Friday, June 5, 2015

Movie Review - Congo

Based on the book by Michael Crichton
Starring: Laura Linney, Dylan Walsh, Ernie Hudson, Tim Curry, Grant Heslov, Joe Don Baker, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Bruce Campbell, Taylor Nichols, Joe Pantoliano, Delroy Lindo, Stuart Pankin, Peter Jason, James Karen, Shayna Fox, and Frank Welker
Release Date: June 9th, 1995
Rating: ★
To Buy

Charlie Travers is leading an expedition in the Congo to find diamonds to power high tech communications devices, in other words, lasers, for TraviCom, a company run by his father. Charlie misses his second check in with his father back in Huston and when they get the video feed back online they see death and destruction everywhere and a mysterious ape like creature rushing past the camera. Charlie's father, R.B. Travis, begs his employee Doctor Karen Ross to go to the Congo. Karen agrees if the expedition is really to save Charlie, her former fiance, and not to get the diamonds. In California, Doctor Peter Elliott runs Project Amy, which has been teaching Amy the gorilla sign language. Amy is amazing, she has a glove that allows her to actually speak when signing and she's learned to paint. Of course the paintings are actually a form of therapy to help with her nightmares. Peter wishes to return Amy to her home in the Congo but the University doesn't want to lose Amy and the cost would be prohibitive. Enter Herkermer Homolka, a philanthropist who claims his interest is to see Amy happy, when really he suspects Amy is the key to finding the lost city of Zinj and King Solomon's Diamond Mines. Do to necessity Karen Ross attaches herself to Amy's party and they have only a few political hiccups in entering the Congo. With their forces combined will they find the diamonds, Charlie, or Amy's home? Or will they find nothing but death and destruction?

In 1995 Congo was tied with Sphere, well, maybe a little ahead of Sphere, as my favorite Crichton book; and it was going to be a movie! Not only that, it was going to be a movie with Tim Curry, my most favorite of all actors! Rocky Horror and Clue forever! The movie just happened to be opening right after my junior year of high school ended. I was counting down the days to summer break and then the last few weeks of my junior year descended into hell. I got the sickest I had ever been in years, I can still remember the pain as if it was yesterday. I had such a severe ear infection that I kept thinking if only I could get that metal spike from The X-Files and jam it in my ear everything would be better. I didn't sleep for days, making me test the theory that if you stay awake for three days straight you're insane. I quite possibly was, but aren't we all mad here?

I was so disoriented I picked up a soldering iron in art metal from the wrong end. Yes, that's right, I thought why not pick it up by the searing hot metal end that likes to burn flesh. Luckily for some unknown reason I picked it up with my non-dominate left hand, so I could at least still write and take all my finals the coming week, oh happy day. I spent all my spare time trying to finish my stained glass project with my one good hand, and then I had a week's worth of finals and on Saturday morning, before getting to see Congo, I had the ACTs. Because what better then to take the ACTs with a fever of 104! I still say getting a 26 when I was giggling to myself at the absurdity of my situation and randomly selecting answers was pretty darn good. It was good enough for the school I was applying to so that's all that mattered. And then, after all this suffering, my reward was Congo. It wasn't much of a reward. 

Of all the adaptations of Crichton's films Congo is begging for a remake. If not just for the advancement in technology, could the new version try to maintain any aspect of the book, oh, and can Andy Serkis play Amy? Bring back those ominous hand paddles and crush some skulls! Seriously, I have a new cast in mind and it would be awesome. Just saying, Jennifer Lawrence, Lee Pace, and Toby Stephens. Back to this version... the biggest and most detrimental change from page to screen in my mind is the changes wrought with the character of Doctor Karen Ross. Putting aside my hatred of Laura Linney, because I have a strong feeling that it was this movie that started this hate, this adaptation once again shows that for Hollywood woman can't be strong and ruthless, yes they can be strong, yes they can make tough decisions, but it all comes down to gooey romantic feelings. Ah, ick. Karen Ross didn't want to go to the Congo to prove she could do it, to succeed and get the diamonds at all costs, as in the book, oh no, she went to rescue her ex-fiance and her boss's son! Yes, it's all about saving someone she loved!

I wonder if Michael Crichton when watching all these various films of his books ever cringed. He doesn't write weak females and yet time and again they are made weaker. By making Doctor Ross all about her heart they are taking a book about ruthless business practices and making it into a doomed love story. By doing this they are shifting the burden for their journey into the Congo onto Amy. Amy's return to the wild becomes foremost. Instead of Amy being an addition to the expedition, Doctor Ross is an addition to Amy's release. And this change doesn't work because this throws the whole plot into turmoil and forces the movie to add in unnecessary characters that are literally cannon fodder in an attempt to keep the diamond subplot. And yes, that is a laser powered by diamonds. Yes, seriously, lasers! Lasers that could punch a hole in the moon. Say what? I know a psychic vegan who can do this and yes, it is still more believable the this freakin' laser.

By taking Doctor Ross out of the driver's seat the movie now needs someone to get Amy, she is now the star after all, to Africa AND have the interest in the diamonds. Hence, as much as it pains me to say he's an unnecessary character, Tim Curry is brought in as the ludicrous Herkermer Homolka. Firstly, who thought of that name? Secondly, why are we having this weird H. Rider Haggard throw back? The whole point of Congo was to have a modern interpretation of the adventure novels of Haggard, not do this weird clash of modern and old fashioned. Mesh the two don't set them off against each other. Also, Curry is basically the great white hunter, but so is Ernie Hudson, why do we need two characters that could, in a better written story serve the same purpose? For my money, despite my adoration of Curry, I'd stick with Hudson, he was the only one who was perfect in this plane wreck of a movie.

But, oh dear. Despite ranting about all the changes I haven't even gotten to the worst of it. I'm talking about Amy. Firstly lets talk animatronics. All the apes were done by Stan Winston who, if we were to judge him by this movie, has never seen an ape in his life. Seriously. What they hell. By the end of the movie we're in this weird guns blazing human engineered ape cave with everything going to shit in epic The Island of Doctor Moreau fashion, what the fuck. And I mean the crappy film version. Which came out a year after this film and was also done by Stan Winston. Sigh. So firstly, we have apes that don't even look like apes, then add Amy's "Power Glove." Though, to reference the Nintendo Power Glove is a disservice to Nintendo. So apparently having Peter translate Amy's sign language or even just having subtitles wasn't "cool" enough and instead we get this weird childish talking ape. And yes, if you ask me at a party, I will do my impersonation. Yes, it's so bad it deserves one. Easily. Also, interesting fact, if you had a friend named Amy in high school, this might just be their most hated film because of the "Power Glove."

The first and only time I watched this film I was so distracted by plot changes and talking apes I missed the weirdest part of this movie, and that's the jungle itself. Now, I'm not talking about the built sets that looked like they were rejects from Legends of the Hidden Temple or Xena: Warrior Princess, a conclusion that is easy to reach because of Bruce Campbell being in the movie. I mean seriously, look at that river, doesn't it look a little chocolaty to you? Is that ape throwing eyeballs at Bruce really Augustus Gloop? That is a whole different level of cheesiness. No, what I'm talking about is that the jungle is SO OBVIOUSLY NOT Africa, something my fevered brain missed the first time around. Yes, it's probably hard to get permission to film there, but still... why not just build the whole freakin' jungle, you badly built enough of it already. For the majority of the film I thought perhaps I was mistaken in the film's stupidity of not even filming in Africa, but the credits confirmed it. Costa Rica it is! In fact, isn't this the rain forest where some dinos fled to after leaving Jurassic Park? But then again, the people behind this film obviously thought the viewing public was made of idiots having the lost city of Zinj's architecture based on Cambodian temples... you know, that Asian country half a world away... or maybe they were just so stupid they didn't know or care. Because if you walk away from this film with one impression it's that it was made by idiots.


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