Sultan of Sohlock
Producer Joel Silver’s patented brand of action movies have changed the face of Hollywood. With his latest smash Lethal Weapon 3 fast becoming the summer’s biggest hit, Trevor Johnston meets the trash titan himself to hear how it’s done.
With his voluminous black designer shirt cossetting a gut of Falstaffian proportions. the minute Joel Silver walks into the room. you’d guess he was a major movie producer. Any speculation is laid to rest the moment he opens his mouth. however. for he speaks in a torrent of opinion and enthusiasm that can barely be dammed once in motion. Listen to the man for a few minutes and you begin to conjure up images of a monument to all those secretaries and assistants who‘ve fallen by the wayside during the lengthy and hard-fought campaign that‘s seen Joel Silver conquer Hollywood.
In an industry obsessed with box office returns, Silver‘s are pretty spectacular. to say the least. With his latest magnum opus — Mel Gibson and Danny Glover doing the Riggs and Murtagh routine again in Lethal Weapon 3 — currently passing the $150 million mark in the US. grosses for the Lethal series have now passed $500 million .while the likes of [)ie Hart/2 and The Last Boy Scout. the Schwarzenegger vehicles Commando and Predator and his first big hit 48 Hours have each taken over $100 million. Even his less successful pictures like the John Hughes teen comedy Weird Science. the ultra-trashy action ﬂicks Roadhouse and Ricochet. or the cultish misfire Hudson Hawk have done more than respectable business in their own right. Starting out as an assistant to produer Larry Gordon on late 70s Burt Reynolds movies Hooper and The End. Silver picked up his first Associate Producer credit at the age of27 on Walter Hill‘s The Warriors and has been rampaging up the industry career escalator ever since.
Lethal Weapon 3 is a textbook example of the Silver formula at work. The central focus rests on a mismatched buddy-cop partnership in wild ‘n‘ crazy Mel and solid. dependable Danny. and although occasional comic relief is provided by Joe Pesci‘s energetic real estate agent, it‘s our heroes’ task by way of myriad shootouts, car chases and exploding buildings to track down and dispatch the highly disposable drug-dealing scumbag villain, played by Stuart Wilson. the token respected actor
taking home a big pay cheque. Silver has almost made a science ofthis kind of picture, refining the pacing of the big setpieces. or ‘action beats‘, by laying them out on a graph, or ‘whammy chart'. but in effect he‘s been remaking and remaking 48 Hours for the past ten years — undemanding. fast-moving. throwaway bubblegum movies for the multiplex generation. They may be cinematic fast food, but Silver‘s control over all aspects of their production has ensured that the quality control has remained high. Lethal Weapon 3, like The Last Boy Scout earlier this year, is state-of-the-art formula Hollywood.
‘1 love these action pictures!‘ beams the big man. ‘I loved ‘em as a kid. I love ‘em now. They are meaningful because they‘re entertaining movies. People say they‘re too violent, but these are action movies. Lethal Weapon is a Western. There are the good guys and there are the bad guys. The bad guys do bad things and the good guys chase ‘em. The bad guys lose and the good guys win. It‘s in fun. It‘s not serious!‘
‘Lethal Weapon is a Western. There are the good guys and there are the bad guys. The bad guys do bad things and the good guys
chase ’em. The bad guys lose and the good
guys win. It’s in tun. It’s not serious!’
He neglects to mention that lots of stuffalso gets blown up, but it‘s not long before Joel is holding court with childlike glee on one of his favourite topics — explosions. Even though he‘s trashed helicopters, jumbo jets and buildings in the past, Lethal Weapon 3 is obviously special to him because. aside from the office block in the opening scene, he also gets to torch an entire housing development in the big finish — and there‘s even a post-credits sequence where a substantial portion of Orlando falls down before your very eyes.
‘People now call us,‘ he says with pride. ‘These guys in Florida were about to implode some huge block and asked us ifwe could do anything with it, so we went ahead and put our explosions in there with their stuff. So we got the shot for $50,000 and
Lethal Weapon 3: ‘state-ot-tho-art lormula Hollywood‘
it helped keep costs down. I just got another call from Hong Kong. They heard I was about to make a movie called Demolition Man with Stallone and wanted to know ifI was interested in filming this sixteen acre walled city they‘re about to bring down so they can redevelop. We’re working hard on that one!‘
With this sort of Attila The Hun attitude to filmmaking, it‘s not surprising that tales of Silver’s excesses have become legend in Hollywood, leading Lawrence Kasdan to caricature him in Grand Canyon with Steve Martin in the role ofthe schlockmeister mogul. The spiralling budget on Die Hard 2. largely caused by a severe lack of snow, encouraged the studio to investigate the movie‘s accounts; he‘s also alleged, for instance, to have chartered a jet to fly a box ofchocolates from LA. to the Hudson Hawk set in Italy. Generous to friends, he looks after himself by buying Frank Lloyd Wright houses and furniture (‘l‘m in this business to buy art not make art‘ was his oft-repeated quote to Art & Antiques magazine), and as screenwriter Daniel Waters remarked, ‘Joel never stays in a hotel room he
can‘t hunt elk in.‘
Indeed, the glare of publicity began to get so penetrating that Silver has latterly been forced to make himself more accessible and venture out to promote his movies. ‘You know,‘ he sighs. ‘historically, the producer was a kinda behind-the-scenes character which I was very happy to be, but the press decided that if I wasn‘t going to talk to them, then I must be a pretty terrible guy. I started reading about somebody who wasn‘t me and so I realised that I‘d made a mistake by keeping myself at a distance. Now I'm enjoying coming over to Europe where journalists are a lot more positive and at least I‘m seeing a representation ofsomeone I recognise. The American press is just so vicious. In the 405 they would run a story like. “June Allyson has a new dress!”; these days it‘s, “June Allyson ate her dog — and we’ve got pictures of the bones!“‘
Lethal Weapon 3 opens across Scotland on Friday 14 A ugust.
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The List 3| July— 13 August 199217