Hasitha Fernando dives into the story behind The Fugutive on its 30th anniversary…
Even by today’s lofty standards 1993’s The Fugitive is something of a rarity – an intelligent blockbuster bolstered by powerful performances and a thought-provoking narrative. It is the kind of effort that makes movie goers say “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” and nothing could be further from that harsh truth. But enough of that, let’s turn the clock back and look at some interesting behind-the-scene details regarding this celebrated actioner, whose legacy still stands strong after three decades…
The movie was inspired by a successful 60s TV show
Although movie buffs still talk about the 1993 action thriller even 30 years later, very few remember the 60s TV show it was based on. The crime drama television series created by Roy Huggins aired on ABC from September 1963 to August 1967 for a total of four seasons before wrapping up with a phenomenal two-part finale which was the most watched television series episode up to that time.
The show served as more of an expanded version of the beloved movie adaptation but the story pretty much remained unchanged, featuring a wrongly accused Dr. Richard Kimble on the run from the law whilst trying to figure out a way to prove his innocence. Unlike the action-packed movie iteration, however, the show was more of a dialogue driven affair which saw Kimble going from town to town in an effort to thwart his pursuers. For its riveting narrative and compelling performances, the show was nominated for five Emmy Awards, ultimately winning the Emmy for Outstanding Dramatic Series in 1966.
Over two dozen drafts of the screenplay were written
As with many critically acclaimed films rife with problems, The Fugitive too had its fair share of issues. Chief of which concerned troubles involving script development. According to the film’s producer Arnold Kopelson a whopping 25 different drafts of the screenplay were produced over a period of five years crafted by nine odd writers. However, when director Andrew Davis came on board the process was streamlined, so much so, that even production was concluded within a mere two and a half months. Even so, much of the film was rewritten by writer Jeb Stuart throughout production, typically on the day of shooting, with creative input from Davis & his stellar cast members.
Steven Seagal’s Under Siege proved to be a blessing for the film
Before achieving critical acclaim and becoming a big-budget Hollywood filmmaker Andrew Davis was mainly involved with helming small-scale affairs with modest budgets. However, his fortunes changed with the debut of 1992’s Under Siege, headlined by none other than rising action star Steven Seagal.
Seagal had worked with Davis before on the 1988 crime action flick Above the Law, which happened to be the young actor’s feature film debut, but it was Under Siege that cemented Seagal’s reputation and catapulted him to mainstream fame. The movie became a major critical and commercial hit, earning rave reviews and becoming the top grossing fall film of 1992. It was during this time that Harrison Ford caught a rough cut of Under Siege, and suggested to Kopelson that Davis take the reins of his next film – The Fugitive.
Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones weren’t the first choices for their respective roles
Yep, you’ve read that right. Both Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones weren’t the top choices for the two main leads featured in the movie. For the role of Dr. Richard Kimble, Alec Baldwin, Nick Nolte, Michael Douglas and Kevin Costner were considered until Ford landed the part. Gene Hackman and Jon Voight were the top contenders for the role of U.S Marshal Sam Gerard, but ultimately Tommy Lee Jones nabbed the part. Although now we cannot think of anyone other than Ford or Jones in their respective roles, the fact that neither of them were first choices at the outset, is certainly mind blowing.
The St. Patrick’s Day sequence was filmed during a real parade
The suspenseful game of hide and seek played by Kimble and Gerard, whilst the former tried to evade the latter, was filmed during an actual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago. Director Andrew Davis being a native of Chicago was granted special permission by the mayor’s office to shoot the sequence during the real parade. However, what’s really interesting was that nothing was thoroughly planned out, and Ford and Jones merely integrated themselves to the real-life parade, playing it by ear, while the camera crew followed them around.
The film was a major critical & commercial success
The Fugitive proved to be a massive hit with critics and audiences at the time of its release. The flick went on to become the third highest grossing movie of 1993, behind the box-office juggernaut Jurassic Park and the Robin Williams comedy drama Mrs. Doubtfire, raking in an impressive $368 million worldwide by the conclusion of its theatrical run. The film also received numerous accolades during the following year’s award season nabbing seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and winning one golden nudie in the Best Supporting Actor category for Tommy Lee Jones’ unforgettable electrifying performance.
The sequel wasn’t the hit everyone thought it would be
Hollywood studios just love to destroy the very IPs they own, driven by corporate greed and promise of profit and The Fugitive too became an unfortunate victim of this. 1998’s U.S. Marshals ditched Dr. Richard Kimball and instead focused on Tommy Lee Jones’ Samuel Gerard as he, yet again, pursued another fugitive. Wesley Snipes delivers a compellingly sympathetic turn as another wrongfully accused innocent, but there’s something rote and derivative about this entire affair, that made it a proverbial misfire with audiences and critics alike.
Certain crew members were dubious regarding their contributions to the film
To start off composer James Newton Howard was unsure if the musical compositions he had crafted met the standards of director Andrew Davis. The temp tracks used by the filmmaker were musical cues composed by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith, who had created music for the likes of Planet of the Apes and The Omen. So, the prospect of the scoring The Fugitive was a daunting task for the young musician but he didn’t give up. His effort was rewarded ultimately with an Academy Award nomination. Cinematographer Michael Chapman was another crew member who was dubious of his contribution to the film, crediting Davis for his input in capturing Chicago’s beauty whilst cursing the filmmaker simultaneously for a difficult shoot. In the end, Chapman too received a nomination at the Academy Awards the following year.
The train wreck site is a popular tourist destination
The film utilized a real train for the spectacular train wreck sequence, and that’s gutsy enough, but the most surprising thing was that the wreck site still remains intact, and with the passage of time has become popular as something of a tourist destination. This was done at the request of the site’s owners and that, I must say, was one heck of a smart move. So, if you find yourself in the vicinity of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Dillsboro, California please feel free to check the iconic wreckage site out.
The Fugitive was the first major foreign movie to release in China after decades
Back in the day the Chinese film market was notorious for restricting Western media and the same applied to movies. However, after dwindling cinema attendance and people’s constant demands the restrictions were loosened and The Fugitive became the first US film to be screened at cinemas in China after decades.
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Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.