Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes is a 1984 British film directed by Hugh Hudson and based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel Tarzan of the Apes. Christopher Lambert stars as Tarzan (though the name Tarzan is never used in the film) and Andie MacDowell as Jane; the cast also includes Sir Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm, James Fox, and Cheryl Campbell.
In a departure from most previous Tarzan films, Greystoke
returned to Burroughs' original novel for many elements of its plot
, updating the novel's story in the light of 1980s sensibilities and science. It also utilized a number of corrective ideas first put forth by science fiction author Philip José Farmer
in his mock-biography Tarzan Alive
, most notably Farmer's explanation of how the speech-deprived ape man was later able to acquire language by showing Tarzan to be a natural mimic. According to Burroughs' original concept, the apes who raised Tarzan actually had a rudimentary vocal language, and this is portrayed in the film.
Greystoke rejected the common film portrayal of Tarzan as a simpleton that was established by Johnny Weissmuller's 1930s renditions, reasserting Burroughs' characterization of an articulate and intelligent human being, not unlike the so-called "new look" films that Sy Weintraub produced in the 1960s.
The second half of the film departs radically from Burroughs' original story. Tarzan is discovered and brought to Scotland, where he fails to adapt to civilization. His return to the wild is portrayed as a matter of necessity rather than choice, and he is separated forever from Jane, who "could not have survived" in his world.
In his book Harlan Ellison's Watching, Harlan Ellison explains that the film's promotion as "the definitive version" of the Tarzan legend is misleading. He details production and scripting failures which in his opinion contribute to the film's inaccuracy.
The Earl of Greystoke and his wife Alice are marooned in Africa
. Lady Greystoke gives birth to a son, then she dies and her husband is killed. Their infant son is adopted and reared by a family of apes.
Years later, he is found by Pierre D'Arnot and brought back to civilization. He fails to adapt to human society and must make the painful decision to return to his ape world if he is to survive.
- Ralph Richardson, who played the Sixth Earl of Greystoke, died shortly after filming ended, and he received a posthumous Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The film was dedicated to his memory.
- The dialogue of Andie MacDowell, who played Jane, was dubbed in post-production by Glenn Close because of her Southern Drawl, apparently deemed insuitable for the character, though not to provide an English accent for her character as some have held, since the young Jane featured at the beginning of the film is American.
- Screenwriter Robert Towne was slated to direct this film based on his screenplay, but he was sacked following the box-office failure of his directorial debut, Personal Best. Towne retaliated by demanding that the name of his dog (P.H. Vazak) appear in the screen credit for his screenplay. Ironically, P.H. Vazak received an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay.
- Several actors from Chariots of Fire appear in Greystoke, including Ian Charleson, Ian Holm, Cheryl Campbell, Nigel Davenport, and Richard Griffiths.
- The film was shot in Korup National Park in western Cameroon and in Scotland.
- Both Danny Potts (Tarzan, aged 5) and Eric Langlois (Tarzan, aged 12) were completely nude in all of their scenes.