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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

Congo (1995), directed by Frank Marshall

Congo -

In 1988, John Patrick Shanley won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Moonstruck. In 2005, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his play Doubt: A Parable. Between the two, he wrote the screenplay for Michael Crichton's Congo, which didn't win an award, but was at least nominated for one: a Golden Raspberry. (The Razzie went to Joe Eszterhas' script for Showgirls.) It would have won, though, if the award, for Worst Screenplay, had been for Worst Adaptation.


Nearly every decision the guy makes is a bad one, starting with the plot. He turns a story about greed, ambition, and technological competition into a silly rescue mission. Had he adapted Disclosure, I've no doubt that Michael Douglas and Demi Moore would have fallen in love.


He turns Munro, our great white hunter, into a black man, which is sensible enough (especially since Munro, as played by Ernie Hudson, is the best character in the movie), but it's the last intelligent thing he does. Karen Ross, a driven, overzealous electronics genius with questionable decision-making skills in high-stress situations becomes an ex-CIA agent (Laura Linney) who left the agency because she found it heartless. In the book, she went into the Congo for diamonds; here, she goes in because her boyfriend has gone missing. It wasn't as though Shanley couldn't figure out the kind of person she was supposed to be: one funny moment in the book comes when Ross provides commentary on her own psych evaluation.


Due to changes Shanley makes to the plot, our primatologist, Dr. Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh), finds that his specialized knowledge, critical in the book, contributes nothing in the film. His role is reduced to shepherding his gorilla Amy back home. And Amy (God help us) now talks, thanks to a fancy glove she wears that turns sign language into speech. It's a change that would seem to make sense, going from book to film, but which fails because speech is too quickly rendered and too common, and instead of drawing us into Amy's character by keeping us focused on her, it instead turns her into an easily dismissed cartoon.


I suppose because Shanley removed all self-interest from Karen Ross' character, he felt he had to replace it somehow, and that that explains the addition of a character not found in the book. This is Herkermer Homolka (Tim Curry), a Romanian who has been searching for the Lost City of Zinj -- and its fabled treasure -- "all his life." It doesn't explain how the stories of the city got tied up with King Solomon, but I suspect Shanley simply didn't realize how overused that particular idea was. (Homolka isn't the only character added to the story. Elliot gets an assistant, too, an obvious redshirt who survives way too long, given that he has nothing to do but whine and act scared.)


All these characters eventually find Zinj, of course, a city protected by violent gorilla-like creatures and sporting hieroglyphics on the walls. It's a wonder Shanley didn't find a way to work Merlin into all this. I guess that sage magician would have clashed with the "science." Like the laser gun powerful enough to take out an orbiting satellite. If you're thinking, Huh? What?, then congratulations are in order: you now understand this movie perfectly.