Year Of The Comet

Director:Peter Yates                              
Penelope Ann Miller, Tim Daly, Louis Jordan

Year Of The Comet was so obviously an attempt to imitate Romancing The Stone that it only makes sense writing a review that compares what it has to offer to the same aspects found in the original:

- Romancing The Stone was written by Diane Thomas, a first time (and, sadly, last time) screenwriter. The story may not have been completely original, but she injected enough fresh elements, and a sense of humor, so that the movie as a whole seemed fresh and original.

- Year Of The Comet was written by the famous screenwriter William Goldman, responsible for movies like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, All The President's Men, The Princess Bride, and other movies popular with critics and audiences. He has long criticized Hollywood for avoiding original stories, so it is very odd that he would write a supposedly original script that tries so hard to emulate another movie. (Another odd reason for his criticizing is that almost all of his screenplays have been based on books or people/events in the public domain, and not completely from his own imagination.)

- Romancing The Stone's adventures were primarily set in Columbia, though were actually filmed in Mexico. However, the locations in Mexico chosen for filming - both indoor and outdoor - convinced us that we were in Columbia. The jungle looked isolated and vast, the villages looked impoverished, the individual buildings looked (and were probably) real - every location looked authentic. And director Robert Zemeckis didn't hesitate to pull back the camera to show us all of this.

- Year Of The Comet was actually filmed on the locations that the events were taking place in - Scotland and the south of France. Unfortunately, we don't get to see enough of these beautiful locations. While we are occasionally given a wide shot of the area before a new scene starts, that is about all when it comes to showing off the lands' natural beauty. Most of the time, whether its people talking, or an action sequence like an out of control helicopter, director Peter Yates zooms the camera in closely. One has to wonder why the movie chose these locations if they weren't going to exploit them, especially since the events in the movie could be taking place pretty much anywhere in the world. The indoor scenes come across even worse. Filmed at Pinewood Studios (where much of the James Bond movies are shot), the indoor scenes take place in bland, cramped rooms where the camera is even closer to the action. One studio shot scene - supposedly taking place in the middle of a fog drenched lake - is an embarrassment to watch, because it was so obviously filmed in a studio tank.

- The treasure in Romancing The Stone was an emerald. Actually, for most of the movie, we didn't know what the treasure was - until the discovery, the fun was coming from the mystery the protagonists were trying to solve, and the interaction of the contrasting characters. Even when the treasure was discovered, the rest of the movie didn't forget what had made the previous part of the movie so fun.

- In Year Of The Comet, the treasure is a three-foot tall wine bottle from the Napoleon era that's worth millions of dollars. Now, I don't doubt that such a bottle in real life would be valuable. Though for some reason, the bottle in this movie doesn't have the allure that you'd think it would have. I think it's because for much of the movie, the bottle is kept in a box, where you don't see it. When we do see it, it's very dirty, with a water-stained label that's impossible to read. But I think the big reason why the wine bottle doesn't seem that valuable is that the characters in the movie don't seem to regard it with the same awe as the characters in Romancing The Stone had for the treasure in that movie. The characters in Year Of The Comet give a lot of attention to the bottle, yes, but they don't seem that excited about it. And since most of the movie is involved with their, ahem, "obsession" with the bottle, that leaves less time for stuff like humor, character development, and character interaction.

- The female protagonist of Romancing The Stone was played by Kathleen Turner, in a performance that got her a Golden Globe award, and a Lost Angeles Film Critics Association award for best actress. (Many people even today believe she should have gotten an Oscar.) Her character is a somewhat lonely, but likable, wallflower, and this personality of hers is built up at the beginning of the movie before the action starts. Over the course of the movie, we - and her - slowly start to see that she is not as helpless as she thinks she is. In a somewhat related note, she has a sibling that is crucial to the plot.

- In Year Of The Comet, the heroine is played by Penelope Ann Miller, in a performance that's sure to never win any awards. She looks and acts very bland here - so bland, I have a hard time just picturing her. Her character is apparently a shy wallflower, for that's what we're told by other characters - we don't really see behavior on her part that suggests this. She's soft-spoken, with nothing interesting to say. Only when it's convenient to the plot does the heroine change her behavior, such as when she unexpectedly dives into a lake to retrieve the sunken wine bottle, or not realizing that following an especially tall villain might be dangerous. And then afterwards, she forgets being brave in these activities, which helps in getting her character kidnapped near the end of the movie. Though the beginning of the movie (poorly done as it was) suggested that she was in store for adventures that would make her a brave, confident woman, she ends up needing to be rescued at the end. Oh yes, her sibling character here seems to have no purpose in this movie, except to insult her.

- Michael Douglas didn't get any awards or nominations for his performance in Romancing The Stone, but that doesn't mean he wasn't any good. He gave his character a lot of energy, making him resourceful and with a wicked sense of humor at times. He believably made the transition over the course of the movie that changed his character to a greedy treasure seeker to someone who cared very much about the heroine - because he was careful to suggest from the start his character had a good heart inside.

- Let's just say that Year Of The Comet's Tim Daly is no Michael Douglas. He sports a Kevin Klein mustache, possibly to try to give him the air of a goofy romantic that Kevin Klein has perhaps played a bit too often. His character is obviously written to try to be lovably and humorously coarse as Michael Douglas was in his first few minutes in R.T.S., but when Daly is at a wine tasting gathering and asks for a Budweiser, or tries to get a laugh by mixing two wines in the same glass, he just comes across as coarse. We learn little about him, maybe because a twist at the end of the movie would seem more ludicrous than it already is.

- The action scenes in Romancing The Stone were plentiful and spread out through the movie. There was a lot of variety to them - car chases, slides down a hill, falling off a waterfall, hand-to-hand fights, etc. All of them were well made.

- It takes about 1/3 of the way through Year Of The Comet before the first so-called action scene starts. It starts off with the couple, in a helicopter, trying to find the right car with a bad guy in it. They go from one car to the other, and keep finding the wrong car. This goes on for several minutes. Finally, they get to another car, and they are shot at. ("That could be him!") The crippled, out of control helicopter gently wiggles in the air for some time, not seeming to be headed to the ground. When it does crash, the crash scene is filmed in three camera setups, and at no time do we see all of the helicopter in the frame - it is very obviously attached to an off-camera crane of some kind. And that's the "big" action sequence of the movie. The other "action" sequences are either low key setups, or endless minutes of people running, driving, flying, rowing....

Looking at all of the above, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there was a big difference in the gross of the movies - Romancing The Stone was a big, instant hit, while the unheralded Year Of The Comet almost immediately died at the box office. Even the disappointing Romancing The Stone sequel The Jewel Of The Nile was more entertaining.

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See also: Cheyenne Warrior, The In-Laws, Breezy