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Dino De Laurentiis dies at 91

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Thursday, November 11, 2010

One of the titans of modern cinema has passed away. Dino De Laurentiis, a name synonymous with the definition of movie producer, passed away today at the age of 91 in his Beverly Hills home. The son of pasta-making parents that lived in Italy, De Laurentiis was born in 1919. By the age of 20 he was involved with the cinema craft in his home country.

In the early phase of his producing De Laurentiis was noted for making high quality art house pictures like Federico Fellini's La Strada, for which Dino won his first Oscar for. During the 1950s and 60s, there would be single years where six De Laurentiis pictures were released in Italy. His high volume style of movie-making earned him a reputation of can-do man, someone that had found a knack to make movies that were seemingly effortless to make, at least from a producer's vantage point.

De Laurentiis had a vision of making big, epic films. He made a studio in Italy called Dinocitta that produced crime pictures, romantic comedies and spectacle films like The Bible, which featured a mixture of American, Italian and English stars in the roles of Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham and other well-known Bible characters. However, De Laurentiis' vision of epic filmmaking wasn't always appealing to the public and critics, and eventually hard economic times forced him to close up shop in Italy. In the early 1970s De Laurentiis made the move to America and Hollywood and began putting together edgier films like Serpico and Death Wish (a film that he didn't receive any credit on.)

Finally, in 1976, De Laurentiis' career turned a corner with the release of the first remake of King Kong. An expensive mega-picture released during the holiday season that starred Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin and a young Jessica Langa, King Kong was savaged by critics and a moderate success financially. Lookin back, the '76 version of King Kong seemed to define the latter half of de Laurentiis' movie producer life: projects that had elements of the fantastic and unbelievable, starring ensemble casts, and that were slightly unorthodox and left-of-center from the safer blockbusters the major studios would develop and release.

For example, in 1980 De Laurentiis tried to cash in on the Star Wars zeitgeist by releasing his modern take of Flash Gordon. The Flash movie fared even worse at the box office and with critics, virtually destroying the careers of everyone that had a starring role in it. Looking at the film today, it's a movie that has its issues but it also is faithful to the character's golden age origins; the heroes and villains are larger than life and the action takes precedence over any notion of believability. Yet if you watch the film through the eyes of an 8-year-old, it's golden.

Failture was never a setback for De Laurentiis. Whereas a big budget bomb like Flash Gordon seemed to damage the ability of other movie producers to get their future projects made, that never seemed to be the case with a man like Dino. In 1981 he took a chance on a champion bodybuilder with an Austrian accent and gave him the lead role in Conan the Barbarian. Without his Conan break it could be argued that Arnold Schwarzenegger would never have gone on to be cast in The Terminator or become the world's biggest action star of the 1980s and 1990s.

De Laurentiis also took a chance by selecting David Lynch to bring Frank Herbert's epic science fiction novel Dune to the screen. As was the case with King Kong, Dune was one of the bombs of the Christmas season that year. However, it went on to find its own cult status, particularly because of Lynch's unique take on the source material and strong visual design elements.

In the mid-80s De Laurentiis forged a strong relationship with horror novelist Stephen King. The producer went on to make five movies based on King's work including the only movie ever directed by King, 1986's Maximum Overdrive. Again, the box office results of Maximum Overdrive were disappointing and the critics dealt their bodyblows upon nearly all of the King films (with the notable exception of 1983's The Dead Zone, directed by David Cronenberg), yet the evidence remained: Dino De Laurentiis was a movie producer that took chances and gave a lot of directors and actors big breaks by believing in their ability to make mainstream entertainment.

The 1990s saw a less prolific De Laurentiis chalk up just 10 producing credits. In the 2000s he seemed to have a come back, producing Ridley Scott's Hannibal and its two prequels and Jonathan Mostow's U-571. At the end of his life Dino De Laurentiis had over 500 credits to his name.

When news of his friend's passing reached him today, Californian Governor Schwarzenegger sent out this tweet: "Dino De Laurentiis always said to have a great life you need 3 things: brain, heart, balls. Let me tell you, he had them all. I'll miss him."

Others will too. For all of his cinematic misfires, there doesn't seem to be anyone like Dino De Laurentiis making movies today. Hollywood could use another one or two like Dino, business engines that believe in giving the job to the underdogs and seeing where the dice may fall.

Whatever you may think of the movies he made, there are two things that none of his detractors can deny: Dino De Laurentiis was the textbook definition of a movie producer and he left his mark on show business. Those are worthy legacies to leave behind.

Daltons chin dimple
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Posts: 12800
Posted: 11 years 45 weeks ago

As I said to Ol Beau Watkins, I guess that sequel to Orca will now have to wait.

....says "Kill Bond, NOW!"
mckracken
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Posts: 965
Posted: 11 years 45 weeks ago

Dino's name was on everything... wasnt he a producer on Tales from the DarkSide??