Schwarzenegger Last Action Hero

What kid wouldn't like to live out his fantasies and enter into the magical world of the movies for a while This is the very charming premise of Last Action Hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger's new film: a big-budget, large-scale production that is at once an action adventure and a comedy-fantasy.

Schwarzenegger says he fell in love with the screenplay the moment he read it. “It was first and foremost entertaining,” explains the star, who is himself larger-than-life. “The story had a lot of comedy and action, but above all it had heart.” The megastar holds that “the element of fantasy is shared by everyone, young as well as older viewers.”

In the fairy tale-like film, a magical ticket literally blasts 11-year-old Danny Madigan (played by Austin O'Brien) out of his theatre seat and into the screen. Teamed with his favorite action hero, Jack Slater (Schwarzenegger), Danny gets to live out his wildest fantasies–crashing cars, flying through windows, taking on the bad guys. It's a fictional movie world where anything is possible, where the good guys always win.

The fine line between onscreen excitement and off screen real life, and how the two worlds blur is at the center of Last Action Hero. “Watch it,” Danny warns Slater when he is introduced to FBI agent John Practice (played by F. Murray Abraham), “he killed Mozart, referring to Abraham's Oscar-winning film, Amadeus.

The movie contains plenty of funny as well as surprising complications. Danny's magical ticket falls into the hands of the movie villains, who escape to the real world. Slater and Danny are subsequently forced to leave the fictional world of Los Angeles for the crime-ridden streets of New York–one of the film's many inside jokes–to get the bad guys.

Last Action Hero reunites Schwarzenegger with renowned director John McTiernan, best-known for his thrilling action adventures, Die Hard and The Hunt of Red October. The two men had met on the set of Predator, in l987, before Schwarzenegger became a household word. “Both John and I have been waiting for an ideal project on which to work together again,” Schwarzenegger says, Last Action Hero is an action-packed movie with an incredible story that we both loved.” For the star, “it's the ultimate kid's fantasy to meet your hero, climb buildings, take on five guys at once and win major battles.”

McTiernan thinks that “the action genre is particularly ripe for fantasy and comedy.” Refusing to make another formula action movie, he and Schwarzenegger decided, “to have fun and use the audience's knowledge of the genre as the basis for our jokes.” McTiernan says he chose “a gentle tweaking of the action genre–and Schwarzenegger's established screen persona, all done with a tongue-in-cheek humor.” Their intent was to make “an original film that at once pays tribute to and parodies such classic action movies as Gunga Din and McTiernan's own, Die Hard.

“After spending many years shooting machine guns and setting off explosions,” McTiernan elaborates, “I jumped at the chance to take a certain perverse joy in doing things that people find amusing, since everyone thinks I'm such a somber and serious person.”

Asked how Schwarzenegger has changed since their last picture together, McTiernan is quick to respond: “Arnold has become a lot more accessible. He has effectively mastered the hardest skill for a screen actor, which is just being yourself, let your personality show on screen at ease, without effort.” McTiernan says he wanted to project in the new movie “Arnold's gentle and straightforward charm.”

Mutual admiration prevails between the director and his star. Says Schwarzenegger: “John has the talent of creating a suspense in film. He is also highly attuned to action that is bigger than life. But I don't think anyone realized that he also has a great sense of humor and can bring a lot of comedy into what he's doing.”

Schwarzenegger is undoubtedly the most popular movie star in the world. His unparalleled track record includes such box-office hits as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Total Recall, and Twins, to mention just a few of his recent pictures. Terminator 2, the sequel to his l984 film, The Terminator, grossed more than 200 million dollars in the U.S. alone and close to half a billion dollars worldwide.

The big challenge for Schwarzenegger in making a movie that exaggerates and satirizes the action genre was not to emulate his previous movies and, at the same time, to surpass all other action films in thrills, stunts, chases, and special effects. The ideal was to recreate and recapture the excitement of watching the Saturday morning TV cartoons, for children as well as for adults.

Last Action Hero also tells a poignant a coming-of-age story, which makes the movie, according to the star, “a little warmer and softer than most action pictures.” The film explores the growth and maturation of both Danny and Slater as a result of their shared experiences and intimate friendship. Slater learns that even though he is a fictional hero, he does have enormous impact by enriching people's lives.

Schwarzenegger actually plays a dual role in the movie: Jack Slater, the fictional hero, and himself, the actor who embodies the role. “As a team,” the star says, “the imaginary character learns to become real, and the real character explores the limits of his own imagination.” Danny, too, learns a few useful lessons about himself, about his family, and about his life.

Schwarzenegger says he signed on as executive producer “to ensure that the film will get the kind of treatment it merited.” Indeed, from asking a silversmith to fashion Jack Slater's belt buckle to helping design the publicity poster, he reportedly involved himself “one-hundred percent” in the project. “Arnold came to the set on his day off to look at every single set designed,” says McTiernan, “he had an opinion about and an interest in everything.” Co-star F. Murray Abraham concurs: “Arnold was extremely nice to the crew and the extras. I've never seen this from a star of his magnitude before. He wants everybody involved to have a good time, and we did.”

At the same time, Schwarzenegger concedes that it was a very difficult film to make, because of the many changes in sets. “There were many challenging scenes and many sets changes,” he notes, “but there were no problems, no disputes. Our director was solid and demonstrated leadership qualities.”

For McTiernan, the hardest scene to shoot was one of the climaxes, when Slater is falling off an elevator, which is 150 feet high. He explains: “It couldn't be a stuntman. It had to be Arnold, and that was tricky–and risky too.” Overall, though, Last Action Hero was “a miracle of production.” The whole process, from pre-production to post-production, took only seven months, an unheard record time in Hollywood, where a picture of this size and scope usually takes over a year.

To achieve high-quality production values, McTiernan and Schwarzenegger have assembled an impressive technical crew. The exhilarating photography is by Dean Semler, Oscar-winner for Dances with Wolves. The movie also features a revolutionary soundtrack, marking the debut of Sony's Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS), which simulates the richness, purity and resonance of CD-quality sound.

Schwarzenegger is surrounded with a large ensemble of excellent character actors: veterans like Anthony Quinn, Art Carney, and Robert Prosky, and younger and offbeat performers like Britisher Charles Dance (who plays a flamboyant villain) and the very American Mercedes Ruehl as Danny's mother. It's also great fun to spot Chevy Chase, Sharon Stone, Jean-Claude Van Demme, and others, all playing cameo roles.

Last Action Hero became a genuine family enterprise, when Schwarzenegger's real wife, Maria Shriver, was cast in the movie. “Her role was written into the script as an actress playing my wife,” Schwarzenegger says, “so I suggested that it be Maria.” The star fondly recalls how anxiety-ridden his novice-actress wife was before shooting began–and before the movie's premiere.

The star is known for his preference to act in his movies with children. “When you are with children,” he explains, “you change. It brings out different qualities and facets of your personality that don't come off otherwise.” Schwarzenegger specifically singles out children's sweetness, innocence, vulnerability, and genuine excitement–dimensions that don't come off otherwise.”

Schwarzenegger believes that Last Action Hero is most suitable for children. As executive producer, he was very careful in giving rights to Jack Slater's line of toys. “These toys will not include machine guns,” he says with a sense of pride. Having become a father himself, Schwarzenegger is now much more sensitive to the issue of values in his films. He now propagates family-oriented pictures: “I am a firm believer in the rating system: let's parents decide what's appropriate for their children.”

In his view, American children watch much too much TV. “We take kids from the environment and put them in front of TV sets,” he says, “often in order to have some quiet time for ourselves. But in the process, we end up creating TV addicts. Television is the biggest enemy to fitness.” Known for his athletic prowess and discipline, he is a firm believer in physical training. “My children can choose to be whatever they want,” he says humorously, “but they will have to train every day!”

Schwarzenegger is aware that his most ardent fans are children and teenagers, but he holds that Last Action Hero has something to offer for every age group. Its witty script is full of sly comments on movies viewers are likely to recognize, from Sylvester Stallone all the way to Laurence Olivier and Ingmar Bergman. Indeed, dealing with the impact of movies on our everyday lives, Last Action Hero has a universal appeal.