Action-adventure movies are back with ‘The Lost City’
There’s a familiar refrain that comes to mind when we look at something that was made long enough ago to feel like it came from a totally different time: they just don’t make any more movies like this. Whether it’s a mid-budget action flick or an erotic thriller, some movies are looking more and more like endangered species now that studios and audiences have felt the pull of the billion dollar franchise blockbuster. But there is one genre that persists and seems to be making a comeback in recent years.
The action-adventure film, which brought us classics like Romanticize the stone and The Raiders of the Lost Ark, seemed like a dying breed in the face of the superheroes, video games and toy franchises that have dominated Hollywood’s attention for the past two decades. Transporting celebrities and camera gear to faraway places is messy and expensive, and it makes sense that studios would pay more attention to stories and characters whose fan base (and with it the promise of a big payout in the box office) is already integrated. But if you pay attention, you might notice that these films, whose settings are often jungles and deserts and whose characters are either intrepid explorers of unknown lands or brave adventurers above their heads, are returned to theaters.
The lost city, is the latest of these, starring Sandra Bullock as adventure novelist Loretta Sage whose material has her kidnapped by a wealthy megalomaniac (Daniel Radcliffe in various linen suits) determined to use his skill to find a lost treasure on a forgotten island. His only hope for rescue is his Fabio-esque cover model Alan Caprison, played by Channing Tatum in charming himbo mode, and the gruff, dashing hillbilly Jack Trainer, a beefy, dirty Brad Pitt. “That’s a big part of what made us want to go to the movies and have these adventures,” The lost city co-director Aaron Nee explained in an interview with Thrillist when asked about the draw of this type of film. “And so it’s very exciting to see those opportunities return and help give the public a chance to go on an adventure again.”
“I remember being a child and seeing The Last Crusade in theaters,” added co-director and Aaron’s brother Adam. is not taken too seriously. It’s the kind of movie I’ve wanted again, my whole life.” And it seems like the audience is reacting, like The lost city did remarkably well in its opening weekend, scoring $31 million in North America on its debut.
Worth mentioning The lost city is more of an action-adventure-comedy, or an action-adventure-comedy-romance, a genre combo that never leans too far in one direction. “We talked about it like we were doing a Werner Herzog comedy,” Adam said. “It was like Fitzcarraldowhere it was so difficult, but I think throwing the cast into that setting made them feel like the stakes are going to feel real, even though it’s going to be very funny.”
The film continues the action-adventure tradition of dropping actors in the rainforest and filming them for a few months (in this case, Bullock and co. shot on location in the Dominican Republic), or, failing that, in taking care to build elaborate sets that seem to come straight from an overgrown jungle temple or a long-lost empire buried beneath the waves. There are thrilling settings like armored car chases through a sea of trees and bad guys escaping through a maze of caves, and softer moments like an impromptu dance at a local bar. It feels so much like a throwback that it’s no surprise when the Nee brothers quote Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Goonies, The Princess Bride, romance the stoneand Amblin’s films as influences.
“The word that comes to mind is not just ‘adventure’ but ‘romance’,” Aaron explained. “Not a romance like in some kind of relationship, but a romantic adventure, you know, this radical quality. ‘I’ll take you and we’ll go to strange forests and castles and such.’ That’s the kind of thing we really wanted to do with it.”
In February, Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg headlined the video game adaptation of Unexplored; in 2021, Disney released their movie related to the Disney park Jungle Cruise with Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson; in 2019 Nickelodeon and Paramount released a live action Dora the Explorer film Dora and the lost city of gold; the previous year, Alicia Vikander took on the role of grave robber video game heroine Lara Croft; David Grann’s book about British explorer Percy Fawcett has been adapted as The Lost City of Z in 2016 (whose title is parodied in Loretta Sage’s latest book). Unlike everyone else, The lost city is a completely original IP, though even in these video game adaptations and theme park dramatizations there’s a thirst for exactly the kind of story The lost city does the emulation. (And if Paramount licensed Loretta Sage-related romance novels, we wouldn’t be mad.)
Adventure films like these have been around since the invention of cinema: George Méliès delighted audiences around the world with his sci-fi parody A trip to the moon in 1902, and the mid-century fantasies of Czech director Karel Zeman Journey to the beginning of time and The Fabulous Baron Munchausen have gained new appreciation in recent years. Mention Pirates of the Caribbean and you’ll get moviegoers singing along to the special effects and iconic score, and Brendan Fraser The Mummy is a stone-cold classic with a fanbase that springs up at the slightest mention of an appreciative tweet (the Nees revealed that Daniel Radcliffe is also a big fan).
“When we read [the script], you know, it was in the first year of the pandemic, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is the movie I want to see,'” Adam said. “It was just like a hot piece of apple pie and you’re just like, ‘This is so good. That’s what I want now. Everything we were working on was very representative of the moment and darker and it was like no, no, this is what I want to be a part of.”
“I think even some superhero movies sometimes capture that,” he continued. “But I feel like we’re all craving a new story that gives the same kind of feeling as those movies. I really hope those movies come back. And I hope our movie can be a make other studios and other people say, ‘Yeah, we can make these movies.'”
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