Romancing the Stone Dazzles On DVD

Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Alfonso Arau, Manuel Ojeda. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1. Dolby Digital 5.1. 106 minutes. 1984. Fox Home Entertainment 4110401. PG. $ 29.95.

There's a wonderful energy in Romancing the Stone that goes beyond the juicy script by Diane Thomas, and should be credited to director Robert Zemeckis. Although most viewers may think of Zemeckis as the man who made Forrest Gump, I think the superior Romancing the Stone and Death Becomes Her manifest his artistic sensibility much better.

Stone is a romantic action-adventure tale told with humor and wit, and it caters to the audience's romantic cravings even as it spoofs them. Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a romance novelist whose secluded life comes to an abrupt halt when her sister (Mary Ellen Trainor) is kidnapped in Colombia. Wilder must deliver a treasure map sent to her by the sister's husband just before he was murdered.

In the jungle, where she is sent by corrupt cop Zolo (Manuel Ojeda), who is also after the "stone" of the title, Joan encounters a freewheeling adventurer named Jack Colton (Michael Douglas). The two join forces to brave the wilds, elude the cop and his troops, and befuddle the kidnappers, Ralph and Ira (Danny DeVito and Zach Norman), who turn out to be a pair of bumbling fools.

But the story of how Joan finds her sister and manages to survive on her own terms is somehow less important than the blooming of Joan, the bookworm, into a beautiful, sensual woman who is not afraid to sample the kind of adventures she previously only dared fantasize about. First among these is falling in love, which she allows herself for the first time ever.

Colton is also unexpectedly affected by this relationship—he learns responsibility and commitment—and what starts out as antagonistic banter soon becomes a full-fledged courtship. This man, who has always been out for himself, must lose his egotist outlook and expand his universe to include this woman who found him "the best time" she ever had. Zemeckis knows how to convey all the smiles and the excitement at the same time, effectively using the wide CinemaScope aspect ratio to follow the protagonists as well as provide comic relief and advance the story.

For example, when the lovers separate and later on meet in Cartagena, Joan and Jack celebrate by dancing and getting intoxicated by each other, while Ralph snoops after the stone—and gets the life beaten out of him by a woman who misinterprets his intentions. In the end, when Jack shows up in New York with his dream boat on a 12-wheeler, Zemeckis knows how to make it fill the entire screen. Joan's mundane city street suddenly becomes another exciting field of adventure—an urban jungle with a twist.

On the adventure side, the movie rates an A+: the protagonists are caught up in a torrential mud slide; they swing Tarzan-like from a tree over a gorge; they must swim to safety after their car plunges down a waterfall; and they're at the center of breathtaking car chases and more than one confrontation with savage crocodiles. The stunning location cinematography, the excellent casting—15 years ago, Turner and Douglas were the most appealing couple on the screen—and the lively soundtrack all help make Romancing the Stone topnotch entertainment.

The transfer is dazzling, with crystal-clear images, accurate colors (including skin tones), and unfailing focus. The sound is a bit weak, however; I had to really pump up the volume to get it to match the movie's other attributes.