Title: Sheena (1984)
Director: John Guillermin
Cast: Tanya Roberts, Ted Wass
Sheena comes to us from director John Guillermin, the mastermind behind King Kong (1976) which by the way is an excellent King Kong movie, yeah it’s got one or two effects that are a bit outdated, but overall, King Kong is a pretty good remake in my book. Unfortunately Guillermin also directed King Kong Lives (1986), the sequel, which is a total joke. It’s the Conan the Destroyer (1984) of King Kong movies, the sequel that is a joke when compared to its original. Not that that’s a bad thing, Conan the Destroyer and King Kong Lives are still fun movies to watch, but because they are ‘bad’, and you know how that goes with me, I love me some cheese. So anyhows, believe it or not, Sheena is a film based on a comic book and an important one at that. Sheena was the first female character to have her own comic book series. She's kind of like the female version of Tarzan, both characters having lots of similarities in background and story. She was created by comic book legend Will Eisner and Samuer Maxwell Iger. The first issue of Sheena was printed as far back as 1937! Producers had been meaning to make this film for a while, and when it finally got green lit with John Guillermin at the helm, cameras were ready to roll. Was Sheena going to be another ‘so bad its good’ movie from director John Guillermin?
First issue of Sheena: Queen of the Jungle
Sheena tells the tale of a little American girl who gets stranded in Africa when her parents die in an earthquake while studying a type of earth that can apparently heal deceases! The baby girl is picked up by an African tribe, and a tribe woman called Shaman, raises Sheena as her own daughter. Shaman eventually teaches Sheena the ability to communicate with all types of animals telepathically. As Sheena grows into a warrior of the tribe, so do her powers. Her abilities are put to the test when Shaman, the woman who raised Sheena, is framed for the murder of a political leader. Can Sheena save Shaman from the clutches of the despotic political leader?
Tanya Roberts was on a roll for a while there during the 80’s. She’d done her part on the Charlies Angels television show replacing Shelley Hack and also did The Beastmaster (1982) for director Don Coscarelli, a film in which she plays a slave girl, a side kick of sorts to Dar, the titular Beastmaster. On that one she had gratuitous nude scenes, wore very little clothes and falls in love with Dar, who had the ability to communicate with animals. Well, Sheena has a few similarities with The Beastmaster, but at the same time, it’s a very different kind of film. Sheena can be seen as a female version of The Beastmaster because both films are about scantily clad heroes who lose their homes at the hands of a villainous leader. Both characters have control over animals, but here’s where the differences step in: while The Beastmaster is a fantasy film filled with swords and magic, Sheena is a bit more rooted in reality, mind you I said “a bit”. After all, Sheena does talk to animals telepathically! But that’s really as close as it gets to a fantasy film. The story has a bit of political intrigue going for it which involves an assassination plot to kill a political leader.
Now here’s where the funny comes in; the worst thing about this movie is the best thing about this movie. I of course speak of the beautiful Tanya Roberts, she’s candy to my eyes, unfortunately her acting isn’t all that great. Her lines are spoken robotically, as if she has trouble speaking the English language because she was brought up by an African tribe, but the fake accent is just terrible. The lines in this movie will have you hollering! It’s not a bad movie to make fun off actually. There’s this moment in which Sheena becomes the leader of her tribe and gives one of these speeches that’s supposed to sound rousing and uplifting, but begins and ends with a whimper, Tanya just couldn’t pull that intense scene off convincingly. She was nominated for the “worst actress” award at The Razzies that year for her performance on Sheena, and deservedly so. She was again nominated for worst actress at The Razzies a couple of years after that for her performance in A View to a Kill (1986). I guess she was the Megan Fox of her day, a beauty with no acting abilities whatsoever.
But no matter how bad of an actress she is, no one can take Tanya Robert’s beauty away from her! Speaking bluntly, Mrs. Robert’s is one ultra hot cookie and I say “is” because I did a search, just to see what she’s looking like today and she’s still looking great! In Sheena, director John Gillermin exploits Tanya Robert’s sexuality every chance he gets, and apparently Mrs. Roberts had no problems with that whatsoever, after all, she had done a nude pictorial for the October 1982 issue of Playboy magazine to promote The Beastmaster, so she’s a lady who has no problems with showing her physical attributes. Sheena has moments that will make the words “gratuitous nudity scene” flash on and off in your mind. There’s this scene in which Sheena is scaling a tree and the camera is looking up… holy moly, if that isn’t gratuitous I don’t know what is! And the scene just goes on and on and on! Tanya Roberts astounding beauty makes me wonder why her career didn’t take off in a bigger way, I mean, worst actresses have made it further on good looks alone. By the way, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Tanya Roberts riding a zebra down the African tundra! So yeah, this film exploited Mrs. Robert’s sensuality and status as 80’s sex symbol.
One of the finer aspects of the film is that it was entirely shot in Africa; which of course helps a medium budget film like this one a lot. I have to hand it to director John Guillermin for taking advantage of the beautiful African locations! The movie might be filled to the brim with bad dialog, but damn those shots of the African landscape are awesome. I also liked how they brought in so many animals for the film, you really do see Sheena interacting with a lot of animals, hypos, giraffes, lions, tigers, rhinos, snakes…there’s all matter of animals on this one, I was surprised to see how close some of these actors got to the lions! Director John Gillermin had previously filmed other films that took place in Africa like Shaft in Africa (1973), which by the way was shot partially in Africa and he’d also shot a couple of Tarzan films entitled Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959) and Tarzan Goes to India (1962) . So all this experience with Africa and animals and heroic characters swinging from vines helped him when the time came to travel to Africa and shoot Sheena. Unfortunately, the script was beyond terrible, the surrounding scenery might have been awe inspiring, but the dialog is pure cheese. The script kept getting re-written and re-written and bouncing from studio to studio before it got green lit, what perplexes me is how the script still ended up being terrible even though it went through so many writers! This proves once again that the rule of thumb for screenplays in Hollywood is, the more writers on any given project, the worse the screenplay is going to be.
Weird thing is that no matter how bad the movie turned out to be, I still ended up watching it to the very end. I wanted to see just how funny things were going to get, the apex of the whole thing for me was when Sheena is swinging from vines like Tarzan and we can clearly see it’s a mannequin that’s doing the swinging! Ha ha ha, that had me cracking up! You can even see strings attached to the dummy! But again, the movie has many good things going for it, it’s got action and adventure, and even a bit of soap opera romance in it. Not as bad as some might have you believe, it’s actually a fun movie. Director John Guillermin’s cinematic career was over after his double knock out of Sheena and King Kong Lives. Sheena was seen as the stinker of the year! Strange how I find both films alluring none the less, I guess it’s that high quotient of 80’s cheese that I love.
Rating: 3 out of 5