What the Hell Happened to John McTiernan?
The film’s producer first caught wind of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character prior to the book’s publication. When the novel shot to the top of the charts and remained there, Hollywood studios started knocking on the door. However, they soon lost interest after making the determination the novel was too complex, and not entirely original. Mace Neufeld, the eagle-eyed producer, persuaded Paramount to launch the project.
The role of Jack Ryan was to go to an upstart rising star as opposed to an established one. Baldwin was sought out, and he signed on the play the lead role. Paramount felt that an established star was a must, though. After all, this was a big-budget film, and they needed an anchor. Not that submarines have them.
Connery, removed from Bond, and more recently removed from the Indiana Jones franchise, was pursued to fill this role. At this juncture, the filmmakers were two weeks from the scheduled production start date. So after scrambled negotiations (where Connery presumably emerged very pleased), the film was set with Connery and Baldwin in the two lead roles, divided by the Cold War. Connery as a Soviet submarine commander, and Baldwin as the American super spy Ryan.
The film, unable to shoot inside of actual submarines, designed its sets with verisimilitude. Connery described the sets, which were very confined, built 45 feet in the air, very hot, and able to be tilted up to 45 degrees, as ” very disturbing”. For shots above sea level, also known as the Plimsoll line (thanks, Boating 101!), full-scale mockups of the submarines were constructed, for it was the era before CGI. McTiernan and Connery, both reportedly prone to severe seasickness, stayed ashore for mostly all of the maritime shoots. The movie’s production could have gone wrong Waterworld-style, but nothing disastrous happened.
As the film neared release, things outside the shoot were frenzied. The USSR, the film’s villain, was in its death throes. There were worries the empire’s impending implosion would render the film “irrelevant”. These anxieties proved unfounded, as audiences indicated they were up for one more cinematic Soviet throw down. The movie lit up the box office, nearly septupling its budget. Critics praised the film, and McTiernan’s direction was singled out as being skillful.
In 1992, McTiernan reuinted with Connery for the romantic adventure movie, Medicine Man.
Connery starred as an eccentric scientist working on a cure for cancer in the jungles of the Amazon. Apparently eccentric is code for “chauvinist” because he rejects the help of a female research assistant played by Lorraine Bracco. But since this is a movie, the 38-year-old Bracco was contractually obligated to fall for the 62-year-old former 007.
Did you hear that? At the end of the trailer? McTiernan was referred to by name instead of “the director of Die Hard“. That’s how you know you’re an a-list director. When they mention your name in the trailer.
Medicine Man appears to have been designed as an Oscar bait-type film, casting a highly respected Oscar nominee in the leading role, and a rising prestige star as his foil. Bracco was hot off of Goodfellas at the time. Despite the hopes of everyone involved, the final product essentially stunk. The Academy would not give it the time of day.
So its release date was shifted into the gloomy pits of early February. Despite opening in first place, Medicine Man failed to recover its production costs. Critics savaged its sappiness and insipid melodrama.
In 1993, McTiernan reuinted with his Predator star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, for the action-comedy, Last Action Hero.
Schwarzenegger starred as a fictional action movie hero in a Lethal Weapon-type franchise. A little boy with a magic ticket is transported into his latest action movie. Unfortunately for the little boy, it isn’t very good.
Last Action Hero was written by Zak Penn and Adam Leff as a satire of movies like Lethal Weapon. The original screenplay was appropriately titled Extremely Violent. Penn described the research process for the script:
We rented every action movie we could think of and made a checklist. Does the second-most evil bad guy die before or after the most evil bad guy? Does the hero have a Vietnam buddy? It was fun, although watching Steven Seagal movies one after another can be soul-crushing.
Penn and Leff’s script was extremely popular and a bidding war ensued. Columbia Pictures eventually shelled out $350,000 to purchase the script. Even more surprising, the actor who inspired the main character was interested in starring in the movie. According to Penn:
We never thought we’d actually get Arnold. We were just two guys sitting in my apartment, thinking maybe someone would read it and get the reference. When we heard he wanted to do it, Adam and I looked at each other like, ‘This is insane.’
Next: More Last Action Hero
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. 48 Comments.