Come back with me people, indulge me for a moment as I get pretentious.
Come back with me to the “good Ole Days”. A young Robert Zemeckis is watching a lecture by an up and coming director who would soon reshape the movie industry as well as my childhood. This up and coming director was, of course, Steven Spielberg. Robert (Bobby Z) approached Steven Spielberg after the lecture and spoke to him. They bonded and Steven became Roberts mentor as well as, I assume, his friend.
I like to think of this moment when I begin to write about Robert Zemeckis first financial hit “Romancing the Stone” as I like to think that one of the things that bonded them was the love of Pulp Fiction and it’s archetypal heroes. For those of you are unsure of the term. Let me give you a crash course as I think a good appreciation of pulp fiction will help you love “Romancing the Stone” even more.
I have looked around and found that Vintage Library has best described the Pulp Fiction
“Term originated from the magazines of the first half of the 20th century which were printed on cheap "pulp" paper and published fantastic, escapist fiction for the general entertainment of the mass audiences. The pulp fiction era provided a breeding ground for creative talent which would influence all forms of entertainment for decades to come” and “Bigger-than-life heroes, pretty girls, exotic places, strange and mysterious villains all stalked the pages of the many issues available to the general public on the magazine stands”
Like the opening scene of “Unbreakable” where Mr Glass is explaining differences between heroes and villains in the art he is trying to sell, the cover art for Pulp magazines paved the way for comic books with high concept adventure, in your face heroism or villainy and always being stirringly epic. Pulp magazines were also the birthplace for many an artist not only in both the creative writing and comic book worlds but also for movies. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s love for them helped them create Indiana Jones as well a little Space epic you should already know.
But let’s get to Robert Zemeckis and his version. As Steven Spielberg and Lucas wanted to pay homage to the Pulp action icons like Allan Quartermain and to a lesser extent Tarzan. Zemeckis, always the innovator, wanted to bring the genre and the hero into the modern day and name him the coolest damn name in pulp history….Jack T Colton. Sounds like a Western rifle.
The first film not entirely written by Zemeckis and his writing partner Bob Gale. The script was written a full five years before Indiana Jones and tragically, became the only script by Malibu Waitress, Dianne Thomas. She would die in a car accident just after the film’s release. Romancing the Stone is a classic fish out of water character meeting the mercenary huckster with a heart of gold. The fish out of water is the mousey Pulp love story writer Joan Wilder played to great affect by the always husky and sexy Kathleen Turner. Whilst the rugged huckster is played against type by the then producer Michael Douglas. The films follows the “odd couple” through South America as they search for a legendary diamond whilst being chased by a corrupt Colonel and drug dealing cousins. Along the way they fight the South American Jungle, encounter crocodiles and fall in love.
Michael Douglas only wanted to produce the script and wanted several actors for the main role until he had to settle for himself. Sylvester Stallone is one such actor who has since regretted turning down the role. Fortunately, Douglas jumps on screen with his natural charm, sharpened by his father’s Spartacus features. The chemistry between Douglas and Turner is palpable to the point of rumour. This helps the movie immensely as you can see it feed directly into the characters story arc.
Kathleen Turner admitted to having a lot of on-set arguments with Robert Zemeckis stating "I remember terrible arguments [with Robert 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, as we all would know, the arguing did not stop Zemeckis from rehiring Turner for “Jessica Rabbit”
The film wears its pulp roots on its modern sleeve but also has Zemeckis playing with our expectations all through the film. The starting five minutes of the film we are dropped into a western with the glamourous sweat dripping heroine as she kills her abuser and avenges her sister…and her dog. She then rides off into the sunset with her hero Jesse. Then the biggest Zemeckis touch of modernising the pulp stereotype; The Ending. Joan Wilder, now more confident and daring due to her adventure, sails off into the sunset on the dream boat of Douglas’s Jack T Colton. However the boat is on a trailer being towed through the streets of New York.
The film is littered with these touches by a director finding his mainstream groove. Finding his ability to twist your perceptions by setting you up throughout the film so he can nudge you off track but not enough to rob you of the pulp pay off we all are waiting for.
Before the release of Romancing the stone, the rough cut of the film was making its rounds and getting people worried. One studio who were thought that Zemeckis had created another box office flutter, fired him, whilst deep into the production of Cocoon.
But finally Triumph as the supposed “Indiana Jones ripoff” roared into cinemas to be a big box office hit for Fox studios in 1984. It gave Zemeckis more power to start his little time travel movie and even spawned a sequel “Jewel of the Nile” which followed Jack and Joan on another wild adventure with Danny Devito. This also cemented a loved trio of actors that would later return for the great dark comedy “the War of the Roses”
No matter the end results, Zemeckis has always shown he is a man who wears his influences for all to see from sci-fi, horror to pulp fiction. It also shows how immense the impact of Pulp culture is to our lives and films today. Without the underpaid writers and gorgeous cover arts we might not have the amazing culture we have today. So it’s odd when Steven Spielberg comes out and questions the legitimacy of comic book films when his pulp adventures are so closely related.
On a personal note- this would be the last Zemeckis cameo for Spanish actor Alfonso Arau who would be later famed as EL GAUPO meaning the handsome one. After playing the brilliant El Gaupo in the Three amigos movie. Alfonso would go on to direct “like Water For chocolate and the Keanu Reeves films “A Walk in the clouds”
Now please say it with me….ELLLL GAUPOOOOO!!!!
Romancing the Stone (1984)
Cast & Crew
Diane Thomas ... (written by)
Lem Dobbs ... (uncredited)
Howard Franklin ... (uncredited)
Treva Silverman ... (uncredited)
Michael Douglas ... Jack Colton
Kathleen Turner ... Joan Wilder
Danny DeVito ... Ralph
Alfonso Arau ... Juan
PLEASE CHECK OUT THE FULL MOVIE CREDITS HERE
Love you all.