Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston enjoyed huge success with 1992’s The Bodyguard – but it wasn’t without post-production problems.
It remains one of the most successful Hollywood movies of the 1990s, and to this day, its soundtrack is the best-selling of all time. It’s 1992’s The Bodyguard, one of the top grossing movies of that year, but also one of the most successfully enduring catalogue titles in the Warner Bros vaults. It continues to sell, continues to be watched, and continues to be enjoyed.
Going back to the point when it was released, the film wasn’t – surprise, surprise – a hit with critics, and considering one of its two stars, Kevin Costner, had been enjoying a purple patch and a half on the big screen, surely it was his turn for a stumble. Paired with global music superstar Whitney Houston – in her big screen acting debut no less – the knives were out for the project. But, not for the first time, critics be damned. Audiences came out in their droves, and still do, to the point where there’s now a hugely musical of the film too.
Yet it was once upon a time a little fraught, and the last few weeks of post-production on the movie raised a few eyebrows. Just a year before, in 1991, it was a different Costner film, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, that arrived off the back of stories of its director Kevin Reynolds not being in the editing room when the final cut was ultimately being prepared (to the point where the locks were reportedly changed at one point). This time, it was director Mick Jackson – an experienced pair of hands, who’d come to the project after his nimble handling of the terrific L.A. Story – who was helming.
Jackson – who also has Threads on his CV (a terrifying film that we revisited here) – shot the movie, based on a 1970s screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, and put together his edit of the film. Under Director’s Guild of America (DGA) rules, the director of the film gets a mandated amount of time to put together their cut, which Jackson did. This cut was then put in front of two different test audiences, who were both keen on the picture, and it was duly submitted to Warner Bros, pretty much ready to go.
But The Bodyguard wasn’t going to be that simple. Of the three named producers on the film – Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner, Lawrence Kasdan – all of them had directed movies themselves to various degrees of success. Kasdan had Oscar nominations to his name too, and Costner had the actual gongs on his mantelpiece. Furthermore, Warner Bros – recognising both that Costner was one of the three biggest movie stars in the world, and had also been involved in the surgery of Robin Hood – turned to its trio of producers on the picture. Jackson was given the news that the three of them were going to work on a new cut of the film, and as the Los Angeles Times noted back in 1992, “he was not, at that point, exactly pleased with the decision”.
But to the editing room Wilson, Costner and Kasdan went, and they started doing ‘fine-tuning’ work on the film. This time, unlike Robin Hood, the director was invited to sit in as they did so. He would put suggestions forward, and “sometimes his suggestions and objections were listened to, and sometimes they were not”.
A couple of things stand out about the process though. Firstly, whilst there was some tittle tattle about Houston’s performance from the gossip pages at the time, there had been little in the way of reports that The Bodyguard was shaping up problematically as it headed into post-production. Those tales only really bubbled up when it was learned who’d become more heavily involved in the edit. Secondly, again as the Times noted, “what is surprising, though, is that the studio basically allowed a director of some note to be partially removed from his own movie”.
Contractually, though, it didn’t have much choice. Costner – after he’d reportedly not had the best experience making Revenge a few years before – had used his growing star power to insert a clause in his contract, that would give him final cut if he wasn’t happy with the director’s version. Costner was the box office draw here, and Warner Bros was always going to cede to him.
So what was changed?
On the surface, the most obvious alteration was that the running time came down by the best part of 20 minutes. The final cut of The Bodyguard clocks in at 129 minutes, and that in truth still feels a little on the beefy side. Less specifically, “they wanted to rethink parts of the movie”, with Wilson adding that there were “a zillion things” they wanted to look at.
That said, this was something Jackson would have been involved with fine-tuning anyway. On a big commercial picture, it’s more the exception than the norm that an initial director’s cut is submitted, and comes back with no studio notes. But what’s different is it didn’t come across in the end that the director was steering the reshaping of the movie.
The surgery to pull the film down looks to have been concentrated on the film’s second act, which would explain why some of the breadcrumbs that lead to events in the film’s finale are on the light side. There were also concerns heading into post-production anyway that the chemistry between Costner and Houston wasn’t coming across on screen, and Costner had famously promised Houston that he’d make sure the film worked for her.
Sequences were thus re-edited to reportedly downplay some of the plot in favour of bringing the star wattage through. The 129 minute version (with credits) was arrived at in time for its November 1992 release, and box office tills were soon ringing.
With the stage musical a success and now plans for a remake, there’s never been much temptation it seems to dig back into the archives and see what Jackson’s take looks like. In fairness, there are plenty of director’s cuts we’ll never get to see, before a final cut was arrived at. But still, it’d be interesting to see – outside of the available screenplays online – what The Bodyguard nearly was.
As it stands, no director’s cut has ever been released, and aside from the odd extra scene popping up in television versions, that’s likely to be the way it stays. Given the amount of money it continues to make in its released form, there’s no incentive for anyone it seems to go rooting around the archives…
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