Tag Archives: Tarzan

Visual Storytelling

It was only a matter of time before we got here– to the land of things you can not script out but are important for any good film.  Much like Moses and the Promised Land, this is a place I can only view from far away on top of a mountain, never allowed to actually go there.

I want to talk about one far off building that seems to have gotten a lot of traction these days– visual storytelling.  The idea that we can tell large parts of a story not through dialogue, or even action, but in how things look.  Often, we use what’s on screen to augment parts of the plot or highlight particular aspects of characterization.  Sometimes its super subtle.

For example, Carl Up starts the movie with more rounded facial features and after his wife dies, regresses into a bitter old man who also looks more square-ish.  He’s the square peg that refuses to conform to the round hole his life has become– he’s all stuck in his ways and unable to give up the past.  It’s not until that boy scout comes along– who is also more roundish– helps Carl learn and smooth out the edges.

Pacific Rim is the poster child for this as large parts of that film are only told visually, but I only ever saw Pacific Rim drunk at a New Years party, so i can’t actually reference it (or remember large chunks of it, outside of GIANT ROBOT SMASH MONSTER THROUGH BUILDING, HELLS YEAH).  But I can give you an example– Tarzan, and Jane’s attire through the movie.

Jane starts out the movie on the run from stealing Belle’s dancing dress in Beauty and the Beast:
jane--full dress

As the movie progresses, Jane starts realizing that a ball gown is not exactly strong jungle attire, and decides to switch over to the outfit she stole from The Wild Thornberrys:
Jane--level1

Then, while Phil Colin’s croons, Jane realizes that actually, sleeves are horribly restricting and really hurting her ability to get her lady boner on for Tarzan:

jane-- level2

Yet, when it’s time for her to go back to England, the ball gown comes back on:

Jane--level3
However, after Jane finally makes her choice to stay in the jungle, fuck clothes:

jane-- level4

To put it very succinctly: when Jane makes the correct decision according to the movie, she shows more skin.  We can chart her entire character progression based on that.  As she falls in love with Tarzan, and in doing so realizes her place is the jungle, she goes away from formal attire and more towards her mini-skirt/sports-bra combo.  When she decides to go back to England, it’s back to Belle’s clothes with her.

Her trend is far more gradual than Tarzan’s– who goes directly from loincloth to suit and back to loincloth, because this movie isn’t paced super well.  At any rate, you can look at this in a few ways:
1) we are shown Jane’s gradual acclimation to the jungle.  She can pass from England to the jungle because she slowly becomes part of the jungle– she sheds off the layers of high society to become more like Tarzan.
2) we are shown a visual aid to how Jane and Tarzan feel about each other.  As they fall in love, they start to dress more like the other– Jane gradually, and Tarzan all at once.   By the end of the film, they’re in love because they dress the same.

It’s probably the first idea over the second– after all, the movie hardly needs any visual help to show it’s love plot, and Jane comes about three degrees too close to molesting a blackboard sketch of Tarzan long before she drops the sleeves on her shirt.

However, that still leaves us with the thematic problem of Tarzan being unable to leave his place (the jungle) and Jane being allowed to leave hers (England) for reasons that are never shown.  I never said the thematic elements were good, just that the visuals support them.

There is more to dig into here as well– the fact that Jane stole her dress from Belle is on purpose.  The movie is playing at undertones– the story of Tarzan has similar themes to Beauty and the Beast.  Tarzan is a wild gorilla man… sure, he starts higher on the screw-ability curve (unless you’re into that, and from comments I’ve heard about Robin Hood, there are more people into that than you might expect), but there is a theme of Jane bringing civilization, manners and, well, gentleing (ooh, I made up a word) out the wild Tarzan.

Unlike Beauty and the BeastTarzan doesn’t want to focus on how this process brings out other sides of Tarzan’s personality for Jane to fall in love with, because Tarzan decided to use it’s runtime for an extraneous music number about gorillas trashing a camp.

These are probably considerations that’ll get pushed to the back burner in favor of more pressing matters (Guys, how do I write a romance scene for a Disney film that isn’t the most cliched thing ever?  This is really hard), but it is cool to pick up on.

Who knows what I’ll be blogging about next week.

Advertisements

The Problem with Tarzan, or Character Motivations

So, Tarzan is streaming on Netflix, and my FB feed has been running amok. I do not have fond memories of this movie as a child because I was just too old for Disney movies by the time this one rolled around. I think at some point I watched it, though, I honestly couldn’t remember anything at all about the film.

Of course, this means that the best way to procrastinate on Secrets is by rewatching this Disney classic.

I could waste my time with a critical analysis of Tarzan, but I won’t. It’s a rather lackluster movie with loads of pacing problems, and generally a bad model for any movie analysis. But, I will talk about biggest problem with the movie, and that’s character motivation.

Characters drive stories. Characters want or need things, and to get those things, they must overcome a series of obstacles. This is the basis of any story. Except, it seems Tarzan.

Tarzan himself has a clear motivation. He wants to belong. He is conflicted because where he wants to be, needs to be, and is are all different. His level of acceptance between gorillas and humans fluctuates driving the main conflicts throughout the movie. This doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Nope

Wrong.

Tarzan may motivate the film, but just barely. His first conflict, he wants to prove himself to the gorillas, is resolved at the end of act 1 when he slays the jaguar, Sabor (huh, that thing had a name). So… no more conflict. Well, let’s introduce Jane, her father, and Clayton. New characters! But, not really any new conflict.

Tarzan longs for Jane, and in a slowly meandering way, realizes he wants to be with his own kind. Act 2 ends with Tarzan choosing Jane and company over his gorilla family. Kala, gorilla mom, makes him choose, but that is a particularly foggy scene and we’ll just leave it at that.

So! Where does that leave the last 30 minutes of movie? Floundering for a resolution. While Tarzan’s motivation drives the story, it’s often quickly resolved and therefore doesn’t actually drive enough conflict.

Why is that? Because conflict is compounded because two people have conflicting motivations. This is why we have villains/antagonists. One character wants one thing, and another character wants something else. Look at Aladdin. Aladdin wants Jasmine because he loves her. Jarfar wants to rule the kingdom. How do their paths meet? Jafar can only become ruler by marrying Jasmine or using the magic lamp. Now, the two characters are in direct conflict, and it becomes the driving force of the film.

Tarzan’s motivation conflicts with, well, no one. There is nothing keeping Tarzan back. In fact, it’s so lacking conflict, the 3rd act is nothing but adding a new conflict so that the film can drag out and reach the conclusion it wanted to make. And not only is no one’s motivation is in conflict with Tarzan, fuck it if I know what the entire supporting cast’s motivation is.

The only characters given any hint at motivation are the Porters and Kala. Jane and her father have a one liner about being there to study the gorillas. Why? No clue. It’s not even implied in the movie. Is there work important? Dunno. Is it just for fun? Probably. Is it Mr. Porter’s dream to be the leading expert on Gorillas? No fucking clue. Why did Jane come along? Your guess is as good as mine.

Kala, at least, has some legitimate motive. The brutal murder of her baby leads her to adopting Tarzan. She wants to be a mother. She wants to replace her murdered son, so she adopts a human baby, because that’s healthy. And after the first fifteen minutes, her motives and character are irrelevant.

The rest of the cast? Who the fucks knows what they want. Turk? Uh, yeah, what the hell does Turk want or do besides help/hinder Tarzan? She’s a plot device, not a character. I’m not even going to mention the elephant.

Kerchak! He’s doing something right? He wants… give me a moment here… to protect the gorillas? Uh…maybe? From what I’m not entirely sure…

Why such a gruesome death?

Then there’s my favorite void of motivation: our villain. Clayton is clearly up to no good the minute we meet him. He is the only asshole carrying a gun and shooting randomly. (He also evilly drinks wine! Tarzan sets his down without a sip.) A big surprise reveals that he’s after the gorillas? To capture them I think? (This is all implied because he doesn’t say want he wants, nor does anyone else say what he wants.) Why is he after the gorillas? Fuck if I know. I can’t tell if it’s greed, or pride, or because he’s a vicious sociopath with enough money to hire a army of poachers. He’s clever enough to deceive the heroes (but not the audience) the whole damn movie, but, we never know why. What a waste of a villain.

But someone does develop some motive throughout the film – our lovely lady hero, Jane. Her initial motivation is tacked on with her father’s one liner to “see the gorillas.” She kinda sees them when Tarzan brings her back to camp and they trash the place, so, why the hell does she stay? She should be fulfilled. As far as I can tell, it’s because she seriously wants to bang Tarzan.

Yup...Jane's Motive is Horniness

Yup. Sex. Additionally, her lack of non-hormonal motive actually undermines the entire film. At the end, she chooses to stay with Tarzan. But, the whole point of the movie was something like, you can take the man out of the jungle but you can’t take the jungle out of the man? Tarzan can’t return to civilzation because, well, he’s a weird ape man. However, it seems that Jane and her father can just toss everything away and stay in the jungle. (Why did they need to return to England in the first place if they can just flippantly cast aside their lives and live in the jungle? Then the whole, shady third act could have been avoid.)

The unclear motivations of practically every other character in the story certainly hinders the plot. A complexity that makes a lasting story is lost. We don’t know why anyone does anything. Nor do we care. What brought these strangers to the jungle? The movie tries to play if off as unimportant, but it is important. How can Clayton’s betrayal resound if we never knew what he wanted in the first place? How are we suppose to care about Jane if we know nothing about her, other than she clearly wants to bang Tarzan? Or even the importance of giving up her life in England to stay with him? How are we, like Tarzan, suppose to come to love her? To be tempted by the human ways or gorilla ways?

I don’t know. But I do know, that I don’t want the audience of Secrets asking the same questions. Guess that means I need to get back to work.