Tarzan, the classic pulp hero created by Edgar Rice Buroughs, may be heading to the screen once again.
Sony Pictures has picked up the screen rights to the character from Burroughs’ estate, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., and is seeking to do a “total reinvention” of the character and intellectual property.
No writer, filmmaker, or producer are attached as the studio looks for a top-down re-imagining of the Ape Man for audiences in this time and space of the 21st century.
Sony had no comment.
Tarzan’s story is well known: an orphaned boy raised in the jungle by great apes, who falls in love with a young woman named Jane, eventually leaving the jungle for her, marrying her and moving to England where his eyes are open to how barbaric so-called civilization really is, before returning to Africa. Amid all that, adventures, from besting lions and apes to discovering lost cities abound.
The stories proved to be an instant hit when first published in 1912 and for decades made their mark in pop culture via movies, serials, radio shows, TV shows, and comic strips. The heyday of the Lord of the Jungle is seen lasting from the 1930 to 1970s but Disney’s 1999 animated movie was a hit, as were the movie’s Phil Collins songs, even leading to a Broadway adaptation.
This century the character has proven to be a slippery vine for Tarzan. Warner Bros. tried to launch a potential franchise in 2016 with a movie starring Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie that failed to ignite audiences’ imagination.
Part of the reason lies in changes in mores. The books are scrutinized for ideas of colonialism, white saviour, and racial and gender stereotypes that were widely accepted in the early 20th century but are not in current culture.
Hence the studio’s desire for a new, reconceived take.
The rights deal is also interesting in that Tarzan is an IP that straddles both public and private domains. The early stories are squarely in the public domain but Burroughs wrote adventures into the 1940s, with some stories published years after his death in 1950. The estate owns the Tarzan trademark.