NEW TARZAN IS A WINNER

July 4, 2016
NEW TARZAN IS A WINNER

It occurred to me recently that it had been a while since the last time I devoted this space to reviewing a new movie. This seems like as good a time as any to rectify this - and frankly I could not have picked a better movie with which to do so.


Full disclosure: The Legend Of Tarzan was one of those movies I was looking forward to with both great anticipation and, at the same time, a certain degree of dread. Anticipation because, as I have written about many times in the past, Tarzan is a character I have loved ever since I was a very young boy; dread because, as a lifelong fan who has read and re-read the original Edgar Rice Burroughs novels many times since the third grade, and has seen every “sound-era” Tarzan movie at least once (and several of the silent Tarzan films besides), I know that Hollywood’s track record when it comes to adapting Burroughs’ jungle hero to the screen has been... well, spotty at best.


I needn’t have worried. Director David Yates - the man behind the last four movies in the Harry Potter series - has given Burroughs fans like myself the Tarzan movie we have been waiting our entire lives to see. 


As personified by actor Alexander Skarsgård, this Tarzan - a.k.a. John Clayton, Lord Greystoke - is very much the hero Burroughs first introduced to the world in the October, 1912, issue of The All-Story magazine: a man of two worlds, the product both of his blue-blooded British peerage (he is a member of the House of Lords) and his upbringing as a feral child in the African jungle, possessed of great bravery and a sense of honor that, frankly, we could use a lot more of in 21st century humanity.


Margot Robbie is equally great as Tarzan’s wife, the former Jane Porter, who also comes across far more like the character Burroughs created than has typically been the case in previous movie incarnations. No mere “damsel in distress” (she openly mocks the film’s villain at one point for assuming otherwise), Robbie’s Jane is witty, brave, resourceful - in other words, the perfect match for her beloved jungle lord - and very much the way I envisioned her when reading the original novels so many years ago. 


Skarsgård and Robbie get top-notch support from their co-stars. Christoph Waltz (most recently seen as the latest Bond villain in last year’s Spectre) is appropriately evil as Captain Léon Rom, King Leopold’s representative in the Congo and a character very much in the mold of such classic Burroughs villains as Alexis Paulevitch, Nikolas Rokoff and Albert Werper. 


And Samuel L. Jackson turns in a fine performance as an actual historical figure, the American George Washington Williams, whose efforts to free Africans enslaved in the Congo by Belgium’s King Leopold provides the film with a fitting real-word connection that remains all too relevant in our modern world.


Besides providing the film’s historical context, Jackson’s character also provides much of the movie’s humor. Although one exchange of dialogue between his character and Tarzan did seem to me to be a little out of place in a Tarzan story (though not, perhaps, in one of Philip José Farmer’s Tarzan pastiches - and now that I think of it, perhaps this scene was the filmmakers’ way of playfully acknowledging Farmer’s contributions to the wider Tarzan mythology), Jackson gets an opportunity several times to poke a little good-natured fun at the way Tarzan has been portrayed by Hollywood in the past. 


His “Me Tarzan, You Jane” monologue early in the film should bring smiles to the faces of anyone familiar with the original novels, and brings to mind a similar scene Burroughs himself (who for the most part detested what Hollywood did with his hero) wrote at the conclusion of one his later novels in the series, Tarzan And The Lion Man.


Ironically, a number of the negative reviews I’ve read about this new film seem to have one thing in common: The reviewers are complaining that the portrayal of Tarzan is not in keeping with previous movie versions. (I'm presuming most of them mean the Johnny Weissmuller films of the 1930s and ’40s, since they still seem to be the best known among the general public.) Others seem to buy into the notion that Tarzan is a passé character who for whatever reason needs to fade into obscurity, or accuse Yates of trying to turn Tarzan into a modern-day superhero. The latter accusation is particularly asinine, given that the creation of Tarzan predates that of the comic book superhero by several decades (Tarzan was actually one of the inspirations for Superman; look it up if you don’t believe me.) 


Besides, it occurs to me that - given his obvious affection for and fealty to Burroughs’ Tarzan - David Yates would have given us Superman movies far more in keeping with Siegel and Shuster’s original creation than that crap Zack Snyder has foisted upon the world in recent years. But that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose...


This is what I know: members of Burroughs’ own family have stated publicly that this is not only the best Tarzan movie ever made, but also the most accurate cinematic depiction of the character ever and one which Tarzan’s creator would have approved and enjoyed. As a fan of the character and his creator myself, that endorsement carries far more weight than than any of the negative - and often quite ridiculous - comments made by snobby movie critics who have no knowledge of the original source material and in most cases wouldn’t know a good movie in general if it reared up and bit them in the butt. 


Ignore the naysayers. If your knowledge of the Tarzan character is based solely on those old Weissmuller films or the 1999 Disney animated feature (all of which admittedly do have a charm all their own, but are NOT true to the original books), you owe it to yourself to see this movie and get to know Lord Greystoke as Burroughs intended.


Granted, even in this film they didn’t get everything right. For some reason filmmakers never seem interested in presenting the lost city of Opar or its inhabitants as Burroughs described them. And Yates follows the inaccurate Hollywood tradition of showing Tarzan’s parents as having lived in a treehouse after being marooned in the jungle. (Burroughs wrote that they built themselves a cabin on the jungle floor, not a treehouse.) 


On the other hand, they DID get Jane’s nationality right for a change; Robbie’s Jane is an American just as Burroughs stated, not a British citizen. And they also got right the fact that Tarzan was raised not by gorillas but by a more advanced species of ape known as the Mangani. Little things, perhaps, but they mean a great deal to fans of the original books.


And ultimately such quibbles as Opar and the treehouse are, indeed, minor ones. The Legend Of Tarzan is not only the best Tarzan movie ever made but a great summer film in general, boasting great performances, wonderful cinematography and effects, rousing action-adventure sequences AND an always timely message regarding the treatment of our fellow man. 


It is, quite simply, the best movie of the year so far. And anyone who says otherwise are, as the Mangani might say, fee`ta-ze and t`are-eta-ze zor eth b`yat. (Again, look it up.)


Copyright 2016 by John Allen Small

 

REMEMBER CIVILITY...?

June 23, 2016
(Note: This is a slightly revised version of something I recently wrote and posted on Facebook, and then published as my weekly column in the June 23, 2016, edition of the Johnston County Capital-Democrat.)


I recently had a… well, I don't know that it actually rises to the level of being an honest-to-Jed Bartlett "epiphany," but it is darn sure something that bears being shared the rest of the world.  (And if it does qualify as an epiphany then I'm just tickled to death, because I don't know...


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ELEMENTARY, DEAR READER...

May 13, 2016

(NOTE: The following is a longer version of one of my recent newspaper columns.)


Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to become reacquainted with an old friend. A fellow I first met when I was a young boy and who became one of my most faithful companions as I was growing up. A gentleman who taught me about the importance of being observant, and of not allowing emotions to overpower logic - a skill I readily admit I have yet to master, though I continue to strive in that direction...


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MEMOIRS OF A BAT-FAN

January 15, 2016

MEMOIRS OF A BAT-FAN



In case you happened to miss it (you’d be surprised, it seems like there is always a few who somehow manage to not receive the memo), this past Tuesday marked an important milestone in the history of American popular culture. 


Well, it was important to some of us, anyway...


January 12 marked the 50th anniversary of the night that the television series Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, premiered on the ABC television network (WLS-TV, Channel 7 in Chicago if y...


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HO, HO, HO...

December 23, 2015
(Above: Thomas Nast's depiction of Santa Claus for Harper's Weekly in the late 1800s; and my son Joshua playing Santa Claus in the 2014 Johnston County Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade, Tishomingo, Oklahoma.)



(Note: The following article was originally published in the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, Dec. 24, 1992. We re-published it in this week's issue as a Christmas gift to our readers, and I felt it was appropriate to share it here as well.)



He is one of the most recognized figures...


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IT COULD HAVE BEEN ME...

November 24, 2015
(Yours Truly in Greece, Spring 1985 - shortly before the events described below...)



It occurred to me, as I sat down at my keyboard just now to share the story I am about to tell, that I probably should have done so back in June. That month did, after all, mark the 30th anniversary of when it actually happened.


But for some reason I generally don’t think about it when the anniversary rolls around. The subject only seems to come to mind around this time of year. When I’m counting my blessi...


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WHEN DUTY AND BELIEFS CLASH...

September 10, 2015

I had not originally planned on commenting here about the controversy surrounding Kim Davis, the court clerk in Kentucky who was refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone because she disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year legalizing gay marriages. Not because I don’t have an opinion on the subject (come on, you know better than that) but, rather, because I'm actually kind of tired of listening to everyone else talk about it.


There had already been so much disc...


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HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. BURROUGHS

August 31, 2015

Tomorrow, September 1, marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of my favorite author: Edgar Rice Burroughs, father of Tarzan, chronicler of Barsoom and Pellucidar, and the man whose stories helped teach me to read and made me want to become a writer myself. 


In celebration I thought it might be appropriate to share a poem in tribute to Burroughs that I wrote roughly 20 years ago now…



IN MEMORIAM: ERB


A Poem By John Allen Small



With simple words on paper

He drew a map that led me

On a ...


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SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT AWARDS...

August 26, 2015

One of the big news stories of the past week revolved around James Harrison, the pro football player who launched a national debate when he announced that he had made his young sons return sports participation trophies they had received because he felt they rewarded involvement, as opposed to actual accomplishment.


Harrison got a fair share of “atta boys” from certain corners, but he also caught no small amount of flack from others who apparently felt that his decision fell just short of...


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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION (A REVIEW)

August 12, 2015

This past weekend my wife and son Joshua and I went to see the fifth entry in the popular Mission: Impossible film series, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation


And just as was the case with the previous four movies, I came away with mixed feelings. 


On the one hand, it was a fun, entertaining, well-made film... probably the best one in the series so far, in fact, strictly in terms of overall entertainment value. Witty and reasonably intelligent, with strong performances all around and a bet...


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About Me


John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.
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