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Sheena may be Queen of the Jungle, but the new series does anything but rule.
By Frederick C. Szebin
October 17, 2000
You gotta love female Tarzans. They make a flailing loin cloth mean so much more. In this incarnation of the once-popular blonde babe of darkest Africa, however, Jungle Queen Sheena has been upgraded from just another female Tarzan to a mythical creature that can shape-shift into various animals. And we get to see her do just that thanks to some of the worst CGI morphing footage ever shot. For a TV pilot, which is usually given a little more gloss than the following shows, this is truly terrible effects work. It's practically unforgivable considering the ground the FX teams for Hercules
broke over the past six years.
But at least there's a plot: honorable pilot Cutter (John Allen Nelson) flies some disreputable guys on what Cutter thinks is a rescue mission, but is really a diamond razing expedition. Wanting these evil white men out of her land, Sheena (Gena Lee Nolan) becomes a gorilla and tosses the guys around a little, but takes a wounded Cutter to a nearby village where her mentor (Margo Moorer)the only other person left on the planet who can shape shiftresides. Cutter wins Sheena's confidence and they both go after the diamond thieves to keep them from further robbing even more of loin-cloth-girl's country's wealth and culture.
It seems a natural that Sheena would be a super-environmentalist, but the problem is in the casting. Nolan is quite lovely in skins. One might think that Nolan could make even a trash bag look sexy, but she doesn't carry the sense of strength of, say, a Linda Hamilton or a Sigourney Weaver. There's no presence when she's trying to be threatening. It's like a pissed-off kitten threatening a Bengal tiger. When she demands that the diamond thieves leave her jungle, Nolan gives it as much of a tough spirit as she seems capable of, which isn't much. There's too much of the little girl in her young face. Possibly an older actress with the bearing of maturity would have been a better choice. Olin certainly looks the part, but someone like Jeri Ryan would have nailed it.
There are some nice touches, though. Throughout half the episode, we see Sheena only in glimpses, looking like some supernatural beast (it's only mud). She keeps her targets confused, making the jungle itself seem like the enemy. However, nice as those touches are, they're not enough to save it. The humor, such as it is, falls flat. And except for a few images, the CGI is regrettableit's truly bad. The effect is completely laughable when she morphs into a leopard. High school kids are doing better work than what we are led to believe is a magical moment here.
In general, seams fade away like the hair off of Lon Chaney Jr.'s face instead of molding into the body that Sheena is becoming. The distorting of her head and face simply looks ridiculous, as though someone had drawn her visage on a funny-shaped balloon and began playing with it. And the denouement in the cave with the leader of the gem thieves comes right out of any movie serial with a cave scene in it. In the end, it's just a matter of either firing the CGI crew, or allowing them more computer time.
Want to look at Nolan? Get some pictures off the Internet. Want to see a cool show about a butt-kicking Jungle Goddess who will use all her powers to save Africa? So would I. This surely ain't it.