Fox // 1984 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 23rd, 2008
She's a girl from the big city. He's a reckless soldier of fortune. For a fabulous treasure, they share an adventure that no one could imagine...or survive.
"One hell of a morning has turned into one bitch of a day!"
Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner, Body Heat) writes romantic adventure novels. Her bodice-ripping tales involve a strong damsel who nonetheless finds herself in distress, heartless villains, and a rugged hero whose face is always obscured by some sort of sexy shadow. She dreams of living the sort of life her fictional heroines do, but at the moment is stuck in her little apartment with her cat. Then (as you might have guessed) something happens. Joan's brother-in-law is murdered. Before he died, he sent Joan a very special map that leads to treasure in Columbia. Of course, some greedy Columbian villains want to get their hands on the map, so they...um...kidnap Joan's sister (I would have just gone for the map itself, personally).
Anyway, Joan is contacted by the villains, and informed that she needs to bring them the map in order to get her sister back. Joan is quite nervous about plunging into such a situation, but she is determined to do whatever it takes to get her sister back. Before you can say "Indiana Jones knockoff," Joan is trapped in the Columbian jungles, being chased by evil men with big guns and being protected by Jack Colton (Michael Douglas, Wonder Boys), an Indiana Jones knockoff. Jack is a total jerk, and he treats Joan quite badly at first. Joan views Jack as a chauvinist, and spends much of her time getting irritated at him. But since when has poor chemistry ever kept two sexy movie stars from ultimately recognizing each other's awesomeness. In no time at all, Jack and Joan are allies, fighting together to save Joan's sister, find the treasure, beat the bad guys, and ensure that many hijinks ensue.
Seven things related to Romancing the Stone and this Blu-ray release that annoy me, irritate me, and/or disappoint me.
Producer Michael Douglas says that he initially did not want to play the role. He just wanted to produce, and give the part of Jack Colton to another actor. He should have gone with his gut feeling on that one. Douglas can be a fantastic actor, particularly when playing businessmen in various states of distress (The Game, Falling Down, Wall Street, etc.). However, I don't buy him as a rugged action hero who has been living in the jungle for years. We never accept him as the character, but instead see him as Michael Douglas playing a character.
The villains are incredibly boring. These guys never even bother to twirl their mustaches. They just walk around looking grumpy and shooting at people. This movie is in desperate need of an evil psychopath, or at least a monologuing smooth-talker.
The direction by Robert Zemeckis suffers from poor pacing. The funny scenes are not well-timed, often repeating the joke once too often or adding an unnecessary beat. The action scenes can't find a consistent speed, so the thrills come in inconsistent spurts. Zemeckis is frequently killing his momentum, forcing the movie to try and build up our excitement over and over and over again.
Mark Rosenthal, co-screenwriter of The Jewel of the Nile, declares that Romancing the Stone is a very influential movie that served as the template for all of the action-adventure films that followed. I nearly choked on my Sankara Stones. Did Mr. Rosenthal forget about a certain action-adventure franchise that began in 1981? I sincerely doubt that Romancing the Stone would have even been made without the massive success of Raiders of the Lost Ark just three years earlier.
The score by composer Alan Silvestri dates the film rather badly. Silvestri can write a fine orchestral score (The Abyss, for instance), so why did he elect to use so many questionable synthesizer noises? The making-of featurette likes to mention how "timeless" the movie is. The music most assuredly prevents that, and I imagine much of it felt inappropriate even back in 1984.
The screenplay by Diane Thomas (who tragically passed away shortly after the film was released) never takes any chances. There isn't a single moment here that isn't telegraphed well in advance. Unlike the Indiana Jones films it impersonates, there's never a sense of anticipation about what sort of wild thing might be around the corner.
The supplements are ported over from the DVD "Special Edition," which was really not very special. We get a twenty-minute remembrance of the film, three super-short featurettes that are essentially cobbled together from bits left out of the remembrance, and just under twenty minutes of deleted scenes. These are obnoxiously self-congratulatory and insubstantial, and director Robert Zemeckis is nowhere to be found. After twenty-plus years, you would think he would find the time to do a commentary or at least provide an interview for the film that really launched his career.
Three things that I actually like about Romancing the Stone and this release.
The hi-def transfer is a sturdy one. There is some notable grain throughout the film, but the print is clean and sharp overall, with solid flesh tones and deep blacks. The 5.1 sound mix here is a bit of an improvement over the 2.0 mix on the DVD release, but I do think that the film is rather flat in terms of audio.
Danny DeVito is genuinely entertaining in his role as the double-crossing Ralph. There is one scene in particular when he runs away from some baddies while blinding firing his gun backwards that makes me laugh every time. It's a shame his role here is kind of small.
Even if I'm not quite sold on Michael Douglas playing this role, I do find his scenes with Kathleen Turner reasonably appealing. The quiet scenes are the best moments in the movie. I could do without all the gun battles, car chases, and waterfalls...but I do treasure the scene of Douglas and Turner sitting around a campfire, tossing giant bags of weed into the flames and bringing peace to the jungle.
Romancing the Stone isn't a bad movie, just an awkward one that never really quite works for me. Obviously some of you disagree, as the movie has been quite successful and has many fans. If you are one of those fans, I'd be cautious about picking up this Blu-ray release. The $40 retail is pretty painful for a hi-def presentation of an older film that doesn't offer anything new in terms of bonus features. Maybe next year someone will put together a 25th Anniversary edition that actually has some meat on it's bones.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes