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Romancing the Stone: Special Edition DVD Review

Romancing the Stone: Special Edition

September 6, 2006

Director: Robert Zemeckis,
Starring: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Alfonso Arau, Manuel Ojeda, Zack Norman, Holland Taylor, Mary Ellen Trainor, Eve Smith,

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DVD Review

Out of all of the movies in the 1980s that were influenced by Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Romancing the Stone (1984) was arguably the best of the bunch (even if it was written before Raiders) because it managed to successfully blend action and adventure with a good dose of humour that resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining experience. It also helped Michael Douglas make the jump from television to A-list movie star and shot Kathleen Turner’s career into the mainstream.

Joan Wilder (Turner) is a very successful romance novelist who leads a safe, uninteresting life on the Upper West Side in New York City. For someone who writes such passionate, melodramatic fluff, she’s single and owns a cat. She’s saving herself for the ideal man of her dreams: Jesse, the tall, dark and handsome hero of her novels, much to the chagrin of her agent. Joan’s routine existence is interrupted when she comes home one day to find her apartment has been tossed and receives a frantic phone call from her sister Elaine (Trainor) who has been kidnapped while staying in Colombia.

The kidnappers want a map that Joan got in the mail from Elaine’s dead husband because it supposedly reveals the location of the legendary and very valuable emerald known as “El Corazon.” Naturally, the mousy Joan is completely out of her element in the dense, dangerous jungles of Colombia and finds herself being pursued by not only the two kidnappers (inept New Yorkers Ralph and Ira) but also Zolo (Ojeda), deputy commander of the country’s secret police. Fortunately, she crosses paths with a mysterious treasure hunter named Jack T. Colton (Douglas), a rugged individual who looks like the Jesse out of her novels.

Romancing the Stone works so well because of the chemistry between Douglas and Turner as evident from their first meeting where the naïve Joan negotiates her fee with the jaded Colton. He ends up helping her for a small price: $375 in American Express traveler’s checks. They play well off each other – the pampered Joan contrasted with the cynical Colton. They trade all kinds of snappy banter as they try to evade Zolo and find the emerald.

Douglas’ character has the same kind of roguish charm as Indiana Jones albeit with a bit more of an emphasis on the comedy. And like Han Solo, he’s a little full of himself and the humour in the film comes when he’s knocked off his smug high horse. Turner is an excellent foil to Douglas and Joan makes a credible transformation from meek wallflower to a much more confident and assertive individual – closer to the heroines in her novels. In addition to being quite funny, Turner is also beautiful and smart. The ‘80s were good to her with a string of hits that included Body Heat (1981) and Prizzi’s Honor (1985) but it was this film that really established her as a movie star.

Romancing the Stone also helped launch director Robert Zemeckis’ career who would go on to direct an even larger hit with Back to the Future (1985). He wisely doesn’t try to ape Raiders’ retro pulp serial approach, instead going for a more contemporary look while capturing that film’s more overt comedic moments with broad slapstick that is a little too silly at times but fortunately Zemeckis keeps them to a minimum. The commercial success of Romancing the Stone spawned an inferior sequel, The Jewel of the Nile (1985) but the chemistry between the two leads (and DeVito) was used effectively again in The War of the Roses (1989).

Special Features:

There are eight deleted scenes with more footage of Jack and Joan bonding in the jungle, including a bit with her bathing and them falling asleep together in the crashed plane that they wait out the rain in. We also see Joan back in New York telling her editor to publish her new novel based on her adventures in Colombia.

“Rekindling the Romance: A Look Back” features Douglas, DeVito and Turner returning for new interviews recounting, with fondness, their experiences making the movie. Diane Thomas was a first time screenwriter and Douglas loved her script with, originally, the notion of only producing it. When he couldn’t find anyone to play Jack, he decided to do it. DeVito’s part originally wasn’t much so he was allowed to rewrite it in order to give himself more to do. By everyone’s account, it was a tough shoot with extreme weather and an unforgiving environment with Turner recalling the numerous injuries she endured. This is a nice look back at the movie.

“A Hidden Treasure: The Screenwriter” profiles the movie’s screenwriter, Diane Thomas. Douglas was taken with the blend of action, comedy and romance. Thomas tragically died in a car accident. This extra is a nice, little tribute to her.

“Douglas, Turner and DeVito: Favorite Scenes.” The three leads pick the scenes that they like the most and they aren’t necessarily the ones you’d think (no, not the famous mudslide scene – thankfully).

“Michael Douglas Remembers.” The actor talks about the tough time he had making the transition from T.V. to the big screen as an actor. He was a successful producer but it took Romancing the Stone to show that he was a bankable movie star. After surviving the tough shoot, he felt much more confident in his abilities.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 84%

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