The other night we watched The Legend of Tarzan with our chums, let’s call them Terry and June for the sake of anonymity. The Legend of Tarzan is an effort to reboot the old jungle story for a new generation. It cost $180 million to make, which is a lot. As a film it’s actually not bad at all. Not great and definitely not good enough to watch again in a hurry but good enough to not feel cheated. You would have thought $180 million could buy proper good but it just doesn’t. Money never really made a good film, just good talent, good ideas and good luck. The Legend of Tarzan also hoped they could cash in on having the world’s most profitable movie star – Samuel L Motherfuckin’ Jackson. Despite being set 130 years ago Jackson is pretty much the same as he was in Pulp Fiction. Which is why he’s hard to hate.
Anyway all this got me thinking about how little money has to do with good film making, or indeed bad film making. At first I was reminded of Richard Chamberlain’s cheap version of King Solomon’s Mines from 1985. It’s a big pile of crap that just floats in sub Indiana Jones territory but it is also exceptionally entertaining and most importantly does not take itself remotely seriously. For a crap film to succeed this is rule number one. We live in a film world where every blockbuster has to be seen as somehow a level or two above simply entertainment and that just sets standards which fail to be met (a good example are the Avengers films which are good but like to think they’re also important (Robert Downey Jr likes to think he’s VERY important (which he isn’t))). A five star film now is very rare indeed. Personally I blame Forrest Gump which was glazed in sticky adoration on release and is still hailed by some as a modern classic. Alas it is not, it’s not even ‘ok’. It’s just a schmaltzy load of toot but I think I’m in a minority here.
Hawk The Slayer. Now there’s a great film. Simultaneously daftly brilliant and brilliantly daft. It’s quite likely you won’t have seen Hawk The Slayer but you’ll have to take my word for it that you must make the effort. It’s pure early 80’s sword and sorcery rubbish. That said it has the distinction of being the film that really kicked off the 80’s sword and sorcery boom so without it you would never have had Conan or Red Sonja or The Beastmaster or the imaginatively titled The Sword and the Sorcerer. By the way I’m not a massive fan of the genre nor would not feel comfortable in any branch of Games Workshop. I own plenty of films on DVD. I own fewer than 10 films on Blu-Ray. Hawk the Slayer is one of them.
Here’s a few reasons why it’s such a genius film.
- The star of the show is Jack Palance who decided to fly from sunny California to a wood in Buckinghamshire because either a. he really, really needed the money or b. he really, really wanted to spend 6 weeks in a wood in Buckinghamshire, wearing a helmet. He is the ‘baddie’ and his name is Voltan, which is an excellent ‘baddie’ name. And old Jack just chews up every scene he’s in with that face and that mouth and that voice. Perhaps his most interesting feature is not that he has a horrible facial disfigurement but that he has an endless supply of concealed daggers which usually end up flying across a room into someones shoulder. Good start.
- The rest of the cast is amazing with Bernard Bresslaw, Annette Crosbie, Harry Andrews, W. Morgan Sheppard (very interesting career), Warren Clarke and Roy Kinear across roles big and small. Bresslaw plays a giant who is only marginally taller than the next tallest person, who is Hawk. Hawk is played by John Terry. No, not John Terry the footballer, he’s the star of Hawk the Racist Cunt. Hawk might be the hero but John Terry, good looking as he is, makes him about as charismatic as a church hall tea cup. Which is why the rest of the cast have to be so great.
- Special effects. These are almost all appalling. A man shooting lots of arrows very fast is just the same shot repeated 6 times. A group of men are attacked by balls of molten rock which look suspiciously like flourescent ping pong balls. At one point a guard is emobillised by being covered in bright green silly string. You don’t get this shit in Iron Man.
- The music is amazing. Harry Robertson, who also co-produces, composed and conducted it himself and it’s a weird gooey kind of medieval disco thing which on paper sounds as appropriate as playing NWA at Princess Diana’s funeral, but in reality works brilliantly. There are only 1000 copies available on CD and I own one and if you’re really nice……….
- The sets. By this stage I think you can imagine what the sets are like.
- The script is bloody awful and riddled with rubbish yet at the same time is one of the great works of 20th Century literature. ‘Voltan, you will die by my sword’ and that kind of crap.
Anyway I’ll stop here, because it’s highly unlikely you bothered reading past the first full stop. Hawk the Slayer is now regarded as a cult classic but I would like to elevate it to the status of a modern masterpiece because you cannot watch it and not find some form of entertainment, intentional or not. It cost £600,000 to make. I don’t have a calculator handy but that’s slightly less than what Tarzan charged. And I would happily watch Hawk the Slayer any day.
G B Hewitt. 10.9.2016.
My thanks to whoever did this