Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Congo (1995)



Notes: Paramount Pictures.
Primatologist: Dylan Walsh
Karen Ross: Laura Linney
Monroe Kelly: Ernie Hudson
Romanian Cheeseball: Tim Curry
Also starring Grant Heslov, Joe Don Baker

Story: Michael Crichton
Screenplay: John Patrick Shanley
Special Effects: Stan Winston
Music: Jerry Goldsmith

Summary: The Aristotelian notion of unity of place is shattered as captions bounce us around between Mount Mukenko in Africa and, via satellite, Houston, Texas. Expeditionist Charles is reporting to the pseudo-affianced Karen about finding blue diamonds and making a vicious new gun work. When communication ends, a friend whisks Charles away to a yellow pool beyond which he has found an ancient stone temple. Something nasty and horrifying happens, and the next communication to Houston shows mass murder at the campsite. Karen’s boss, Travis, is crass.

We get kicked to Berkeley, California, where a student researcher has taught a female gorilla, Amy, to paint and talk with the help of automated hand-signing translation technology. One mysterious audience member notes that Amy’s paintings replicate an open-eye pattern he has on a ring. She obviously has been to this important place and the image is emerging in her art.

Amy is having nightmares and it is feared she needs to be returned to central Africa since so many captive apes eventually go insane. The mysterious guy, who says he’s Romanian, will fund the journey. Karen coughs up remaining funds and insists on going also. Amy’s trainer is exasperated with “the King Kong myth — the myth of the killer ape.”

An attempted military coup at the airport serves as backdrop, and the savvy Monroe Kelly negotiates their way through it as their guide. It turns out that the Romanian was part of a disastrous expedition some years earlier. He is looking for the lost city of Zinge, King Solomon’s diamond mine. Amy is more interested in lizards and frogs.

Tribe members lead the team to a mauled Bob Driscoll of the previous expedition, who sees Amy and dies in terror. The group endures a nighttime attack by hippos and a gorilla confrontation. When they find the lost city, the primatologist realizes “the myth of the killer ape is true.” Hieroglyphics read, “We are watching you,” and guard-apes keep trying to attack the humans.

It turns out that gorillas were trained — bred to violence — in ancient times to guard the city’s diamond mines, but we decide they turned on their masters. The entire area is undergoing volcanic tremors. Charles is found dead and the Romanian gets greedy about diamonds. Amy helps by acting authoritarian among the apes. Karen reassembles Charles’ weapon and laser-wounds various apes who are now attacking all and killing the Romanian. The rest escape as the city crumbles and the volcano blows.

Karen pitches a fit that her boss is more concerned with the diamonds than the dead Charles and so manages to use the diamond technology to blow up his satellite. The primatologist bids farewell to Amy, who trots off to join the good apes. Humans leave in a balloon.

Commentary: The Amy plot is traditional Disney superimposed on a cliché adventure story. Amy does not end up exhibiting the psychological problems attributed to her and becomes a sideline encumbrance once the blue diamond plot takes over. Not that the authorities would ever have allowed her release after all the research and communication accomplishments. None of that Charles/Karen nonsense ever registers.

But the real questions arise regarding the lost city of Zinge. You’re telling me that this was an outpost during the reign of Solomon? The Jews could barely establish a stable kingdom for one generation three thousand years ago, much less what would have to amount here to an Empire if somehow they were mining blue diamonds in central Africa at that time. You’re telling me they had world explorers that soon after setting up shop? And the trade routes? How did they sneak past … oh … EGYPT?! Also, I have a difficult time picturing them training gorillas to be vicious guard-animals, but maybe that’s just me and my zany stereotyping.

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