As a fan of rare and hard-to-find cinema nightmares, I can understand why archaeologists love to hunt for lost treasures. So you put on the cracked leather jacket you bought at Goodwill and venture to the backroom shelf ruins of a local thrift store (the one that is covered in spiderwebs and bends in the middle from the 507 VHS tapes on it, including several double VHS copies of Titanic). Sitting in the middle of the shelf, between a copy of Patch Adams and Good Guys Were Black is the diamond in the rough, the abominable movie a company only brought out on a cheap video label in 1987, and now you hold it in your hand, lifting it towards the sunlight beaming through the cracking paint on the window, basking in its vintage gleam. This is the feeling I get every time I turn on Frank Marshall’s 1995 adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Congo.
Let’s get one thing straight before I go on any further. I have, and will always, love this movie! I don’t care if you are an internet troll or a multi-billionaire, if you disagree with me you can go take a hike up the Mbarara-Kisangani road (although if you are a multi-billionaire and love this movie, let’s talk about making a sequel real soon, okay)! It took the filmmakers years to bring this monkey to you and it was worth the wait. Originally slated to be directed by Michael Crichton himself, who helmed classics like Westworld and a faithful adaptation of his work The Great Train Robbery, Crichton sold the idea of writing the novel and the screenplay at the same time so he could get none other than Sean Connery to star in the film, which almost happened… until Crichton wanted real Gorillas to sign language and work with real actors. Knowing how Amy looks in this movie, it might have been worth a mauling or two. After the success of Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, Hollyweird flooded the early 90s with Crichton-mania, including Rising Sun with Connery and Wesley Snipes, Disclosure with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, and Sphere with Samual L. Jackson and Dustin Hoffman. Among them was this forgotten golden idol, waiting to be rescued from the jungles of development hell.
The plot involves getting Amy, a talking gorilla (“I can hear the money hairs on the back of my neck going wooey, woo, woo.”) back home, but she has seen something in her dreams and drawing, a lost city filled with riches of pure diamonds. Naturally, a sleazeball like Tim Curry uses his financial (or lack thereof) resources to get her home and become rich at the same time. The problem is the killer gorillas who protect the lost city have a different plan in mind. Somewhere buried in this motion picture is a great adventure flick, heralded from the days of Johnny Weismuller as Tarzan (although I prefer Casper Van Dien) and Indiana Jones knock-offs like The Hunters of the Golden Cobra, but something is amiss. The hardest thing is putting your finger right on what that is. The film has amazing acting, from Ernie Hudson’s heroic Captain Monroe Kelly to Laura Linney’s cutthroat Karen Ross to the role which will live in the infamy of Tim Curry’s enigmatic portrayal of Herkermer Homolka (of Romania)! It has great set pieces, great special effects (for the early 90s, that volcano explosion is everything), and even the make-up for Amy and the other apes is well done (courtesy of the late/great Stan Winston). I honestly feel what hurts the film is… nothing! Sure, I could say the lighting is a little too harsh with not enough shadows. Yeah, I could say the acting can get as hammy as a wild boar. And for sure, I could say any movie with Joe Don-Baker is going to go far beyond the reaches of space, but I can’t! I get jungle-fever every time I hit the play button and thank the cast and crew for giving the world this odyssey to find the lost city of Zinj.
Released by Paramount Pictures to scathing reviews (hotter than lava), the 108-minute film was very profitable, hauling in 150 million dollars on a 50 million dollar budget. Frank Marshall, who directed classics like Arachniphobia and Eight Below, was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award as Worst Director for this film, as was a lot of the cast and crew, including Jerry Goldsmith for Worst Song (“(Feel) the Spirit of Africa”) and I say shame on the Golden Raspberries! How dare they take such a harsh approach to what is a better movie than Raiders of the Lost Ark (that’s right, it’s Raiders, not that Indiana Jones and… bull!). You can find Congo on streaming through Amazon and Paramount +, but what we are missing is The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray with an audio commentary from Marshall to explain why he wanted to gift this world with such a diamond. So machete your fern for a better view of your 1970s SANYO 12-T226 Solid State Black and White television, pour yourself a large green drop drink, and wolf down some sesame cake while getting lost rediscovering this golden classic adventurer.