THE EMERALD FOREST
Many of John Boormans earlier films radiate with a mysticism Boorman is frequently concerned with the mystical relationship between man and nature. In particular, The Emerald Forest brings out many of the underlying themes that drove Deliverance. Over both films, there hangs the presence of a man-made dam that is diverting a river from its natural course and is seen as a symbol of modern progress corrupting the natural environment. Both films are also about white men moving out of their comfort zone in civilization and undergoing a nightmare journey into the wilderness that eventually proves a dramatically life-transforming experience.
The Emerald Forest is a beautifully directed film. The locations are superbly photographed and John Boorman manages to capture a sense of cultural authenticity in the native rituals. Boorman and his crew ventured into the jungle around various parts of Brazil and cast real natives in the roles. During these scenes, Boorman invests the Invisible People with a genuine mysteriousness, which is no more magically demonstrated than the first scene where they hide camouflaged in the jungle only feet away from where Powers Boothe stands and then reach out still unseen to caress young Tommys face with a feather.
Yet for all that you are admiring The Emerald Forest as a beautifully directed film, it feels moribund on a story level. While a better-made film technically and stylistically, The Emerald Forests sympathies are not any different from Italian schlock films like Deep River Savages (1972) and Cannibal Ferox (1981). It feels as though John Boormans regular screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg does no more than recycle the cliches of white men meet the natives films, overlaying them with a heavy dose of modern environmentalist concern about the despoliation of the rainforest. The Emerald Forests conflicts seem like cliches white men bring guns and alcohol and brutally exploit the natives, civilization and the inexorable march of progress destroys the rainforest, while the simplicity of the natives lifestyle is portrayed with something that borders on the utopian in its uncontaminated purity. (That said, one should be mindful that The Emerald Forest was first film to bring up the issue of environmentally endangered Amazonian rainforest).
The upshot of the film seems to be a black-and-white dichotomy that essentially says that civilization is bad and that native culture is infinitely superior in its untouched innocence. Indeed, The Emerald Forest is a film that is not unlike Forrest Gump (1994) and its naive belief in the superiority of looking at the world through the eyes of the simple-minded. At no point do some of the advantages that civilization might offer enter into the films frame of reference that modern medicine may be superior to a life where health problems could only be dealt with by herbal remedies, that having a police force or army might be of some advantage when dealing with marauding enemy tribes trying to enslave your women. There is the odd image where the natives encounter civilization and we see things through their eyes their viewing the edge of the forest as the Edge of the World, seeing that the logging operations are tearing the skin off the Earth and wondering why the world is getting smaller. These moments offer an interesting and uncliched outlook but there is not nearly enough of this to the film.
The opening credit for The Emerald Forest also makes the claim that the film is based on a true story. The film was apparently based on an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in the early 1980s and concerned a father whose son was abducted by natives tribes and rediscovered ten years later, although there has been some doubt placed on whether this story was true or made up. When it comes to the magical realist ending, which pushes The Emerald Forest over into fantasy, with frogs being conjured up to create a rainstorm that floods and brings down the dam, one realizes that John Boorman is ultimately spinning a tall tale with his true story claim.
John Boormans other genre films: the Backwoods Brutality film Deliverance (1972); the pretentious sf film Zardoz (1974); Excalibur (1981); Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977); and the doppelganger film The Tigers Tail (2006). Boorman also produced the children film Dream One (1984). In more recent years, John Boorman has interestingly announced plans for conducting an animated version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.