When The Lost City unassumingly racked up £160m at the global box office this spring, it proved a few things: the enduring appeal of the adult-targeted, star-driven romantic comedy, a genre that franchise-fixated studios have nonetheless sidelined of late; the near-supernatural ability of Sandra Bullock to conjure chemistry with just about any co-star you care to throw at her, in this case the resurgent Channing Tatum; and that laughs can still be wrung from the age-old premise of sticking two beautiful people in the wilderness and letting them fight their way out of it.
The far-flung great outdoors – be it Amazonian jungle or African plain – is among the most eternal antagonists in Hollywood cinema: it gives film-makers spectacle and actors obstacles, lending a sense of scale and heft to even the slightest stories. The romantic adventure film, meanwhile, has long been a Hollywood standby based on pretty outdated notions of gender crossover interest: women will come for the romance, studio execs reasoned, and men will tolerate that for the exotic action and derring-do. Whether or not that’s the case, it still works: The Lost City – just out on multiple VOD platforms – is a breezy, bouncy romp. Set predominantly on a remote Atlantic island, attractively played by the Dominican Republic, it’s complicated by all manner of conflicting treasure-hunt schemes that promptly leave your memory the second the credits roll. What sticks is the game, genuinely funny sparring between Bullock’s reserved romance novelist and Tatum’s likably inept himbo.
If its gender roles have been adjusted slightly – the update here being that both characters are equally bewildered by the wilderness – The Lost City is nonetheless yet another riff on The African Queen (1951; Apple TV), John Huston’s still-splendid CS Forester adaptation that pitched Katharine Hepburn’s prim missionary against Humphrey Bogart’s crusty mechanic on a simultaneously jolly and perilous river voyage through east Africa. (There’s even a direct nod in The Lost City to the vividly gross leech-plucking scene in Huston’s film.) Disney, too, recently attempted an African Queen pastiche, shamelessly nicking character types and plot dynamics for its eminently disposable Emily Blunt-Dwayne Johnson vehicle Jungle Cruise (Disney+), the main problem being that, based as it is on a theme park ride, its Amazonian setting never feels much wilder than a Rainforest Cafe.
In terms of spectacle, at least, sometimes they really don’t make ’em like they used to. One year before The African Queen, MGM had a box-office smash with an unapologetically hokey and grandly enjoyable take on H Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (Apple TV), substantially changing the novel to accommodate a female co-lead in Deborah Kerr, and given enthralling sweep by months of arduous location shooting across Africa, all in iridescent Technicolor.
It was the model that Spielberg emulated – along with more cheap-and-cheerful gung-ho serials of the 20s and 30s – when Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981; Amazon Prime) irresistibly revived the romantic wilderness romp. It declared “the return of the great adventure” in its tagline and launched both a franchise and assorted imitators – among them, neatly enough, a lesser, jokier remake of King Solomon’s Mines. More happily, it probably gave us the spry, sparky Romancing the Stone and its copy-pasted but still charming sequel, The Jewel of the Nile (both on Disney+), two frenetically busy throwback capers set in Colombia and north Africa respectively, modernised by the flinty, distinctly 80s interplay between Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas.
Take the romance out of the wild-adventurer genre, however, and you’re generally left with a very different beast, one where the ugly colonialist underpinnings and leading western perspective of such stories are more pointedly foregrounded. This is the world of Fitzcarraldo (1982; BFI Player), Werner Herzog’s magnificently deranged hubris study; Apocalypse Now (1979; BFI Player), Coppola’s Vietnam psychedelic meltdown of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; or The Lost City of Z (2016; Amazon), James Gray’s exquisitely wistful, grass-is-greener ode to the restless explorer’s curse. It’s not as much fun as The Lost City, admittedly, but a useful chaser to the latter film’s frolics.
Also new on streaming and DVD
Now available for home viewing just as the Roe v Wade withdrawal has put reproductive rights on everyone’s mind, Audrey Diwan’s quietly searing, Venice-winning study of a young student (Anamaria Vartolomei) attempting to secure an illegal abortion in 1960s France hits like a ton of bricks. No rhetoric or polemic here: just an unblinking, exactingly evoked portrayal of the personal strains and costs of this denied right.
Handing a vast budget to dark-arts indie talent Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) to make a Viking epic was never going to result in a conventional blockbuster, and thank goodness for that. Roughly drawn from the Norse myth that also inspired Hamlet, this viscerally realised, morally ambivalent revenge quest is both hyper-physical and fixated on the divine.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Sam Raimi effectively laid the blueprint for the modern Marvel movie with his Spider-Man outings; there were high hopes that his returning to the superhero realm would push things forward a bit. So this second solo outing for Benedict Cumberbatch’s magic maestro is a disappointingly perfunctory one, lent some genre-crossing interest by lightly grotesque horror flourishes, but heavy on synthetic visuals and played-out, franchise-merging scripting.
July 16, 2022 at 12:37PM Guy Lodge