Roel Reiné, Director of Admiral

Roel Reiné found his calling early: When he saw Blade Runner at just 11 years old, he instantly knew that he wanted to be a filmmaker. After honing his craft in his native Netherlands, he made the jump to Los Angeles, helming direct-to-DVD movies like Death Race Inferno, The Marine, and The Man With the Iron Fists 2, among others. He released Admiral, a movie about Dutch naval hero Michiel de Ruyter, in Europe last year. We talked to the director about making inexpensive movies look like more than a million bucks, the challenges of filming on the water, and how consumer technology is changing movie-making.

What made you want to make movies?

I grew up in the Netherlands and I grew up with American movies. I saw Blade Runner when I was 11 and I knew I wanted to become a movie director. So from that moment on, I did everything that was needed: I started reading about making movies, I sneaked on to movie sets in Holland when I was 15 and 16, and I used my father’s 8 millimeter camera to do stop motion of my puppets.

Then I kind of found out that, in Holland, making genre movies wasn’t really done. I had to get my chops going in television.

I started in local television, and when I was 23 years old, I became the director of this action TV series in Holland—a prime time, really well-watched TV series. I did many TV shows in Holland before I developed my first screenplay, The Delivery, when I was 28. It was an English language road movie that I made with a Dutch cast. That movie basically took my career to the next level. I won this award in Holland called the Golden Calf. It’s kind of the Oscars in Holland for the best director.

Then the movie was sold to Lionsgate and that was my ticket to Los Angeles. It was very difficult to get my first American movie off the ground. So I said to my agent and my manager, “I really believe in the 10,000 hour rule: If I want to become a really good director, I need to be directing for 10,000 hours. Anything that is in front of me I will do.” So I jumped into the sequel and prequel business. I made 16 American feature films in 7 or 8 years, like Death Race 2 and The Marine and Dead in Tombstone—these are action movies that cost between $5 and $8 million for the studios to make.

Two years ago, I felt like I had done my 10,000 hours, and I wanted to make a really big, cool movie. So, I went back to Holland and developed this movie, Admiral.

When you came onboard to Admiral, was there a script already?

The producer, Klaas de Jong, was developing a screenplay about Michiel de Ruyter. He did that for 5 years, and he spoke with some Dutch directors, but he could not find one. They were very scared that they could not pull this off technically because of the sea battles.

I always wanted to make a movie about the golden age of Dutch history because, at that time, Holland was the only republic in the world. We were surrounded by kingdoms that were trying to stop us from being a republic. We were like a small empire—we had 20,000 ships on the oceans, while France had only 400 ships on the ocean.

So I called Klaas and said, “Let’s talk.” Then when I read the screenplay I said to him, “All those sea battles, those are easy. But we need to find a story because it’s too much of a history lesson.” So, I brought in a writer friend and we developed a new script over two years that was more story, more character, more heart and emotion. I also started developing the sea battles and how we had to do them technically.

When you start working on a project like this, how much research do you do? Do you feel like you have to be really historically accurate?

My research is massive. There’s a lot of stuff known about the 17th century—many museums have books and letters from that time, and there are a lot of paintings that show you this world, the sea battles and the killing of our prime minister. So, there’s a lot of material visually you can use as inspiration, but there’s also a lot that was written down that we could use. So that was really cool to tap into.

I wanted to be as historically correct as possible, but we’re making a movie and not a history lesson. The biggest thing I did was let go of the ages of all the characters—because if you want to follow the story of a character over a period of 20 years, it gets complicated. Maybe you need to use different actors and they have kids that grow up and they’re going to have wrinkles in the face and all this makeup and prosthetics. Then the movie becomes very … from a distance you cannot connect with these characters as a viewer.

What I did was give all the characters an average age, and told the story in a period of nine months—but in those nine months, we gave the audience 22 years of Dutch history. All these historical moments are happening to these characters in a period of nine months, and you can connect better to these characters.

We also made the language a little modern. If you go to old Dutch language, it’s really boring. But everything else—even the details in the sea battles and the details in set dressing and the ideas that the main character has to destroy the English fleet—all these things are historically correct.

Why was it important to tell Michiel de Ruyter’s story, and why was it important to make it in Holland? 

I think the most important reason is that he’s the No. 1 hero in Dutch history. Schools are named after this person. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Amsterdam but on Dam Square in the middle of Amsterdam is Nieuwe Kerk [New Church], and in this church is his grave. It’s a beautiful, big grave. Everybody knows this person and nobody has done any movies about him. So I definitely wanted to make a movie that the Dutch people could be proud of. 

The main goal was to make a really good Dutch movie and to make it accurate. The Dutch speak Dutch, the English speak English, the French speak French so hopefully an international audience also finds that appealing.

There are a number of battles at sea in the trailer. How much of that was real, and how much of it was computer generated?

I really love doing stuff in camera. I think Death Race Inferno has some of the coolest action in racing out there because we did all the stunts in camera—we only used computer animation to clean up stuff. I wanted to do the same thing with Admiral. We had three 17th century ships. One is from Holland, one from Russia, and one from France. We brought them to a really big lake in Holland, where you can’t see the shore on the other side. With these three ships we did a real sea battle, with all the crew and actors on the ships and cannons firing. I didn’t use any green screen because I wanted it to feel real.

But then with computers I surrounded the ships with more ships so you feel the hundreds of ships around them. And we have some kind of Google Earth kind of perspective of the sea battles that is full CG where you can see kind of the logistics of it.

But it was a bit challenging. There are the three Bs: You don’t want to be on boats, you don’t want to use beasts, and you don’t want to use babies on movies. So, we did a lot of boats and we went on the water. Then you have to think about currents and wind direction. So, it makes it all very complicated. But I like to do complicated stuff. It’s my hobby.

Did you do a lot of the shooting yourself?

I’m the director of photography on all my movies, but sometimes I don’t get the credit because of union rules and that kind of stuff. It’s kind of part of my style. I don’t believe in sitting in another room behind a monitor. I like to be with the actors on the floor, feel what they feel and interact with them directly. And, because I’m operating the camera, I can participate in things that happen on the set and correct them or direct them really close by. That makes me very fast—but also all the actors really like it because they never get so much attention from a director as from me because I’m there.

You choose a location, you choose a script, you choose the actors, you block the actors. For me, moving the camera with specific lenses in that environment is one thought. It is one idea. It’s very much about having control over all those elements to make the movie really cool. So that’s the reason I’ve done it on all my movies.

It cost 8 million euro to make Admiral—which is not a ton of money. What lessons did you learn from making direct-to-video films that you applied there?

Movies like Death Race Inferno, they cost $6.5 million dollars. It’s very low, but I learned a way to make them look like $20 or $30 million: Use smaller crews, be my own DP, and never use studio sets—find the production value in the locations that you shoot. I always shoot with four cameras and therefore I get a lot more coverage—which makes the movie feel much richer because we can cut more and show more angles.

I brought all that knowledge to Admiral—it looks like a $40-50 million movie. We did it for 8 million euros because we used the same techniques. We were very smart in the way we planned, scheduled, and shot it. I shot that movie in 42 days and it’s a 2.5 hour movie with hundreds of extras every day—lots of costumes and horses and big sets. But if you surround yourself with a really good crew and you have a plan with stretching the dollar in a smart way, then you can pull it off.

You’ve used drones in some of your shoots. Is there any other sort of emerging technology that allows you to do really cool things as a director?

Many years ago, I think on my Scorpion King movie, I started learning flying the drones myself and they crashed all the time. It was a big disaster. But in the last few years, drones have became so sophisticated and very easy to fly. In Admiral, there are three shots flying over the water that I shot with a $600 consumer drone with a GoPro camera underneath. Then with this GoPro footage we went to the visual effects company. We CG’d in ships and other stuff and then we blew it up in 4K in cinema and nobody sees that this is like a GoPro shot in between the epic shots that we use for the whole movie.

So, it’s also using that technique and daring to use it in a bold way. I operate the drones myself. It’s fun.

On Admiral, we had two days on choppers because we were on the lake and I could have more control. But even when I’m shooting on choppers, I never use gyroscopes. I wear ropes and harnesses and I’m hanging half out of the chopper with the camera on a bungee rig from cables because I can control it much better, and stabilization you do in post with computers. So also there you use a combination of techniques to get the best result.

You love genre movies. What genre do you really want to work in?

I really would like to do science fiction. But also I really like historical movies. I’m going to do a few more historical movies out of the Netherlands. But I also want to do a movie, for example, about Waterloo and the whole battle to kick Napoleon out of Europe. I also had this Second World War movie that I want to do. It’s different stuff. That’s the great thing about making movies—I don’t want to stick around for one genre. I want to mix it up. It keeps me sharp and keeps it fun.

What’s one movie that you think everyone should see?

The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in the West and Blade Runner. Those are the movies that people should see—but I think everybody’s seen them already.

Since you got your start in TV, are there any TV series that you’d want to direct an episode of?

I love House of Cards, True DetectiveGame of Thrones and Vikings. Hollywood is making the big $100 million tentpoles and some sequels and some smaller movies. But the really daring movies—[movies with] political statements—a lot of studios are not making those movies anymore. You see a lot of moviemakers going to television to do it there, and I really like that. The Newsroom and all those kind of series I really like, because they dare to do something edgy and controversial, and they also do it in a style that is very filmish. These series look really cool—they look like feature films.

If you’re a big Game of Thrones fan, you must have been thrilled when Charles Dance, who plays Tywin Lannister, signed on to be in Admiral.

Of course. He was on my list, and I was like “I don’t know if we will succeed but let’s give it a try.” When he read the script and he said yes I was so excited because he’s such an iconic figure in that series. But he’s also a very iconic actor. He’s the villain in our movie and every time you see him, it’s so cool because he’s so powerful. It works so nicely. So I was really proud that he was part of this movie.

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35 Movies Roger Ebert Really Hated
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When Roger Ebert hated a film, he didn't mince words. On what would have been the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer's 76th birthday, here are some movies he absolutely loathed (including a couple of surprises) and his dry assessments of their value.

1. ARMAGEDDON (1998) // 1 STAR

“The movie is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained. No matter what they’re charging to get in, it’s worth more to get out. ... Armageddon reportedly used the services of nine writers. Why did it need any? The dialogue is either shouted one-liners or romantic drivel. ‘It’s gonna blow!’ is used so many times, I wonder if every single writer used it once, and then sat back from his word processor with a contented smile on his face, another day’s work done.”

2. THE BROWN BUNNY (2003) // 0 STARS

"I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than The Brown Bunny."

When the movie’s director responded by mocking Ebert’s weight, Ebert said, “It is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of The Brown Bunny."

3. JASON X (2001) // HALF STAR

"'This sucks on so many levels.' Dialogue from Jason X; rare for a movie to so frankly describe itself. Jason X sucks on the levels of storytelling, character development, suspense, special effects, originality, punctuation, neatness and aptness of thought."

4. MAD DOG TIME (1996) // 0 STARS

"Mad Dog Time is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time. Oh, I've seen bad movies before. But they usually made me care about how bad they were. Watching Mad Dog Time is like waiting for the bus in a city where you're not sure they have a bus line  ... Mad Dog Time should be cut into free ukulele picks for the poor."

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995) // 1.5 STARS

"Once again, my comprehension began to slip, and finally I wrote down: 'To the degree that I do understand, I don't care.' It was, however, somewhat reassuring at the end of the movie to discover that I had, after all, understood everything I was intended to understand. It was just that there was less to understand than the movie at first suggests."

6. DEUCE BIGALOW: EUROPEAN GIGOLO (2005) // ZERO STARS

"[The title character] makes a living prostituting himself. How much he charges I'm not sure, but the price is worth it if it keeps him off the streets and out of another movie. Deuce Bigalow is aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience. The best thing about it is that it runs for only 75 minutes ... Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."

7. MR. MAGOO (1997) // HALF STAR

“Magoo drives a red Studebaker convertible in Mr. Magoo, a fact I report because I love Studebakers and his was the only thing I liked in the film. Mr. Magoo is transcendently bad. It soars above ordinary badness as the eagle outreaches the fly.”

8. SPICE WORLD (1997) // HALF STAR

"Spice World is obviously intended as a ripoff of A Hard Day's Night which gave The Beatles to the movies ... the huge difference, of course, is that the Beatles were talented—while, let's face it, the Spice Girls could be duplicated by any five women under the age of 30 standing in line at Dunkin' Donuts."

9. GOOD LUCK CHUCK (2007) // 1 STAR

"There is a word for this movie, and that word is: Ick."

10. FREDDY GOT FINGERED (2001)// 0 STARS

"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."

11. CORKY ROMANO (2001) // HALF STAR

Corky Romano is like a dead zone of comedy. The concept is exhausted, the ideas are tired, the physical gags are routine, the story is labored, the actors look like they can barely contain their doubts about the project.”

12. CHARLIE'S ANGELS (2000) // HALF STAR

Charlie’s Angels is like the trailer for a video game movie, lacking only the video game, and the movie.”

13. MANNEQUIN (1987) // HALF STAR

“A lot of bad movies are fairly throbbing with life. Mannequin is dead. The wake lasts 1 1/2 hours, and then we can leave the theater. Halfway through, I was ready for someone to lead us in reciting the rosary.”

14. EXIT TO EDEN (1994) // HALF STAR

“I’m sorry, but I just don’t get Rosie O’Donnell. I’ve seen her in three or four movies now, and she generally had the same effect on me as fingernails on a blackboard. She’s harsh and abrupt and staccato and doesn’t seem to be having any fun. She looks mean. ...  What were your first thoughts the first time Rosie turned up in the leather dominatrix uniform? Did you maybe have slight misgivings that you were presiding over one of the more misguided film projects of recent years?”

15. HOCUS POCUS (1993) // 1 STAR

“Of the film’s many problems, the greatest may be that all three witches are thoroughly unpleasant. They don’t have personalities; they have behavior patterns and decibel levels. A good movie inspires the audience to subconsciously ask, ‘Give me more!’ The witches in this one inspired my silent cry, ‘Get me out of here!’”

(What can we say? Ebert was occasionally wrong.)

16. TOMMY BOY (1995) // 1 STAR

“No one is funny in Tommy Boy. There are no memorable lines. None of the characters is interesting, except for the enigmatic figure played by Rob Lowe, who seems to have wandered over from Hamlet. Judging by the evidence on the screen, the movie got a green light before a usable screenplay had been prepared, with everybody reassuring themselves that since they were such funny people, inspiration would overcome them.”

17. THE VILLAGE (2004) // 1 STAR

“Eventually the secret of Those, etc., is revealed. It’s a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It’s so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don’t know the secret anymore. And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we’re back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets.”

18. THE LOVE GURU (2008) // 1 STAR

“Myers has some funny moments, but this film could have been written on toilet walls by callow adolescents. Every reference to a human sex organ or process of defecation is not automatically funny simply because it is naughty, but Myers seems to labor under that delusion. He acts as if he’s getting away with something, but in fact all he’s getting away with is selling tickets to a dreary experience.”

19. SHE'S OUT OF CONTROL (1989) // 0 STARS

“What planet did the makers of this film come from? What assumptions do they have about the purpose and quality of life? I ask because She’s Out of Control is simultaneously so bizarre and so banal that it’s a first: the first movie fabricated entirely from sitcom cliches and plastic lifestyles, without reference to any known plane of reality.”

20. SUMMER SCHOOL (1987) // HALF STAR

“You see it, you leave the theater, and then it evaporates, leaving just a slight residue, something like a vaguely unpleasant taste in the memory.”

21. CLIFFORD (1994) // HALF STAR

“It’s not bad in any usual way. It’s bad in a new way all its own. There is something extraterrestrial about it, as if it’s based on the sense of humor of an alien race with a completely different relationship to the physical universe. The movie is so odd, it’s most worth seeing just because we’ll never see anything like it again. I hope.”

22. NORTH (1994) // 0 STARS

"I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."

Alan Zweibel wrote this film, and he got a chance to confront Ebert about the review. In a bathroom.

23. 200 CIGARETTES (1999)// HALF STAR

"Maybe another 200 cigarettes would have helped; coughing would be better than some of this dialogue."

24. DEATH TO SMOOCHY (2002) // HALF STAR

"In all the annals of the movies, few films have been this odd, inexplicable and unpleasant."

25. SAVING SILVERMAN (2001) // HALF STAR

"Saving Silverman is so bad in so many different ways that perhaps you should see it, as an example of the lowest slopes of the bell-shaped curve."

He included a critique of Neil Diamond, who makes a guest appearance in the movie: "As for Neil Diamond, Saving Silverman is his first appearance in a fiction film since The Jazz Singer (1980), and one can only marvel that he waited 20 years to appear in a second film, and found one even worse than his first one."

26. THE JAZZ SINGER (1980) // 1 STAR

From rogerebert.com:

"Diamond's whole presence in this movie is offensively narcissistic. His songs are melodramatic, interchangeable, self-aggrandizing groans and anguished shouts, backed protectively by expensive and cloying instrumentation. His dramatic presence also looks over-protected, as if nobody was willing to risk offending him by asking him to seem involved, caring and engaged.

"Diamond plays the whole movie looking at people's third shirt buttons, as if he can't be bothered to meet their eyes and relate with them. It's strange about the Diamond performance: It's not just that he can't act. It's that he sends out creepy vibes. He seems self-absorbed, closed off, grandiose, out of touch with his immediate surroundings."

27. ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (1994) // 1 STAR

"Most of the people look as if they would rather be in other movies. The movie basically has one joke, which is Ace Ventura's weird nerdy strangeness. If you laugh at this joke, chances are you laugh at Jerry Lewis, too, and I can sympathize with you even if I can't understand you. I found the movie a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot. Kids might like it. Real little kids."

28. STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT (1992) // HALF STAR

"Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! is one of those movies so dimwitted, so utterly lacking in even the smallest morsel of redeeming value, that you stare at the screen in stunned disbelief. It is moronic beyond comprehension, an exercise in desperation during which even Sylvester Stallone, a repository of self-confidence, seems to be disheartened."

29. THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (2005) // 1 STAR

"Of course you don't have to be smart to get into The Dukes of Hazzard. But people like Willie Nelson and Burt Reynolds should have been smart enough to stay out of it. Here is a lame-brained, outdated wheeze about a couple of good ol' boys who roar around the back roads of the South in the General Lee, their beloved 1969 Dodge Charger. As it happens, I also drove a 1969 Dodge Charger. You could have told them apart because mine did not have a Confederate flag painted on the roof."

30. GODZILLA (1998) // 1.5 STARS

"Going to see Godzilla at the Palais of the Cannes Film Festival is like attending a satanic ritual in St. Peter's Basilica. It's a rebuke to the faith that the building represents. Cannes touchingly adheres to a belief that film can be intelligent, moving and grand. Godzilla is a big, ugly, ungainly device to give teenagers the impression they are seeing a movie."

31. THE BUCKET LIST (2007) // 1 STAR

"The Bucket List is a movie about two old codgers who are nothing like people, both suffering from cancer that is nothing like cancer, and setting off on adventures that are nothing like possible. I urgently advise hospitals: Do not make the DVD available to your patients; there may be an outbreak of bedpans thrown at TV screens."

32. DIRTY LOVE (2005) // 0 STAR

"I would like to say more, but—no, I wouldn't. I would not like to say more. I would like to say less. On the basis of Dirty Love, I am not certain that anyone involved has ever seen a movie, or knows what one is."

33. BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000) // HALF STAR

"This movie is awful in so many different ways. Even the opening titles are cheesy. Sci-fi epics usually begin with a stab at impressive titles, but this one just displays green letters on the screen in a type font that came with my Macintosh. Then the movie's subtitle unscrolls from left to right in the kind of 'effect' you see in home movies."

34. THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS (2000) // HALF STAR

"This is an ideal first movie for infants, who can enjoy the bright colors on the screen and wave their tiny hands to the music."

35. PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) // 0 STARS

"John Waters' Pink Flamingos has been restored for its 25th anniversary revival, and with any luck at all that means I won't have to see it again for another 25 years. If I haven't retired by then, I will. ... Note: I am not giving a star rating to Pink Flamingos because stars simply seem not to apply. It should be considered not as a film but as a fact, or perhaps as an object."

Reviews via RogerEbert.com.

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10 Big Facts About Last Action Hero
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Last Action Hero was a funky disaster. What began its life as an homage to the absurdity of '80s action movies called Extremely Violent became more or less a live-action cartoon starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as an action movie character who learns he’s an action movie character before saving the real world. There are golden tickets that let people and fictional beings cross over from one world to the next, a slew of intentional errors to remind us that we’re watching a movie, and an animated police detective cat voiced by Danny DeVito. Somewhere in the filmmaking process, it devolved into a spoof in the envelope of a love letter.

It was a hard-charging flop that’s earned back some cult appeal for audacity, with all of its fun-loving potential on screen next to all the eyebrow-raising nonsense. Here are 10 facts about the action movie too insane to succeed.

1. THE PRODUCTION ITSELF GOT META EARLY ON.

Original screenwriters Zak Penn and Adam Leff wrote what would become Last Action Hero as a film that would work both as an adrenaline-fueled action ride and as a goof on adrenaline-fueled action, but the sources they drew inspiration from soon invaded the project. Action icon Jack Slater’s name was originally Arno Slater as a nod to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who then took the role of Arno Slater. Penn and Leff studied all of Shane Black’s scripts (the Lethal Weapon movies and The Last Boy Scout) to get the satirical rhythm right, but then Black was hired to rewrite their script. They also used Die Hard and other John McTiernan-directed movies as a baseline for the movie’s style, and then McTiernan was hired to direct their movie. Their comedic love letter was taken over by titans of the very genre they were mocking, who were then put in charge of mocking themselves.

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE SIMPSONS.

Beyond the Schwarzeneggerific action flicks, Penn and Leff launched the project because of an unlikely source: Matt Groening’s irreverent cartoon. “The weird thing is that The Simpsons inspired it in the first place,” Penn said. “We thought, ‘if this show can destroy genres even as it embraces them, why can’t we do it in live action?’” By the time Last Action Hero hit theaters, The Simpsons was already spoofing Schwarzenegger and his action movies with muscle-headed Rainier Wolfcastle, the star of far too many McBain movies, and the show that gave Penn and Leff the creative license to write their film later roasted Last Action Hero directly. In “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” Bart Simpson tells Wolfcastle his last movie sucked, Wolfcastle admits there were script problems, and Chief Wiggum quips, “I’ll say. Magic ticket my ass, McBain!”

3. CARRIE FISHER, WILLIAM GOLDMAN, AND LARRY FERGUSON ALL DID REWRITES.

Penn and Leff were replaced by Black and David Arnott, who were replaced by novelist and Oscar winner William Goldman (The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). Goldman earned a hefty $1 million fee which, according to Black, was to provide a safety net for producers. If it flopped, they could claim they did everything they could, including hiring a world-class writer to whip the screenplay into shape. Turns out they’d need all the excuses they could marshal. With Schwarzenegger and the studio still unhappy with the script, they called in other voices to polish the dialogue, including Carrie Fisher and Larry Ferguson, who was fresh off of The Hunt For Red October. The studio then tried to rehire Black to punch up some action sequences, but he refused. “It just made people breathe easier throwing money at this enormous behemoth,” Black said. The multitude of writers was a major reason the movie ended up so disjointed.

4. THE SCHEDULE DOOMED THE MOVIE FROM THE OUTSET.

Regardless of any problems finding the right script (rewrites are common on all big movies), the movie had almost zero chance because there simply wasn’t enough time to make it. From the greenlight to Columbia Pictures’s expected release date of June 18, 1993, McTiernan and company had a bit over nine months to put together a wannabe blockbuster with a massive budget, lots of explosions, and a ton of VFX.

Robert Greenberg, who was hired to do the CGI, said, “I don’t think a production of this scope has been pulled together on such a short schedule,” echoing a sentiment McTiernan (and others) would have later while explaining its failure.

As the project barreled toward a release date that the studio refused to change (even after a disastrous public feedback screening they claimed was “absolutely sensational”), the crew was working 18-hour days, six days a week. It got so bad they had to bring in a masseuse, and the final cut was done mere days before they had to ship prints to theaters. Last Action Hero was also released a week after Jurassic Park, which was … not so good for it.

5. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER GOT AC/DC TO WRITE A SONG FOR IT.

Last Action Hero was the first movie Schwarzenegger executive produced, and he had approval on every detail—right down to the marketing. Knowing that Jack Slater would need an explosive, memorable anthem, Schwarzenegger personally sought out AC/DC, but instead of asking for the rights to one of their hits, he asked them to write something new. Thus, “Big Gun” was born. It’s an uncomplicated, face-melting rock song and the most memorable element of the entire movie. With all the other miscalculations over the movie’s tone, the production schedule, and the release date, at least Schwarzenegger got this one right.

6. THEY HIRED A CHEAPER VERSION OF ALAN RICKMAN.

Charles Dance in 'Last Action Hero' (1993)
Columbia Pictures

Just as Schwarzenegger was the model for the beefy, gun-toting hero, the villainous Benedict was based on Alan Rickman’s steely Hans Gruber from McTiernan’s Die Hard. The young boy (played by Austin O’Brien) who travels into the world of Jack Slater’s movies even breaks the fourth wall by referring to Benedict as Rickman at one point in the script. So, naturally, the production tried to bring Rickman on board, but he turned them down. They hired Charles Dance for the role instead, and when Dance discovered he was a less expensive second choice, he showed up to set wearing a shirt proclaiming, “I’m cheaper than Alan Rickman!” which almost definitely fit with the meta vibe of the production.

7. THERE WAS AN OVERWHELMING NUMBER OF CAMEOS IN IT.

Schwarzenegger also called in a lot of favors from co-stars and connections he’d made while ascending to the very top of global Hollywood stardom. Sharon Stone shows up as her Basic Instinct character alongside Robert Patrick as a Terminator 2 T-1000 in a background shot. Schwarzenegger’s then-wife Maria Shriver appears as herself, Danny DeVito voices the police cat, and Joan Plowright plays a teacher showing a class her real-life late husband Laurence Olivier’s version of Hamlet (“You might remember him as Zeus in Clash of the Titans”). Plus, Leeza Gibbons played herself doing celebrity interviews, Tina Turner plays the mayor of Los Angeles, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jim Belushi, and Chevy Chase are in the audience for the premiere of Jack Slater IV. Tony Danza, MC Hammer, Little Richard, and James Cameron also pop up. There are even more, but the best is Ian McKellen playing Death, emerging from the screen from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

8. THERE IS ALSO AN OVERWHELMING NUMBER OF REFERENCES TO OTHER MOVIES.

References are to be expected with any spoof, but Last Action Hero smothers you with them. IMDB lists 68 references, which means there’s a reference to another movie every two minutes. They range from King Kong to The Wizard of Oz to Serpico to E.T., but of course the bulk of the callbacks evoke movies from Schwarzenegger, Black, and McTiernan. There are nods to Commando, The Running Man, Die Hard, Total Recall, Raw Deal, and an advertisement for Terminator 2 (with Sylvester Stallone starring instead of Schwarzenegger). But the sharpest homage comes after Frank’s (Art Carney) house blows up when a black cop says with resignation, “Two days to retirement,” referencing Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon.

9. IT WAS BOTH ART CARNEY'S AND TORU TANAKA’S FINAL FILM.

Carney got his start in radio in the late 1930s before becoming a star on The Honeymooners and winning an Oscar for Harry and Tonto in 1974. In Last Action Hero, he plays Jack Slater’s favorite second cousin, whose death he’s avenging in Jack Slater IV because he’d avenged all his closer relatives in previous films. It was his last movie, and his last line was, “I’m outta here.”

It was also the last credited appearance for Toru Tanaka (a.k.a. pro wrestling’s Professor Tanaka), who appeared in action movies in bodyguard and warrior roles. His inclusion in Last Action Hero as “Tough Asian Man” might also be considered a callback to The Running Man in which (spoiler!) Schwarzenegger also fights and kills his character.

10. IT WAS THE FIRST MOVIE TO BE ADVERTISED ON A NASA ROCKET.

The advertising campaign for Last Action Hero was boisterous to say the least. There was the four-story-tall Jack Slater/Schwarzenegger inflatable at the Cannes Film Festival (which they also erected in Times Square), but they went even bigger by painting the movie’s logo on an unmanned NASA rocket. The first attempt at space-based advertising reportedly cost $500,000 and literally didn’t take off. As with everything else in this doomed project, the COMET rocket that was set to launch in May to promote the June release of the movie was delayed for technical reasons and didn’t head for the stars until after the movie had flopped.

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