The July issue of Empire Magazine (print version only) contains a detailed story on the Legend of Tarzan and in that story are at least five items that are new and add to what we know so far. Here they are:
Yates saw Tarzan as “ready for reinvention”
Yates is quoted as saying: “I just really liked the idea of a really old fashioned, joyful, and romantic action-adventure picture. Yes, Tarzan had gone out of fashion, and wasn’t necessarily ever done that well in earlier incarnations, but they were delightful in their way. I just felt that, just as Batman had been through reinventions, Tarzan was ready for that too.
Matching the Vision With the Money
So what was the budget? The answer is not in the article, but Yates has an interesting way of formulating the issue. The article says that the production was shut down in 2013 because the budget was too small … meaning insufficient for what they wanted to do. “It’s been a real struggle to match the vision with the money,” Yates said. The article says he’d ‘achieved that by the time the film went into production in February 2014.” What, exactly does that mean? It could mean they brought the cost down, or it could mean they increased the available money. We do know that when WB shut it down in 2013, the available budget was $90m. Does it seem plausible that WB would have subsquently agreed to let it go to double that? Particularly when they had already had enough backbone to shut it down when it was at $120? I really wish we could get clarity on this. Here was a film with a very savvy, experinced producer in Jerry Weintraub, and a studio acting like a responsible studio (as opposed to Disney’s laiisez faire approach to John Carter) …. yet here we are, hearing that they plopped $180M into it in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Hmmm. This remains very frustrating and it is relevant becuase it’s like company’s “setting expectations” for analysts. A budget of $180M sets the bar for success much higher than a budget of $120M, and makes it much easier for the flop trolls to have a schadenfreude fiesta.
Test Screening Audiences Demanded More Origin Material
This is really interesting and perhaps explains why the main (2nd) trailer offers such a lengthy treatment of the origins backstory. Yates says they added in more of this because of early test screening audiences “longing for them” . . . . I wonder if these were millenial Disney Tarzan fans? Or just people more generally? It does help explain what seems to be a somewhat heavy focus on the origins backstory in trailers and TV spots. That baby in the crib is everywhere.
George Washington Williams — Antidote to White Savior Trope?
The writers and Yates were conscious of the “White Savior” landmine and consider the character of George Washington Williams to be anti-venom to the White Savior problem. By taking a historical black character and making him the driving force (Williams is on a mission to expose the crimes of King Leopold II and prevails on Tarzan to accompany him) — the willful Williams character is not a sidekick, he’s arguably the driving force behind the expedition. If anyone is a sidekick, one could argue, it’s Tarzan. Now we all know that as things evolve, Tarzan’s special skills and capabilities will place him in the forefront — but the insertion of the Williams character as the moving force is at least intended as a way of countering the expected barrage of “white savior” criticism. Whether it actually achieves that remains to be seen, but clearly, if the knives come out on this subject, it won’t be because they blundered into it without thinking about it.
As Yates puts it — “We were very sensitive to the more dated aspects of the stories. One of the appeals and challenges of the script was that it was rooted in this terrible, powerful and disturbing aspect of African history while still keeping all the iconic aspects of the Tarzan you know. If even one person in the multiplex audience goes away and reads a little bit about George Washington Williams, we’ve achieved something.”
Tarzan as a Proper, Grown-up Superhero
Producer David Baron is the one who takes up the cudgels for Tarzan as superhero, noting: “I actually do think of this as a superhero movie. Tarzan’s senses are very finely tuned and he has this great physical prowess as a result of his upbringing. It’s not a superhero movie like we’re used to, though, we are treating it as a proper, grown-up Tarzan story based in reality.” Yates, for his part, calls it “a modern eco-Tarzan.”
The article winds up with this, which is music to the ears of most of us: “Superman was created in 1938; Batman in 1939. One hundred and four years after his own first appearance, it feels right that Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, is about to return alongside them. He’s been gone far too long.”
I like that.