90s Movie Challenge Week 2: The Bodyguard (1992)

Welcome back, Retro-loving chums, for another round of #90sMC. This week we’re in the early 90s for a Kevin Costner-starring blockbuster that was overshadowed by a power-ballad that stayed at number one for AGES.

That’s right! It’s Robin Hood: Prince… Oh, hang on… that was last week. No, this time Paul Childs looks at an entirely different early 90s Kevin Costner-starring blockbuster that was overshadowed by a power-ballad.

From 1992 – it’s The Bodyguard!

All together now… “And Iiiiiii-eeee-iiiiiiii… Will always love you-ooooo-ooooooo…”

In retrospect, I really should have done this the other way around.

You see, last Friday, when we launched our new 90s Movie Challenge with Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, was my birthday. I wanted to kick off the series with a big, loud, exciting popcorn-muncher of a blockbuster. Had I thought about it, I probably should have kicked things off with The Bodyguard.

Have you ever played that game – Life Songs? You go to the Birthday Number 1 page on ThisDayInMusic.com and look up the songs that were top of the charts on the following landmark birthdays: The day you were born, your eighteenth, your thirtieth and, if you’re there yet your fortieth.

Mine are as follows:

Birth no. 1: Lonely This Christmas – Mud
18th: I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston
30th: Against All Odds – Steve Brookstein

Notice a theme yet? Yep, they’re all songs lamenting a particularly difficult breakup. Luckily the cycle was broken on my fortieth with Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars delivering some Uptown Funk. Last week I ended up by looking at Robin Hood’s blockbusting power ballad from Bryan Adams, so this week let’s take a look at Whitney Houston’s cover version of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You.

Originally the song for the film’s finale was supposed to be a cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted. However, when The Bodyguard was in pre-production Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe was released and guess what featured on the soundtrack. Have a listen to Paul Young’s version from the movie and see what you make of it and think about what a Whitney Houston version might have sounded like, and how such a song might have drastically changed the ending to The Bodyguard.

This, of course, prompted a re-think on the film’s big moment. It was Kevin Costner who suggested Dolly Parton’s country ballad, but it was Linda Ronstadt’s version that he played to Houston to persuade her. She was sold on the idea and the record company sought permission to record a cover of the song in a similar style to that version. Parton herself soon got wind of this and informed producer David Foster that Ronstadt’s version didn’t include the final verse and she felt that having that final verse would resonate well with the film’s ending.

Extra lyrics aside, the other biggest change to Ronstadt’s take on the song was the acapella introduction. The very idea of it made record label chiefs nervous, but Costner, who was a producer on the film, insisted on keeping it. Having watched it just the other day, I’ve got to say he made the right choice as it’s one of the film’s most iconic and emotional moments. The song spent ten weeks at number one in the UK over the Christmas and New Year period, which resulted in it making a rare appearance in both the bestseller lists of both 1992 and 1993. Whitney Houston retained the title of the longest run at number one in the UK by a female artist (sharing the accolade with Rihanna and Jay-Z’s Umbrella from 2007) until she was ousted by Tones & I in 2019 with Dance Monkey, which held on to the top spot for just one week more.

The Bodyguard was written by Lawrence Kasdan (now best known for his work on Raiders Of The Lost Ark and several Star Wars films) in 1975 as a portfolio piece while he was still working in an advertising agency and trying to break into the screenwriting business. He loosely based it on the Japanese samurai adventure Jojimbo and envisioned Steve McQueen playing the titular bodyguard with Diana Ross as the celebrity he is hired to protect.

Warner Brothers optioned the screenplay, paying $20,000 for the script and soon signed up John Boorman to direct, with Ross on board but Ryan O’Neil as her bodyguard. However, Ross pulled out and, unable to find a suitable star, the film soon fell by the wayside. It wasn’t until Kasdan penned and directed the western Silverado that the project came back to life. He showed his script for The Bodyguard to his star, the then relatively unknown Kevin Costner, who said he’d love to star in it. When Costner’s star began to rise off the back of successes like The UntouchablesDances With Wolves and Field Of Dreams he was able to use his considerable power to get the wheels rolling again on the project.

While a critical failure (although Roger Ebert rather enjoyed it) The Bodyguard went on to become the second most successful film of 1992 worldwide, outselling the likes of Sister Act, Home Alone 2, Wayne’s WorldBasic Instinct and Batman Returns. It was only beaten by Disney’s Aladdin – quite a feat for a film that had suffered a huge number of false starts and languished in production hell for almost two decades. The Bodyguard went on to become one of a select group of films to receive both Oscar and Raspberry Award nominations. Razzie nominations included for Worst Actor, Actress, Picture, New Star (for both Houston and Costner’s hair) while the Academy nominations were both for best song (Run To You and I Have Nothing). It was Aladdin’s A Whole New World which came out on top in the end.

As I said before, I watched this the other day in preparation for writing this and I had pretty much the same reaction to it as I did back when it came out on VHS – not much. Unlike some other classic 90s movies, like last week’s film, we don’t really talk about The Bodyguard anymore. It’s all pretty forgettable. The chemistry between the two leads is somewhat lacking, as are the action sequences, which are far and few between. The musical sequences work quite well, and it’s here where Houston really shines, but you can’t hang an entire movie on a collection of good looking pop videos. Houston’s acting debut is passable but not amazing and Costner’s almost phoned-in performance makes it feel like he’d rather be somewhere else. 1993’s In The Line Of Fire did pretty much the same story with far more style.

Like a handful of nineties movies, The Bodyguard has been made into a very successful stage play. I got tickets to see it for Christmas from my parents in 2016 – we saw it just a few days later on 28th December. It was supposed to be Beverly Knight playing Rachel Marron. However, I guess she got Christmas off as we got the understudy Carole Stennett. Now I don’t know how good Knight was in the role, but Stennett absolutely knocked it out of the park. I enjoyed the show FAR more than I did the film and it’s largely down to her performance.

So why have I chosen this film for our list of the fifty most important films of the 90s? Despite the fact that I’d choose the musical based on it over the film version of The Bodyguard itself or even Clint Eastwood’s own bodyguard drama every time, given the choice, there is something about The Bodyguard that screams “NINETIES!” The imagery from this film, Houston’s Queen Of The Night costume (above), Costner’s haircut, and That Song all come together to make something that’s actually far greater than the sum of its parts.

As a cultural phenomenon, The BOdyguard is a strange beast. While we were watching my wife pointed out that it’s very po-faced, almost to the point of melodrama. There are very few laughs or lighthearted moments. Even the culture clash stuff, as Costner’s Frank Farmer starts to set up a very invasive security regime in Rachel’s home, comes across as very serious. But it does have several iconic moments, looks and sounds and, like it or not, The Bodyguard did go on to define how blockbusters would be made throughout the decade and beyond. While it didn’t start the trend, it did make the career change from pop-star to film-star far more popular, setting a standard which still lasts today for the likes of Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Will Smith, Mariah Carey and Bjork.

Come back next week for more Nineties Naughtiness Matt Adcock delves into the warped world of Gross-Out Comedy with the Farrelly Brothers’ most successful (by a rather significant margin) 1998 rom-com – There’s Something About Mary.

Paul Childs

As well as writing for Den of Geek and Your Truth, Paul also runs Badgers Crossing, a site for ghost stories. He loves the 1980s and thanks to a keen interest in Public Information Films he has never been electrocuted or set himself on fire.

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