Romancing The Stone
Each year millions of people read and enjoy romance novels. They are a guilty pleasure, mostly for women. The demographic spans everything from PhD to blue collar workers. Often they are read in bubble baths or at the beach. They are one of the ultimate fantasies where the beautiful damsel in distress is always rescued at the last minute by the ruggedly handsome hero. As he sweeps her into to his tan and muscular arms the book ends and the readers have their vicarious romance fulfilled. It should come as little surprise that the romance novel is one of the most popular and sellable novels around. There have been many attempts to bring this format to movies but most fail to capture the imagination of the audience. That is until one film came on the scene in 1984; ‘Romancing the Stone’. Technically it is a satire of the romance novel with a much broader appeal than the books. This is a completely enjoyable romp around the world filled with greed, adventure and, of course, romance. At the time of the theatrical release the second of the Indiana Jones movies was just about to come out many feel that this is at least in part a spoof of those flicks. There may be a grain of truth to this hypothesis but mostly this is a humorous romance novel come to life. This film was a surprised hit for 20th Century Fox. They were pleasantly amazed when it turned out to be their big, and some would say only, hit of the year. This is a classic comedy that is one not to miss. It has been out on regular DVD for awhile now with a couple of variations back in 2006. Like many such popular titles it is getting a new lease on life with a Blu-ray edition. One thing that is great with this format is how many of the studios are pulling out older titles and giving them a fresh start in this high definition format. In fact you can also get the sequel, ‘Jewel of the Nile’ in its new Blu-ray release.
There are several writers associated with this story but the credit went to Diane Thomas. She only has two credits to her name, this and the sequel. Tragically Thomas died in a car accident shortly after penning ‘Jewel of the Nile’. At the time she was working on a script for ‘Temple of Doom’. The basic story for this film is absolutely fantastic. We have all seen romance novels and you have to wonder what kind of incredible lives the authors must live. Thomas gives us a peak at the woman behind the curtain, Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner). She is one of the top writers in her profession but is reticent to even leave her apartment. It takes a desperate message from her sister to pull her out of her well defined safety zone into a world of danger and adventure. With this Thomas cuts to the core of what makes romance novels so popular. A woman can live vicariously through the heroine to experience love, danger and adventure all from the safety of their home. In this story Joan has made a very good living providing such adventures but writing about life and living it are two completely different things. For once she has to become the heroine and face the world. There is a feel here that any regular person could be drawn into a story like this and that sells the movie.
Now the name of Robert Zemeckis is well known as a director of considerable merit. At the time he directed this film he was just starting out in his career. He had a few films out prior to this most notably a teen road trip flick called ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ about a group of girls venturing off to New York City to see the Beatles. It was a fun flick and helped him prepare for the female adventure here. A year after this film was released life for Zemeckis would drastically change when he directed the first of his ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy. He also went on to directing such films as the Academy Award winning ‘Forrest Gump’. Zemeckis has a natural style in his films. He never tries to push things instead letting the humanity of the characters tell the story. It would seem that combining action, comedy and romance in a single film is very difficult. All three of these genres are so well defined that at times the rule sets have to conflict. Zemeckis gets around this with amazing skill. He blends the formats with the precision of a master chef creating a new dish from standard ingredients. The thing that carries this film is how Zemeckis gets the audience immediately involved in the lives of the main characters. Joan is someone that many of us know; a woman too wrapped up in her work to have a life. The make lead, Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) is the perennial bad boy. He is full of mischief but when the chips are down dependable. There are firmly defined character arcs for both in this film. Joan has to learn to come out of her shell while Jack has to come to understand that there are people to care about other than himself.
The film opens in the midst of one of Joan’s novels. The lovely Angelina (Kymberly Herrin) is being threatened by the dastardly Grogan (Ted White). Even after he obtains the object that he is chasing he wants more; Angelina’s virtue. Just in the nick of time the handsome hero Jesse (William H. Burton), saves the day and kisses the girl passionately. Joan celebrates with a drink made from a little airplane bottle. Joan’s agent is very pleased that they have another hit on their hands. Back in her apartment Joan opens a package from her brother-in-law which is a surprise since he was recently murdered. Thugs have kidnapped her sister Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor) and the map that is in the package is the ransom. Joan has to take the next plan to South America to save her sister. Once in Columbia Joan immediately gets lost. She runs into a near do well adventurer Jack and promises him $375 in traveler’s checks to help her. The map is the key to finding a large emerald that everyone wants. Along the way Joan and Jack meet up with an assortment of characters including the nefarious chief of the secret police, Zolo (Manuel Ojeda), a pair of incompetent thieves, Ralph (Danny DeVito) and Ira (Zack Norman) and a drug smuggler Juan (Alfonso Arau). Fortunately for Joan Juan is a big fan of her novels and offers to help. Much of the action is pure slapstick and is great fun to watch. Joan and jack get into some of the most unlikely predicaments only to make it out at the last moment.
The film is light hearted and pure enjoyment. It is the kind of comedy that the family can watch and enjoy together. It is a refreshing change of pace from the plethora of ‘R’ rated comedies that are so popular now. Fox has done a very good job in bringing this film to Blu-ray with a reasonable video transfer and a fresh sounding audio in DTS HD. The extras from the previous DVD release are also included.