by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
No matter what I type here, it will fail to fully and accurately convey my emotions upon finishing this CG motion capture interpretation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ famous Tarzan of the Apes. It will fail to convey the full amount of befuddlement, disbelief, anger and just overall plain astonishment at the film I had spent 98 minutes sitting through. This is incompetent filmmaking. Nothing works, nothing is pulled off right. Choosing to spend money watching this film or, hell, choosing to watch this film in general is asking to spend 98 minutes watching quite literally everything that could possibly go wrong go horribly, horribly wrong. If Tarzan were a person, it would have ended this film in a bloody, beaten mess; all of its bones broken, internal organs crushed, blood coming out of every orifice, maimed and disfigured.
It would also be completely deserving of that outcome because Tarzan believes that you, the reader, your significant other, your children that this is likely aimed at and which you will keep them far away from if you consider yourself a worthwhile parent, your best friend from high school and pretty much anybody who is alive on the planet today or will be in the future, are an idiot. A total grade-A moron who can barely operate a toaster without setting yourself on fire. Consequently, this a script both loaded with exposition and a narrator who literally describes events that you can see happening on-screen that second, and a finale that has been edited and staged to the point of incomprehensibility but it hopes that you’re still too dumb to call it out on. I haven’t seen a film that has insulted my intelligence this much in gods know how long. I despise everything about this film, and nothing I write over the next (likely) 4 A4 pages will adequately express the levels of hatred I have for this film.
Nevertheless, I am a writer by trade so I will give it the old college try.
In this interpretation of the story, Tarzan (eventually Kellan Lutz, this is a weirdly paced film) loses his parents in a helicopter crash after his father, the head of a large energy company, invokes the wrath of… something, it’s never explained, by chipping off a piece of an alien meteor that struck the Earth 70 million years ago. Rescued by a recently widowed mother ape, who also lost her original son about five minutes after said widowing, he grows up amongst the apes as one of their own until he one day stumbles across a teenaged Jane Porter (eventually Spencer Locke, again this is a weirdly paced film) and secretly keeps her safe from harm during her time in the jungle with her father (Les Bubb).
Doing so unlocks a desire in Tarzan to connect with people instead of animals and also possibly memories of the crash from all those years ago. That second part is really unclear, the whole scene where he comes across the helicopter wreckage plays like an amnesiac remembering their traumatic past but the film doesn’t seem to explain if that’s the case. Anyway, at roughly the one hour mark of this 98 minute film, Clayton (Trevor St. John) finally shows up, with Jane in tow, as the new head of Greystoke Energies attempting to find said meteorite in order to mine it for its potential power because he’s the head of an energy company, what did you think he was going to be a nuanced villain?
As you may have gathered, this is supposed to be a film of two halves. One wants to be a relatively straight-laced telling of Tarzan of the Apes (although it still Disney-fies all of the more morally ambiguous elements) and the other half wants to be… man, I have no idea what in the blue hell the other half wants to be. Seriously, what on earth is going on with that meteor crap? Why do people keep going after it when, quite clearly, it screams “DO NOT DISTURB OR WE WILL SPOIL YOUR DAY IRREPARABLY”? Why can it turn some of nature into weird alien-like hybrid species things? Why does it apparently have spiritual apes guarding it yet they don’t actually do anything? In fact, what is gained by adding the meteorite to the story of Tarzan besides a ridiculous disconnect between the non-meteorite stuff and a sledgehammer-subtle environmentalism message?
Needless to say, it doesn’t work.
In fact, I find it weird that I’m sat here with questions about certain aspects of the film seeing as it spends nearly the entire runtime explaining things. Clayton’s first scene, for example, is literally him recapping the importance of the meteorite and the events of the opening 15 to 20 minutes of the film, in case anyone nodded off during them or suffers from very short term memory loss. Very little of what dialogue is spoken in this film is not exposition of some way shape or form which, surprise, creates the issue of the film not having any actual characters in its roster. Characters always say what they are feeling, point out the obvious, recap the plot, the whole shebang and it’s endlessly irritating.
And then there is the omniscient narrator. Now, you may be wondering what the point of there being a narrator is considering the fact that 80% of words spoken in this film amount to exposition. The answer, of course, is to offer up even more exposition! This is where the film most demonstrates its contempt for its audience as the narrator describes everything. And I mean everything up to and including things you can see happening right in front of you that very second. “Tarzan and Jane ran through the forest from Clayton’s men.” Yes, film, I can see that. “As Greystoke ventured further into the cave, the guardian apes grew more restless.” Yes, I know, you cut to the apes as he went further in. I can figure that… “The mother ape (I forget her name) had lost her husband.” YOU JUST SHOWED… “From the first day he arrived, Tarzan became a thorn in the alpha ape’s side.” SHUT UP!! Maybe it’s supposed to give off the effect of a storybook, actions being read out whenever stuff isn’t happening, or maybe the filmmakers just didn’t trust that its target audience would be able to follow along or pay attention if there went five minutes without anybody saying anything.
Needless to say, it’s really patronising and very frakkin’ annoying.
Animation-wise… I regret insulting Escape From Planet Earth nearly two months ago, now. I really do. See, because when I tell you that Tarzan is uglier than that by a country mile, you won’t believe me. For a lot of people, EFPE looked average at best and that may be true; I only called it bad because I spend most of my days consuming various forms of animation and know what to look for. Nobody, though, should be in any disagreement or doubt at any point as to how hideous Tarzan is. Not one single human or animal looks convincing. They are all way too creepy and off-putting, humans especially have faces that are trying to strive for realistic but just cause everything to trip and fall into the bottomless chasm known as The Uncanny Valley.
Movements are stiff and unnatural 90% of the time, with the only time it does work being some of Tarzan’s ape-like walking movements and those only serve to make everything else look worse. I never noticed a character blink, all of their gestures are performed like they have 2-tonne anvils attached to their arms and rain and water, which featured a lot, makes them turn a dark shade of white instead of looking like they’re actually wet. Environments are weirdly coloured and lack detail, lighting is simplistic, never varying in shadow or temperature, and camera movements are static or extremely cheap (there’s a bit during Clayton’s boardroom meeting where the camera has to cross the room whilst focussing on his static face and it there is such a jarring disconnect and poor application of perspectives that I can’t do it justice describing in word form).
This does not look like a film that cost millions of dollars to make. This does not look like a film that should have been released in cinemas. This does not look like a movie that was designed and worked on by professional CGI artists and animators with specialised technology. This looks like the tech demo reel for a rejected CalArts student. This looks like something somebody put together in Blender. This looks like somebody filmed a five year-old playing with their Barbie and Ken dolls and wildlife action figures and then green-screened the results over barely shifting low-res JPEG images of their uncle’s summer vacation in Africa.
Needless to say, it looks f*cking appalling and I am offended by its existence.
Meanwhile, anybody who is looking to fill up their empty Worst Performances Given In A 2014 Film slots will find no shortage of contenders, here. Kellan Lutz is OK when he just has to leap around all ape-like and utter out nonsensical sounds that are somehow understood by all creatures of all kinds, but give him human words to say and it all falls apart with mis-delivery after mis-delivery. Spencer Locke says everything in the exact same tone of voice regardless of the line, situation or context and that one tone is of a wooden “I am trying really hard to act” that quickly got on all of my nerves. Trevor St. John is never menacing or excited or hammy or any of the things that make an interesting villain. The absolute worst, though, and by a country mile at that, is Les Bubb as Jane’s father. He tries this accent that never sticks or sounds convincing and his every line is delivered wobbly or overly-inflected or, to put it in simpler terms, just plain wrong. He is, no exaggeration, abysmal and his abysmal-ness sticks out even amongst this bunch.
Needless to say, we have serious Razzie contenders in this film.
And then, to top it all off, we have the last 15 to 20 minutes. Folks, I have seen some incompetent finales in my time. I have seen some utterly, bafflingly incompetent finales in my time, and this may top them all. It’s rushed, it’s poorly edited, it’s inconsistently motivated, it suddenly gets really dark for seconds at a time (and the film has a joyless mood for most of its run time, anyway) and then goes back to normal, it’s anaemic in content, poorly set-up in terms of scene geography and atrociously edited. Yes, I did just mention the editing in this finale twice and that’s because I want to bring special attention to how poorly sequenced and edited and paced the whole thing is. It cuts between actions and shots so quickly and so haphazardly that it serves to make the whole enterprise completely incoherent and incomprehensible. My brain was futilely trying to make sense of the thing and the only thing it managed to accurately suss out was how f*cking awful the thing I was witnessing was.
Needless to say, the rolling of the credits did not leave me in a pleasant mood.
Folks, this Tarzan is an abomination. An utterly incompetent piece of trash that belittles audiences of all ages and seems to have had no actual effort put into its construction. I feel sorry for any child who finds this to be their first exposure to Tarzan and the Apes because it may just turn them off it for good. And Maker forbid you have any reverence for the source material in any form. This film is so bad that is screws up the “my name Tarzan, your name Jane” scene because of its abominable animation, atrocious dialogue, atrocious delivery of said dialogue and then following it with a laughable time-skip romance montage backed by “Paradise” by Coldplay (you know, in case you wanted that song, and “Loud Like Love” by Placebo which plays over the end credits for some bizarre reason, ruined for you).
This is trash. Of the highest order. I do not recommend it to anyone under any circumstances and I can guarantee you that it will be fiercely battling it out with 300: Rise of an Empire for Worst Film of 2014 when that time comes around. And even with that ignominious honour, I still don’t think I have accurately transcribed my feelings on how much I hate this film or even why I hate this film so much. Like, this is horrendously made but it’s not mean-spirited or anything. So why am I so worked up about it? I don’t know. I honestly don’t, maybe I never will, but what I do know is that this Tarzan is awful and, if we are all very lucky, this will be the most anybody ever writes about it or pays attention to it and we will all go about the rest of our lives forgetting its existence.
Again: this is utterly and completely dreadful. Do not see it. Not even for a joke. That is an order.