Now that both John Carter and The Legend of Tarzan have failed throughly, It’s time to ask, “Why can’t Hollywood get Edger Rice Burroughs right?” The short answer is that both adaptations moved away from the strengths of the source material. Neither film, but especially The Legend of Tarzan captures Burroughs’s core mythos. Burroughs wrote fantasy adventure, more enjoyable than deep. He wrote exciting, edge-of-your-seat adventures featuring fanciful civilizations and improbable plot-lines. He wrote pulp fiction, and this is what movie directors and writers seem to forget. John Carter attempted to appeal to a family audience and created new story element. The Legend of Tarzan tried to focus on a major societal issue, a major departure from the spirit of the source material.
The accepted definition of pulp fiction is fantastic, escapist fiction marketed at a large audience. Pulp-style movies are being made today, and some are big hits. Guardians of the Galaxy, The Magnificent Seven and Jupiter Ascending are all pulp and have all been been financially successful. Although not categorized as pulp fiction Several long running television series have used similar themes to those used by Burroughs. Stargate SGI and Vikings are both about heroes adventuring in strange lands where they fight the natives for survival. Given precedents, the audience for a faithful Burrough’s adaptation is there.
So where, specifically ,did The Legend of Tarzan go wrong? What were its major problems? First, aside from Tarzan and Jane, the major characters were historical figures.Pulp characters have to be larger than life, especially the hero and villain. Writing historical figures as larger than life risks turning them into caricatures. Second, A lot of ideas that could have been developed into good pulp were touched on and forgotten. Tarzan says that living like an ape has changed his physiology, but there’s no follow up. There are multiple scenes of the Mangani apes fighting, but Tarzan himself doesn’t fight like that. Clearly Tarzan and Jane have had adventures amongst the local peoples, but we never hear about them. All of these concepts had potential but went nowhere. The last and biggest problem: We never see Opar, the highly advanced lost civilization featured prominently in Burrough’s novels. We know there is an Opar since Djimon Hounsou’s character is described as one of the leopard men of Opar, but we have no Opar.
All of these mistakes added together create a another, major flaw. They make us feel as if The Legend of Tarzan is taking place in the real world, our world, not the one created by Burroughs. The real world where realistic things happen is anathema to pulp fiction and therefore a major departure to what makes Burrough’s writing work. Realism destroys the escapism of the Pulp gene. It doesn’t work Hopefully future directors and writers will keep adapt his work more faithfully.,