Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)

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Released 16-Nov-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Hugh Hudson (Director/Producer) And Garth Thomas (As. Prod)
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 131:20
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (67:00) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Hugh Hudson

Warner Home Video
Starring Ralph Richardson
Ian Holm
James Fox
Christopher Lambert
Andie MacDowell
Cheryl Campbell
Ian Charleson
Nigel Davenport
Nicholas Farrell
Paul Geoffrey
Richard Griffiths
Hilton McRae
David Suchet
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music John Scott

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Well, this month has been a good month for long-overdue DVD releases of classic films. First there was the much-overdue release of one of my favourite films of the 1980s, The Name of the Rose (1986). And in the same month we now have the also much-awaited DVD release of another one of my favourite 1980s films, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984). Both of these films have been patiently sought after on DVD by many fans for several years, but now the wait has been well worthwhile, given the great treatment both films have received. The release of Greystoke on DVD comes on the 20th anniversary of the original theatrical release and, although the DVD's packaging and title does not specifically reference this as a "20th Anniversary Edition", it is such.

    For those who haven't seen this film before (you are in for a treat), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes is a considered and genuine adaptation (albeit not entirely accurate - see discussion below) of the original story of Tarzan - that is, the literary classic Tarzan of the Apes, published by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1914. Given the success of this original novel, Edgar Rice Burroughs would go on to publish a series of sequels to the original story of Tarzan; a series that would ultimately culminate in some 26 books, spanning Tarzan's continuing adventures both in the jungle and in civilisation (the last book seeing Tarzan as a Spitfire pilot in the war, pitted against the Luftwaffe! - OK, maybe it did go a bit too far by the end!)  Unfortunately, the phenomenal success of Burroughs' books also spawned a self-perpetuating series of very popular B-grade Hollywood films from studio MGM, beginning with Tarzan The Ape Man in 1932, and going on to form an endless franchise of sequels and spin-offs, each one having progressively less and less to do with the original story and having more to do with pulp adventure. Whilst these Hollywood film will go down in cinema history as being highly popular forms of entertainment in their own right, sadly, many/most went off on such a tangent as to become just mere adventure serials and, worse, vehicles to push the promotion of scantily-clad B-grade actors (or worse still, swimmers and body-builders aspiring to act) and bimbo actresses of the day, with such minor considerations as plot seen as secondary and unimportant (no matter how thin and ludicrous the script may have become), over any considered attempt to remain faithful to the stories and character of Burroughs' original literary masterpiece. It would take until 1984, and the guiding hand of acclaimed director Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire (1981)), to finally set the record straight with a serious and genuine attempt to adapt the original novel, helping to restore the legend of Tarzan into a proper context, and helping to erase the memory of an endless series of poorly produced pieces of Hollywood B-grade fluff, with their bronze-tanned actors and well coiffured actresses, their poor acting, poor scripting and ludicrous but always predictable "Tarzan saves the day" serial plots. Here, at last, is a serious attempt to portray the romance and adventure of the respectable literary classic, complete with high production values, a great script and a great cast (more on this below).

    Was Hugh Hudson's attempt to adapt the novel and legend successful? I would say, overwhelmingly, yes. Others may disagree, or only partially agree. It must be admitted, even by fans of the film, as I am, that Greystoke does not present a definitely accurate transcription of Edgar Rice Burroughs' original novel in a pure plot sense. Of course, inevitably, changes have had to be made to the original novel to adapt the story for the screen, and further, some poetic licence has been taken to effectively re-write the back end of the script for the movie Greystoke. Anyone who has read Burroughs' original novel (I confess I have only read the first in the series, not any of the subsequent sequels) will know that the plot of the original novel follows a very similar arc, but at times with a somewhat different plot structure, to that of the film. Nearly all of these changes made for the film version have been, in my view, completely successful and for the better in terms of delivering a film script that is much better paced, less bogged down in unnecessary characters and sub plot, and above all much better fleshed out in the latter half of the story in England (whereas in the novel this part was decidedly rushed). To achieve the resultant screenplay has mean some substantial character re-writes, most specifically for the character of Jane in the film.

    A comparison of major changes between novel and film plot can be summarised as follows (warning: do not read this if you have not watched the film yet):(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Firstly, in the novel, Tarzan largely taught himself to read English from books left over in Lord and Lady Clayton's cabin. In the novel, by the time Tarzan's jungle world is invaded by a group of white scientific explorers, included in this group William Cecil Clayton and Jane Porter, whom Tarzan meets here in the Jungle, he is largely self-educated and can already read himself. The group including Clayton and Jane eventually return to civilisation, leaving Tarzan under the tutelage of French Professor D'Arnot. In the film script, it makes more sense from a plot perspective to eliminate this first group encounter entirely and for Tarzan to continue on as an uneducated savage until he comes across only one scientific explorer, the novel's central character D'Arnot. This way the film plot can concentrate on developing Tarzan's slow education and learning of the white man's customs at the hands of D'Arnot, allowing this character to form a stronger bond with Tarzan as his mentor and educator, as he leads him to civilisation, where he finally meets Jane. Next, in the novel (at least in the first novel, I cannot speak for the second novel), there is much less time spent in England and when there much more is made of the competition between Tarzan and a rival for Jane's affections, as well as the politics of whether Tarzan will or won't come forward and claim his rightful inheritance as Earl of the Greystoke estate. Clearly there have been substantial re-writes for the film plot, including much fleshing out of the journey and effect on Tarzan of his return to civilisation, the changing of when individual characters meet, the elimination of several secondary characters (unimportant to the story from a plot perspective) and the removal of any real rival for Jane's affections. In addition, whole new sequences have also been written in to flesh out the storyline in England.  All of these changes in my view only improve the film plot and pacing and character development, eliminating much character and story clutter and allowing the audience to focus much more effectively on Tarzan's character arc development. Most importantly, these are not changes for change's sake; all the changes are made still in keeping with the overall character development of Tarzan as outlined in the original novel.Greystoke may admittedly still not be a definitively accurate translation of the novel, but it is a skilfully scripted and polished adaptation, so as to improve the narrative and enhance the adventure and romance of the original story from a cinematic perspective. Screenwriters Robert Towne and Michael Austin deservedly won Academy Award nominations for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium for their work on this film.

    Finally, some words on the great cast of this film. For those who may be unaware, Greystoke actually launched the careers of two now well-known Hollywood actors. First, this was French actor Christophe Lambert's very first Hollywood role (although by late 1983 he had already established himself in French cinema), and so it was an extremely bold casting choice by Hugh Hudson to use an unknown foreigner in the lead role. As it turned out, Lambert's performance was spellbinding, managing to walk that very thin line between pathos and seriousness that was necessary in order to make the character of Tarzan not only believable, but a character with whom the audience could actually empathise, both in his man form and also in his ape/jungle form. This film could so easily have degenerated into a "man doing laughable ape impersonations" farce in the hands of the wrong leading actor. Of course, as it turned out, Lambert would win wide acclaim for this role and he would go on to star in the cult-fantasy hit Highlander two years later, thereby cementing his Hollywood career. Greystoke also launched the acting career of Andie McDowell, who in late 1983 was an established Vogue fashion model, but with only very minimal/bit-part acting experience - again another brave casting decision that paid off well for director Hugh Hudson. Andie McDowell would go on from this film to star in St. Elmo's Fire in 1985 and from there her career springboarded. The supporting cast in Greystoke are also all of the highest calibre, from Sir Ian Holm's great performance as Capitaine Phillipe D'Arnot, to veteran Sir Ralph Richardson, putting in a heart-rending performance as The Sixth Earl of Greystoke - a deserved Academy Award nominee as Best Supporting Actor for his efforts. Sadly, this was to be Sir Ralph Richardson's very last major acting role - he passed away before the film was released in 1984.

    John Alcott (cinematographer of several Stanley Kubrick masterpieces) also lends his considerable talents to this film as cinematographer and the film is beautifully shot.

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Transfer Quality


    The 20th anniversary digital restoration delivers a high quality DVD video transfer - not perfect, but with very little to complain about.

    The film is presented on DVD in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced, being as close as not mattering to the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.39:1.

    The transfer delivers what is for the most part an image that is surprisingly sharp and detailed, given the film's age. Resolution and texture detail are high as a general rule. Some scenes are slightly less well-defined around the edges and/or display a touch softer resolution, and this is perhaps a source issue. However, for the most part the transfer delivers a beautiful visual, with jungle scenes coming alive with detail and the landscape of the Greystoke castle and surrounding estate well textured. There is no low level noise in the transfer and shadow details is perfectly sufficient. Film grain is minimal, apart from some scenes of the Greystoke castle (in real life Floors Castle, Scotland), in more moody, lower light.

    Colours are also well served in this transfer, with nicely saturated greens and browns in the jungle scenes, very accurate flesh tones and nice deep blacks throughout. Certainly this new transfer looks better than you will have seen ever seen this film before. Having said that, I still felt that some scenes (particularly some jungle scenes) were not quite as vivid with colour as they perhaps should have been in the original, and this is most probably a source issue, reflecting perhaps a slight fading of the 20 year-old interpositive from which this DVD was mastered.

    The film has been well transferred to DVD, with a respectable average transfer bit rate of 6.3 MB/s. The only MPEG artefacts noted are some very minor pixelization in odd scenes and some (more prominent) shimmering/Gibb artefact around the opening and closing titles. Film-to-video artefacts are also well restricted to only some minor edge enhancement in some scenes (which won't be an issue unless you are extremely sensitive to it) and some minor/infrequent telecine wobble also noted in some scenes. Pleasingly though, there is absolutely no aliasing at all on my set up. Note that I point out the minor MPEG and film-to-video artefacts for the sake of completeness only and stress that what is there is very minor and infrequent - what we have here then is an eminently watchable and well-handled film to video transfer. Film artefacts are also very minor, being limited to very infrequent/unobtrusive film flecks and the occasional brief/unobtrusive negative mark on the image. The source element is indeed quite clean and/or has been well restored, with minimal film grain evident as stated above.

    I sampled the English language subtitle stream for a good portion of the movie and found it to be accurate, well timed and placed and easy to read.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted, but the layer change went by completely unnoticed on my player. I located the change using software, at 67:00, being a point during a scene, but when there is a close-up of a glass on a table, which works very well.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer delivers with a nice re-mix effort. The quality of the audio transfer is high, but is restricted a bit in fidelity by the age of the source elements.

    There are 3 audio transfers on the disc for the main feature, being a default English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (at 384 Kb/s), a French Dolby Digital 2.0 mix (at 192 Kb/s) and an Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 mix (at 192 Kb/s). I reviewed the English track.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand throughout the movie; it does tend to sound a little hollow at times - no doubt reflective of some limited fidelity in the aged source element - however the dialogue always remains clear and undistorted. I did not have any issues with audio sync.

     The music score is credited to lesser-known composer John Scott, with some other non-original music also used in the film. The film score is majestic and lends very well to the story narrative. The DVD's audio transfer handles the score very well, with a great full frontal soundstage that is well brought out by employment of the rear channels in the re-mix. The sound score does tend to lack a bit in dynamic range/fidelity if you want to be picky, and again I would put this down to the age/quality of the original source elements. The same comment can be made of some sound effects in the mix. There is also some audio hiss in the front channels for some dialogue at times too, but it does not distract.

    The audio transfer is dominated by the frontal soundstage, and comes across clean and strong, with some nice localised front channel use employed both for dialogue and sound effects. The surround channels are also used quite effectively at times, for example to help with the swell of the sound score as mentioned above, and also with some great localised surround use for arrows flying through the air. Otherwise the surrounds are used effectively at specific points for jungle noises and other ambience, however, the surrounds are not used constantly and this prevents the re-mix from being a wholly immersive one for the viewer.

    Subwoofer use is best described as restrained. It is there to assist with odd bumps and knocks, but is not called upon liberally and is noticeably absent in some scenes that would have clearly benefited from its use (for example rumbles of storms in the jungle).

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The extras list is all-too-short, but at least we get a Director's commentary.


   All menus are basic static screens, but well themed and presented in the appropriate aspect ratio of 1.78, 16x9 enhanced, and with audio underscore.

Audio Commentary: Director/Producer Hugh Hudson and Associate Producer Garth Thomas

    Not the most exciting audio commentary in the history of DVD, it does start out well enough, with the pair seeming relaxed and bouncing off each other. (The commentary was only recently recorded for this DVD and the pair were recorded together.)  They discuss such aspects as finding the right shooting locations and the hazards of filming in the wilds of the Cameroon jungle, set design, training the actors to be authentic apes, the operation and complexity of the specially designed and built ape suits, working with a tribe of African pygmies, the film score contribution, the Director's aim to maintain historical accuracy in clothing and set design, and working with each of the main cast members. All interesting anecdotes. Unfortunately though, about a third of the way through the commentary it is as if both of our hosts have run out of recollections, and the commentary then degenerates into a mere re-telling of the story as it unfolds on the screen, so not providing a great deal of insight from here.

Theatrical Trailer (1:24)

    A good quality trailer, well presented in full aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced, and with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.



    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This title has recently been released worldwide in identical format. Opt for the Region 4 release for price and superior PAL resolution transfer.


   Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes is just that, a realistic depiction of the original legend of Tarzan, with all its original charm and adventure as told by Edgar Rice Burroughs in his 1914 literary classic. The adapting of Burroughs' work to screen is not without some artistic licence taken, but what changes have been made have been made for the better, to create a more entertaining, better flowing and better fleshed-out story necessary for a cinematic context. A great script, stand-out acting by a strong cast, great direction and talented cinematography all contribute to create a very popular and underrated film of the 1980s. The film has been long overdue for a release on DVD.

    The 20th anniversary DVD effort is a beauty, making the wait all worthwhile. The DVD package delivers with a rich, detailed video transfer and a successful new 5.1 audio remix. Extras are very few in number and it would have been great to see the inclusion of an original featurette on the making of the film (surely there was one?), but at least we get to benefit from some insight from a director's commentary.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Monday, November 29, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-2900, using Component output
DisplayNEC 125cm Widescreen Plasma. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-1068 Pre-amp/Processor. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationElektra Theatre 150 Watts x 6 channel Power Amplifier
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

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Comments (Add)
Great bit of trivia - REPLY POSTED
That's right...which means that Glenn has played both Tarzan's mother, and his lover. -