'The Legend Of Tarzan' Set Visit: A Passionate Attempt To Reboot An Iconic Character

After four straight Harry Potter movies, you'd think David Yates would be done with sequels. With The Legend of Tarzan, he gets the best of both worlds. The latest film about everyone's favorite vine-swinging, loincloth-wearing jungle man is being presented as the start of a new franchise. However, the story itself is also something of a sequel to nearly ever other Tarzan movie ever. Basically, it's an homage to the character's entire history without copying any one story in particular.

The film opens with Tarzan (played by True Blood's Alexander Skarsgård) living in period London. He's a lord with a huge house, married to his lovely jungle princess Jane (The Wolf of Wall Street's Margot Robbie). And while things may seem good on the surface, both halves of the couple yearns to go back to their roots, where they met, in the jungles of the Congo. And they do. But when an evil tyrant named Captain Rom (Christoph Waltz) teams up with an evil tribe (led by Djimon Hounsou) to kidnap Jane in order to enact revenge on Tarzan, it begins a massive adventure on a summer blockbuster scale.

Way back in September 2014, we flew to London where we visited Leavesden Studios to visit the set of The Legend of Tarzan. There we walked through incredibly massive sets, watched some brutal fighting and learned how this film would ideally satisfy fans who know and love the iconic character, as well as bring in new ones.

It's day 56 of 70 on the set of The Legend of Tarzan and you can read all about it below.

First question: What about the loincloth? It's Tarzan's signature item and, in a movie this different from its predecessors, you had to wonder if it was going to be there. On a set visit you generally drop by all the departments to see the incredible amount of detail and care that goes into a production this size, and one of the first stops was with Emmy-award winning costume designer Ruth Myers.

She explained that because Tarzan starts this movie as a normal London man and only later becomes the brute who was raised in the jungle by gorillas, the outfits start out very stuck up and tight. Then, over the course of the movie, they get more and more tattered. So the loincloth, as it were, is basically just trousers ripped to shreds, a very realistic approach. (Myers was mum on whether the film may eventually graduate to an actual loincloth.) That believable spin on an iconic beat is what The Legend of Tarzan is all about. The character has no big Clark Kent moment. He's taking the ride, just like the audience. As Skarsgård puts it, the film is kind of Tarzan's descent into madness.

We saw a bit of that madness during shooting. The scene we witnessed takes place on a train early in Tarzan's return trip to Africa. Jane has been kidnapped. Tarzan has begun to learn about Captain Rom's plan and he's teamed up with a mystery man named George Washington Williams, played by Samuel L. Jackson.

After swinging onto the train (a shot which we didn't see), Tarzan makes his way through a slew of Belgium soldiers. His fighting style is more WWE than martial arts, as he literally heaves men left, right, down, and, in the most impressive bit, up. After dispatching several of the soldiers in a single shot, they shoot a stunt where Tarzan manhandles a solider through the ceiling. This is accomplished by a huge pulley system, worked by two men on the other side of the stage pulling down really hard just as Tarzan throws the soldier.


Fight coordinator Mike Lambert explained that Tarzan's fighting style is in direct relation to his upbringing, that of an animal. And yes, though The Legend of Tarzan begins with the character fully grown, there will be flashbacks to explain how he is the way he is. We'll meet his parents, see their treehouse, watch them die and meet his gorilla mother Kala. It'll just all be done in flashbacks.

Besides the fresh take on the character, the most impressive thing about visiting The Legend of Tarzan set was just how massive the production was. Multiple stages at Leavesden were taken over, including several expansive outdoor areas. Two stages in particular were fully dressed as jungles. I'm talking huge trees, long vines, real dirt, and ceiling-to-floor matte paintings surrounding the entire stage. Production designer Stuart Craig (who, like many on this film, worked with Yates on the Harry Potter movies) explained that the two stages would be altered numerous times to create seven distinct jungle looks. This allowed the production to look like they are in the African rainforest without actually traveling there. (A second unit for the film would travel to Africa for pick ups and helicopter shots but no cast ever set foot there.)

It's hard to explain how immersive and immense the jungle stages were. The vines are foam rubber and the trees are hollow, but you can't tell from just looking at them. The only giveaway anything is fake is the fact that trees of this size could never grow so close to each other. But that's just creative license.

Other jaw-dropping sets include the full town called Boma, the home of Waltz's character, which looks like a classic Western with some New Orleans flair. It's built almost in full, with five or six entire buildings, making you feel like you're actually there. Around the corner, there's a huge water tank where a boat will literally be sunk.

Down the hill is a set where the Djimon Hounsou's Mbonga warriors reside. It was a full, 360° experience with black sand on the ground and huge volcanic rocks surrounding you, rising up to 30 feet high. There's even a working waterfall component, though it wasn't on when we got there. Finally, over the hill, an expansive village of straw huts was in the open field. However, those were all wired for pyrotechnics, so we couldn't get too close.

As someone who's been on a lot of sets, my biggest takeaway from The Legend of Tarzan was just a real sense of joy. Sure, cast and crew love to tell the press how much they are loving their work, but time and time again, from the costume designer, to the hair and makeup team, down to the unit publicist and actors, everyone said this was some of the most fun they'd ever had making a movie. If they were lying, David Yates might be forced to cast them in his next film cause they were very convincing. The Legend of Tarzan is a passion project for just about everyone involved and, if the sequel/reboot works, maybe another film could happen. For now though, it was just all about making the best movie possible.


The Legend of Tarzan opens July 1.