What the Hell Happened to John McTiernan?
John McTiernan was a Julliard graduate who became one of the biggest directors of the later 80’s and early 90’s. His directing career got off to a quick start. Within a few films, he was directing the biggest movie star in the world and reinventing genres altogether. He directed the movies that made Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis into viable action stars. But soon after, the hits stopped coming. But McTiernan’s troubles didn’t end with his career cooling off. The former A-list director spent 328 days in prison!
What the hell happened?
McTiernan attended two of the world’s most prestigious arts schools in Juilliard and the AFI Conservatory. He graduated from AFI in 1976 and set about a career in film. He did some commercial work before his big break came.
In 1986, McTiernan wrote and directed the supernatural thriller, Nomads.
Pierce Brosnan, then known for Remington Steele, played a French anthropologist who is an expert on nomads. Hey, everyone has SOME specialty. Brosnan dies in the first secene! Lesley-Anne Down co-starred as a young doctor who attends to Brosnan in his final hours. Somehow, the future 007 passes his memories on to her and she relives the last week of his life
In flashbacks, Brosnan stumbles upon some “urban nomads” (Roma, maybe?) who seem captivated by a recent morbid murder string. He comes to realize the people are actually Mad Max-evoking Inuit demons that are attracted to violence and death. They gradually begin to take over the city of LA. Brosnan and his wife, played by Anna Maria Monticelli must flee.
The movie got smoked at the box office, opening at number 12, behind Out of Africa, which was in its twelfth week. Nomads was drubbed by critics. But a certain Austrian body-builder-turned actor was impressed with McTiernan’s tense atmosphere on a small budget.
McTiernan followed up Nomads with the sci-fi thriller, Predator.
Arnold Schwarzenegger starred as a muscled-up Delta Force Major who leads a group of macho commandos into the jungle. But the mission takes an unexpected turn when the soldiers find they are being hunted by an alien monster with dreadlocks.
Predator actually began as a sly (literally Sly) joke in Hollywood. Following Rocky IV, the question was asked: Who was left for Sylvester Stallone to box? The answer came in the form of what, not who. Joel Silver noticed the sci-fi script, and saw an action film in its core. McTiernan, who had only directed one horror film prior, was enlisted to direct. According to Schwarzenegger’s autobiography, he picked the director based on Nomads.
Schwarzenegger was immediately approached for the lead role. He was impressed with the originality of the script, but requested a few changes:
The first thing I look for in a script is a good idea, a majority of scripts are rip-offs of other movies. People think they can become successful overnight. They sat down one weekend and wrote a script because they read that Stallone did that with Rocky. Predator was one of the scripts I read, and it bothered me in one way. It was just me and the alien. So we re-did the whole thing so that it was a team of commandos and then I liked the idea. I thought it would make a much more effective movie and be much more believable. I liked the idea of starting out with an action-adventure, but then coming in with some horror and science fiction.
The supporting cast was rounded out by Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed), Jesse “You Can’t Legislate Stupidity!” Ventura, and Jean-Claude Van Damme as the Predator itself.
The original intent was for the Predator to be an agile, sprightly alien. The ideas was nixed when the burly Schwarzenegger went up against the lithe Van Damme. Van Damme was miserable in the costume and let his feelings be known. According to the Muscles from Brussels:
They did a cast of my body. My feet were in the cast of the alien. My hands were in the forearms, my head was in the neck. I was moving everything with cables. It was a very unsecure, very dangerous type of outfit. It didn’t work for nobody. They put air conditioning into my back, because it was very hot in Mexico. So they did another outfit with a bigger guy, taller guy on the inside. So I was hired, then I was cancelled.
Kevin Peter Hall, imposing at 7’3”, took over the costume and took the character in a new direction.
Posted on May 8, 2015, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Director and tagged die hard, John McTiernan, last action hero, predator, the hunt for red october. Bookmark the permalink. 50 Comments.