The Emerald Forest (1985) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Brainscan

The Robbins Recipe: The Searchers meets Bridge on the River Kwai. That's a complicated reference. I'll have to explain it gradually.

John Ford's classic The Searchers comes into play immediately. The Searchers (Spielberg's favorite movie, and rated in the all-time top 100 by IMDb users) was about the encroachment of the new ways upon the vanishing American frontier, and centered around the kidnapping of a white girl who was raised by the Comanches, the long search for her, and her immersion into Comanche culture. The Emerald Forest is about the encroachment of our modern world upon the vanishing Amazon rainforest, and centers around the kidnapping of a white boy by an indigenous Indian tribe, the long search for him, and his immersion into the indigenous culture.

Powers Boothe plays an American engineer who is in Brazil for a multiple-year assignment to build a dam at the edge of the wilderness. Shortly after he arrives, his son is stolen into the vast rainforest, and he searches for the boy for ten years, with only a single clue in the form of a feathered arrow left behind by the tribe. He learns multiple native dialects and learns wilderness survival in order to continue the quest on his own when necessary. (In The Searchers, John Wayne learned the way of the Comanche, and could speak their tongue). He finally comes close when one person is able to identify his clue as the work of the so-called Invisible Tribe.


The men and women of the Invisible Tribe are completely naked except for thong bottoms (including Charley Boorman). See Brainscan's comments for more details.
The quest for Tommy is only the set-up. The real story starts when he finds Tommy, and realizes that his boy, now a man, can't come back to the civilized world. So he returns, reluctantly, without his son, after the tribe makes him an honorary member. The story then picks up Tommy's life with the Invisible Tribe. The tribe has been living peacefully and undisturbed in the rainforest since the dawn of memory, but their lifestyle is being altered by modern developments.
  • First, the dam built by Tommy's father has modified all the living patterns in the jungle. A savage cannibalistic tribe called The Fierce Ones has been displaced because the dam has destroyed their traditional habitat. When the Fierce Ones relocated, their new territory impinged on the territory of Tommy's peaceful tribe, ultimately leading them to raid Tommy's village and slaughter virtually everyone.
  • Second, when the Fierce Ones capture the women from Tommy's tribe, they don't rape them or eat them. Rather, they sell them into prostitution to the sleazy operators that provide entertainment for the workers on Tommy's father's dam.
  • Third, the Fierce Ones are able to kill many of Tommy's fellow tribesman because they have an automatic weapon that Tommy's father lost during his search for Tommy. Oh, that nasty modern world!

So you see that the story is filled with fairly heavy-handed connections. All of the father's unhappiness centers around losing Tommy and Tommy's subsequent misery, but all of Tommy's misery, from his original kidnapping to the fate of his peaceful tribe, is directly caused by his own father's actions. Even the father's attempts to help had unfortunate consequences.

Tommy and the few remaining members of his tribe are too weak and primitive to recapture their women from the brothel guarded by the Fierce Ones and the Evil White Guys with "fire lances", so Tommy rows a canoe to the city, scales a high-rise like a tree, and asks his father for help. Together they stage a raid on the brothel, rescue the women, have a farewell chat, and Tommy disappears back into the jungle.

Ah, yes, I need to explain my reference to The Bridge on the River Kwai. Tommy's dad then drives back to the dam that he spent ten years constructing, plants a massive bomb in it, orders it evacuated during a dangerous flood, and ...........

... and I think you know the rest. (well, not exactly, but close enough)

In addition to the basic story line, the appeal of the movie lies in two things:

  • Its portrayal of the lives of the Invisible Ones and the Fierce Ones, in all the hue and splendor of the tropical rainforest, paying attention to their rituals and beliefs in considerable detail, and showing them and their habitat in lush colors.
  • Its often unsubtle but well-intended points about the interaction between the human race and nature, emphasizing the way that humankind is destroying its environment. Of course, the basic storyline details the effects of global expansion upon tribal lives, but forget about the indian lifestyle. The more global issue is that the Amazon rainforest generates 40% of the earth's oxygen, and it is being destroyed at an astonishing rate. We are destroying ourselves, not just a few scattered indians.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterboxed, 2.35:1, enhanced for 16x9 screens.

  • I don't recommend purchasing the DVD. There are no important features, and the transfer is too dark - an inadequate representation of such beautiful photography.

Is it a good movie? Yes and no. There is a lot of heavy-handed symbolism, not only in the items I discussed above, but also in the connection between the indigenous tribes and nature. They can see with the eyes of the frickin' hawk, and swim like the frickin' fish, and have the courage of the frickin' jaguar. A little bit of that goes a long way with me, but the script used and re-used a lot of it. In addition to the pretentiousness of the conceit, it irritates by slowing down an already convoluted and excessively ambitious story.

But there's a lot of mythic power on display as well, and I enjoyed watching the film for its strengths, while my mind glossed over the weaknesses. Boorman (Deliverance, Excalibur) directed, he loves big mythical themes, and he does them better than most people.

Boorman's own son played the lead (Tommy). he did a good job, and has continued to work as an actor, but never got a lead this big again, and probably was never as effective again as he was here.

Brainscan's comments in yellow:

My big bro, who has a decade on me, describes a National Geographic magazine that arrived one day when he was twelve. That issue had a big photo story about Micronesia, which in the 60's had yet to go entirely Western in dress and customs. That means the women walked around topless. Real babes, too, or so he remembers. Not so much an idyllic lifestyle to his adolescent mind, but an ideal one... no work, lots of babes, all of them topless.

John Boorman must have seen the same magazine because he filmed it. Oh, sure, he moved it to Brazil and all, but he made a movie about Western encroachment into an ideal society. Lots of babes, all of them topless.

And young, too. Only one old fart in the whole movie and he was the chief. Even his wife was a MILF. Nobody else over the age of 30, so far as I could see. This was National Geographic meets Logan's Run, because sure as shootin' something was killing off the natives as they reached what we would regard as early adulthood.

So the Westerners encroach and the noble savages, who spend most of their time frolicking around something resembling the Clampett's See-ment pond, fight back mystically... and all is made right.

What horseshit.

I'm not siding with the Halliburton crowd, who would burn down the Amazon rain forest for a few more bucks in their pockets, but the story ought to be told as something other than a fairytale where all virtue resides with the savage and none resides with the civilized.

But then there are the babes and their delightfully natural nekkidness.

  • Main babe was played by Brazilian actress Dira Paes, who offered bare breasts and buns.
  • Second well-exposed babe is Tetchie Agbayani. Benny's sister? Speaking of which, whatever happened to Benny Agbayani? He was a hittin' machine and then... poof....gone... at least off my radar. Anyway, Tetchie was in a couple of movies before Emerald Forest and was in a whole bunch afterward... including my favorite Gawd awful movie of all time... Gymkata. Ahhh, Gymkata... the bottom of the barrel in martial arts movies... and that is saying something. Tetchie seems to have been born and raised in the Phillipines... but hey that's right next door to Brazil, right? Only half a continent and three-quarters of the Pacific ocean away. What's that. 10,000 miles? Twelve thou, tops. Tetchie was a real nice package. Cute as the dickens... angelic even... with a frame that inspires all kinds of evil thoughts. Hers is also a double B performance.
  • Elsewhere, you'll find large groups of unknown topless native women. Emerald Forest may not be the winner of the "Greatest number of unknown topless babes in a movie" award, but it is a contender.

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 3/4

  • was nominated for a BAFTA (British Oscar equivalent) for best cinematography

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.4, fairly consistent with Maltin's three stars - maybe a hair lower.
  • With their dollars ... it took in $24 million domestically.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. A good film of its type, with lots of nudity, but I believe that mainstream moviegoers will find it too slow and too preachy for their tastes.

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