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HARRISON FORD (Allie Fox, left) is father to RIVER PHOENIX (Charlie Fox, center) and HILARY GORDON (April Fox, right) in the new adventure drama, "The Mosquito Coast," a Warner Bros. release.
The international cast and crew of "The Mosquito Coast," composed mainly of Australians, Americans, Britons and Canadians, had to find ways to adapt to the harsh conditions of filming in Belize. Nearly everyone had their share of bruises, cuts, mosquito bites and heavy sunburn. Large snakes, even boa constrictors became a common site on the set. "To actually experience the heat, the bugs, the mud and the rain," says Helen Mirren, "was a million times better than playing it on a studio back lot with a few palm trees." Far more troubling was the sense of cultural isolation. To deal with this, many brought along the bare rudiments of civilization: two dozen VCR's with a wide selection of tapes, elaborate stereo systems, four computers and a capuccino machine. Bagels, not a Belizean speciality, were flown in on occasion from Miami.
In the film, Allie Fox purchases an abandoned "town"--Jeronimo--actually no more than a few dilapidated shacks in an overgrown jungle clearing. At Jeronimo, the Fox family builds from scratch an ingenious and comfortable settlement for themselves, complete with bedrooms, a kitchen, showers and an impressive set of gardens. Weir felt it was important that the construction of Jeronimo be filmed in continuity. To that end, three Jeronimos were created, each in a little more advanced state that the one before. "Everything had to be built," says Weir, "in the way Allie would've done it." When shooting progressed from one Jeronimo to the next, the construction crew did additional work on the previous set. By constantly circling, the camera following the construction crew, the production team was able to film in days what would have taken many months.
Music played a key role in Peter Weir's method of making the film. "I think all creativity links somewhere to music," says Weir. The director regularly carried a small tape player, which he played on the set and at the screenings of raw footage. "It's inspiration," he says, "a way of losing yourself in someone else's creation and regenerating or recharging one's own batteries." Weir also incorporated some of the indigenous musical culture of Belize into the film as source music. In one scene, he added a local band that played drums made out of turtle-shells; in another, he invited drummer Isobel Flores, a Belizean legend, to perform with his group.
To create the dense visual style of "The Mosquito Coast," Weir collaborated closely with his award-winning director of photography, John Seale. "Peter and I have always believed that you can't make every shot beautiful," says Seale. "You have to tell the story. With 'The Mosquito Coast,' we began with some lovely shots that will make the audience say, 'Wow! That's the tropics!'--but as we go deeper into the jungle, it becomes more nitty-gritty, more documentary-style. We're avoiding the perfectly-lit Hollywood look: our jungles are dark, creepy and threatening."
"John Seale and I had a phrase we used to capture the larger-than-life quality we were looking for," says Weir. "This film is eight feet above the ground. When you climb up to it, everything in this world makes sense." "My character is big," says Harrison Ford, "and I wanted to go as far as I could to the edge, beyond the limits of comfort on occasion." "Harrison is very courageous," says River Phoenix, "I think his performance is going to shock a lot of people."
While most filmmakers resists speculating about the success of a film while they're making it, a high degree of optimism was evident among "The Mosquito Coast" production team. Everyone, from the grips and electricians to the producer, director and stars, gave off the feeling that this was a special project. "As much as I like the novel and the script," Ford notes, "it's turned out to be a different movie than the one we imagined--funnier, more emotional... more complex."
"I'd like this film to have the power," says Weir, "that the books of Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens had for me, and still do. Particularly Stevenson, because of the exotic adventure stories he wrote, which were for all ages. Like 'The Mosquito Coast,' they are adult adventures--the stakes are high and the people who feel pain really feel it. I'm trying to make a grand adventure."