Release Date: August 17th, 1984 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: John Guillermin Actors: Tanya Roberts, Ted Wass, Donovan Scott, Elizabeth of Toro, France Zobda, Trevor Thomas
hil and Betsy Ames, along with their toddler daughter Janet, stumble onto sacred Zambouli land, where a bizarre ceremony takes place. A sick, tumor-covered man is buried in the ground up to his neck and then removed, completely cured, proving the existence of the legendary healing earth. The two geologists investigate the nearby cavern, presumed to be the source of the miraculous dirt, but are killed when it collapses. This leaves the little blonde girl to be cared for by the tribe and raised by witch-doctor Shaman (Elizabeth of Toro), who bestows upon her the name Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.
When ex-football player Prince Otwani (Trevor Thomas) discovers a wealth of titanium on the Zambouli territory in Tigora, governed by his older brother King Jabalani (Clifton Jones), he conspires with Princess Zanda (France Zobda) to steal it. The princess is engaged to the king, but plots to kill him and blame it on Shaman, who has been wrongfully imprisoned. At the Azan airport, Otwani is greeted by film director Vic Casey (Ted Wass) and his cameraman Fletch (Donovan Scott), who are tasked with recording the evening’s celebratory dinner. They not only catch the assassination on film, but also accidentally document the murder weapon – a metal crossbow stationed in a tree, and not the wooden Zambouli bow planted on Shaman. That evening, the now adult Sheena (Tanya Roberts) comes to the city to destroy the prison where Shaman is held, flattening the fortress with an elephant and storming away on her trusty zebra. With Otwani’s betrayal at risk for exposure, he orders mercenary soldier Colonel Jorgensen (John Forgeham, a precursor to “Jurassic Park’s” Muldoon) and his small army to dispose of the witnesses.
At first glance, with the lead character capable of communicating telepathically with wildlife, traipsing about in skimpy leather garments, and intently focused on salvation (and revenge), “Sheena” would appear as a female-oriented, convenient replica of recent theatrical release “The Beastmaster” – and, to a lesser degree, “Conan the Barbarian” and “Deathstalker.” With “Red Sonja” and “Barbarian Queen” opening the following year, the potential for further swords-and-sorcery epics to produce profits would justify such spinoffs. But Sheena’s origins date back to a 1930’s comic book character, predating even Wonder Woman, marking this film as derivative in visual subject matter only. Her powers are much less fantastical, however, with more realistic settings and no over-the-top voodoo. But the sparse originality isn’t helped by the fact that Tanya Roberts co-starred in “The Beastmaster” and that once again her acting is noticeably deficient.
For someone raised by the Zambouli people, Sheena oddly has no accent. Typically and expectedly, she’s not nearly rugged enough to plausibly withstand her harsh environment. To make her appear more formidable, Vic is even further out of his element, requiring Sheena’s assistance to do seemingly simple acts of self preservation. Although she swings from trees like Tarzan, has a band of lions at her side for protection, and is accompanied by spirited theme music from Richard Hartley (which at times is good enough to surpass the B-movie vibe of this production), her physical daintiness, fairness, and cleavage take center stage (the amount of her nudity borders on comical, even when it’s not supposed to be).
The adventure is mediocre at best (save for the climactic final action sequence, also complemented by the music, which is actually outstanding), the romance is supremely campy, and the running time is at least 30 minutes too long. But the use of exotic Kenyan animals is quite enjoyable. Lions relax on top of Vic’s car, a massive rhinoceros tromps into view, elephants toss around enemy guards, monkeys signal danger or launch grenades, gazelles sprint through the brush, and Sheena bareback rides on a zebra. Tanya Roberts may occasionally look the part, but she simply can’t act it.
– Mike Massie