Let me preface this review by stating that I am not, most emphatically NOT one of those who usually compares books and movies. Each of them needs to stand on its own as its own art-form, not with one being the commentary of the other. However, this case is somewhat...
Let me preface this review by stating that I am not, most emphatically NOT one of those who usually compares books and movies. Each of them needs to stand on its own as its own art-form, not with one being the commentary of the other. However, this case is somewhat different since Rider Haggard''s novel is such a widely-read classic, with the distinction of being the first in the Lost World genre, as well as a story that doesn''t need improving or changing so drastically.
The original is a story of gentlemanly faith, of the value of a man''s word given, and of respect among races. This, much more than the plot, is what has made it such an undying classic. A story of archetypes spanning across cultures and geography. And Haggard was such a fine "psychologist" that no less than Carl Jung praised characters he had created in his novels. In the original, a group of three English gentlemen, each with his very distinct personality, embark upon an adventure to a lost world. Along the way, they employ a mysterious black native as their servant, but by the end he reveals himself to be (and to act perfectly like) the long-lost king of the realm they eventually find. The riches they were seeking end up fading in the background compared to the heroic and therefore timeless message of the book. The only two female characters (by far secondary) are an old evil witch and a young native girl who sacrifices herself for one of the heroes--again, archetypes, which are really the uniting thread of that excellent novel.
As high as its production value undoubtedly is, this 1950s movie is a total bastardization of the novel, to the point that besides the title, only the most superficial landmarks of Haggard''s story-line are recognizable. Rather than being a story about gentlemen, they decided to "improve" upon Haggard''s story by making it yet another gynecocentric flick. Thus they invent a female hero counterpart--the stock character of the overly-groomed petticoat going through the predictable taming-of-the-shrew routine under the patronizing care of the male hero. As the centerpiece of the first half of the movie, she gets saved from spiders, crocs, big cats, and God knows how many other creatures as she bungles her way into the African wilderness and as her huffing and scolding gradually fades into saccharine docility (but of course).
The long-awaited black king-to-be is a Giacometti-like Masai beanpole with zero speaking role and with all the personality and royal bearing of those coconut vendors you find in the Summer on the beaches of Europe. A far cry from the eloquent, noble, statuesque Zulu warrior he should have been. If this weren''t enough, he gets treated with visible scorn and condescension by the main character--perhaps the worst point in this non-remake remake, as in the book the spiritual (read: EQUAL) kinship formed between him and the main English characters is perhaps the defining moment in the story.
So, here''s the bottom line for me. As someone who has read the book, this was a total disappointment. As someone who can easily detach himself from the book and try and enjoy the movie as a standalone piece of art, this was also a disappointment. A yawn-inducing, predictable story of an overly-put-together haughty blonde becoming putty in the hands of a brooding Jungle Jim, which is a variation of a theme done to death in American Westerns and adventure movies until (God bless him forever) Sergio Leone changed it all in the 1960s.
At least the best spoof of such a story, Crocodile Dundee, has humor in it.