There’s a lot to cover here. Where to start? First, Joe Lara still makes an excellent Tarzan. Contrary to what I originally thought, he still looks like Tarzan, perhaps even more so than in the unrelated and inferior TARZAN IN MANHATTAN. This first part and first episode is unlike any other TARZAN movie or TV show before it. There are a number of reasons for this.
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Tarzan: The Epic Adventures
TARZAN’S RETURN I & II
Reviews by Charles Mento
Joe Lara as Tarzan and Aaron Seville as Themba
Guest star: Lydie Denier as Olga de Coude
Lists of Credits are Featured in ERBzine 7670
Parts 1 & 2 of a Two-Hour Movie
A two-hour movie that reintroduces John Clayton, Lord Greystoke -- Tarzan.
Tarzan is in Paris where he is becoming more uncomfortable
with civilization and yearns for the jungle.
His return begins with a "Journey to the Center of the Earth".
In order to close the hole to the other world
Tarzan must find the gem stolen from the gateway.
Gaff: Look for cable attached to the vine on which Tarzan is swinging.
After being devoured by a gigantic snake in the first half
Tarzan must follow Rokoff to Pellucidar at the Earth's core.
Rokoff plots with the Queen of the Mahars who are human flesh eaters.
1. EPIC ADVENTURES: TARZAN’S RETURN I
Part One of a Two-Hour Movie
The time is 1996. Syndicated shows were at their height. This started with the slow moving STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, quickly followed in the same year by the far most exciting FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES way back in 1987. By the mid 1990s, fantasy hero shows such as the HERCULES movies and THE LEGENDARY JOURNIES OF HERCULES (which spawned the far more exciting and serious---at least at first XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS and YOUNG HERCULES; XENA having six seasons but the first three are the only three worth pursuing), MUTANT X, BEASTMASTER (highly recommended TV show based on the movies), CONAN (which should have had Conan going solo or at least with just one companion, for my money I’d have used the African companion in all of them and no other), THE NEW ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (with aliens as well as fantasy villains and allies), a bunch of other Robin Hoods, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SINBAD (and a later BBC SINBAD, which was just as good), CLEOPATRA 2525, HIGHLANDER and HIGHLANDER: RAVEN, and more.
All of these shows had a similar style with a lot of fantasy, monsters, witches, sorcerers, jungles, deserts, giant legendary creatures, islands, castles, sword fights, and more but most of them were also very different in approaches and individual tones. HERCULES and its spinoffs often used a lot of humor, sometimes did parodies, even musical episodes and out right comedies and take offs on say LAW AND ORDER and/or GROUNDHOG DAY, often with hilarious results.
There are plenty of great action set pieces as well and sometimes a lot of meaning and emotion behind them (especially the first three seasons of XENA).
The effects were always variable (SINBAD probably had the beast of these and did one episode where the main witch shrunk Sinbad with great special effects).
At times, the heroes were ruthless and Sinbad can be seen in a narrow hall of a ship stabbing a villain dead in his stomach.
THE LOST WORLD is another beast entirely. And quite worth watching but that’s for another time.
Of these, TARZAN THE EPIC ADVENTURES seemed to be an outlier because…while it was one of them, it also lacked, from what I recall, the humor and the ability to make each episode somewhat different from the others. We shall see as we go on into the series. I was expecting to be bored by this first episode, parts one and two made from what was presented as a two hour movie (with commercials).
Okay, Lara is great here, again. He looks like Tarzan, is fit as can be and yet this is different from every TARZAN before and after.
First, this takes place…and to differentiate it from both Wolf Larson’s TARZAN series AND TARZAN IN MANHATTAN, the past of a VERY specific year 1914. Unlike Wolf’s shows and Ely’s show, we’re given very specific settings, too, and this episode moves from Paris to North Africa and then deep Africa jungles. There is no wondering here and that’s a good thing.
It takes the brave choice of making it specific and mentions Africa several times, unlike most of Ely’s show and almost EVERY Wolf episode.
Also unlike Wolf’s show, here we have a large cast of villains, allies, henchmen, main villains’ second in command (two of them!) and lots of extras milling around.
There’s even a large tribe that Tarzan and his new friend (a doctor?) Mugambi encounter once back in the jungle. Some intended humor from Mugambi about the tribe being cannibals isn’t funny. Joshua Mugambi is from the Wazuri from the blood of a Wazuri chief.
Other than Jai, Tarzan shows walk a narrow unbalanced line of Tarzan’s friends and allies. Mugambi has his good points but overall, I prefer Jai to almost all the others, even Roger.
Lydie Denier is a guest star here as Colette and she has some good action scenes, mostly getting kidnapped by the two main villains, first by Russian Czar’s son, the prince (?) Nicolai Rokoff and his assassin Alexi to Africa and then by Achmed Zek, the fat slave trader who tries to make her part of his harem, threatens to have her tongue cut out, and then auctions her off as a slave before trying to get her away from Tarzan but Tarzan and Colette (French and her father appears too!) stop him.
Christopher Dennis appears as Tarzan’s friend in Paris, Phillip D’Arnot.
There’s also an old man who can lead the villains to the spot the shiny amulet came from ---an area under and/or behind a waterfall that has a golden pylon. The area is guarded by a giant snake.
Tacanda is a palm tree which you can eat the core of. Themba might be the name of the chief of the tribe who is a friend of Tarzan. The tribe’s name might be Cucoyou.
Again unlike all the Tarzan TV shows (and most movies) before it, this has stock footage kept to a minimum and what stock there is fits in almost perfectly with the main action. Yet…somehow the jungle here does NOT look like Africa to me but it somehow seems to be functional.
Okay, the snake. Yes. As in some HERCULES episodes, the giant snake looks fake. It seems to be a combination of large rubber head and maybe some bad CGI? BUT I don’t much care about bad special effects (unless they’re truly awful which this is not) if the story moves, and is interesting and can provide other things.
This moves faster than I thought it would and isn’t as boring as I thought it might be. I know I wandered from this show but recorded it when it was on but lost interest quickly so we shall see.
The snake is okay even if it mostly does not work. They should have written into it that the snake devoured or killed some of Rokoff’s men. That might have made it seem more of a threat.
The cliffhanger: Tarzan, to save Joshua, jumps at the snake and somehow lands in its mouth, which closes over it. Josh claims it ate him.
Though there are some clever moments during the fight scenes, there are far better fights in those other shows so the action here is not really all that it should be, making this seem slightly sleepy but again, not slow. Just as the fights get going, they seem to be over, which his realistic as most fights do not take long amounts of time and the stunts are okay but nothing to write home about. Lara is seen swinging through trees a bit toward the end but at 31 minutes in, or so, as he lands at the crux of a tree that split in the past in growth, Lara seems to have a wardrobe malfunction and we’ll leave it at that.
We hear the TARZAN yell (Johnny) during the credits (scenes from this two hour (with ads) story) and at about the 32 minute mark. Also Tarzan has already been educated it would seem and now it is time for him to return to the jungle.
This is not a bad start and feels different to those before it with a large cast, a semi supernatural tone, a very good Tarzan, and visuals that get the job done if not spectacular.
2. EPIC ADVENTURES: TARZAN’S RETURN II
Part TWO of a Two-Hour Movie
“Well, touche, Tarzan, you just told a joke, which I’m sure is a surprise to all of us.”
Frankly, the opening credits leave a lot to be desired. The theme is not as good as either the Ron Ely theme or the Wolf Larson theme, the credits do the job I guess. We also get a glimpse of Lydie Denier. But it all feels lackluster.
In the first few moments, Alexi touches a stone and plunges his group and his master Rokoff into a mirror to Pellucidar. We see Tarzan escape the snake and then remove the stick that is in its mouth to save it. We also see a raptor (at least I think it is a raptor) come out of the mirror to attack Tarzan’s friend Mugambi, who throws a knife between its eyes, afraid Tarzan will adopt it. He’s totally not funny and totally unneeded as a character. I find I don’t really care about him at all.
One of the strengths of Ely’s show was the ability to make us/me care about Jai and almost ALL the guest characters of any particular episode. Tarzan, I’m sorry to say, is only as good as the story going on around him and with him in it and with the people around him. Here, we don’t have either.
Say what you must about the Wolf Larson series, at least we had, when the guest star’s characters were nice, people there that we could care about and if not (often we had NO guest stars), there was always Roger, Jane (appreciating Lydie so much more NOW), and Dan or Jack or Simon to care about and those actors brought them to life to make us care no matter what was going on around them and Tarzan. The villains were also usually well drawn when the show had them. Here, we don’t have that. The villains are boring, the sidekicks cliché and uninteresting.
I don’t care much about special effects but in the age of JURASSIC PARK, having that raptor and giant snake look like that in a lackluster script slows down any pace or action there is and in fact, the action is appallingly boring.
This second episode will plunge Tarzan into another universe, literally, that of ERB’s Pellucidar--- is that a good thing?
Frankly, it’s hard to warm up to this series or be exciting about it at all.
One would expect more from Brian Yuzna’s directing, too.
There’s only so much he can do with this script though.
Cavemen capture Rokoff’s group and Alexi loses the red stone to a flying bat dino man creature that is better realized than the dinosaurs. Cavemen capture the villain’s group and bring them to Mara, Queen of the Mahar. She talks like an alien from THE FAR OUT SPACE NUTS.
Tarzan and Mugambi follow to get the red stone back thanks to a bit of talk from the old man who seems to no longer be human but some kind of spirit being. They see stop motion dinosaur Brontsauruses or Diplodosauruses or something.
Mara calls the red stone the Crimson Eye, taken from Queen Roma many lifetimes ago.
Tarzan and Mugambi was attacked by what looks like three men who put Mugambi on his back but he’s quickly up as Tarzan downs all three men (amid the score playing the theme song which might grow on me?). Jana, a female, gets the jump on him and puts a knife to his throat but he flips her after telling her the truth: that he is from elsewhere. She declared a death sentence for that but now it is he that has the knife at her neck in an almost kinky exchange that Tarzan furthers by seemingly almost wanting to kill her and telling her that. One of the “men” seems almost alien in a way.
The sets here or whatever they are using to depict the lake and weird coloring of “inner Earth” is quite good to be honest and there are hints this “story” might pick up.
Mara’s women seem almost like the three women from DRACULA who were his “brides” albeit more muscled. Actually, I’m surprised by the candy floss thongs between their glutes aka butt cheeks that probably would not be allowed on today’s TV, certainly not a kid action adventure show like this.
Mara and Rokoff bond with him offering her the others if she spares himself and Alexi Pavlovich (who got the assassin killed earlier by forcing him to try to get the stone; he was carried away by the bird dino man).
Jana leads Tarzan and Mugambi past a lake of fire toward Rokoff.
The cave men monsters are called Sagas. Jana almost falls into the fire lake but Tarzan saves her.
Mara’s plan: go to Russia and start her conquest to get a fresh supply of human flesh…for her and her people to eat. A caveman attacks Tarzan and alerts Mara to Tarzan. She changes into a lizard woman monster with claws. Mara flies Rokoff out while Tarzan beats off one of the monster women, who ARE the flying things, the Mahar.
Tarzan forces Jana to stay behind when he will chase Rokoff and Mara back to his upper world. He calls her people the Zoron and gives her his bow and arrow. All of this seems most unlike him but he does know what it is like to live in a world not his own. He wants her to teach her people how to fight the Mahar. Toro is the name of the male who considered her his woman but she didn’t consider him her man. He tells her he will see her again but then tells her he must close the portal between their worlds, the worlds must never mix together.
When Tarzan and Mugambi follow, Mara (who pronounces her own name as More-A or Mora) uses laser beams from her eyes to attack Tarzan while Mugambi fights Rokoff. Why didn’t she stop them with this earlier?
As she attacks Mugambi, she loosens stone pillars which fall on her after Tarzan kicks her into the area from coming out of his swinging on a vine. This buries her and a blue stone falls. Tarzan is standing with his back to her and watching Mugambi fight Rokoff (?) as Mara digs her way out and re-attacks him!
Tarzan punching Mara in her female form…is…most interesting. They fight and once more she does NOT use her laser eyes. He picks her up bodily and throws her into the mirror, having to give her one last kick to send her back. Against Tarzan’s wishes, Mugambi pushes Rokoff into the mirror, too. Before they leave, the old man appears or half appears and tells Tarzan he still has the rest of his quest to succeed on but that is all he tells. Tarzan, he claims, will know when he has succeeded.
There’s nothing wrong with this as an adventure. Most of what Mugambi says is not worth quoting (all of it really) as he’s comic relief that is not funny or ironic or anything really. Joe still makes a great Tarzan here and looks the role as fit as anyone before or after and handles the action scenes quite well, and from what I can see there are NO stunt doubles in this episode.
The sets are fantastic, the locations well used for the inner earth, and the action just okay. The make up is fine, too, even if the effects of the dinosaurs aren’t that good. It’s really the story that is sort of just there. It’s action adventure and I guess it delivers on that front but there’s nothing more here than that. Nothing deeper or funny or even inspiring. As a TV show, it’s early going here but it’s really not all that exciting to be honest nor is it bad TV either.
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