Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Female Comic Strip Character Movie No. 9: SHEENA QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE

Sheena riding a real zebra

Some movies earn a reputation as bad but some eventually develop a cult following because they are funny when they aren't supposed to be. Sheena Queen of the Jungle is just that kind of film.

Comic book Sheena

TV Sheena Irish McCalla

First, the background of the character. Sheena was created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger, under the pen name W. Morgan Thomas, for a company called Fiction House. Sheena had already been adapted for TV in the mid-50s staring Irish McCalla, who looked exactly like the comic book Sheena. Same body proportions too, which is incredible considering that there couldn't possibly be a woman built like that in real life.

That is one of the problem with this adaption of Sheena. Tanya Roberts (Charlie's Angels, That 70s Show) is beautiful and sexy, but not an imposing figure like the comic book Sheena and Irish McCalla. You might say she is not scary enough to be Sheena.

The plot involves a coup of an African country by the king's wife and his football player brother, who are planing to wipe out a tribe protected by the king, take the land for a mineral that is a miracle cure. This just happens to be the tribe that raised Sheena. The tribe shaman (played by a lady name Elizabeth of Toro) teaches Sheena how to communicate with the animals by holding her forehead and closing her eyes. It looks cool when the shaman lady does this, but when Tanya Roberts does it, she looks like she's suffering from a migraine or bad PMS. This power was not in the Sheena comics or the Sheena TV series. I believe the writers stole this from Aquaman.

I should point out the origin story in the movie is much simpler than the one in the comics, however, explaining either origin story to you would be take way to much time. In the comics, Sheena had a civilized, male friend named Bob, who was a hunter/explorer. In the movie, she befriends a TV journalist named Vic Casey, played by Ted Wass (Soap, Blossom). Sheena calls him "Vicasey."

One of the highlights of this film is Sheena taking a shower under a waterfall. When this film was released, the late Roger Ebert joked would be the first PG movie that should play continuously on the Playboy Channel. Now, if you are waiting for me to complain about the nudity as with my review of Friday Foster, you will be waiting a while. For one thing, it fits with the character. In the origin, at the beginning of the film, we see that for about the first ten years of her life, Sheena didn't wear a shirt. Second, she is taking a shower. Even a woman who has grown up in the jungle knows you don't take a shower with your clothes on. Third, and the main reason I'm not complaining (other than seeing Tanya Roberts naked is awesome), is Sheena was occasionally naked in the comics too.

Sheena is wet and naked in the comics

Before someone launches in some stupid Facebook meme version of revisionist history and tells me "But Sheena was from the good old days, when people liked Shirley Temple instead of Honey Boo-Boo,"  let me break it to you gently. Sheena's comic books came about before what was known as the Comic Book Code of Authority. Among the things banned in the Comic Book Code was nudity. Yes Virginia, there was some nudity in comic books in those days. Not the major companies, but the company that Sheena was published by was so notorious that the Comic Book Code put them out of business. Half of things banned by the Comic Book Code were things that Fiction House, and the companies other imprints, were almost trademarks of that company. Nobody noticed Sheena's nudity, when the company's crime comics were filled with open-eyed corpses, big-breasted hookers, crooked cops, suicides and slashed throats.  

The problem with this movie is that it seems to be two different movies slammed together. It starts off great with the origin story, then they bring in the coup part that never makes sense, and then there is the romantic story of Sheena and Vic. Another problem is the action sequences featuring the mercenary soldiers range from extremely violent to looking like outtakes from The Gods Must Be Crazy.

The same could be said for the animals. Usually in movie, the chimpanzees upstage the human actors. The chimps in this movie act like they don't know what they are doing. There is a scene when probably looked good on paper but the animals didn't cooperate. When Sheena and Vic kiss in the "Land of Waterbirds," the birds were supposed to fly away. Only half of the did and the other half stand still like "Hey, let's watch this couple kiss." The waterbirds also look silly when Sheena has them attack a helicopter she is held hostage in. Instead of looking like a scene from The Birds, it looks a group of flamingos came and sat down in a helicopter.

Tanya Roberts riding a fake zebra

One of the things this film is most famous for is Sheena's pet zebra, which was a white horse with black stripes painted on it, because zebra's couldn't be trained to let a woman (even one as hot as Tanya Roberts) ride them. I remember this being in the news, because it was the first time I heard of animal rights activist.

She is wicked with that bow & arrow

The editing on this movie is not tight. The scenes go on longer than they should. The climactic scene with Sheena, Vic and the King's brother is one of the best moments of the film (photo above), but would be much better if it didn't take so long. The same goes for the waterbirds attacking the helicopter.

This movie also suffers from one of the most boring musical scores ever. It is certainly not made for a comic book inspired movie. More of a chick flick score.

While not a great adaptation of the comic book, it is fun in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of way and, of course, Tanya Roberts is naked.  

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