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'Congo's' Faux-Gorilla Instincts Beat 'Jurassic's' Extincts

June 15, 1995|LYNN SMITH | Lynn Smith is a staff writer for the Times' Life & Style section.

In "Congo," a diamond company executive in search of lost colleagues, a primatologist in search of a home for his gorilla and a Romanian explorer in search of an ancient lost city find those things and more on an expedition into the forests of Zaire. (Rated PG-13)


The critics be darned.

Savvy grade-school children were well aware that adult critics didn't like this adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel--too cheesy, they said; too scary. But it worked for kids. Hey, they've already bought all the action figures.

It was better, they said, than the book. Better even than another adventure film made from a Crichton book, "Jurassic Park." An encounter with a wild gorilla, no matter how far-fetched, is more possible than running into a dinosaur, the children said.

"It was great," said Ramzi Fawaz, 11. "It wasn't scary, but it was shocking. Amazing shocking."

What kept the children wide-eyed was the search team's discovery of a new breed of killer gorillas. In the story, the pale, shaggy gorillas had been bred from biblical times to protect diamonds mined by King Solomon at the Lost City of Zinj. The gorillas are vicious, surely too frightening for young or sensitive children, but thrilling for those who can take the excitement.

"It had a lot of blood scenes in it, but it made it interesting," said Arezu Iranipour, 14, who was impressed by the human heart thrown by a killer gorilla.

But the gorillas' violence was more implied than shown. For instance, "You don't see him tear the [man's] eye out," Ramzi observed. "You just see the eye."

The humans retaliate with an arsenal of high-tech laser weapons.

If anything frightened Ramzi out of his seat, it was the victims' screams, magnified through digital sound. Others liked the realistic effect of hearing rain in the forest and the sloshing sound of mud.

"It made it more like you were actually with them on the hunt and getting eaten," said Ladan Amini, 12.

It was clear to most kids that the gorillas were mechanical; if they couldn't tell, "It said so in the credits," pointed out Steven Norris, 12.

No matter, they were more than willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of a good scare and the fun of watching people encounter gorillas. Girls enjoyed Amy, the research gorilla who has been taught sign language. "C-u-u-u-ute!" said Ladan and her twin sister, Laily, in unison.

They also liked diamond company executive Karen Ross, who pays back her boss for his greed and insensitivity by blowing up his satellite. She's the steeliest and smartest member of the party.

The only complaint 13-year-old Robert Antenore had with the movie was that the actors weren't as scared as he was. If he ran into a male silver-back gorilla thumping his chest in a rain forest, he said, he'd run.

"When they'd see the gorillas, it was like, 'Oh, my!' In real life, you'd be so shocked that you might die of shock."

Ramzi also thought it was about half an hour too long.

Even so, he said, it deserved more from Siskel and Ebert than the two thumbs down it got.

On its first weekend, the movie led at the box office with $25.2 million in ticket sales. So, in this case, kids get the last word.

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