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Romancing the Stone: The jungle crooks

RAMNATH N PAI RAIKAR | NT NETWORK

Adventure films form one of the most popular genres in Hollywood, right from the half-a-dozen screen versions of ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ right up to the four movies in the Indiana Jones series. In fact, with ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981) – the opening Indiana Jones adventure – reviving the old-fashioned thrill-a-minute adventure genre, ‘Romancing the Stone’ (1984) arrived just in time to take full advantage, although its script was actually written by Diane Thomas, a waitress working in Malibu, in 1979, before ‘Raiders…’ hit the screens. This was her only screenplay; she died in an accident in a car, ironically presented to her by actor and producer of the film, Michael Douglas.

Douglas, who had earlier produced critically acclaimed films like ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975) and ‘The China Syndrome’ (1979) as also had starred in the highly successful ‘Coma’ (1978), produced ‘Romancing the Stone’ when his career was in a bit of a lull. He also hired relatively unknown Robert Zemeckis to direct.

Sylvester Stallone was originally considered for the role of Jack T Colton, but turned down the role in order to star in ‘Rhinestone’ (1984), a decision he deeply regretted. The role was reportedly also offered to Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson and Christopher Reeve. Paul Newman, who was then offered the part, felt that there was unnecessary and excessive violence in the movie. Finally, Douglas, unable to find a suitable actor, himself accepted the role. The film not only reintroduced Douglas as a capable leading man, but also gave Zemeckis his first taste of the box-office success.

Following her sizzling debut in ‘Body Heat’ (1981) and first comic turn in ‘The Man with Two Brains’ (1983), Kathleen Turner was signed to play a role against her sexpot image. Earlier, Jessica Lange had turned down the part in order to tackle “more serious” work. Debra Winger was then considered for this role, but Turner got the part when Winger allegedly bit Douglas, in the Mexican restaurant where they met to discuss the production.

The film also starred Danny DeVito, a friend of Douglas since they had shared an apartment in the 1960s. DeVito was signed after Bob Hoskins turned down the role of Ralph. The Mexican actor, Manuel Ojeda was cast as Colonel Zolo based on his previous role in the film, ‘Green Ice’ (1981).

Although Thomas had written the film script, it was touched-up and polished by at least three un-credited script doctors. Douglas had optioned Thomas’ script for $250,000, thus allowing the writer to quit her job as a waitress.

American composer and conductor, Alan Silvestri was hired to do a temporary score for the film. However, Zemeckis liked his work so much that he kept him on as composer.

Reports of kidnappings in Colombia forced the location shoots of ‘Romancing the Stone’ to be done in Mexico. Filming locations for the movie included Veracru – Fort of San Juan de Ulúa – as well as Huasca de Ocampo, in Mexico. Parts of the film were also shot in Snow Canyon, Utah. The scene where Turner and Douglas get separated on opposite banks on a whitewater river was filmed on the Rio Antigua near the town of Jalcomulco, in Veracruz.

Turner later said about the film’s production, “I remember terrible arguments with Zemeckis doing ‘Romancing…’. 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!’” However, despite their difficulties on the film, Zemeckis would go on to work with Turner again, casting her as the voice of Jessica Rabbit in his 1988 film, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’.

Upon the release of ‘Romancing the Stone’, comparisons to ‘Raiders…’ were inevitable. Although Time magazine called it “a distaff Raiders rip-off”, it was well received by critics. Interestingly, 20th Century Fox insiders expected ‘Romancing the Stone’ to flop to the point that, after viewing a rough cut of the film, the producers of the then under development ‘Cocoon’ (1985) fired Zemeckis as director of that film, replacing him with Ron Howard. Nevertheless, the film became a surprise hit. In fact, it became studio’s only big hit of 1984; produced at a budget of $10 million and collecting $86.5 million. Zemeckis later stated that the success of the film allowed him to make ‘Back to the Future’ (1985), which was an even larger success.

The success of ‘Romancing the Stone’ led to a sequel, ‘The Jewel of the Nile’ (1985), which was dedicated to Diane Thomas and was equally successful commercially. It was not directed by Zemeckis but Lewis Teague, with Douglas, Turner and DeVito all returning. Another sequel called ‘The Crimson Eagle’ never made it past the development stage. This planned yet un-produced sequel would have seen Jack T Colton and his partner, Joan Wilder take their two teenage children to Thailand, where they would find themselves blackmailed into stealing a priceless statue. DeVito reunited with Douglas and Turner, in a film ‘The War of the Roses’ (1989) directed by him.

In 2005 and again in 2008, Douglas started work on a second sequel to ‘Romancing the Stone’ entitled ‘Racing the Monsoon’, however there have been no further developments on it.

Finally, since 2007, 20th Century Fox considered a remake of ‘Romancing the Stone’ with the possibility of a reboot of a series. The roles of Jack T Colton and Joan Wilder would be filled by Taylor Kitsch (or Gerard Butler) and Katherine Heigl. By 2011, the remake was re-worked as a television series.

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