Congo Preview

Poe describes the beautiful road trip that he and Mr. Big would take, bonding over their shared interests of Tetherball and early 20th century Bildungsroman literature. Starting in Sacramento, California (for obvious reasons) they would proceed north through Idaho and continue straight on to Saskatoon. “Would we be able to stop at the Western Development Museum?” Mr. Big asks dreamily. Poe nods, “Darn tootin’. Wouldn’t be a trip to Saskatoon without it and we might even splurge for one of those old timey photos where we dress up in old western clothes.” Mr. Big frowns. He knows that Poe is really just saying these things because he wants to get the Book of Secrets… but he can’t help but tell him meekly to continue describing the road trip. “You’d think we’d be heading straight to Winnipeg at this point… but you’d be wrong. Cause we’re continuing east,” Poe explains. “No,” whispers Mr. Big, “you don’t mean…” but Poe nods, “The ‘Ware.” Mr. Big looks at him startled, “You’d take me to… Delaware?” And Poe shrugs his shoulders, “it seems only appropriate after you were so kind to let me into The Skulls.” With tears in his eyes Mr. Big walks over to Nic Cage’s Journal (all rights reserved). He picks it up, kisses it and brings it over to Poe. “I thought this,” he says waving to the large ornate chamber, “was The Skulls,” his voice cracking with emotion, “but today you proved that The Skulls… was inside you the whole time.” Just as he is about to hand the book over they are surrounded by people in gray ninja gear and lasers. “Give us the book,” one of them says. Poe, realizing what is happening, begins to speak up but it’s too late… the laser beams start a-flyin’. That’s right! If I mention laser beams there is only one film I’m thinking about. “Entrapment?” you ask… OK, two films. The other is Congo. The major film release where a lady mows down grey gorillas with a laser. Celebrate for us on this very momentus 25th anniversary of the release of Laser Gorillas aka Congo. Let’s go!   

Congo (1995) – BMeTric: 54.3; Notability: 81 

(It has a really low IMDb rating. It used to have a BMeTric of like 65 too! And a notability of 81? My god, when was the last time we had a film with that high of a Notability? I just checked and we haven’t done an 80+ since 2019 (where we actually did quite a few of them). I am very much looking forward to just how big of a disappointment this must have been.)

RogerEbert.com – 3.0 stars – “Congo” is a splendid example of a genre no longer much in fashion, the jungle adventure story. Perhaps aware that its material was already dated when Stewart Granger made “King Solomon’s Mines” in 1950, the filmmakers have cheerfully turned it into an action comedy, and the actors have gone a step further, treating it like one of those movies like “Beat the Devil” that is a put-on of itself. The result is not a movie that is very good, exactly, but it’s entertaining and funny. False sophisticates will scorn it. Real sophisticates will relish it.

(Shots fired at the end. This feels like right around when Ebert started to consider things “good for what they are” and became a bit less pretentious (to use a loaded term) about things. This is pretty soon after Arachnophobia which is, by all accounts, a genuine horror comedy, so I could definitely see Marshall going back to the tongue-in-cheek creature feature well.)

Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icu59hembVk/

(The thing I remember from the trailer was the guy stumbling down the stairs. It made me think it was a horror film. It isn’t a horror film and you barely see the gorillas in the end. Good trailer though regardless, even shows off the laser weapon.)

Directors – Frank Marshall – (Known For: Alive; Eight Below; Arachnophobia; BMT: Congo; Razzie Notes: Nominee for Worst Director for Congo in 1996; Notes: Married to Kathlene Kennedy he has an interesting career having worked as a producer for LucasArts before leaving to form his own production company (with his wife) and begin directing.)

Writers – Michael Crichton (novel) – (Known For: Jurassic Park; Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom; Jurassic World; Twister; The Lost World: Jurassic Park; Jurassic Park III; Westworld; Disclosure; Runaway; The First Great Train Robbery; The Andromeda Strain; Coma; The Terminal Man; Future BMT: Sphere; Rising Sun; Looker; BMT: Congo; Timeline; The 13th Warrior; Razzie Notes: Winner for Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 Million for Twister in 1997; Notes: Almost 6’9’’, and married 5 times. He famously submitted an essay written by George Orwell in graduate school where he studied English which got a B-, and he quit soon after. He also trained to be a doctor and quit right after qualifying.)

John Patrick Shanley (screenplay) – (Known For: Moonstruck; Doubt; Alive; Joe Versus the Volcano; The Thief and the Cobbler; Five Corners; Future BMT: The January Man; We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story; BMT: Congo; Razzie Notes: Nominee for Worst Screenplay for Congo in 1996; Notes: Won an Oscar for Moonstruck and a Tony for Doubt. He also was nominated for an Emmy for Live From Baghdad. No apparently Grammy aspirations so his EGOT hopes are probably non-existent.)

Actors – Laura Linney – (Known For: Love Actually; The Truman Show; Nocturnal Animals; Primal Fear; Mystic River; Arthur Christmas; Sully: Miracle on the Hudson; Falling; Searching for Bobby Fischer; The Exorcism of Emily Rose; The Squid and the Whale; Dave; Absolute Power; Genius; The Mothman Prophecies; Kinsey; The Roads Not Taken; Mr. Holmes; Breach; You Can Count on Me; Future BMT: The Other Man; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows; Hyde Park on Hudson; The Nanny Diaries; The Fifth Estate; Man of the Year; Sympathy for Delicious; The Hottest State; The City of Your Final Destination; Maze; Lush; The Life of David Gale; BMT: Congo; Notes: Nominated three times for an Oscar (You Can Count on Me, Kinsey, and The Savages). Also the star of The Big C which she won an Emmy for.)

Tim Curry – (Known For: The Rocky Horror Picture Show; Clue; The Hunt for Red October; Annie; Charlie’s Angels; Times Square; FernGully: The Last Rainforest; Kinsey; The Cat Returns; Muppet Treasure Island; The Rugrats Movie; Rugrats in Paris; The Wild Thornberrys Movie; The Shout; Future BMT: Scary Movie 2; McHale’s Navy; Fly Me to the Moon; Valiant; Rugrats Go Wild; Christmas in Wonderland; The Shadow; The Pebble and the Penguin; Loaded Weapon 1; Ritual; Burke and Hare; The Secret of Moonacre; The Three Musketeers; Legend; Oscar; Bailey’s Billion$; Home Alone 2: Lost in New York; Passed Away; BMT: Garfield 2; Congo; Razzie Notes: Nominee for Worst Supporting Actor for Congo in 1996; Notes: Was nominated for three Tony awards and an Emmy in his career. Had a stroke a few years ago and is now confined to a wheelchair, but he has started doing voiceover work again which is something he had become very famous for in his career.)

Dylan Walsh – (Known For: We Were Soldiers; Nobody’s Fool; Secretariat; Loverboy; Blood Work; Edmond; Betsy’s Wedding; Future BMT: The Stepfather; Authors Anonymous; Where the Heart Is; BMT: Congo; The Lake House; Notes: Ended up as a big name television actor starring in Nip/Tuck and Unforgettable and now does short stints on things like Blue Bloods and Law & Order.)

Budget/Gross – $50 million / Domestic: $81,022,101 (Worldwide: $152,022,101)

(That’s actually a decent amount of money, although they were obviously looking for that Jurassic Park money. So in that sense maybe less of a bomb and more of a disappointment as expected.)

Rotten Tomatoes – 22% (11/51): Mired in campy visual effects and charmless characters, Congo is a suspenseless adventure that betrays little curiosity about the scientific concepts it purports to care about.

(I’m not sure what scientific concepts they are referring to here. Is it the giant diamonds from King Solomon’s Mind which illogically are the only things that can produce a laser weapon? Or perhaps the killer ape guardsmen? Or the sign language gorilla robot arm? Reviewer Highlight: The entire tone of the book has been transformed from tension to tongue-in-cheek with dismal results. – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times)

Poster – Goril-lazer Beamz

(The poster already tells you the film’s gonna be nuts. It’s just a giant fake gorilla face with a bunch of computer code on it and the dutchest of all dutch angle titles. I’m not sure what I would even think if I saw this in a movie theater. It’s bold, that’s for sure. But probably not in a good way. C)

Tagline(s) – Where you are the endangered species (B+)

(But this is solid. Congo… where you are the endangered species. Yeah that’s kinda nice. Flipping things around on you with the image of the gorilla. Telling you that you’re in for an adventure of derring-do. I dig it.)

Keyword – gorilla

Top 10: Red Sparrow (2018), Dolittle (2020), Green Book (2018), Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), 2012 (2009), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Sing (2016), Zookeeper (2011), King Kong (2005), Trading Places (1983)

Future BMT: 72.1 The Last Exorcism Part II (2013), 54.8 Evan Almighty (2007), 48.9 The Omen (2006), 40.4 Hollow Man (2000), 34.1 The Tourist (2010), 28.8 Buddy (1997), 28.4 Baby’s Day Out (1994), 27.5 The Legend of Tarzan (2016), 27.1 The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), 21.9 Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995);

BMT: Dolittle (2020), 2012 (2009), Zookeeper (2011), Congo (1995), Old Dogs (2009), King Kong Lives (1986)

(There weren’t very good keywords this time for some reason. I have seen most of these, which maybe Ace Ventura 2 being the one I’m most excited for. The plot doesn’t tell me much except maybe that in the 2000s with CGI technology it became a lot easier to put gorillas in films.)

Welcome to Earf (HoE Number 23) – The shortest path through The Movie Database cast lists using only BMT films is: Ernie Hudson is No. 3 billed in Congo and No. 6 billed in Miss Congeniality 2 Armed and Fabulous, which also stars Sandra Bullock (No. 1 billed) who is in Demolition Man (No. 3 billed), which also stars Sylvester Stallone (No. 1 billed) who is in Expendables 3 (No. 1 billed), which also stars Jason Statham (No. 2 billed) who is in In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Seige Tale (No. 1 billed), which also stars Leelee Sobieski (No. 4 billed) who is in Here on Earth (No. 1 billed) => 3 + 6 + 1 + 3 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 1 + 4 + 1 = 23. If we were to watch The Nanny Diaries, and The Black Dahlia we can get the HoE Number down to 10.

Notes – Ernie Hudson stated that playing the character “Captain Munroe Kelly” is his personal favorite from his career. (He does seem to have a great time with it)

Executive producer and director Frank Marshall originally intended to use the computer work pioneered on Jurassic Park (1993) for the gorillas, but opted for models, as the computers weren’t capable of reproducing hair. (Yeah, it was a bit too early for that)

The “diamonds” used for the scenes during the climax of the movie were actually Herkimer Diamonds borrowed from the Herkimer Diamond Mines of Middleville, New York. They are doubly-terminated (two-ended) quartz crystals that are found in only two places in the world. They were the only gems that would look enough like diamonds and be that large. As a kind of tribute, Tim Curry’s character’s first name is “Herkermer” (his character does not appear in the Michael Crichton novel upon which the movie was based). (Wait … he isn’t in the book?! What a crazy character to add)

The part of the 727 pilot was played by musician and pop icon Jimmy Buffett. (huh)

Executive producer Frank Yablans had been involved in this project since its inception. Michael Crichton had pitched his idea for a modern-day King Solomon’s Mines to him, before he had even written the novel. Yablans liked the idea so much that, without Crichton’s authorization, he sold the movie rights to Twentieth Century Fox in 1979, a year before the book was published. The technology to create the apes was not available at the time, however, and the project never materialized. During the production of Jurassic Park (1993), Crichton was impressed with the dinosaurs that Stan Winston’s studio had created. Producer Kathleen Kennedy (who produced both movies) suggested using Winston again for the apes, and suggested the project itself to her husband, executive producer and director Frank Marshall, and Crichton agreed. This resulted in Yablans, Marshall, and Kennedy collaborating on this movie.

Although the movie mentions King Solomon’s Mines, it bears several key points in common with “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar”, the book and movies based on it.

There are rumors of a deleted scene where one of the gorillas, in a pivotal scene in the movie, wields a laser gun. Nobody is sure if these rumored scenes exist, but YouTube channel Funhaus has started an investigation after discussing it on their movie podcast. (This feels like a dumb Mandela Effect thing. People who say this 25 years ago probably has smushed Amy fending off the evil gorillas using her sign language translator, with Laura Linney shooting lasers at them right after)

Composer Jerry Goldsmith was originally brought on-board when this movie was being conceived in the 1980s. When it went into production again in the 1990s, James Newton Howard was hired to write the score. Howard composed the tribal chant used in this movie, but had to back out of the project. Goldsmith was then brought back on-board.

In addition to Amy, Stan Winston Studio created twelve genetically mutated gray gorillas for Congo, eight of which were built as fully articulated hero heads and suits. To initiate the design of the twelve grays, Chris Swift rendered a series of drawings. Stan Winston then gave key artists at the studio the opportunity to design and sculpt one unique character each. Because the grays were a fictional, mutant breed of gorillas, the sculptors enjoyed a lot of creative freedom in devising their designs. 

Rather than re-create the features of a mountain gorilla, the studio had instructions to design Amy so that she would more closely resemble the ‘cuter’ lowland gorilla.

Stan Winston’s crew lifecast the main Amy performer, Lorene Noh, at the studio, then sculpted Amy over her lifecast. From that sculpture, the crew created a ‘hero’ Amy head that was covered in silicone skin and hand-tied hair. It was one of the first times the studio would use these new silicone formulas, rather than foam latex, for a character.

Fred Thompson turned down a key role. (Ha, definitely the eeeeevil corporate telecom CEO)

Problems with the grays in the design stage only intensified when the characters started shooting. The mine in which the Grays’ scenes were set was essentially a large, empty cavern of red rock. There was no foliage of any kind, and without it, director of photography Allen Daviau was unable to justify the kind of dappled lighting that would have gone a long way in making the grays look more authentic. “In any kind of creature work,” Stan Winston commented, “so much of its success depends on the lighting and setting those characters are in. I wasn’t at all happy with the Grays’ environment. That big red cave didn’t allow for interesting or dramatic lighting at all.”

One of the most critical elements for bringing Congo’s gorillas to life was the performances of the actors and actresses inside the suits. Under the direction of veteran gorilla performer Peter Elliott, it took approximately six months of intensive rehearsal for Lorene Noh and Misty Rosas to become Amy, and for the gray gorilla actors to become mutant primates.

Awards – Nominee for the Razzie Award for Worst Picture (Kathleen Kennedy, Sam Mercer, 1996)

Nominee for the Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor (Tim Curry, 1996)

Nominee for the Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress (1996)

Nominee for the Razzie Award for Worst Director (Frank Marshall, 1996)

Nominee for the Razzie Award for Worst Screenplay (John Patrick Shanley, 1996)

Nominee for the Razzie Award for Worst New Star (1996)

Nominee for the Razzie Award for Worst Original Song (Jerry Goldsmith, Lebo M., 1996)