Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Last Action Hero

US movie (1993). Columbia/Steve Roth/Oak. Pr John McTiernan, Steve Roth. Exec pr Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dir McTiernan. Spfx Connie Brink Sr. Vfx Richard Greenberg. Screenplay David Arnott, Shane Black. Novelization Last Action Hero * (1993) by Robert Tine. Starring Charles Dance (Mr Benedict), Ian McKellen (Death), Frank McRae (Dekker), Tom Noonan (himself/Ripper), Austin O'Brien (Danny Madigan), Robert Prosky (Nick), Anthony Quinn (Vivaldi), Schwarzenegger (himself/Jack Slater). 131 mins. Colour.

Young Danny is addicted to movies featuring tough maverick cop Jack Stalker. Aged local projectionist Nick invites Danny to a sneak preview of Jack Stalker VI and gives him a Magic golden ticket, once given to Nick by Harry Houdini (1874-1926). The ticket plunges Danny into the heart of the movie and a plot involving criminal Godfather Vivaldi and sinister one-eyed assassin Benedict, as well as a host of movie stereotypes. But the ticket works both ways: Benedict and his henchman psychopath The Ripper (killer of Stalker's son) escape into our Reality, Benedict to conquer the world using reified movie Monsters (e.g., Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street series) and the Ripper charged with killing Schwarzenegger (and hence his movie persona, Stalker). Stalker and Danny follow, the former (like Benedict) discovering that our reality is a much nastier, more painful place than the movie one. Meanwhile the ticket interacts with a screening of Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1956), so that the figure of Death stalks Manhattan's streets. Danny and Nick, reassured by Death that Stalker cannot die – having never lived – use the other half of the magic ticket to return the Hero to the movie reality, where the injuries he has sustained in our reality represent merely a minor flesh wound.

LAH, played largely as comedy – Schwarzenegger outrageously parodying Schwarzenegger movies – is a highly self-referential Recursive Fantasy, featuring countless split-second glimpses of characters from other Schwarzenegger and non-Schwarzenegger movies. Laurence Olivier is seen briefly in a school screening of Hamlet (1948), but is swiftly transformed through a mutation of Danny's Perception (triggered by the teacher's description of Hamlet as "the first action hero") into a gun-totin' Schwarzenegger in a fine Parody. LAH is, by its very nature, intimately concerned with Story and Archetypes: within the movie reality conventions govern the behaviour and destinies of characters, and the intruder Danny finds himself made to conform to what are in effect Twice-Told plotlines. If the late 1980s and early 1990s saw a peak in movie Technofantasy, then LAH can be seen as its topmost cairn. [JG]

see also: Alternate Realities; Toons.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.