Based on a 1979 novel my Michael Crichton, Congo is to story of an expedition to the Virunga region of the Congo by a disparate group for differing reasons, all of which have a link to an ancient lost city and it’s incredible diamond mines. Congo opens with an expedition to the Congo to find a specific type of diamonds to be used in a new communication satellite by high-tech communications company Travi-Com. When reporting via satellite link, the company owner’s son, Charles Travis (Bruce Campbell) reports finding the diamonds, but before he can give the location something violent and mysterious happens.
His father and CEO R.B. Travis (Joe Don Baker) immediately instructs another employee (and Charles’ former fiancÃ©e), ex-CIA operative Dr Karen Ross (Laura Linney) to travel to the Congo to find the diamonds and his son, the order of importance of these goals is a point of contention between the two. Needing to travel quickly, Dr. Ross is forced to search for a pre-existing expedition.
At the same time, Dr Peter Elliott (Dylan Walsh), an expert in primate behaviour, is finding his star pupil sign-language using mountain gorilla Amy, is having difficulty, and he determines to return her to the Congo mountains of her birth. The expedition is part funded by Romanian philanthropist/diamond hunter Herkermer Homolka (Tim Curry) who is convinced that King Solomon had a diamond mine in the Congo and that Amy has seen it in her youth and can lead them to it. The expedition led by local guide Munro Kelly (Ernie Hudson) who describes himself and the great white hunter who happens to be black. Congo follows the fortunes of the expedition as they encounter threats from local civil unrest, to hippo attacks, to the mysterious guardians of the lost city of Zinj.
There is no doubt that this film is an old-fashioned jungle adventure, with generally broad performances and a rapid pace, but there is great fun to be had here. The performances, are generally good, making the characters engaging and likeable. Tim Curry is having a great time with the most comedic performance in the film and makes the unpleasant Homolka an enjoyable character. Amy the gorilla is a perfectly serviceable gorilla costume made by Stan Winston, (admittedly it might be my unfamiliarity with female mountain gorillas and mental image of a gorilla as a silverback male that taints the costume), but features an excellent suit performance, giving Amy personality and emotion through both her body language and use of sign language.
Overall, the film has excellent production values, with good casting, music and special effects, but the direction, by long-time Spielberg producer Frank Marshall, shows that his excellent talents might not extend to directing as well as producing. Towards the end of the film the violent action becomes strangely edited, a mixture of fast cuts and slow motion giving the impression of violence, but hiding what is going on. I’m not sure if this is a stylistic decision, or dictated by trying to get a specific certificate for the film. The jungle adventure sub-genre does not have a lot of modern films in it, and remains a bit of a throwback, but Congo provides a spirited, fast-paced entry and an enjoyable watch.