In the early/mid 1980’s there were a number of movies attempting to cash in on the success of Raider of the Lost Ark. In 1984, the same year as the Temple of Doom sequel, we were given director Robert Zemeckis’ Romancing the Stone, which is arguably the best among many competitors to be inspired by the adventure theme of Raiders. What made Romancing stand out at the time and ultimately be remembered after 24 years is that it is not a straight out rip-off of the Indiana Jones exploits as the other now forgotten imitators were.
Telling the story of popularly successful romance novelist Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner), Romancing the Stone blends different genres in what was an innovative manner upon its release. Joan maintains a reclusive lifestyle putting all her energy and romantic longing into her books. Forced out of her safe existence, she must travel from New York to Columbia, South America in order to deliver a treasure map to kidnappers (one played by Danny Devito) who are holding her sister hostage. Stranded in the jungle, she meets adventurer Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) who recalls the larger than life protagonist Jessie (the embodiment of her unrealistic romantic fantasies) from her novels. In a noticeable vein of character development, Joan outgrows her timidity through her ordeals in Columbia and is able to find romance with Jack without having to compare him to an idealized version of her fictional hero.
The action/adventure inspired by Raiders is intertwined throughout as Joan and Jack attempt to outrun local military that want the map. Of course if there is a treasure map, there has to be a treasure that all parties are interested in obtaining which works as the center focus of the movie. Beyond the adventure and romantic angles, what struck me upon viewing Romancing for the first time in several years is how funny it is. Ample humor is provided by the interplay between Jack and Joan’s opposite natures, and Danny Devito basically steals any scene he is in. With the elevated level of humor and accentuating the relationship angle over the Indiana Jones films, Romancing the Stone arguably started its own mini franchise of “adventure-comedy-romance.” The movie is extremely entertaining with enough romance to allow the wife or girlfriend to enjoy while the guys take in the action and strong comedic elements that ensures everyone laughs.
It is interesting to note that though all of the main players in the movie are large names today, this was not the situation at the time of release. Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) was essentially unknown having directed no box office hits yet. Michael Douglas was best identified with his part on the television show “The Streets of San Francisco” and was trying to transition into movie roles. Kathleen Turner’s career was just getting started after her amazing turn in Body Heat. Danny Devito may have been the best known for his work on the television series “Taxi” though he had starred in movies (including One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest which Douglas produced). As the stars recount in the extras, the film gave them many opportunities laying the foundation for their later careers in addition to providing us, depending on your tastes, a memorable action flick infused with comedy and romance or a comedy/romance with some good action.
Fox brings Romancing to Blu-ray framed at its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. With a 1080p AVC/Mpeg-4 encoded transfer this is not the most stunning high-def image for a catalog release yet easily outdoes the previous standard definition DVD incarnations making it the best home video presentation of the movie. I was a bit worried when the early scenes in New York did not immediately impress me, but this is due to the drab winterish setting rather than the transfer. Once the story moves to South America, the brighter lighting and lush jungle footage (shot in Mexico) really benefit from the enhanced resolution with good clarity and strong color saturation. Depth and sharpness will vary between scenes due to the camera and shooting techniques employed, but there are many moments when the image achieves a really good sense of dimensionality.
There is a natural level of grain throughout that is never obtrusive and the print is basically clean exhibiting rare nicks and cuts that will probably go unnoticed. Contrast overall is good but problems arise with dimly lit parts of the movie. In these areas, blacks resolve decently but never as impressively as in the brighter scenes. However there are a few moments where detail is lost in dark parts of the image, and shadowy areas exhibit unwanted noise and take on a murky appearance. This is definitely not the worst of this type of issue I have seen with catalog titles, and I am attributing it to the source material rather than any deficit in the transfer. These complaints are minimal next to the gains that Blu-ray brings to the image and fans should be very pleased.
The gain in quality present in the video unfortunately does not carry over into the audio. While the main English audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, you would most likely assume this is standard Dolby Digital. The fullness, depth and extended range that lossless audio can provide are rarely if ever present. There are a few moments such as with the waterfall scene where you get a good depth of sound but mostly the mix sounds thin.
The Blu-ray cover lists the other audio options as English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround and Spanish Mono. When I attempted to compare the English Dolby Surround, I found that it is only a 2-channel mix. I generally do not check the foreign language tracks on English language releases but was curious due to what I construe as a misprint about the lossy audio track on this disc. The rest of the tracks are all 2-channel audio no matter whether referenced as ‘surround’ or ‘mono’ so take that into consideration if you care. Subtitles are given in English, Spanish, Korean and Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese).
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is probably the best that could be done with the elements from the original stereo mix, and there is a good sense of separation present. Adding to the issue of the audio not being overly immersive, the rear channels are underutilized. As much as this is an “action” movie, the majority of the action takes place in the front speakers with the rears delivering mostly ambient effects. Dialog is clear but often thin with a slight digital harshness, as is much of the audio. This is not a horrible soundtrack but is not noticeably impressive either.
Most of the extras are ported over from the 2006 DVD release and are presented in standard definition MPEG-2 encodes with stereo sound. These are from the same source material and split into four separate featurettes of varying length. I can only assume they were broken up to make the extras look more substantial than they are. Specifically for the Blu-ray edition, Fox includes 8 deleted scenes that are encoded in AVC with a bitrate matching HD levels but visually are standard definition quality. The extras are not as extensive as other Blu-ray releases yet I do not feel cheated.
Die hard fans of the movie may disagree with me but I do not really crave much more background information about the film beyond what is presented here. I am happy to have the film in high definition and certainly enjoyed watching it, but this is not a film I really need to dig deeper into beyond what is given. With that said, my complaint is that Fox feels justified in listing the disc with an MSRP of $40 as opposed to other studio’s catalog Blu-rays which go for ten dollars less and have equal or more extras. What extras we do get are as follows.
Rekindling the Romance: A Look Back (19:47): A mix of recent interviews from Douglas, Turner, Devito and Mark Rosenthal (co-writer of Jewel of the Nile) with Zemeckis noticeably absent. There is also archival footage of on-location shooting and of Douglas promoting the film in 1984 that is of low video quality but gives a good contrast to the more recent shots. You do not get a lot of depth here, but the stars spend their time reminiscing about the circumstances under which the film was made. There is some interesting information about the main people involved in the production including screenwriter Diane Thomas.
A Hidden Treasure: The Screenwriter (3:15): This short piece gives more background on Diane Thomas. We learn that she made her break in screenwriting with this script and went on to work with Spielberg but died tragically soon after in an auto crash at the age of 39.
Douglas, Turner and Devito: Favorite Scenes (3:56): The stars talk about which scenes they remember most fondly.
Michael Douglas Remembers (2:23): The shortest of the extras in which Douglas goes over more of his memories of making the movie. This piece really drives home that it would have made more sense to leave all these featurettes as one feature rather than split them up like this.
Deleted Scenes (18:58): Eight scenes that vary from alternate/extended versions of known scenes to ones that have a character never seen in the movie. The video quality is acceptable but never impressive with much damage to the print source. They are interesting to watch with the context of the movie in mind and wonder why they may have been cut out or altered.
Romancing the Stone is still really good fun after almost two-and-a-half decades. Fox’s Blu-ray brings a noticeable increase in video quality though some limitations of the film source are brought out in high-def. It is commendable that the studio includes lossless audio but in this case the sound quality is serviceable but not inspiring. The extras are all brought over from the previous DVD with some new deleted scenes yet none of these make for a really well rounded package. With all that said, if you are a fan of the movie this is the best way to enjoy it in your home theater.
Check the prices on Romancing the Stone on Blu-ray at Amazon.com
- Score: 7.6
- The film’s as entertaining as ever, and the HD video transfer is great, but the audio’s missing a little something compared to other catalog titles, and the bonus features seem lazily ported.
— Robert Searle