Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a worldwide success, but only in her professional life. She has just finished the final draft of her latest romantic adventure whose heroine, Angelina, has not simply beaten her adversaries but won the heart of the object of her desire into the bargain. Joan is so carried away by her writing that she is in tears by the time she types "The End", and decides to celebrate, but all alone, except for her cat Romeo. As she sips her drink the mousy novelist doesn't realise that she is about to embark on an adventure of her own; but will she discover romance as well?
Romancing the Stone was an unpretentious yarn of derring do and blossoming personailty that was scripted by Diane Thomas in what would tragically turn out to be her only film. She was killed in a car crash the year after the film was released, but at least she lived to see her story be a hit; the legend went that while she was a waitress producer and star Michael Douglas (who gave her the Porsche she died in) had walked into the diner where she worked and she pitched her movie to him right there and then. It's a tale worthy of her creation, Joan Wilder, and sums up the immensely likeable nature of the entire production.
Turner was riding high after Body Heat introduced her to eighties audiences, and in the early scenes of this it must have been a surprise to see her playing down her glamour and looking so dowdy. One nice bit of the film is that you can tell which stage Joan is at in her reinvention by looking at her hair: at first it's pinned up on her head in a librarian spinster cliché, but as the film proceeds strands begin to untangle themselves and finally her locks are spilling down over her shoulders. However, it takes a radical course of events to bring her to that point.
What happens is that she receives a telephone call from her sister Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor) who tells her she is in trouble, deep trouble. Joan is none too pleased herself as she has returned home after dropping off the manuscript to find her apartment has been ransacked - could the sinister culprit be after the map Elaine has sent her in the post? Yes, he could, and now Joan has to travel to Colombia (actually the film was shot in Mexico due to worries over security) to hand over the map. It's not going to be as easy as all that, and Joan, who has yearned to live the kind of adventure her heroines have always enjoyed, gets off to a bad start when she boards the wrong bus and winds up in the middle of nowhere.
But the sinister man (Manuel Ojeda) is there too, and after the bus crashes (thanks to Joan) he tries to kill her. It may be looking bleak for the novelist, but then her knight in shining armour appears, Jack T. Colton (Douglas), a United States emigrant in Central America who might be precisely what Joan needs in her life - if she can trust him, for he has his eye on the treasure the map is the key to. Yes, the story is a little by the numbers, but it's the details and quirks that win you over, whether it's the group of heavies who turn out to be big Joan Wilder fans, or a bad guy's preoccupation with crocodiles. Danny DeVito is here too, adding colour as a sneaky villain who gets comically in over his head, but it's Turner who owns this film; it's a hackneyed observation to say a character goes on a journey, but that's what Joan does and Turner brings out her newfound confidence with great flair and lifts what could have been routine in other hands. Music by Alan Sylvestri.
But come the Oscar-winning Forrest Gump, he grew more earnest and consequently less entertaining, although just as successful: Contact, What Lies Beneath, Cast Away and the motion capture animated efforts The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. Flight, The Walk and Allied were also big productions, but failed to have the same cultural impact, while true life fantasy tale Welcome to Marwen was a flop.
With frequent writing collaborator Bob Gale, Zemeckis also scripted 1941 and Trespass. Horror TV series Tales from the Crypt was produced by him, too.