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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: Romancing The Stone (1984) – 35th Anniversary

A-RON’S FILM REWIND SERIES TAKES YOU BACK TO 1984 FOR THE 35TH ANNIVERSARY OF DIRECTOR ROBERT ZEMECKIS’ “ROMANCING THE STONE”

Released three years after the huge success of Steven Spielberg’s “Raider’s Of The Lost Ark”. Director Robert Zemeckis’ third feature film “Romancing The Stone”, was considered a  rip-off of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”. This couldn’t be more untrue as the original screenplay to “Romancing The Stone”, had actually been written five years earlier around 1979.

While it’s fun to find an adventure film that deserves the comparison, “Romancing The Stone” couldn’t be more different as both films have a different spirit and sense of humor. The phrase “Romancing the Stone” comes from a piece of jewelers’ jargon, referring to a step in preparing a gem for use in jewelry.

You could describe how “Romancing The Stone” miraculously saved and created a career for Robert Zemeckis as Hollywood officials and studios were convinced that it would be the third strike following the disastrous flops that were his first two films “Used Cars” with Kurt Russell and The Beatles inspired comedy “I Want To Hold Your Hard”. If Zemeckis has found himself with a third flop it would have sent him packing back to the Midwestern backwater where he originated from. 

Studio executives at 20th Century Fox who financed “Romancing The Stone” were so sure the film would flop that Robert Zemeckis was fired from directing “Cocoon” (which went to Ron Howard), even before “Romancing The Stone” opened In Theaters. Zemeckis who was personally hired by actor and producer Michael Douglas to bring an old fashioned adventure vibe to the story. Intended to be infused with lots of humor and just a touch of realistic romance. After 35 years it’s still apparent that it was a great call on the part of Michael Douglas, because “Romancing the Stone” went on to be a big hit with critics and audiences grossing over $115 million in sales and becoming 20th Century Fox’s “only big hit” of 1984. 

“Romancing The Stone” was nominated for Best Film Editing At the Oscars and found itself winning 2 Golden Globes For Best Actress Kathleen Turner and Best Picture (Musical Or Comedy). The success of “Romancing The Stone” then laid the ground work to an unstoppable career for Robert Zemeckis as his next film was “Back To The Future” released the following year, which he was nominated for Best Screenplay at the Oscars. After “Back To The Future” became a phenomenon and is still one of the most celebrated movies in film history, Zemeckis’ career only skyrocketed from there as he went on to direct “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” in 1988, “Back To The Future” Part 2 & 3”, “Forrest Gump” (winner of 6 Oscars including Best Director for Robert Zemeckis) and “Cast Away” (nominated for 2 Oscars). 

Zemeckis owes a lot of his career to “Romancing the Stone”, and since it’s release 35 years ago, he has earned his entry as one of the great filmmakers in movie history. Credit to the success and everlasting impression of “Romancing The Stone” is also owed to Diane Thomas, a struggling screenwriter working as a waitress in Malibu when she pitched the script to producer and star Michael Douglas who optioned her script for $250,000 allowing Thomas to quit her waitress job and become a Hollywood writer. Thomas’s screenplay is playful and fun as it drifts from outright comedy to an outright romance adventure. It never feels contrived; and is one of the most organic adventure-comedies of the last 35 years. 

Becoming one of the most sparkling romantic adventure-comedies of the decade. Diane Thomas, whose promising future career as a screenwriter was cut brutally short. Thomas had died in a car accident, while working on a new film project with Steven Spielberg the following year, about seven weeks before the opening of the “Romancing The Stone” sequel, “The Jewel of the Nile” (1985). She was a passenger while her boyfriend was driving in a Porsche that Douglas had bought for her as a thank you gift. At the closing of “The Jewel of the Nile” was a dedication “In Memory of” Diane Thomas.

As much as Thomas’s screenplay gives Joan (Kathleen Turner) and Jack (Michael Douglas) lots of genuinely good banter, and Zemeckis keeps the film upbeat and rollicking with slam-bang action. Credit for it’s success also has to go to Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, considering how easily we could have ended up with neither of them in the film. Before Michael Douglas decided to take on double duty as producer and star in what is considered his “first action movie”.

Actors Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Christopher Reeve had all turned down the role of Jack Colton, including Sylvester Stallone who turned down the role in order to star in “Rhinestone”, a decision he has stated that he deeply regrets. Legendary acting icon Paul Newman was offered the part, but he felt that there was unnecessary and excessive amount of violence in the movie and turned it down. Before Kathleen Turner won the role of Joan her closest competition was Jessica Lange, who decided not to take the job as she wanted more serious work. 

Even the role of the slimy Ralph that Danny DeVito appeared as in both films, was originally offered to Bob Hoskins who turned down the role. Bob Hoskins and Robert Zemeckis would re-connect and work together four years later in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. Kathleen Turner, who despite her differences with Zemeckis on the set of “Romancing The Stone”, provided the voice of Jessica Rabbit. As she hated his shooting style, once said of working with him: “I remember terrible arguments [with Robert Zemeckis] when we were doing “Romancing The Stone”. He’s a film-school grad, fascinated by cameras and effects. I never felt that he knew what I was having to do to adjust my acting to some of his damn cameras – sometimes he puts you in ridiculous postures. I’d say, ‘This is not helping me! This is not the way I like to work, thank you!'”.

It seems that destiny too wanted “Romancing the Stone” to turn out well. Turner, who was already a hot commodity thanks to “Body Heat”.  Michael Douglas, who is of course the son of Kirk “Spartacus” Douglas was hardly on the A-lister at the time. His biggest role at the time was starring opposite Jack Lemon in “The China Syndrome”. He took the role because so many turned it down and he couldn’t get anyone else interested. Douglas also found it a great opportunity to exhibit the rock climbing skills he’d honed as a teenager. As 16-year old Michael would join his dad Kirk in going rock climbing during breaks in filming “Spartacus”, which was shot largely in Death Valley, Nevada. “Romancing The Stone” made him a proper movie star, as three years later Douglas would win an Oscar for Best Actor in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street”. 

Douglas and Turner’s chemistry is electrifying, hypnotic, scintillating. Turner who stars as a New York author who writes romantic thrillers, gets involved in a real-life thriller, which is filled with cliff-hanging predicaments just like the ones she writes about. Joan soon gets a desperate message from her sister in South America: that unless she flies to Cartagena with a treasure map with the location of a priceless green jewel, her sister will be killed. Once there, she meets an irreverent soldier of fortune named Jack Colton who agrees to be her tour guide to help get her sister back.

“Romancing The Stone” is yet another of those movies whose shoots were generally unpleasant for most everyone involved. The first of it’s problems, was the film was originally to be filmed in Colombia, where the story takes place. However, Colombia had suffered an increase in American kidnappings at the time, so production had to be moved to Mexico. The production was beset with rain, mud and a lot of insects. Of course due to the era all of the stunts and action sequences were done live. Zemeckis has gone on to state that the shoot “It was very, very tough. When the movie was over, I said to my agent who gave me the script, who is now my partner Jack Rapke, if another script ever comes across your desk that has a slug line in it that says ‘Exterior. Jungle. Night. Rain.’ Never send it to me.”

One of the more recognizable sequences in the film “the mud slide” scene gave Turner an abrasion leaving her with several stitches. And one of the bigger incidents was when Douglas grabbed the tail of an alligator who had eaten the stone, as he grabbed the reptile’s tail, Douglas was returned with two powerful whacks in the face. Two of the alligators trainers had to take a boat over to where the gator was and had to get into the water. Douglas said that the alligator had taken the trainers hand and spun him around and took him down under the water. The other trainer who also went down, had to wedge the gator’s mouth open to rescue his brother. The trainer’s hand had gotten mauled, and he had lost a lot of blood. Douglas recalls when he went to visit him in the hospital, he leaned over, and whispered, ‘My Rolex?’. It turned out that his Rolex ended up saving him from losing his hand because the alligator had bit down on his watch.

 “Romancing the Stone” doesn’t have too many scenes of Joan being a damsel in distress. Films like this have a tendency to turn into a long series of scenes where the man grabs the woman by the hand and leads her away from danger, leading to a desperate run. The film begins by being entirely about the woman, and even though Douglas takes charge after he meets Joan, it’s only because he knows the local territory. Their relationship is on an equal footing, and so is their love affair. We get the feeling they really care about each other, and that makes the romance not a distraction from the action.

After the film’s original cut scored low with preview audiences, Fox Studios assumed it would be a flop, but Zemeckis knew he could save the film and made substantial changes. The film was shortened, with new scenes written and shot. A big revision was the re-filming the scene in the crashed plane’s fuselage where Joan and Jack learn about each other. Changes in Joan and Jack’s appearances can be seen between the exterior shots of the plane to the studio shot interior, which was filmed five months later, including a post shoot weight gain by Douglas.

The deft hand that Zemeckis gave to “Romancing The Stone”, would lead to the culture phenomenon projects “Back to the Future” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, both standing as two of the most impeccable Hollywood films of their era. It’s a film that still stands out as one of the very best of 1984. It’s a film that takes those three integral ingredients found in any worthwhile movie: comedy, action, romance and displays them with a crispness and color that most filmmakers would kill to emulate. It’s a fine example of 1980s Hollywood craftsmanship.

“Romancing the Stone” rolls smoothly, as we’re treated to a witty script, excellent chemistry between the two leads, and a large portion of comic relief, courtesy of an enthusiastically Danny DeVito. A perfect example of an adventure film with daring escapes, crazy chases, exciting brawls, and well timed set pieces. It’s a high-spirited chase picture that takes us, from the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the steaming jungles of South America. Yet with all the misery and weight leaning on Robert Zemeckis shoulders had paid off in a handsomely successful movie that hums along as pure entertainment.

“Romancing The Stone” is among the American Film Institute’s list created in 2000, as one of the 500 movies nominated for the Top 100 Funniest American Movies. The success of the film spurred a sequel “The Jewel of the Nile” in 1985, which was a great movie and one of the best sequels to come out of Hollywood. Unfortunately it was not as successful as “Romancing”. A third film in the series that was to be titled “The Crimson Eagle”, had gone into development but was never made. In the un-produced third picture, we would have found Jack and Joan with their two children go to Thailand where they are blackmailed into stealing a precious statue. Although after making “Jewel Of The Nile”, Danny DeVito directed a dark 1989 comedy called “War of the Roses”, which had the three actors appearing together again. You can find Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner reunite for an episode of the Michael Douglas starring “The Kominsky Method”, a Netflix original award-winning comedy series starring Douglas and Alan Arkin. Turner will play one of Douglas’ ex-wives. Danny DeVito has already made a few appearances on the series in it’s first season. 

After re-visiting “Romancing The Stone” 35 years later it still holds up and is still a rousing, funny and adventurous film. Certainly one of the best films in everyone’s career that includes Douglas, Turner, DeVito and Zemeckis. After 35 years it’s still romancing our hearts. 

•”Romancing The Stone” Is Available On Blu Ray, DVD and Digital

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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