Sheena: Queen of the Jungle (1984)

Director: John Guillerman
Starring: Tanya Roberts, Ted Wass, Donovan Scott, Elizabeth of Toro, France Zobda, Trevor Thomas, Clifton Jones
Music: Richard Hartley

Sheena: Queen Of The Jungle features former Bond Girl, Tanya Roberts naked, which I would suggest to most Bond fans, makes the film worth one viewing. Sometimes she is covered in a few discreetly placed animal skins, but it doesn’t really matter – this film is all about Tanya Roberts’ body. Which if you’re going to concentrate on Tanya Roberts, it’s definitely her best asset, because the poor girl can’t act to save herself.

The adventure begins in the Kingdom of Tigora, in the land of the Zambouli people. A husband and wife scientific team are traveling with their daughter. They have come to this part of the world because they have heard the legend of a ‘healing earth’. That is, that when some tribesmen have become very sick, by being buried up to their neck’s in this ‘healing earth’ has cured them of their ailments.

The scientists trace the magical earth to some caves within a mountain. They get up early leaving their daughter in the care of some natives. The young daughter is a restless spirit though and sneaks out from one of the tents and follows her parents. As they are inside the caves, the young girl calls out to her Mommy. Mum answers back, but the echo inside the cave causes a rockfall. Both parents end up dead.

Sheena, as the young girl is now called, is brought up by the Shaman of the Zambouli people (Elizabeth of Toro). The Shaman teaches her all about the land and it’s creatures great and small – even teaching her telepathic skills which allow her to communicate with the animals. After a quick montage of Sheena growing up (into Tanya Roberts) with Elephants, Hippos, Chimpanze’s and Snakes, we move forward to the present day.

In the City of Azan, the benevolent ruler, King Jabalani (Clifton Jones) is about to marry Countess Zanda (France Zobda). Arriving for the wedding is the King’s younger brother, Prince Otwani (Trevor Thomas). Otwani has been educated in the United States and has become a Pro American footballer. As a sideline he has also had the Kingdom of Tigora geologically surveyed (via satellite – if that’s possible?) and has discovered that the Zabouli tribe sit on a site of valuable potanium. Now the Prince has big plans. Firstly, he is in cahoots, with the King’s soon to be wife. They both plan to kill him and then take over the Kingdom. With absolute power, they intend to run the Zambouli people off their land and then mine the potanium for all it’s worth.

But the Prince isn’t the only guy who has flown in for the wedding. Two ‘Sports World’ reporters, Vic Casey (Ted Wass) and ‘Fletch’ Fletcher (Donovan Scott) have arrived to cover the event – focussing on the footballing Prince – naturally!

The first part of Otwani and Zanda’s plan works to perfection, as the King is assassinated at his wedding reception. Adding to the plot, the Zambouli people are blamed for the killing. But not everyone buys the setup, especially Casey and Fletcher, who have filmed some evidence that would suggest otherwise. But this is of little consequence to Otwani who has assemble an army to crush anyone who stands in his way.

One of those people is Sheena: Queen Of The Jungle and she has a few tricks up her sleeve. Well she doesn’t really have any sleeves and her outfit is pretty skimpy – let’s just say she has a few tricks but I am not quite sure where she keeps them.

If I was a film producer and had millions of dollars to invest, and you came up to me and pitched the script to Sheena to me, I tell you, I’d give you at least 50 to 75 mill off the bat. What’s not to like? The story has everything – a gorgeous heroine, a courageous hero, honour, loss, betrayal, fantastic locations, action, drama and romance. Unfortunately the story sort of gets ruined by the presentation. Roberts is gorgeous but can’t act – that kills your drama and your romance. Wass is ineffectual as the hero (obviously Doug McClure was too old for the role) – and that kills your action, drama and romance. The music by Richard Hartley is absolute crap. It is Vangelis inspired, which is fine if you’re making a sequel to Chariots Of Fire, but for an African adventure movie, it’s pretty abysmal. It may suit the one or two slow-mo shots as Sheena rides her Zebra, but for any action sequences, it simply renders the scene impotent.

But the film isn’t all crap. The cinematography is excellent, and it all looks like it was filmed on location. There is only one scene that has some jarring rear projection photography. The rest is pure National Geographic. It’s good stuff. And secondly, the person who painted the horse to look like a zebra has a true flare for retro design.

Tanya Roberts' acting on display

Sheena: Queen of the Jungle has just enough merit (only just) to disqualify it from being an exploitation picture, but the film-makers certainly knew what the key ingredient to the film was. It’s not the African locations, or the rollicking adventure story – it’s Tanya Roberts’ body. If Tanya’s body is something that you enjoy looking at, then Sheena: Queen of the Jungle probably qualifies as a decent piece of entertainment. Those who are looking for a little bit more, will have to look elsewhere.

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