John McTiernan: The Rise and Fall of an Action Movie Icon is, from the first page, an engrossing and enjoyable read for anyone who appreciates the director or his work. Beginning with McTiernan’s early years and education at institutions like Juillard, Taylor lays out a foundation of who the young man was, as well as the European influences that formed his unique directorial sense and style, before proceeding chronologically through the films in McTiernan’s career. This tactic works well, providing readers with an understanding of some of the personal experiences and personality traits that both helped to define McTiernan’s directorial work and eventually lead to the paranoia that would contribute to his decline.
When it comes to many passionate fans of films like Predator and Die Hard, Taylor’s book will certainly engross. Each cinematic stop in his career receives multiple chapters focused not only on McTiernan’s work on the project and the behind-the-scenes struggles, but Taylor also analyzes each film in regards to how/why it succeeded or failed, and what it has to offer thematically and artistically. Whether it’s Taylor examination of how Predator aimed to take “the piss” out of American cinema’s '80s obsession with machismo and firearms or an exploration of the fractured tonal issues that plagued The Last Action Hero, those even a tiny bit familiar with these pop culture milestones will find these passages (and a majority of the book) absolutely absorbing. In addition, unlike many volumes, Taylor and McFarland were able to secure several black-and-white, behind-the-scenes photos included throughout the book, including an especially rare one from the set of Predator showing a very dejected Jean-Claude Van Damme (originally cast as the alien hunter before being replaced) posing with Carl Weathers.
Here are just a few of the many interesting tidbits geeky readers will be sure to gobble up from within the pages of John McTiernan: The Rise and Fall of an Action Movie Icon:
- It was Arnold Schwarzenegger that originally suggested McTiernan as director of Predator, based on his reaction to a screening of Nomad, McTiernan’s first film.
- Sonny Landham, who played the spiritual and stoic Billy in Predator, was such a loose cannon that the studio required he be accompanied by body guards in order to protect others from him.
- John McClane, the hero of Die Hard portrayed by actor Bruce Willis, was originally conceived as an aging detective in his 70s who’s trying to get to his daughter. The concept also almost became Commando 2!
- McTiernan also snuck in a “disguised” jab at 20th Century Fox in the final edit of Predator, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what!
FINAL VERDICT: When it comes to John McTiernan: The Rise and Fall of an Action Movie Icon, forget about getting to the chopper and, instead, get yourself to your local bookstore and pick up your own copy of this fascinating and intriguing look at the life and career of one of the greatest action movie directors of all time.
Creative Team: Larry Taylor (author)
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