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Some Tarzan fans remember the original novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, first published in 1914. Others will picture a grunting Johnny Weissmuller fighting lions in a loincloth in the dozen Tarzan adventures, originally made in the 1930s and ’40s, which played as TV reruns for years after. Ron Ely played him in a television series; Christopher Lambert was “Greystoke”; Disney animated him in 1999.

“The Legend of Tarzan,” a high-stakes, big-studio movie coming July 1 and starring Alexander Skarsgard of “True Blood,” sets out to introduce the iconic, if dusty, character to a new generation. “I wouldn’t say I was a massive fan,” said director David Yates, talking about the films he watched as a child starring Weissmuller, an Olympic gold-medal swimmer. “They always felt like they were B movies. Even as a kid I recognized they were cutting in the footage from some wildlife film they had from Africa.”

Mr. Yates, best known as the director of the four final “Harry Potter” films, and his collaborators have given the story a modern makeover. This Jane doesn’t wilt in Tarzan’s arms. She is feisty and independent. When in jeopardy, she fights back. The animals are hyperrealistic—all are computer-generated except a few village goats. The African characters are mostly valued allies, not just servile or menacing figures in the background. Tarzan is more psychologically complex. “It’s a very 21st-century approach to that singular story and that person,” Mr. Yates said. “Those notions of ‘Me, Tarzan,’ You, Jane’...aren’t interesting at all.” “Here we have a character who has a kinship and an empathy and a deep understanding of the natural world. That to me is a very contemporary, interesting character to explore.”

Tarzan has deeper motives for his tree-swinging heroics in this case: uncovering slavery in the Congo in the late 19th century. He is aided by George Washington Williams, an American soldier played by Samuel L. Jackson. Williams is based on a real African-American soldier who traveled to the Congo and criticized the colonists’ treatment of the natives; some of Mr. Jackson’s lines come from an old letter, Mr. Yates said. "The real hero is George Washington Williams in some ways,” he added.

“The Legend of Tarzan” introduces its protagonist years after he left the jungle, where he was raised by apes. He is living a life of nobility as John Clayton in London with his wife Jane, an American whom he met in Africa. When he hears from Williams that Belgian colonists have instituted slavery, he agrees to return, reluctantly allowing Jane to come along. There is a hostile tribe awaiting him, however the true bad guys aren’t the natives but those who come to exploit them.

The real villain is Christoph Waltz as Leon Rom, envoy to King Leopold of Belgium, who kidnaps Jane. Played by Margot Robbie, she engages in intellectual sparring with her captor and works with her Kuba friend Wasimbu to try to escape.

Making Africa seem authentic was especially important to the filmmakers because they shot the movie in England, except for six weeks in Gabon filming background without the cast. A working waterfall and a 100-foot-long collapsible pier were assembled at Warner Bros.’ Leavesden studios, where the “Harry Potter” films were shot and where Mr. Yates is currently finishing up J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” To spend more time in Africa would have made the budget, a reported $180 million, even higher.


PHOTOS


Tarzan will be swinging across the silver screen once again when "The Legend of Tarzan" hits theaters on July 1.
The film is the latest entry in the King of Apes' decades-long legacy on television and in the movies.


David Yates, left, and Alexander Skarsgard on the set of ‘The Legend of Tarzan’


 

Director David Yates on the set of ‘The Legend of Tarzan’

Samuel L. Jackson in ‘The Legend of Tarzan’

A FEW EXCERPTED COMMENTS:
See the original article for more and for credits
For those who have actually read the original "Tarzan of the Apes" by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the movie may have more in common with original story than implied by Ms. Feldman's review.  The original setting of Tarzan saga seem at least partly consistent with the apparent theme of the film. In the original, Tarzan's father, John Clayton, Lord Greystroke, was sent to investigate the mistreatment of black British subjects in a West African Colony where they were being forced into virtual slavery by another colonial power.  After Clayton's death Tarzan was raised by apes but grew to maturity embracing his civilized heritage as well as jungle life.  The Hollywood movies of the "me Tarzan you Jane" genre are far removed from Burroughs's original account.  The new movie may try to project some 21st century values on the historical setting.  We'll see.  However, if it moves the story closer to the original and quite sophisticated account as told by Burroughs, that will be a plus.
Why not base a film such as this on the actual book? More hollywood numbness awashed with poitical correctness. Pass on the filim and read the book. 
 That is soooo right. I read the Tarzan books, and he's far more like Sean Connery as Bond in them than Weissmuller. I really thought then that Hollywood must have a lot of stupid people in it to reduce Tarzan to a B-movie character. They were sitting on a gold mine in the old days, but didn't have the sense to take advantage of it. 
Being relevant and culturally resonant have always been the order of the day for movies.
Being "relevant" and politically correct are the order of the day in Hollywood and apparently sells films which is what it is all about. On the other hand I am old enough to remember seeing the Jonny Weissmuller films and today they would be dead in the water and not ever get a B rating.
You overlook the fact that the suppliers of the slave trade were Native Africans who raided neighboring tribes to secure captives to sell to the Arab middlemen for financial gain.
. . .  stop confusing these small minded Lib/Progs with facts.  It's all about the narrative, not the historical reality. 
Have you even heard of Edgar Rice Burroughs? Try reading the books. I did when I was a kid. Must have missed the slavery angle. But Hollywood didn't. Hey one more time. White people are bad. White people are bad, white people are bad.....
What, exactly do you not like? Movies have always had preachy, politically correct components. Granted, the components evolve to reflect the culture but there is nothing different here.
Thanks for mentioning Johnny Weissmuller, the Tarzan of my parents' generation, and Ron, the Tarzan of mine.  I have hopes that Alexander Skarsgard will become the Tarzan for this generation of film-goers and Margot Robbie will make Jane her own just as Maureen O'Sullivan had.
As a longtime fan of the Tarzan novels, with the exception of Sy Weintraub's productions, the Tarzan films never accurately represented the characters that Edgar Rice Burroughs created.  This new production does albeit in an original take on the basic ERB premise.  I look forward to how well David Yates achieves that goal.
As if slavery didn't exist in Africa before Europeans arrived. The Belgians were quite brutal in the Congo, but Arabs and other Africans enslaved far more Africans and treated them just as badly.

. . . AND THEN THEY SAID . . .
 
See the various film trailers for “The Legend of Tarzan,”
starring Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie and Christoph Waltz.
Tarzan vs Akut: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_IlA1j0af4
Scream for Me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw6KV7CLnq4
You are Tarzan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lucbhu8vl5s
No Normal Man: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEPwTPfi5bA

For information on all the ERB films from over the last 100 years see:
www.ERBzine.com/movies


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