Romancing the Stone (1984)
Romancing the Stone (1984)

Genre: Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.

Release Date: March 30th, 1984 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Robert Zemeckis Actors: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Zack Norman, Alfonso Arau, Holland Taylor, Mary Ellen Trainor




romance novel comes to vivid life in Robert Zemeckis’ “Romancing the Stone,” a lighthearted action comedy that soundly appeals to all ages and genders. Perhaps unfavorably camouflaged by its sentimental overtones, the film actually mimics the carefully crafted adventures of Indiana Jones (with themes from “The Woman in the Window” and “Condorman”), through fast-paced thrills and keen compatibility (highlighted by regular sarcasm) between the main players. Laughs aplenty, a competent tone of gaiety and excitement, convivial chemistry, and unexpectedly advantageous reviews helped the project to become one of the highest grossing films of 1984.

Forlorn romance novelist Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) often finds herself daydreaming of participating in the many adventures her fictional characters encounter. So when her sister Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor) is kidnapped in real life and held for ransom for a cryptic treasure map, Joan journeys from New York to Columbia for the unnerving yet undeniably titillating handoff. Sure enough, things don’t go as planned, and she ends up abandoned in the jungle with a bit of luggage and some high heels. Along comes Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas), a Crocodile Dundee styled mercenary and soldier of fortune, who promises to help Joan traverse a few hundred miles to Cartagena… for a price. During their trek across the treacherous terrain, they alight upon several nefarious groups intent on snagging the gigantic emerald that waits on the other side of the treasure map.

What works well for “Romancing the Stone” is a storyline formula comparable to “Raiders of the Lost Ark”: adventure first and foremost, followed by an engaging tale and enough good-natured comedy to ensure that no event appears too sinister or serious. The dialogue is mostly cynical, snappy, back-and-forth repartee from Turner and Douglas, who manage cinematic contrasts and genuine magnetism. The consistent amiableness that surrounds the film – from comedic chase scenes to bumbling villains to hammy love chatter – masters that rare PG-rated category of universal entertainment that outshines and outlasts the more predominant modern demand for tragic realism.

The film is largely memorable for its set pieces and locales, including a mudslide, an armored jeep chase through the jungle, a marijuana bonfire, and a lumbering alligator pursuer (reminiscent of Captain Hook’s old nemesis). Regardless of the outrageousness or implausibility of every situation, Zemeckis has thoughtfully engineered each sequence to impart just enough quirky sensibility that suspensions of disbelief never interfere with the plot. No one is riddled by machine-gun bullets or slaughtered by Colombian drug lords, and Danny DeVito’s dopey sidekick character is about as harmless as they come, but the rambunctious thrills nevertheless muster both energy and enthusiasm.

Screenwriter Diane Thomas became something of an overnight sensation, though she tragically died soon after the theatrical release and before she was able to write another script. A rushed sequel for the following year, “The Jewel of the Nile,” lost almost all of the charm of the original, as well as director Zemeckis at the helm. But that didn’t stop “Romancing the Stone” from making its mark on Hollywood, boosting the careers of Douglas, Turner, DeVito, and Zemeckis (allowing him to make “Back to the Future”), and influencing the likes of many romantic comedy adventures to come, including B-movie rips like “Jake Speed” and “Firewalker,” and contemporary efforts like “Cutthroat Island” and “Six Days Seven Nights” (and even the romance-less “Last Action Hero” or the severe “Kiss of the Spider Woman”) – none of which could find quite the same winning composition.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10