The fabled lost city of Zed was supposedly hidden deep in the Amazon, but when discovered it would reveal that the Indian population had created an advanced society well before European civilization developed. That was what Colonel Percy Fawcett hoped to prove in 1925 when he ventured deep into the Amazon.
Today, the movie about Fawcett’s adventure is also a bit difficult to find. In fact, it has been out in various ‘semi-secret’ venues since last October. But we just stumbled upon it locally, and probably only because a new theater opened in town that expanded offerings to some limited distribution films such as this one.
I (Rob) wanted to see this movie, which was based on a non-fiction book with the same title by David Grann, because I’d also written a book about Colonel Fawcett’s adventure more than 25 years ago. It was my fourth Indiana Jones novel, Indiana Jones & the Seven Veils. Gran actually mentioned it as part of the enduring fascination over Fawcett, who never returned from his journey.
That fascination was stimulated by the American press of the day, which reported Fawcett’s adventure every step of the way and continued reporting speculation after he vanished. It turned out that the American press moguls and John D. Rockefeller paid for Fawcett’s exploration. Millions followed Fawcett, today’s equivalent of a social media icon.
Maybe it’s more ironic than synchronistic, but the fact that Amazon Studios produced this movie was an interesting twist. Did they do it intentionally because of the Amazon link, or did they just like the script? Also of interest to Trish and I was the fact that the jungle scenes were filmed near Santa Marta, Colombia. We didn’t know that until we looked it up afterwards.
In fact, early in the movie, we see Indians dressed in white tunics, which reminded me of the Kogi Indians who live high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Santa Marta. In the mid to late ’80s, we led adventure tours to South America and Santa Marta and the ‘Lost City’ of the Sierra Nevada Mountains were one of our destinations. You either had to walk 5 days to get to the Lost City or take a one-hour helicopter flight. We took the helicopter, and on one trip I got left behind and spent the night with the Kogis and a couple of archaeologists at the ruins. Of course, that was good Indy material, later used in Indiana Jones & the Interior World.
As for the movie, it was kind of long, two hours and twenty minutes, and a bit slow in the early going (1905), especially since I knew that Fawcett’s infamous journey took place 20 years later. But I liked the realistic, biographical feel to it. Parts of the movie feature English society a hundred years ago and you get a very strong sense that it was a man’s world and women were extremely limited in their choices and were second-class citizens.
From my point of view, the only thing missing was Indy, and his iconic sense of humor as he searched for Fawcett. But that’s another book. The movie does give a nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark, though, in a scene late in the movie when Percy and his son Jack are fleeing across an open field with tribesmen in close pursuit. But there is no nifty escape on an airplane with pontoons. In this movie, they are captured. An ayahuasca scene follows. (I’m assuming that was what their captors made them drink.) That scene could’ve been much more bizarre and hallucinogenic. However, that would’ve made the movie even longer.
We are left in the end with the uncertainty of whether father and son survived and went on to discover the lost city where they remained as honored guests or slaves, or if they died in the jungle. My guess is that Percy and Jack Fawcett were murdered and eaten for dinner by a cannibalistic tribe. Percy’s wife, played by Sienna Miller, never gave up hope that he and Jack would return one day. She lived until 1954.
Charlie Hunnam did a good job as Colonel Fawcett, but looked more like Brad Pitt, who was originally going to play the role, than Fawcett. There were no exotic special effects, no super heroes…and ultimately no big box office take, even though the movie received impressive positive reviews. No doubt many more will see it when it comes out in video. And it is worth watching.