Sheena

Tagged: Film | TV

1. Film (1984; vt Sheena, Queen of the Jungle). Colgems Productions, Ltd/Columbia Pictures. Produced by Paul Aratow. Directed by John Gullermin. Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr and David Newman from a story by Leslie Stevens and Newman. Based on the Comics character created by Will Eisner and S M "Jerry" Iger. Cast includes Clifton Jones, Elizabeth of Toro, Tanya Roberts, Donovan Scott, Trevor Thomas, Ted Wass and France Zabda. 117 minutes. Colour.

Young Janet Ames/Sheena (Roberts) is orphaned at the age of about six when her parents die in a cave-in exploring a cavern in the fictitious African kingdom of Tigora, after finding soil with incredible healing properties. The child's discovery by the Zambuli people seems to fulfil a legend that a "golden Goddess" from the mountain would become their and the jungle's protector. Janet is adopted by Shaman (Elizabeth of Toro) and named Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Raising her to young adulthood, Shaman teaches Sheena how to communicate with animals by Telepathy; she also becomes expert with the bow and arrow, and in general jungle lore.

Meanwhile in the Tigoran capital, King Jabalani (Jones) is assassinated by his younger brother, Prince Otwani (Thomas); Shaman is framed for this by Otwani and Countess Zanda (Zabda), who conspire to seize the throne and exploit Zambuli titanium deposits. US sportscaster-journalist Vic Casey (Wass) and his cameraman Fletcher (Scott) accidentally film the real murder, but before they can use this evidence Sheena arrives with animal friends – including an elephant – and breaks Shaman out of prison. Following them into the jungle, the journalists are mistaken for additional enemies and captured by Sheena. Shaman dies of a bullet wound inflicted during the escape; Sheena now organizes a defence against Otwani's mercenaries while Vic captures a military truck. She leads her Zambuli to easy victory and pursues the fleeing Otwani on her zebra, only to be nearly run over by him. Vic saves her, receiving serious burns; Sheena heals him with her parents' miraculous soil. Though they have fallen in love, Vic decides that Sheena (and the soil) should remain hidden for her own protection; a deeply saddened Sheena watches his and Fletcher's aeroplane fly away.

Sheena, the only feature film to date about this Tarzan-like female character, was released between two Television series: Sheena, Queen of the Jungle (1955-1956) and 2 below. The film was roundly derided and, though perhaps somewhat better than its detractors claimed, was a major box office failure. Perhaps thanks to his collaborators' influence, Semple's screenplay is less campy than his work for Batman (1966-1968). [GSt]

2. US tv series (2000-2002). Columbia TriStar Television/Sony Pictures Entertainment. Created by Douglas Schwartz. Directors included Scott Paulin, Joe Cassar, Carl Weathers. Writers included Steven L Sears, Babs Greyhosky, Bill Taub. Cast includes Margo Muaro, John Allen Nelson (Matt Cutter) and Gena Lee Nolin. 35 50-minute episodes. Colour.

This was the second US Television series based on the Comics character Sheena, Queen of the Jungle created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger in the 1930s and most conveniently described as a female Tarzan. The twenty-first-century version presents Sheena (Nolin) as the daughter of archaeologists who had died in an accident in a fictional African nation when she was roughly six years old. While reared to some degree by various jungle animals, she also had local sorceress Kali (Muaro) as a kind of foster parent. This incarnation of Sheena is considerably less innocent than her 1950s counterpart and possesses more dramatic supernatural abilities, primarily being able to Shapeshift into virtually any jungle creature, including deadly predators and the fear-inspiring mythical "Darak'na". It should be noted that Sheena killed almost as frequently in her human form, and was not above having Sex when expedient to help her defeat opponents. Sheena speaks perfect English here – as was not the case in previous versions – but still possesses her Telepathic ability to communicate with animals. For the most part she faces routine criminals and sometimes hostile military forces. Initially popular, the series declined steadily in the ratings; it was cancelled at the midpoint of the second season. [GSt]

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