evolve, must “have somewhere to go” with his character — and thus situating Tarzan as a truly civilized aristocrat (rather than ERB’s version in which he is able to masquerade as an aristocrat without ever truly becoming one) creates a starting point for the evolution into savagery that is central to what Yates is doing with the story. There is another moment in the trailer where Christoph Waltz is heard saying: “Your husband’s wildness disturbs me” followed by images of Tarzan running an vaulting into an attack with an ape. I think we are likely to see a Tarzan whose wildness disturbs himself as well — and this woudl be a substantial change from Burroughs. I’m not sure how I feel about that. In a way this looks like the same kind of “Hollywood-think” that went into creating a brooding, resentful John Carter — i.e., giving him “somewhere to go” as he becomes John Carter of Mars. And we all know how that turned out. And it would seem that, just as John Carter delivered the hero by the end of the movie to a place where he was approximately as Burroughs had written him, so too, here, it seems that the Tarzan at the end of the movie is likely to be very close to the mature, acculturated Tarzan as Burroughs wrote him — fully invested in his primal side yet able to pass among civilized men as ncessary, and not be choice. In both cases, the thought process would appear to be the same, and is responsive to Hollywood Film-making 101’s dictum that the hero must be flawed and evolve, not static. My hope is that this has been done in a way that does not undermine all the other very obvious good work that has gone into the film, and which–with the exception of this aspect–feels “very Burroughs.”
Are Those Mangani?
The apes in the teaser trailer looked to me to be standard gorillas — but here, they seem to be something else, something that I’m pretty sure is meant to be an attempt to capture the idea of the Mangani as Burroughs wrote them, great apes that are intermediate in size between chimpanzees and gorillas and which are more manlike than either. I’m told by someone who saw a test screening that there is no mention of “Managani” or anything else that would lead a view to react to them as anything other than gorillas, but still . I think there are Mangani in this Hollywood forest.
Simplified (or simple?) Storyline
The storyline put forward in the trailer is simple and relatively clear. Tarzan. raised by apes, now civilized, is called back to Africa against his will and better judgment. He arrives and rediscovers something primal; then Jane is kidnapped and he must fight to retrieve her–in a fight that somehow involves attacking a coastal african colonial mining town with help from the animals, particularly buffalo. The depiction of Jane runs the risk of “damsel in distress” cliches — but then Yates has tried to inoculate against this by having a feisty Jane say: “Like a damsel?” just before she either spits on Rom, or head butts him, or both.
No Ordinary Man
The trailer picks up and amplifies the “he is no ordinary man” theme that was established in the first trailer. In doing this, and in emphasizing the “legend” aspect of it, WB seems to quite reasonably be trying to position Tarzan as a superhero. Since a case can be made that in creating Tarzan, Burroughs in fact did create the first modern-day superhero, and because this would help situation the movie in terms of genre classificaiton — I think it’s a wise and reasonable move. Tarzan does in fact have what are arguably superpowers, earned rather than given, through his unique upbringing which gives him the ability to “fly” through the forest while other men trudge and hack their way below, to hear and smell with superhuman keenness, to be able to track the passage of anyone or anything through his domain, and the ability to both summon animal support and singlehandedly defeat or at least battle on equal terms with any jungle foe. That, folks, is a superhero. Add to that an inner struggle between his civilized and savage self, and you have the ingredients for a superhero franchise if this first movie can get traction.
The Racial/Imperialism Landmine
The writers were conscious, as was Yates, that a Tarzan movie in 2016 must carefully navigate issues of racism and imperialism. In the trailer, it seems apparent that European imperialism is–at least to some degree, presented negatively and has produced the villain that must be vanquished. Tarzan is seen fighting Mbongo (Djimon Housou) and appearing to get the upper hand. I think we can expect that he will not kill Hounsou, and increasingly it looks like he and Mbonga will end up on the same side of the dispute, but it’s unclear whether Tarzan projects all the way to status of “white savior” (which would make the movie a target of scorn from certain quarters) or whether it is depicted in a way that falls short of that. This is a very dclicate issue which has the potential to blow up in Warner Brothers’ face if it hasn’t been managed carefully. Thus far there do not appear to be any obvious blunders.
Tarzan the Silent
As with the teaser trailer, Tarzan never speaks in this trailer. It’s an interesting choice, and one which doesn’t seem to hurt the trailer and may help elevate the “Legend” aspect . . . .One could argue that it increases the enigmatic dimension to Tarzan’s character, and makes him more compelling. It’s ironic that now, when they finally cast a talented actor as opposed to an athlete who can barely deliver lines, they opt to have him remain silent in the trailer. Curious, but effective.
Although we hear his voice, we never see Samuel K. Jackson, at least not his face. I interpret this to be in reaction to the constantly repeated complaint that Jackson is overexposed. I’m a little disappointed, as I like the historic character he plays and believe that having a black co-protagonist of substance is one of the stronger points of the script as I understand it at this point. But I get why they did it.
The Beasts of Tarzan
There is a shot of Tarzan in front of Mbonga’s warriors, with apes appearing to set a perimeter — clearly establishing him as having ‘Lord of the Apes’ , and there is a beautiful image of Tarzan nuzzling a lion (Jad-bal-ja?) — but I wondered in the earlier trailer about how he summoned the wildebeest stampede. It’s made clear in this trailer (at least it’s clear if you freeze frame it) that Tarzan and some lion pals herd the wildebeest into a stampede, rather than have Tarzan summon them in some fashion. That is, for me, a relief as the idea of Tarzan and some lions driving wildebeest into the colonial town is reasonably plausible. That said, I’m not sure either the CGI or the sound effects of the wildebeest in the trailer are quite there yet. But there’s still time. . . . .
I’ll close this by saying that I’m cautiously optimistic. I don’t think this trailer hits it out of the park quite like the teaser trailer did — but then the expectations were higher, the surprise factor was gone.