The best of the '80s Hollywood 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' rip-offs, 'Romancing the Stone' is a fun, witty, and sexy action-adventure yarn. It was clearly made to capitalize on the success of that 1981 Steven Spielberg blockbuster, but thanks to a clever concept, good writing, and the palpable chemistry between leads Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, the film managed to carve out an identity of its own and has since come to be considered a minor genre classic. Compared to such other post-Indiana Jones dreck as 'King Solomon's Mines,' 'Ishtar,' and 'Sahara,' 'Romancing the Stone' is the best old-school adventure Hollywood has produced since, well, 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.'
The story of 'Romancing the Stone' is an interesting inversion of the more traditional macho Indiana Jones template. Though the film does give us an Indy-like lead character in Douglas' scrappy Jack Colton, the hero(ine) of our story is really successful romance novelist Joan Wilder (Turner). Unlike the fetching but tough damsels in distress she writes about, Wilder is bored, repressed, and virtually a recluse in her New York apartment -- a beauty in the rough who has yet to realize her true "wilder" nature and yearning for adventure. But that will soon change after she receives a mysterious telegram from her kidnapped sister, which lures her out to the jungles of Colombia and right into the arms of mercenary Jack (who's really more Han Solo than Indy Jones). Uncovering a complex plot of pulpy skullduggery, the race is on to stage a rescue, tangle with the diminutive criminal Ralph (Danny DeVito), and uncover a centuries-old buried treasure.
'Romancing the Stone' works first and foremost as silly escapist entertainment. The film makes no apologies about wearing its conventions on its sleeve, and that, like the Indiana Jones films, is a throwback as much to '30s serials as the romance novels Turner's character writes. Yet it is our very familiarity with where the material is going that director Robert Zemeckis so shrewdly milks throughout the film. With a knowing wink at the audience -- but without obnoxious, overt post-modern self-reflectivity -- Zemeckis revels in fulfilling our expectations, and 'Romancing the Stone' doesn't disappoint as a crowd-pleasing thrill machine. All the expected moments are here -- the meet cute between Jack and Joan, the wisecracking sidekick in Ralph, the breathless series of cliff-hanging action moments, and even a treasure map with a big "X" on it -- but they're done so well and with such a spirit of goodwill that it's hard to resist the film's natural charm.
Had 'Romancing the Stone' merely been an above-average adventure tale, however, it probably wouldn't have been as big a hit as it was with critics and audiences. The film arguably connected on a more populist level because it hits real emotional notes in Joan's journey of self-empowerment. It's genuinely exciting to watch this uptight closet-vixen finally rip off her chastity belt and become liberated by her Colombian adventures. We also know immediately that Joan and Jack are meant to be together, and that their intense bickering is really a subordination of their sexual passion for each other. Watching Douglas and Turner is a real kick, not just because they have terrific chemistry (they do), but because Zemeckis' script smartly squares Jack and Joan as opposites. As they fall in love over the course of the film we realize this is not just a generic attraction of opposing types of but of two three-dimensional human beings who compliment each other. Their blossoming attraction is the film's biggest treasure, and not since Harrison Ford and Karen Allen in 'Raiders' has an adventure-film couple generated this much heat.
Almost twenty-five years after its original release, 'Romancing the Stone' still holds up well even if some of the elements of the film have dated. Zemeckis wasn't quite an action director of Spielberg's caliber when he made 'Stone,' so some of the action feels a bit stiff by today's standards. The third act is also a tad too predictable, and it isn't helped by the slightly-cheesy score, and MTV-era movie montages. (We even get an Eddy Grant theme song over the end credits.) But it's Turner and Douglas (as well as DeVito) who ultimately elevates Zemeckis' already-sharp screenplay to the level of great commercial filmmaking. 'Romancing the Stone' is never less than tons of fun, and thanks to its two very memorable lead characters, it earns its place alongside the Indiana Jones films as one of the best genre yarns of its era.
Fox remastered 'Romancing the Stone' (as well as its sequel, 'The Jewel of the Nile') back in 2006 for a pair of special edition DVD re-issues, and has utilized the same master for this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. It's a nice transfer, however, which if not mind-blowing at least offers the finest presentation I've seen of the film yet.
The source has held up pretty well. There's the occasional speckle and dirt, but overall the master is clean. Film grain is present but never intrusive. Black levels are strong, though contrast can be inconsistent -- I found the early city scenes a bit too washed out and fuzzy, though the image definitely picks up as the action moves to the jungle. Colors are more vibrant than I expected, with the lush greens and reds well displayed and fleshtones accurate. Visible detail and depth wavers, with brighter scenes generally sharper, while the use of soft-focus can at times flatten out the image noticeably. The encode is a clean one, with no obvious artifacts. All in all, a nice picture.
'Romancing the Stone' was offered only in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround on DVD, and though Fox has upgraded it here to DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit) for the Blu-ray, the difference is negligible. This is just a boring mix with boring sound design.
Surround use disappoints. Even the biggest action scenes feature only bursts of anemic discrete effects, and very little audible ambiance. The film doesn't surmount its 1984 origins, with dynamic range that feels a tad dated with less-than-expansive highs and middling low end. Dialogue sounds fine, if sometimes artificial and harsh. At least it's balanced well in the mix, and there are no obvious defects with the source. Just don't expect much at all from this DTS-MA remix.
'Romancing the Stone' comes to blu-ray with the same set of supplements found on the 2006 special edition DVD release. Unfortunately, those extras appeared more substantial than they actually were, with what amounted to a single 30-minute doc split up into a bunch of little pieces. Alas, Fox has taken the same tact here, and though it's nice to get at least something new on the making of the film, this package remains less than the sum of its parts. (Most of the video materials are in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.)
'Romancing the Stone' is a sexy and fun adventure yarn, one elevated by strong by direction by Robert Zemeckis and the great chemistry generated by leads Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. This first-ever Blu-ray release is perfectly solid, with good video and audio, and a decent batch of supplements. This isn't a superlative catalog release from Fox (and overpriced at $39.99) but it's still worth considering for 'Romancing the Stone' fans.