Saturday, May 16, 2015
Congo has a reputation as a bad movie, and maybe it is terrible, but I can't help but love this movie. Instead of being swept up in the action and adventure, as I was when I first saw it as a kid, I watch it now and can't stop laughing. Whether it was meant to be funny is irrelevant; it entertains me.
Crichton said he intended Congo to be his version of King Solomon's Mines, and looking at the plot, it's not hard to see the parallels. An expedition is mounted to the deepest, darkest jungles of Africa, encountering all sorts of dangers and setbacks along the way. In updating the material, Crichton added his usual theme of corporations exploiting science for a buck as well as modern African politics and civil wars and Amy, a gorilla taught sign language so she can communicate with the wild apes of the region.
Apparently, Crichton wrote the book so he could direct the movie himself and have Sean Connery star as Charles Munro, a Great White Hunter in the Stewart Granger mode leading the expedition. That was in the 1980s, and that version never happened. To give you an idea of the tone of the finished film, Ernie Hudson plays Munro Kelly who says, "I am your Great White Hunter for this trip, though I happen to be black." Only an actor as talented as Ernie Hudson could make that line cool.
The movie is wall-to-wall with recognizable faces in walk-ons chewing the scenery, often to ridiculous levels. Why hey, that's Joe Don Baker as the CEO of a global communications company. And look, it's Bruce Campbell as the leader of the first (doomed) expedition. There's John Carpenter regular Peter Jason at an airport, Joe Pantoliano in a wise guy Joe Pantoliano part at another airport, and Delroy Lindo as a military honcho who loves a good bribe (and sesame cake). It's like the filmmakers gave up on trying to craft a narrative that made any kind of plausible sense and just threw a bunch of recognizable actors in bit parts to liven things up, and I got to say, it works.
Jurassic Park revolutionized special effects by employing a combination of life-like animatronic and groundbreaking computer-generated imagery to bring its dinosaurs to life and give them personalities. Congo apparently intended to create its gorillas using CGI as well, but the technology was not yet capable of replicating hair, so these creatures are rendered using actors in gorilla suits. The suits, at least on the normal gorillas, aren't too shabby, but if they were going for majestic and awe-inspiring, they failed; after all, they are just a bunch of normal-sized, dirty monkeys. Amy is entertaining at least, drinking martinis, throwing an egg at Karen out of jealously, and chasing after Peter to get him to tickle her. Also, the laser Karen crafts using a diamond to slice through the gray gorillas is frickin' sweet.
If you're looking for a grand spectacle in the vein of Jurassic Park, Congo fails miserably. As a glorious B-Movie jungle adventure with an A-list budget, it is endearing. I can't help myself.