The Emerald Forest (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Amazon tribe kidnaps boy.

Bill (Powers Booth) is a hydro-electric engineer who’s designed a dam that’s being built deep in the jungle of the Amazon. One day while he’s having a picnic outside with his wife Jean (Meg Foster) and daughter Heather (Yara Vaneau) he notices his son Tommy (William Rodriguez) wandering off. He tries to catch up with him, but not before the child gets snatched away by an Indian tribe known as the Invisible People. Bill spends the next 10 years searching for him, but to no avail. Meanwhile Tommy (now played by the director’s son Charley Boorman) has grown into a man and become a full-fledged member of the tribe, but before he can marry the beautiful Kachiri (Dira Paes) he must retrieve some sacred stones in a remote spot of the jungle. It is there that he comes into contact with his father, who is still searching for him. The two bond once again and work together to escape the clutches of The Fierce People another native tribe that is violent and cannibalistic.

The film is loosely based on two true stories. The first one is an article printed in October, 1972 in the Los Angeles Times, which was read by the film’s scriptwriter Rospo Pallenberg, having to do with a Peruvian boy who had been kidnapped by an Indian tribe and when found 16 years later he didn’t want to leave as he, by that time, had become fully assimilated in it. The second one deals with the autobiographical novel from 1971 in which the author, Manuel Cordova-Rios, details his account of being kidnapped by an Amazon tribe in the early 1900’s as a boy and how he eventually grew to become a member of that tribe.

On a technical level director John Boorman achieves the same type of success that he had with Deliverance where the vivid on-location shooting makes the viewer feel fully immersed in the setting to the extent that you think you’ve physically traveled to another part of the planet. The chase sequence in which the protagonists must battle their way through a dense underbrush to escape an enemy that hides behind the foliage and that they can’t see is also quite similar to the one in Deliverance, but in many ways more exciting. The film also has a very strong masculine theme where the women are seen very little and in the case of Meg Foster get completely wasted.

My main issue is that the kidnapping segment happens too quickly and the boy’s transition into the tribe is too unrealistically seamless. I would think a kid at that age, he seemed to be around 10, would’ve been horrified about being taken away from his parents, the only family he had ever known, and yet the film glosses completely over the adjustment angle and makes it seem like it was no big deal.  The parents devastation at losing a son gets handled in the same shallow way where after the kidnapping occurs the story immediately jumps to 10 years later without every showing any of the grieving process that the family most assuredly would’ve had and in some ways unintentionally makes it seem like they were able to move-on with their lives without much problem.

The story does have its share of riveting moments, if you’re patient, with the best parts coming when the two tribes go to battle with each other, but the film unwisely straddles the fence between reality and fantasy. I don’t mind a fantasy if it’s that way all the way through, but this one tries to sneak it in at ill-advised times. The scene that got me is when Tomme goes searching for his father in the big city and even though he doesn’t know where his father lives he’s able to connect with some sort of Indian spirit that shows him a vision of his father’s condo and he uses that to find it, but that vision never gives him a specific address, so I’d think he’d remained just as lost and confused.

Spoiler Warning!

I didn’t care for the double ending either. Having the film finish after the father helps Tommy fight off the Fierce People and save the tribal women from a life of prostitution was good enough, but then tacking on Tomme again praying to his Indian spirits to create massive rain storm that damages the damn was too much. It also becomes a bit preachy with its denouncement about environmentalism making it seem more like a political propaganda piece and less like a feature film. Casting Boorman’s son Charley in the lead was a mistake too as his constant wide-eyed, deer-in-headlights expression becomes monotonous. The part was originally intended for C. Thomas Howell and while he may not be the greatest of all actors he still would’ve been a better pick here.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 3, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Boorman

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD

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