RogerBW's Blog

Romancing the Stone 30 September 2023

1984 adventure, dir. Robert Zemeckis, Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner: IMDb / AllMovie. Joan the mousy romance writer has to travel to Colombia to pay off the people who've kidnapped her sister…

it's a thankless task to try to make Kathleen Turner look frumpy, but the makeup team do their best; I couldn't help noticing how much more volume her hair was "spontaneously" generating as the film progressed. Meanwhile a 39-year-old Michael Douglas tries to play a young bouncy action hero (as opposed to the 38-year-old Harrison Ford as Indy, who'd clearly been there and seen that), and to give him credit largely pulls it off.

It's also good to see Danny de Vito as something other than generic comic relief. Yeah, he's a comic bungling crook, but he is still a crook. The real villain does less well: oh, he's a corrupt Colombian government official—the only Colombian government official we meet. It later turns out that he's the deputy chief of the secret police, which suggests to me that if he wanted to catch Joan at the airport he had more tools available to him than just making sure she got on the wrong bus. He looks like the Hollywood stereotype of an ageing pimp, and towards the end he turns into a nigh-unkillable supervillain.

Is it a Raiders ripoff? Diane Thomas wrote the screenplay in 1979; but I'm sure the success of Raiders had an influence on production decisions. It's trying to do pulp action in the modern world, with Colombia as the stock wild and woolly foreign location, and that doesn't quite work.

At the same time, where Raiders places both of its protagonists as familiar with Action World from the beginning, here Joan's clearly the outsider and the viewpoint character. It changes the story dynamic in a way that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, but certainly makes it less of an imitation.

This was expected to be such a failure that the dailies got Zemeckis fired from Cocoon. Instead, it turned out to be a great success, which gave him enough credibility to make Back to the Future. To me it's never great, but never terrible either, and the leads are pleasant to watch; especially Turner, who has the tougher job to do of the person who has to make the transition from "normal person" into Action World.

(There's a sequel, but nobody liked it, starting with the leads.)

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

  1. Posted by John P at 03:52pm on 30 September 2023

    Funnily enough, my better half has just been watching the sequel a few minutes ago. Yes, the bits of it I saw did look painfully bad.

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