Richard sits in on the CTV NewsChannel to talk about the big releases in theatres, including “The Legend of Tarzan,” starring Alexander Skarsgård as the Lord of the Jungle and Margot Robbie as Jane, Steven Spielberg’s latest, “The BFG” and the John le Carré thriller “Our Kind of Traitor,” starring Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Damian Lewis.
If you are not a Roald Dahl fan the term The BFG almost sounds like something you might call someone you don’t like.
If you’re familiar with the Dahl’s work, stories like James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and Fantastic Mr Fox, you’ll already know The BFG stands for The Big Friendly Giant.
Just in time for the 100th anniversary of Dahl’s birth, Steven Spielberg brings the towering tale of an orphan girl who befriends a taller-than-tall giant to the big screen.
Mark Ryland, last year’s best supporting Oscar winner for Bridge of Spies, plays the BFG but he’s not the film’s only leviathan. Giant Country is filled with “cannybully and murderful” goliaths with fanciful names like The Childchewer and The Gizzardgulper.
They are the BFG’s brothers, behemoths so huge if six-foot eight-inch Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lebron James stood next to them he’d only come up to their ankle. They’re fearsome but Meatdripper portrayer Paul Moniz de Sa is quick mention, “There’s still a lot of joy in the giants.”
“We were going more for goose bumps,” says Michael Adamthwaite who plays the Butcher Boy. “The film does a good job of showing [kids] how to overcome that fear and finding confidence and being brave and standing up for what you believe in.”
Creating a world for the giants to inhabit involved groundbreaking technology to blend the live-action elements with performance-capture techniques. The richly detailed Giant Country, where swords are used as sewing needles and sailing ships double as beds, was brought to vivid life on soundstages in Vancouver last year.
“It was a big empty space and you had to use your imagination to feel the different elements,” says Daniel Bacon who plays Bonecruncher. “There was tape on the floor and it was explained that something would be here, and something would be there. We relied on Steven telling us and being very descriptive about what it would look like.”
“We also had the wonderful concept art to fall back on,” says Adamthwaite. “For all the locations there was a big concept art poster and then there was the virtual camera which is technologically way beyond my brain power, but it is so crisp and the technology has advanced so quickly that now we are at a point that even though we were in a carpeted room with tape on the floor we had the benefit of being able to look over to a large screen monitor and see these almost real time, almost full renderings of our characters.”
The result of the high tech work is a film that has so little to do with today’s kid’s entertainment it feels as though it’s a relic from another time, a singular holdover from a day before Minions gurgled and everything was awesome. Adamthwaite credits Spielberg for finding the right tone.
“While some directors may be pushing the boundaries of being cutting edge. He always sees the film through the audience’s eyes. He’s very aware and astute of what will work in terms of what the audience appreciates.”
The Tarzan yell, a familiar sound to anyone who grew up watching Johnny Weissmuller movies on Saturday morning television. Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912 as a feral child raised in the jungle by Mangani Great Apes, he has inspired dozens of films, radio and television shows, comic books, Baltimora’s hit song Tarzan Boy and even appeared on a GEICO TV commercial. When The Lord of the Jungle wasn’t doing the famous yell Carol Burnett would often close her variety show with the jungle holler.
That was then. Those Saturday morning matinees are a thing of the past and it’s been some time since Tarzan made any kind of rumble in the jungle. “True Blood’s” Alexander Skarsgård and his finely honed abdominal muscles hope to change that with “The Legend of Tarzan,” a revamped look at the chest-thumping hero.
The story begins with a history lesson. It’s 1862 and King Leopold of Belgium has gone broke trying to sap the Congo’s considerable resources. In a last ditch effort to find a valuable diamond mine, Belgian envoy, the vain and ruthless Captain Rom, (Christoph Waltz) has left a trail of carnage across the land.
To access the gems Rom must make a deal with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). “There is one thing I despise above all else,” says the chief. “Bring him to me and you shall have your diamonds.” That “him,” of course, is Tarzan ak.a. John Clayton, Earl of Greystoke, a fella raised by apes when his aristocratic parents perished in the jungle. (Luckily there were no trigger-happy zookeepers nearby so the apes could safely take the child.) Mbongo wants revenge, Rom wants the jewels and a plan is hatched to lure Tarzan, who now lives the life of a lord in London with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie), back to Africa.
US trade ambassador George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convinces Greystoke to accept Rom’s “goodwill” invitation but he has an ulterior motive. “How does a bankrupt monarch keep the Congo in business?” he asks. “Slavery?”
And that’s just the first half hour. In short order Jane is kidnapped from the warm embrace of her African family so Tarzan must not only rescue her and stay away from Mbonga but also stop Rom and the king from enslaving all of the Congo. It’s a tall order, but he’s a big guy. “A normal man can do the impossible to save the woman he loves,” says Jane. “My husband is no normal man.”
Not content to simply introduce a franchise-able Tarzan to millennials, “The Legend of Tarzan” is also a treatise against man’s injustice to man. Slavery, colonialism and the slaughter of America’s native people are all covered but the political and historical subtext tends to be outshone by the shiny-as-a-new-dime leads. In the tradition of the great Tarzan and Janes of the past Skarsgård and Robbie bring otherworldly abs and cheekbones and some sexual tension—she apparently really likes it when he imitates animal mating calls—to a movie that jam packs in story but works best when it sticks to the basics. Beautiful cinematography, exciting jungle chase scenes and cliff jumps are the stuff Tarzan movies are made of and the new films has those in spades. When it embraces its ape man legacy it swings on all vines. When it steps outside those lines its less successful.
Director David Yates, best known for helming the last four “Harry Potter” movies, seems to have a sense of campy humour regarding his characters—why else would he have Rom sneer cartoon villain lines like, “Your husband’s wildness disturbs me”?—but the emotional moments seem just out of his reach.
Absent any real feelings “The Legend of Tarzan” relies on snazzy filmmaking—lots of flashbacks and highflying action—and fetching leads to keep things interesting. Even then it feels as if Yates is holding back to ensure a young demographic friendly PG rating. There are fights and some violence but much of the actual action happens just off screen. It’s less graphic, I suppose, but takes away the visceral thrills that could have amped this story up.
Will “The Legend of Tarzan” ingratiate the Lord of the Jungle to a new audience? As one character in the film says, “I don’t think so, wild man.”