Congo: Forgotten Crichton Adaptation With a Talking Ape

congo - cinema quad movie poster (1).jpg
Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

This now rather obscure science fiction film was adapted from Michael Crichton’s 1980 novel. After the success of the author’s previous adaptation – Jurassic Park – this no doubt seemed like a great idea in 1995.

The film was a moderate hit, but met with negative reviews and has since become something of a maligned blockbuster. But we like it. And here’s why.

Congo

Deep in the Congo jungle, satellite experts TraviCom have employees Charles Travis and Jeffrey Weems testing new equipment.

They discover an astonishing lost world whilst there, but during a communication test with Karen Ross (the lovely and super talented Laura Linney) are attacked by something and lose contact with the men and their team. Cue, “Arrrrghhhhhh!”

The company owner persuades electronics expert Ross to lead a new expedition out there and find out what’s happened.

She eventually agrees and convinces primatologist Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh – most famous for the cult hit show Nip/Tuck) to join her. He’s on a mission to take the ape Amy back to the jungle and brings his research assistant Richard (Grant Heslov).

Amy has a device that allows her sign language to be translated, so she’s essentially able to talk to those around her.

There’s also an enigmatic Romanian businessman called Herkermer Homolka (Tim Curry) and ghostbuster Captain Monroe Kelley (Ernie Hudson) who acts as a mission guide.

Predictably, things go to crap and our intrepid protagonists are ejected into the middle of the Congo jungle.

Prior to this we do get to meet Kelley’s right-hand man Kahega. He’s bloody awesome in the film.

It’s the actor Adewalé Akinnuoye-Agbaje – he recently had the part of Malko in Game of Thrones. Prior to that he was a model and a law student. Hubba, hubba etc.

Dumped into the jungle, they’re a professional lot and soon get their act together.

And we get some nice little touches such as a rendition of California Dreamin’ from the Mamas and Papas.

This isn’t a musical, dammit, and soon the character arcs begin. The mysterious, acerbic Captain Wanta (Delroy Lindo) arrives to assist/delay the troop’s trek into the Congo.

He offers them sesame seed cake, but takes offence when Herkermer Homolka takes a bit. Leading to the classic line…

Yes – “Stop eating my sesame cake!” We’ve seen some people mocking this, as if it was supposed to be scary or whatnot. The often tongue-in-cheek, borderline camp, nature of the film clearly puts it on the humourous front for us.

Anyway, Delroy Lindo isn’t even credited. Despite offering the most famous line.

After that scene, and as you’d expect, the troop heads further into the Congo to much dismay. Upon discovering the location of the film’s opening equilibrium shattering moment, there’s much soul searching.

Shortly after the reason for the issue becomes clear. A strange, motley-coloured, and highly belligerent species of apes.

Here Congo’s often jovial tone clashes with its horror intentions. Dr. Elliot – busy flirting with hot stuff Laura Linney – has his unconventional-looking support act Richard wiped out.

You could argue it’s a bit of a misstep with the film. But despite the negative reviews, we do think the daft humour sits reasonably well alongside the humourous aspects.

But it does hint at studio interference. We remember reading Crichton’s novel and being terrified by the enigmatic grey apes. Congo the films falls short of that.

There are still engaging moments. Trying to deal with those bastards is a bit of a nightmare, but they do hatch a plan for it.

To handle that dilemma the film rips off James Cameron’s genius from Aliens. Auto-guns! But Congo has fun with it and adds a personal spin.

After that Congo’s ending is preposterous, but it’s in keeping with the tone of the film.

Despite the negative reviews and some ongoing bad feedback, we watched it again recently on Netflix and found it to be great fun. Despite its obvious stupidity and occasional bad acting, it’s engrossing entertainment.

The stupid humour and bursts of extreme violence indicate director Frank Marshall’s uncertainty on the project. Here, choosing one or the other was wise.

Congo could have been a fantastic horror movie along the lines of Aliens. Instead, he turned it into a kitsch mishmash of genres.

Yet that doesn’t destroy the film. It’s a blockbuster oddity, sure, but its premise is entertaining (if thoroughly implausible) and the only thing we experienced is total enjoyment throughout.

You will, too… if you switch your brain off.

Production

In a world… oh, sorry. Something’s coming at you and SCREAM!

After the success of Crichton’s Jurassic Park, it no doubt seemed a good idea to go back and make profitable adaptations of his various other works.

Congo was a hit. Costing $50 million, it raked in $150 million – but then there were the largely negative reviews.

As we’ve discussed above, we feel it was all a little unfair. Sure the film is a flawed attempt at genre merging, but it’s simply an enjoyable film. Nothing more, nothing less.

Crichton had originally wanted Sean Connery for the Kelley Monroe character and was expecting a release in the early 1980s. But the technology wasn’t there for Amy the ape – and a live one wasn’t a possibility.

The project was sent over to Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter. Both declined.

Marshall picked up the film after the success of Jurassic Park, but Crichton had barely any involvement in the screenplay. Which would explain some of the bizarre tone shifts.

We read the novel as kids and found it terrifying. There are elements of that in the film, but also a lot of camp stupidity. Clearly an attempt to satisfy various audiences – families, plus the gore fans. It kind of works. Ish.

Whatever, it took a thrashing as a “Spielberg knock-off” even through Congo was written before Jurassic Park.

Public attitudes won’t change any time soon. We do like the film. It’s not the best thing ever. But we sure have a soft spot for it.

37 comments

  1. Thanks for the great review. I have seen this and thought it was worthwhile, I generally like M. Crichton’s writing. I suspect if Connery had gotten the lead it would have been better, as for Linney, she’s the tops!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great review!
    I HATE Jurassic Park! This sounds way better, and I’ll give it a go.
    “Delroy Lindo isn’t even credited” WTF!!! I worked with him on a Showtime movie. He’s as fab a person, as he is an actor. He played Clarence Thomas in a movie about the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings. A pure joy to do costumes for.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Haven’t seen Congo, but I quite liked Jurassic Park, if only because Sam Neill was in it and, you know, another Kiwi and all that (same applies to ‘The Hunt For Red October’ which DID have Connery, as a Scottish-Russian I think). Actually, I saw Jurassic Park once but heard it twice. I was in another cinema in the same multiplex, a week after I saw it, this time watching some art-style movie of no impact other than long quiet periods on the soundtrack. During which the noise of the T-Rex rampaging in the cinema next door was clearly audible.

    I confess to being not a very great fan of Crichton’s work, though I certainly wish my books earned what his did… (and got made into movies – my one venture in that direction, a 6-part TV adaptation that a film-maker wanted to produce of a history I wrote, foundered on finance… sigh…).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’d laugh your way through Congo the film, it’s too stupid. But I loved Jurassic Park as a kid. Looking back now, away from the special effects, I understand the need for great actors.

      And Sam Neill is just astonishing in that. I’m not even sure how he does it, but an understated role and he’s brilliant. The bit where he first sees the dinosaur – my father was a wreck after that. A real skill there. Although my mother prefers him for The Piano (Neill, not my father).

      Liked by 1 person

      • He is an excellent actor! Owns a vineyard near Queenstown these days I believe. Apropos the Piano, there’s a piano in Te Papa Tongarewa, the national museum, that was actually delivered to Petone beach in 1840 and left below high-tide mark, pretty much as in the movie – just saying. It’s on display and I had wondered about asking if I could play it, without mentioning that the result, would always be ‘Louie Louie’, because, hey, that’s what you have to play on any famous and historic musical instrument. I suspect if I did that, though, they might not let me back into the museum again.

        Liked by 1 person

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