Monday, January 23, 2012

When Action Wasn't Enough

I was thirteen when Last Action Hero, 1993's unintentional disaster movie headlined by Arnold Schwarzenegger, hit the big screen, and my clearest memory of it is the hubristic marketing by home studio Sony that positioned it as a worthy rival to halt the impending unstoppable force that was Steven Spielberg's first Jurassic Park. On the one had there's realistic, CGI dinosaurs on a scale that's never before been attempted, and on the other, there's Arnold being Arnold in something with a kid and a magic movie ticket. Sure, which would you watch? Even back then, when Schwarzenegger was one of the preeminent stars in the world, and I wasn't even in high school, it still struck me as a bonehead move.

For those of us paying attention back then, it wasn't too surprising when the tale of the box office tape ended the way it did. By the end of summer '93, Jurassic Park had become one of the biggest successes in history, while Last Action Hero instead became one of the biggest punchlines of all time, with row upon row of Mattel's tie-in action figures warming pegs long after the movie had limped out of theaters. In fact, more than just underperforming at the turnstile, Last Action Hero was also its star's first big comedown from the upper echelons of global box office he'd occupied for much of the 1980s and into the '90s -- peaking with the stratospheric success of Terminator 2 two years prior. This was a descent which continued unabated (with brief hiccups for True Lies and Terminator 3) for the next decade. 

Having re-watched Last Action Hero fairly recently on cable, I had the same reaction I did back then, which was a sustained "???" for much of its running time. Despite the fact that Predator and Die Hard director John McTiernan helmed, and there was script work from Lethal Weapon's Shane Black, I was baffled by the multitude of creative decisions that just refused to hang together, and I felt sure there was a great untold story about its making just waiting to be unleashed. Well, in a fortuitous bit of timing, that story has now presented itself via Empire's exhaustive investigation into the train wreck that was the production of Last Action Hero. It's a fascinating, warts-and-all look back at cinema's "ultimate cautionary tale," and any film buff would be well served by giving a read.

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