Me, Tarzan — Again

Do we really need another update of the classic ape-man story?

by Vinnie Penn | 30 Jun 2016 at 5:45 AM

The last time Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan was seen on the big screen in live-action form, Casper van Dien was playing the jungle hero. Yep, the guy from “Starship Troopers.” Small wonder the franchise promptly slumbered for over 15 years afterwards.

Tarzan’s success at the box office has been inconsistent at best since fan favorite Johnny Weissmuller hung up his loin cloth in 1948.

Actually, his “Tarzan and the Lost City” was an okay entry in a film canon that ebbs and flows like the mighty rivers Tarzan himself swims.

Still, van Dien’s ape-man did not inspire even a straight-to-video run after its bow in 1998, nor did a WB attempt at re-launching the character take on TV, hot on the heels of a hit reimagining of another time-honored hero with the network’s “Smallville” (which ran for ten seasons).

This summer’s “The Legend of Tarzan” is yet another reimagining.

Whereas the WB stab found the loincloth-wearing hero prowling the streets of modern day Manhattan, with lead Travis Fimmel looking more “Gossip Girl” than Greystoke, this retelling finds Tarzan, aka John Clayton, having made his way out of the jungle to his posh English countryside estate, only to be called back to the jungle to rescue Jane.

Sure, he’s still raised by apes, but managed to leave it behind for the life his parents had envisioned for him. He must now plumb the depths of his psyche to recall that upbringing, if only to appease Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz (the enemy here, bent on luring Tarzan back to his jungle home).

The fact that Jane is played by resident Hollywood “It Girl” Margot Robbie will make all of this more palatable to the boys and their dads who go to see the flick. At least, that’s what execs are banking on.

But, as mentioned, Tarzan’s success at the box office has been inconsistent at best, if not completely nonexistent since fan favorite Johnny Weissmuller hung up his loincloth in 1948.

The Olympic medalist is arguably the most famous Tarzan (with perhaps Ron Ely second for his short-lived TV portrayal on NBC in the '60s — if not Disney's animated rendition).

An underrated 1984 big screen adaptation, "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes," starred "Highlander's" Christopher Lambert, and was similarly ambitious with its retelling of the Burroughs classic. (Equally ambitious: Andie MacDowell starring as Jane, but with Glenn Close providing the heroine's voice.)

Back to Jane: Robbie's got the cache. Doubling down this summer, her portrayal of DC Comics' character Harley Quinn in next month's "Suicide Squad" (reteaming her with "Focus" co-star Will Smith) will cement her status at comic-cons across the country.

Related: The Evolution of Tarzan

But it's Tarzan who needs to sell this whole thing (just ask the guy who starred in the Bo Derek dud over thirty years ago, where Jane was front and center). And "True Blood" star Alexander Skarsgard has his work cut out for him. A small but pivotal role in that epic bomb "Battleship" still hangs overhead, while Skarsgard's surfer-dude looks seem plenty capable of sinking this ship, too.

The 39-year-old son of Stellan Skarsgard is making the rounds, telling reporters his dad is the very reason he wanted the coveted role, adding that his dad used to watch the Weissmuller classics while he was growing up in Sweden and just might be the biggest Tarzan fan of all time. His dad's affinity for the character soon became his, which is about as rock-solid a reason any guy should ever want to play the King of the Jungle.

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