Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
At almost 72, I recently went to The Legend of Tarzan, the IMAX version, with a screen so big I almost stepped inside it and a soundscape so all-enveloping that my already pathetic hearing might have been blown away for good. Still, however "immersive" the experience was meant to be, I found it so much less thrilling than the 3-D of my childhood. I'll never forget watching Fort Ti in 1953 at age nine and hitting the floor the moment the first flaming arrow headed directly for me.
As for Tarzan, what were they thinking in Hollywood? I watched bemused as the Ape Man flexed his creaking joints, swung from vine to vine, and fought all manner of friend and foe in an effort to be up-to-date. If you want to see a white savior film that's more of our moment, check out The Free State of Jones, set in the "jungles" of southern Mississippi in the Civil War era, with plenty of Tarzan-style vines to go around. All I can say is that, as far as I was concerned, only the animated great apes -- Tarzan's buddies and rivals -- showed a spark of real life.
Still, I wouldn't have missed the film for the world. After all, it's the first action movie that -- as you'll see from Adam Hochschild's piece, "Me Tarzan, You Adam" -- has ever based itself in any way on a book I edited, in this case his classic King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa. As a result, I left the theater filled with wild fantasies. (Even editors can dream, can't they?) I began to imagine Who Rules the World?, Noam Chomsky's latest book, absorbed into a future X-Men: Apocalypse America. Or the late Chalmers Johnson's Dismantling the Empire as the basis for the next Jason Bourne romp. Or Ann Jones's They Were Soldiers at the grim heart of American Sniper: The Next Generation. Or, in Tarzan-style, Andrew Bacevich's writing on America's twenty-first-century Middle Eastern wars as part of a reboot of Lawrence of Arabia -- perhaps King David of Iraq: The Surge to Nowhere.
Now, let me dream on while you read about Adam Hochschild's encounter with what might be thought of as the latest version of Planet of the Apes.