Romancing the Stone (1984) dir. Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny Devito
“Romancing the Stone” is an important film for both Michael Douglas and Robert Zemeckis. Michael Douglas, whose greatest success as an actor was still the 1970’s cop TV show “The Streets of San Francisco”, had yet to break out as a leading man on the big screen. His rugged adventureman character Jack Colton won over hearts of female audiences and elevated him to the A-List. As for Mr. Zemeckis, it was his first big budget action film, and the film which would catapult him to an A-list director and ready him for his next outing, “Back to the Future”.
Despite this pedigree it’s still just Indiana Jones-lite. A romance novelist finds the man of her dreams while on a quest to bring a lost treasure map to a nasty group of Columbian kidnappers. Mediocre adventure, mediocre comedy and a pretty decent romance are the ingredients of this fluffy Indiana Jones knock-off of the 80’s.
Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a romance novelist, who is first seen typing the last words of her latest novel and then weeping at the romantic finale she's created. While her characters are wistful ladies of love and adventure, her own life is uneventful and boring. She's single and lives alone in a small apartment in NY. But when she gets a call that her sister has been kidnapped in Columbia and the only way to save her life is to bring her captors a lost treasure map to the jungles of South America in exchange for her life, suddenly Wilder's in one of her own adventures.
She's a fish out of water in Columbia and sticks out like a sore thumb. When her bus is ambushed by a nasty Columbian thug, Wilder is dramatically rescued by the handsome Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), an American wanderer with a machete and a shotgun. He's the type of man she's been writing about for years and now they're combing the jungles of South America for buried treasure. Along the way they get into a number of adventures with corrupt officials, Columbian drug lords and Danny Devito.
For fans who want to see the seeds of a great director for he became big time, there’s little evidence of the ambitious Zemeckis would become famous for. His direction is unflashy, and instead lets the chemistry of his stars command the screen and move the film forward. If anything it's a hallmark of Zemeckis' gift with comedy and action, but with both in unimpressive doses.
A crutch on the film is some surprisingly dated 80’s cringe-music from Alan Silvestri. Silvestri’s music sounds like a mix of Harold Faltermeyer synth with sickening saxophone solos. On the new Blu-Ray edition this music plays over the main menu screen, certainly a disincentive to click play and watch the film.
The technical aside, "Romancing the Stone" was always meant to be a vehicle for its stars. And Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner make a great on screen romantic pairing. Turner, one of the 80’s screen goddesses, is a plain Jane in this film. She’s dressed down, wearing little make-up, yet her charming affability and sultry husky voice shines through. Sadly she didn’t have a long career as a leading lady, but in the 80’s there were few more desirable.
Michael Douglas, who produced the film as well, found for himself the ideal vehicle to turn him into a leading man. His Jack Colton is manufactured with the exact same Indiana Jones-like charm, toughness and mystery. Colton is supposed to be part hero, part con man and Douglas has enough untrustworthiness to sell us both these qualities. A series of roles after “Stone” and it's sequel "Jewel of the Nile" would lead up to his Oscar win for “Wall Street” solidifying his place equal to his father in cine-history.
"Romancing the Stone" and "Jewel of the Nile" aren't bad films, but they certainly hasn't added any lustre added to it since 1984/85. These films serves best as nostalgia-pieces of 80's romance and adventure in the time of Indiana Jones. Enjoy.
"Romancing the Stone" and its sequel "Jewel of the Nile" are available on Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment