The Emerald Forest


Reviewed by: Andrea Mullaney

John Boorman's eco-fable is like a right-on Tarzan without the patronising view of natives, or the friendly animals. Based on a true story, it begins with a rapid kidnap as the little son of an American engineer, working in the Amazon rainforest, is stolen away by a local tribe that raise him as one of their own. It's every parent's nightmare but the fallout is skipped by the film which then jumps forward 10 years to when the father (played with steely stoicism by Powers Boothe) suddenly rediscovers Tommy, who barely remembers any other life outside the jungle.

That's where the primitive-adapting-to-civilisation scenes come in, as it becomes clear that the young man is happier away from the cruelties of the modern world. But not safer, as ruthless developers are threatening to destroy the land that sustains Tommy's tribe, the Invisible People, who have never had contact with the outside world.

The mix of thriller, ecological treatise and family drama is a little uneasy and the film staggers in parts, as the plot gets somewhat clunky. Although Boorman clearly intends to portray the Brazilian tribe sympathetically, they don't manage to escape the "noble savage" stereotype and some of the mystical elements are dubiously done.

Still, the movie's heart is in the right place and its message is probably, if anything, more relevant today than when it came out in 1985. Though the casting of Boorman's son Charlie (these days better known as Ewan McGregor's biker mate from their Long Way Round world trip) as Tommy might seem like nepotism, this is no Sofia Coppola Godfather III disaster, as Boorman Jr gives a sweet and endearing performance.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2005
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The Emerald Forest packshot
White boy who lived with Brazilian Indians returns to a modern world he does not understand.
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Director: John Boorman

Writer: Rospo Pallenberg

Starring: Charley Boorman, Powers Boothe, Meg Foster, Estee Chandler, Dira Paes, Eduardo Conde, Ariel Coellio, Peter Marinker, William Rodriguez, Yara Vaneau

Year: 1985

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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