July 29, 2021

Rise, Fall and Resurrection of Renny Harlin, the Man Behind the Biggest Failure in Hollywood History | ICON

Many young people fantasize about making a movie. Some, scripted or unscripted, take it out with friends and get, in the best of cases, a great memory. Only a select few, however, would be able to take the matter so seriously as to plan a production, contacting Chuck Norris so that she stars and that the star of Walker, Texas Ranger not only do you think it is a viable project, but accept it. This was the terrifying starting gun of the race of Lauri Mauritz Harjola (Riihimäki, Finland, 1959), a boy who would end up signing some of the most popular Hollywood films of the nineties. Only with another name: Renny Harlin.

It has something symbolic that Harlin, a highly reputed craftsman who, in less than a decade, managed to chain six films such as The Adventures of Ford Farlaine (1990), The Jungle 2: Red Alert (1990), Maximum risk (1993), The island of severed heads (1995), Lethal memory (1996) and Deep Blue Sea (1999), began its decline in parallel with the beginning of the Internet era, a whole change in the relationship between films and the public due to, among other reasons, the rise of professional and non-professional criticism. After all, the action cinema (also in a major commercial decline around the turn of the century) gets along better with innocence than cynicism. However, the new great transformation that the industry has undergone in recent years –that of the business model, due to the consolidation of the streaming-, he has not caught Harlin with a different foot: his new country of residence is China, from where he boasts of being able to make, as before in the United States, great premieres of his films, to distribute them massively in theaters and to reap a success box office after another.

There is something symbolic that Harlin began its decline in parallel with the dawn of the Internet age. After all, action movies are better off with innocence than cynicism.

After all, how John McClane in the saga of The jungle, the director is not someone who has never quite gotten along with modern life. It is not surprising to read him in interviews today lamenting how platforms increasingly bring viewers into the home – even though it is thanks to Netflix as we can see from this month in Spain Bodies at rest, his last job, a fun remake undercover of The jungle of crystal in a Hong Kong morgue – or talking about how many of today’s superhero movies “They rely on throwing all the visual effects in your face” rather than in the characters and narration.

Of famous shootings for their intensity in extreme circumstances (such as that of Maximum risk in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, two miles high and under persistent thunderstorms) and for his commitment to get actors to do stunts without stuntmen (“The audience has to be worth the money”), the career of Renny Harlin is characterized by a strong will to do everything the hard way. On and off the screen.

Renny Harlin with whom he was his partner, actress Laura Dern (left of image), kissing Sharon Stone in 1990.Photo: Getty

“Thinking back on how insane our endeavors were, the only reason we succeeded was that we had no idea how impossible what we were doing was. We don’t follow protocol. We had no agents, no representatives, no lawyers, nothing. We were just two Finnish boys appearing without an appointment at the production companies with our film, “Renny Harlin recalled a few years ago in an interview at the podcast How Did This Get Made?, about the first assault to the skies of Hollywood with his friend Markus Selin. The two Finnish lads did not finally get their debut starring Chuck Norris, who dropped out due to production delays, but their son, Mike Norris, did. With a million dollar budget (half of it obtained from a producer after showing him 25 minutes of film that they had shot on his own), Hell in the Arctic it was released in more than 1,000 theaters in the United States. And in no room in his native Finland: the plot, which followed the adventures of American students who cross the border with Russia for fun and end up embroiled in deadly persecution, was too troublesome for a country from the soviet orbit in 1986.

Harlin and Selin spent all the funding on the project, without setting aside a salary, and the latter – today one of Finland’s great film producers – decided to get off the boat. Harlin felt humiliated to return to his country without achieving his purpose (to become “director of American action films,” as he says he once proclaimed in high school to the astonishment of his teacher) and resisted. Some collaborators of New Line Cinema, the studio that hired him to direct A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, even insinuated that, before the start of production, he gave a feeling of poverty and seemed to live in his car, something that the filmmaker denied: “He did not have money for a car.”

“We weren’t aware that what we were doing was impossible. We didn’t follow protocol. We were just two Finnish lads showing up without an appointment at the production companies with our film.”

The fourth installment in the saga of Freddy Krueger it changed everything. Renny Harlin had managed to make a horror movie, Presidio, from the hand of the producer of John Carpenter. After that, she was determined to convince New Line to see her and give her the chair of director of Elm Street 4. The strategy? Insistently showing up at their offices, overwhelming them with your stream of ideas, and not taking no for an answer. The stars aligned in favor of the Finn: with the release date set, a writers’ strike ensued without yet a final text for the film. With all the reluctance in the world, Bob Shaye, head of the studio, decided to go ahead with the ideas of that lunatic Scandinavian who was constantly prowling around, looking pitiful, and summing up his plans for the new movie to turn Krueger into ” the James Bond of terror”.

Contrary to the norm in a franchise, the circumstances allowed Harlin to make a very personal and eccentric film, with nightmares of his own devising (like the one about the pizza of souls) for the Krueger appearances. The moment of the first spectator test is remembered by the director as “the most wonderful experience” of his life: “I didn’t know if it was going to work or if it was going to be the biggest disaster in the world. All the executives and I were sitting in the last row. The projection began and the public was delivered. They shouted, laughed, clapped several times in the middle of the movie. It was as if, all of a sudden, all the nerves, all the fear, all the anxiety, all the effort, living in a miserable place without any food, was compensating for me ”.

“It was a risky gamble, but I fought it with my heart. My father, unfortunately, died before seeing me succeed. But I will always remember the moment I called my mother on the opening weekend of Nightmare on Elm Street 4 And I said, ‘Mom, I’ve done it.’ Bob Shaye, who was with me at the time, also picked up the phone to say, ‘You must be proud of your son. He has directed the greatest success in the history of our studio. ‘ She cried. He had suffered a great deal. There were periods of up to six months when I didn’t even have money to call home and she didn’t know if I was still alive, ”Harlin said.

“I will always remember the moment when I called my mother at the premiere of Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and i told him “Mom, I have done it”. She cried. He had suffered a great deal. There were periods of up to six months in which I didn’t even have money to call home and she didn’t know if I was still alive. “

Despite his entry through the front door into horror, Harlin ended up becoming a great action film figure, just as he wanted. After exiting the project Alien³ for creative differences with Fox, Considering the director’s vision too risky (he wanted to set the film on Earth), Harlin directed instant hits for a decade, with some of the most celebrated villains of the 90s, or failures that ended up achieving cult status.

In that second category, even with a certificate of Guinness record: the one with the greatest financial disaster in cinema – up to that moment – by The island of severed heads, which raised ten million dollars on a budget of one hundred. And it is also ironically remembered by the director as his “honeymoon” with the actress. Geena Davis, with whom he married at the beginning of production. The filming of the pirate movie was a tidal wave of actors disengaging at the last minute, sets destroyed and rebuilt by order of the director, unfinished script scenes and riots in the team of camera operators, the little push that was missing for bankruptcy. Carolco Films studio, of the once almighty Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vagna. To his credit, also in the economic section, the achievement of the increase in the average salary for film directors that he assures that he achieved after negotiating his salary of one million dollars for Maximum risk.

In the opinion of Kiko vega, film critic in Espinof, for ICON: “Renny Harlin became the great white hope of action cinema with three consecutive masterpieces, The Jungle 2: Red Alert, The Adventures of Ford Farlaine Y Maximum risk. Others will say it was because of the hair. But when The island of severed heads he hit the host of the century, he couldn’t get rid of the sanbenito ”.

After the success of Deep Blue Sea –A film that, in its craziness, could be considered a precursor to the current stream of exploitation titles of series B with flying sharks (Sharknado) o mutants (Attack of the two-headed shark) – Harlin went from failure to failure, both critically and publicly. Kiko Vega, however, rejects that his late stage is totally negligible: “He still leaves things as entertaining as 12 traps or as damn interesting as Devil’s step, one of the best and most misunderstood peaks of horror in recent years ”.

Of course, far from getting pouty, Renny Harlin has continued to deliver new works with a maximum space of two years between them, he has returned to work in Finland – where he is preparing the third installment of the successful national comedy saga Injury meeting– and, as a result of his new settlement in China, he has also been able to remove the thorn of rolling with Jackie Chan: your previous joint project, Nosebleed, it was going to be the great American movie where the legendary martial artist would finally have a chance to do his famous extreme choreographies without doubles (much to Harlin’s delight), but, after the 9/11 attacks, investors changed their minds about the advisability of carrying out the story of a window cleaner in the World Trade Center who discovers a terrorist plot to blow him up.

“I have turned out to be the right man in the right place and time”He recently told an Asian media about the second commercial youth living in China. A joke, again, at the cost of what John McClane was told in The Jungle 2: “You are the wrong man in the wrong place and time.” In both cases, the embodiment of a time and way of doing things too hard to give up.

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