The newly released documentary “Milius” profiles the life and work of a highly prolific filmmaker largely unknown and unheralded beyond industry insiders. Writer-director John Milius is probably best known to the general movie going public as the man who brought us “Apocalypse Now” and the original 1984 “Red Dawn.” Yet as the documentary informs us, he was also a top script doctor and influential artist whose renegade persona kept him from fully realizing his directing desires. The movie currently airs on Roanoke Cox Cable’s Epix On Demand.
The most interesting aspect of “Milius” is its narrative composed of edited interview clips with those who knew and worked with him. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and many others provide insight and personal stories. And John Milius himself tells much of his own story.
The son of a 58-year-old shoe company owner, Milius admits he was the black sheep of his family. He tells us that asthma squashed his hopes for a military career and that he turned to film after discovering the work of the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. He studied film at USC, where he met George Lucas and other budding directors, and got his start writing exploitation pictures for AIP.
Spielberg, Lucas and others tell of calling on Milius to fix problems with their scripts. His best such uncredited fixes include the USS Indianapolis shark attack story told by Robert Shaw in “Jaws,” dialogue in “Dirty Harry” and getting Sean Connery to do “The Hunt for Red October” by writing some long speeches that Connery insisted on.
Milius also gave Schwarzenegger his career by walking him through every step of “Conan the Barbarian” and brought us the first surfing film with the little known “Big Wednesday.” Clips and interviews regarding these titles and many more make this a fascinating documentary for anyone interested in the workings of Hollywood.