Fox // 1984 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // August 29th, 2006
She's a girl from the big city. He's a reckless soldier of fortune. For a fabulous treasure, they share an adventure no one could imagine...or survive.
In the spirit of the Indiana Jones-Star Wars action adventure films of the early '80s, someone within 20th Century Fox thought it would be a nice idea if they created an action adventure film with a female protagonist, where the male co-star could carry the action and the female could carry the story. As close to a celluloid version of a Harlequin Romance novel as there is, and even after an earlier version of the film existed on store shelves, is Romancing the Stone worth the double dip?
Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner, Body Heat) was a well-reputed romance novelist who lived a bit of irony. While she could generate well-appreciated and adored literary works, those works hardly reflect Joan's life, rather it was a vision of how Joan envisioned romance, where the rugged cowboy would save the damsel (who could still fight for herself), as the pair rode off into the sunset.
Joan's life takes an unexpected turn when her sister Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor, Amy's Orgasm) is kidnapped while in Colombia after Elaine's murdered husband sends a treasure map to Joan shortly before his murder. Joan is ordered to bring the map to Colombia or her sister "gets it" like her husband did. She is closely watched her initial few hours in Colombia, until the man who had followed her from New York turns up in Colombia to kill her. As it turns out, the man (played by Manuel Ojeda, On Wings of Eagles) is a high-ranking Colombian officer. Joan is saved during the ambush, presumably by Joan's fictitious handsome male character, played by Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas, Wall Street, The Game). Jack and Joan race to save Joan's sister (Jack on Joan's $375 in American Express Traveler's Cheques) and find a priceless jewel in the process.
What is it about Romancing the Stone that makes it such a popular movie after all these years? Is it that a young director named Robert Zemeckis directed this film shortly before Back to the Future? Maybe it's because Kathleen Turner was still feminine looking (and sounding) at this point? Whatever the reason is, of all the films in the '80s that I grew up watching, Romancing the Stone was the hot chocolate with marshmallow in my film-watching diet. It was an adventure film with action that wasn't gory, sex that wasn't explicit and just enough action to make things palatable.
And every little bit of this made the film work. Turner's "helpless romantic transformed into Oprah-clone female empowerment coordinator" should be a role model for most of the female leads in film these days. I mean, the beautiful woman who makes herself ugly and endures all kinds of maltreatment is getting a bit redundant right now. Considering that Turner almost lucked into the role (which was originally offered to fellow '80s eye candy actress Debra Winger), Turner does wonders in the role and it's hard to imagine anyone else. This has been one of, if not my favorite roles that Douglas has been in, and in knowing the family history, watching him transform himself from successful producer into charismatic actor and seeing that this was the role that essentially cemented his career transformation is still something to see. Zemeckis (along with Diane Thomas' screenplay) certainly helps to accentuate the moments that need it. Whether it's the "dumb luck" where Douglas finds almost any Colombian he encounters speaks near-perfect English or it's the chase scenes involving Turner, Douglas, and Danny DeVito (who plays one of the kidnappers), it's all action that's tight but not too tight, with more of a serial feel to it than other films since that time.
Though the film was released on DVD way back when, the newer version includes some extra material, as opposed to the first release which had, well, not much. There are eight deleted scenes (that run about 19 minutes in length) which are surprisingly in anamorphic widescreen and all are in pretty good shape after all these years. Some are alternate takes of the same dialogue, so it's understandable why they were left out of the final cut. There's a new look back at the film featuring old and new interviews with the principals (what the hell is up with Michael's beard?) with the exception of Zemeckis, as they remember the fun on and off set at the time, along with the requisite thoughts on each other and their director. A quick look at Thomas' script and her life is discussed (Thomas died in a car crash in a Porsche that Douglas had bought for her), followed by some scene-specific remembrances by Douglas, Turner, and DeVito.
Two things stand out to me when it comes to how much this disc is lacking. The first is in the audio department. With so many gunshots, environmental sounds (like rain and waterfalls), and cool action moments, one would think that you could take the extra time and remix the film into a perfectly acceptable six channel mix. Instead all that's here is a two-channel surround mix that's good, but not great. Also, the lack of a commentary by Douglas, Turner and DeVito (or even a track including Zemeckis) borders on offensive. To hear that trio reminisce on this film (and Jewel on the Nile) surely would have been a fun track to hear.
In an era where movie superheroes were pumped out like pieces of candy from a factory, to not only see Romancing the Stone take a step in a different direction and do it well was nice to see. Aside from some cheesy visual effects, the movie has held up two decades after the fact, and it's a definite must-watch title for those in your family who want something different than what's out now.
Not guilty. Now if you'll excuse this justice, he has to go feed some snappers.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes