Tom Jolliffe looks back late on Richard Donner’s career and pays homage to the director who made millions fall in love with movies …
You believe a man can fly! It was a promise that preceded the release Superman, the cartoon character ‘s first major film adaptation. This was a key moment. Jaw and Star Wars had begun a revolution in the film world that paved the way for success-oriented schedules that would satisfy most cinemas today. We wanted space, we wanted adventure and we wanted to believe that man could fly. In 1978, Richard Donner Superman fulfilled its promise.
Like many children who grew up in the late 20th century, a bunch of directors almost woven a love film for DNA. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John McTiernan, Robert Zemeckis and Richard Donner. They revolutionized a blockbuster movie for each other or reinvented action theater. As a kid, I loved fantasy, adventure, and even at a young age, the kind of action movies I didn’t have to watch. My Donner appreciation began, like most, of the above Superman. Alongside Star Wars and Indiana Jones, it was one of the defining hero films of the era (alongside my deeply guided love Masters of the universe too).
Everyone who grew up in the 80s saw Superman and its resulting flawed franchise. Christopher Reeve became an iconic hero for many. Donner had the inherent gift of injecting a sense of imagination into every film (even his horror work, but more on that later). These were movies for everyone. At the age of five, I watched Superman with great respect. Later as an adult, I still have a nostalgic sense of wonder, but at the same time I enjoy the disrespectful humor of the film. You begin to appreciate the skillful comedy in which Reeve played Clark Kent, as well as the hidden, charismatic heroism of his Superman. As an adult, I appreciated the comic chemistry of Gene Hackman and the late Ned Beatty as Lex and Otis (Otisburg !!! ???). The film balances adventure, comedy and also made us take care. Requires the skill to perfectly balance these elements and the dramatic power to send chills to the spine as Superman roars in pain later in the film after he has been unable to save Lois Lane (above all, by rewinding the Earth thing back …). It’s a skill that many success directors haven’t managed to master in the modern era, and some elements disappear from others (e.g., comedy at the expense of sand). The current Marvel formula, which works for the most part, owes so much to Donner Superman.
When you’re young, you’re not so aware of what a mentor is, or even their existence. Awareness of leaders originally occurred through restoration. The opening ends atypically with the director, and some names begin to rise through childhood on a regular basis. Like Spielberg and a few selected, Donner was one such name. Goonies should my new childhood be interrupted. It was a movie that brought constant enjoyment no matter how many times I watched VHS. About 36 years and countless views later, and it continues to entertain. Once again, Donner wonderfully orchestrated the story of a charming actor who gave you all the emotions, and did so effectively. We’re talking about a director who looked happy in the realm of genre and escapism and in itself never got the respect he deserved (like Carpenter). Donner in all the technical aspects of image directing could and should have been identified with the great prizes. Still, the awards don’t necessarily make iconic films, and how many resumes are as proud as Donner’s? Goonies, Slap Bang in the mid-80s, was a kind of aging adventure film that defined the period more than anything else. There’s something unique about it that many others tried to emulate (countless movies would be billed next Goonies) but could not. Donner, apart from nothing else, never got a bad performance either. A film that also rests with such a young actor can live or die according to the charisma of young actors. Much of the legacy is their natural and pleasurable, and much of it comes to the director, who is able to pull it off his new face.
Ladyhawke the late Rutger Hauer was another great addition to Donner’s resume. Another childhood favorite. It’s a little forgotten, but unfair. A groundbreaking fantasy adventure that came during a magnificent sword and witchcraft in movies. Then there is Scrooged. It’s as much a Christmas ribbon to me as anything. For every Scrooge fit, it’s my favorite and the one I come back to the most. There’s the joy with which Donner throws some humor into the movies, and some stupidity that never detracts from the dramatic elements. Scrooged provided a wonderful platform for Bill Murray to do his job, in a film that is constantly and restlessly funny, but still brings tears to his eyes by the end (and it doesn’t feel like a maudlin). I don’t remember the last Christmas season I didn’t watch Scrooged actually. Again, this love for the film began at a young age and has never left. Enjoying some of the movies you grew up may fade over time, but with Donner’s rivets, that never seems to happen.
A couple of films defined the action film in my upbringing. The two largest were Be tenacious and Lethal Weapon. I was given an innate love for guy-police movies because Lethal Weapon. You have a great Shane Black script and the perfect Actors (then a great score from Michael Kamen / Eric Clapton). A fast-paced, funny guy-police movie needs brushing, chemistry, and input. On top of these elements Lethal Weapon was a complex and flawed hero in Martin Riggs, whom Mel Gibson shone. He’s a great contrast to the world’s tired cops, face at age 50 towards the barrels of old age in Roger Murtaugh (equally brilliant Danny Glover). Movies can live or die under control. Someone needs to raise the level of actors, stand up to the best of their ability, and bring cohesion to every department. Lethal Weapon is still for me, the ultimate guy-police movie. The franchise it launched, all under Donner’s control, was also consistently enjoyable, even though the sequels lacked the psychological spark of the damaged Riggs at first. Rumors of a fifth film continued until his death. It was something I would have dropped 100%. Passing Donner, it just wouldn’t feel right. Because of his age, it had always been less likely, but until the end, all the reports indicated that he looked enthusiastic.
A little later as a teenager, I began to go into the prestigious horrors of the ’70s. Among them was Apples. It wasn’t until credit came to light that I realized in amazement that Donner had directed this, too. The film drips from the atmosphere. It has an eternal feeling of fear. It leads to decades of constant wit in which the sight of a misbehaving young boy is accompanied by an intelligent ass that says “Damien” under their breath. In the era of great horror movies Apples standing with the best. Once again, like most Donner films, there’s just this bad humor behind it. A couple of deaths have a sense of humor. Not so much that they play it out of laughter, but you feel like Donner is having fun orchestrating these moments when he knows he’s getting the chorus of breath in the theater (especially a David Warner broadcast). I can only imagine him sitting with a reporter and performing perfect timings, a huge grin on his face.
Although Donner’s success rate eventually slowed in the ’90s, he still had (among the Riggs / Murtaugh visits) enjoyable and underrated movies. Assassins, of which I have written before, is incomplete, weighted perhaps in a sagging middle, but still quite underestimated in the mid-90s. First, Stallone is in great shape, and he plays a variation of the more anxious / self-conscious characters he experimented with in the 90s (and probably the best version of this interchangeable variation we saw Expert and Daylight for example). He has also opposed the brilliant Antonio Banderas. He is on stage stealing form as the hero of his own career. Assassins there are great setups, and while the Wachowski weren’t too happy with the end product, there seems to be a lot left of their original view in the end product. Some interesting character moments and duality that they explored in their other earlier works. Conspiracy theory and Maverick there were certainly moments as well, and everyone benefited from the sure hand of the principal. Donner has always been elevated and never denied.
Donner’s cinematic bow also signifies another film that has been greatly underestimated. For all its simplicity 16 blocks does what it says in tin in a way that only great action could produce. Donner’s age didn’t stop him from injecting a simple concept at a consistent pace and creating a fascinating dynamic between our alcoholic over the hill police (Bruce Willis) and a gentle witness and a low-ranking criminal (Mos Def) he has to transport 16 blocks to prove. When a number of enemies intend to offend a witness, said police must find a desire to survive and rediscover their moral duty to bring them both to life. Much has been said about Willis ’questionable 21st century indifference, and a few elected directors pull his best from him. Donner was one of those and Willis was at his peak, which brought more uncertainty to the character at a time when his John McClane was becoming a caricature of indestructibility. It may not have reached Lethal Weapon, but it still felt like a good way to bow down when Donner ‘s directing skills took a simple but enjoyable concept from start to finish with the master’ s aplomb.
What is your favorite Richard Donner movie? Tell us on our social channels @ flickeringmyth …
Tom Jolliffe is an award-winning screenwriter and passionate kinefile. He has several films on DVD / VOD around the world and several releases scheduled for release in 2021/2022, including Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls, and World of War: The Attack (Vincent Regan). You can find more information on the best personal site you will ever see …https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/