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What happened to Harrison Ford?

November 15, 2010 |  7:00 am

For

He traversed distant galaxies with Chewbacca, shot sword-wielding assassins with Marion Ravenwood and outfoxed federal marshal Samuel Gerard all by himself.

But these days all those things may as well have happened to a different actor than Harrison Ford, who in the last decade has robbed banks, sought rare cures, captained Russian subs and investigated murders of hip-hop stars, all in the land of obscurity. ("Firewall," "Extraordinary Measures," "K-19: The Widowmaker" and "Hollywood Homicide," if you were trying to guess what movies those were.)

This weekend's release of "Morning Glory" painfully underscored Ford's marginality. The actor plays a grizzled, serious journalist who's forced, through the unique power of Hollywood cause-and-effect, to take a job as a bantering morning host. The comedy-drama  about the state of the news business was marketed heavily using Ford's name and visage, and the actor gamely went on the likes of "The Late Show With David Letterman" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to promote it.

For all the critical jibes, Ford is actually not bad in the role, stalking around with a dour face while doling out digs to his co-anchor like, "Do they have rehab programs for bitter beauty queens with self-esteem issues?" But few, apparently, wanted to see him do that. The movie failed to reach even $10 million in domestic box office this weekend. If you show some chops but no one is there to see it, did you really show them?

What's most disappointing about "Morning Glory" is that, after a decade without a comedy, Ford's turn in something more spry was supposed to mark a new chapter by getting him back to his crowd-pleasing ways. But the movie's disappointing performance adds one more nail in a coffin that's been enveloping Ford's career, "Buried"-style, for years. The actor has been striking out repeatedly as the heroic action figure and didn't fare better when he went somber as a medical miracle worker in "Extraordinary Measures" earlier this year. Now it turns out we don't want to see him in a comedy either, not even when he's playfully riffing on his own taciturn persona.

In his heyday, Ford was much more than an action hero, of course; he was winning over audiences with dramas such as "Regarding Henry" and even gaining decent notices in romantic comedies like the "Sabrina" remake -- exactly the kinds of roles he should be excelling at as he nears 70 and can't leap into waterfalls anymore.

What happened? Did we outgrow Ford? Or was his range never as great as we thought it was?

Some would say that this is all a function of bad choices and that, to salvage his career, the actor should go back to action roles, maybe self-deprecating ones. (The Jack Ryan reboot is a natural candidate). The one time he did that in the last few years, after all, was with "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," and the fans turned out. But with the bad taste that movie left in some mouths, it's hardly clear that would work either.

In a sense, Ford has had the opposite career of his "Star Wars" costar Mark Hamill. Unlike Ford and his prolific output, Hamill hasn't been in a major motion picture in more than two decades. That's not exactly Hamill's own choice, but it's had an oddly positive effect on his reputation. While Ford's series of poorly received movies has lately relegated the actor to self-parody, Hamill has paradoxically remained in a good pop-culture place, his image unravaged by time or bad roles.

Ford next stars in the science-fiction-western hybrid "Cowboys & Aliens," a movie that stays close to his trademark action heroism but branches out in enough new directions that we might be willing to embrace him again. He should hope we do -- he's running out of genres to come back with.

Photo: Harrison Ford in 2008's "Crossing Over." Credit: Dale Robinette / The Weinstein Co.

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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Comments () | Archives (58)

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Contrary to your opinion, audiences have not outgrown Harrison Ford, rather they have come to accept the "visual junk food" that is served up and called today's movies. Yes some of Ford's recent films have done poorly in comparison to his amazing blockbuster track record, but why fault him for trying new roles and not rehashing the Han Solo character for the past thirty years. Today's films are constructed on such flimsy plots because I don't think the audience on the most part could handle the complexity of Ford acting in films like "The Mosquito Coast". So what's left is an actor with great screen presence left to work with what's given to him. Like Wolfgang Puck made to serve up lunch at an In and Out Burger. "Morning Glory" is a fine film, and by all means would have been financially successful on an audience 15 years ago, but what the movigoers want now is fluff and explosions that is over in 90 minutes. So is that Ford's fault? They haven't outgrown him they just de-evolved and thankfully he hasn't regressed with them. As one who runs an Indiana Jones website and podcast I am still hoping he keeps on working and can try and get that fedora and whip out again for one more Indy film for his loyal fans and I look forward to whatever he does next.

My pals and I once adored HF but then he came under the Calista influence and it got kind of icky.

It's a mammoth stretch to say that after a string of flops, Harrison Ford should envy Mark Hammil's reputation. Ford is an iconic actor who has been in a bunch of hugely successful (and iconic) movies. I would say the blame lies in the combination of his choices and the options that are out there for a leading actor in his 60's. Cowboys & Aliens is sure to erase whatever nonsensical hypotheses you put forth in this post.

You're giving Mark Hamill too much credit, while giving Harrison Ford too little. Mark's bad roles in bad movies other than Star Wars (not that great in repeat viewings) had given him a bad reputation.

Harrison was largely good in bad movies His delivery is purely that of an actor. He doesn't have much charisma or personality that stands apart from his role. He can no longer motivate the box office. This happens when you get old. Its no different for other actors. It's just too bad. Goodbye, you had a good run, but now it is over.

Ford was "winning people over in REGARDING HENRY ? "
That film was a huge scud...Mike Nichols leaves it off his resume.

Brutal Mr Zeitchik.

How would any of us fare under such a vitriolic microscope?

Mr. Ford has a quality that few will ever possess in this land of fantasy. No matter his future, he will always have my respect and admiration for a lifetime of kick ass movies.

What have you done?

Its age brother. Catches up with the best of us. He can't do the kind of roles that made him Harrison Ford and refuses(d) to do roles in smallish films (Traffic). However, he is a star and his decision to take supporting roles (Morning Glory/Cowboys and Indians) is a good sign.

Harrison should do what Sean Connery did and hook up with younger A-list males. Harrison and Matt Damon. Harrison and one of the guys from Twilight. Harrison and younger women won't cut it, any more. He needs to let someone else carry the movie for a little bit. Ensemble casts might be a good thing for him to consider.

Poor marketing is what happened. No one is going to see a movie when you don't know it's even coming out. A Wednesday release was a poor choice and underscores Paramount unwillingness to market it properly.

Harrison Ford is not a great actor. He has had a great presence as a movie star, but acting? You see better actors in third rate dinner theater.

I look at my breakfast plate as I write this and what do I have left? A small piece of ham, a little bit of scrambled egg, and a 1/4 of a bagel. At best, I have 2 bites of each left. Its inevitable that I am going to finish my breakfast very soon. I think the same can be said about Harrison Ford. Actors can stay relevant for a long time, like Clint Eastwood. But what did Ford really do? Action films. Solo, Indy, and Ryan. It's tough to transfer that coolness when you're old into comedy or drama films. Eastwood did it cause he's just great and he wise I guess. Ford is just well washed up it seems. As Randy Newman said, I could be wrong, but I don't think so.

I think Mark Hamill is a fine actor, and should be in more films. His voice work as the Joker shows a glimpse of the range of his talent. I think he never really got a fair shot. Harrison Ford has appeared in a range of films, and his talent is proven. I don't understand by what yardstick you're measuring him. He's close to 70. How many other actors of his age have the body of work that he has? And what are they doing now?

I agree with Mitchell. I don't think it's Harrison Ford as much as the films themselves, how they are marketed, and what constitutes a "hit" these days. Also, when you mention "Regarding Henry" and "Sabrina" as the types of roles he should be playing now, you overlook the fact that those two films were also considered flops at the box office. His performances may have been "well received," as you say, but so is his performances in "Morning Glory." Since you are measuring success by box office grosses, those two films were also failures by your standard. And Ford has not spent "15 years without a comedy," as you state. "Hollywood Homicide" and "Six Days Seven Nights," both comedies, were released after 1995. At least your facts should be right when you are using them to make your case.

Better to burn-out than it is to rust.

A lot of actors are "accidental" and they doing other things. Like skydiving or flying planes. I believe Harrison was accidental and his real love is flying planes, and if he and his movies make money, he's happy. It supports his "things to do".
What happened to him? He got older. Unlike Pacino who was always a dramatic (over the top actor), Ford should have done more comedy. In Sabrina he was the older man. In Working Girl he was the older man. Has he thought about doing what Jack Nicholson does -- and playing with an older woman as his love interest? He would have fit in with the Meryl Streep comedy with Alec Baldwin.

I guess it can be chalked up to not getting the better scripts...I guess.
But don't count him out.

What is the purpose of this column? And why focus on Harrison Ford out of all the actors in the same boat? I think that it's pretty typical for actors to find it harder to get good parts as they age.

For crying out loud!! Harrison Ford is pushing 70! This man has had a healthy, long-running Hollywood career--for 30 years!! Need I add he's incredibly rich because of it, and good for him.

Now, it's time for retirement and to stop pondering stupid questions as to why someone, who was a box office headliner in the 80's and 90s, is no longer!

I got two words for Mark Hamil fans: Corvette Summer.

If Mr. Ford wants to make comedies, he should pair up with funny writers, not this Sabrina remake schlock.

Your article would make more sense if you replaced the references to Regarding Henry and Sabrina with Witness and Working Girl, respectively. Henry and Sabrina were largely considered disappointments.

Ford has had a long career, but time, opportunities and choices have all contributed to his current box office appeal. He's made a number of not very good movies and publicity about his choices (Hollywood Homicide over Traffic, for example), whether correct or merely perception, create a bad impression with the public.

He was all over TV the past two weeks promoting Morning Glory and kudos for him for making the effort. Aside from Diane Keaton on the Today show, where was the rest of the cast? How about a few appearances together? He's got the reputation of the town curmudgeon - a little humor and back and forth with co-stars might lighten him up and make the movie seem more appealing. As it were, we had the very measured, quiet and sarcastic Ford promoting a comedy, nearly on his own. What's wrong with that picture?

Grand pa Ford get out of the way there are real actors out there.

I don't understand this article. Why does Mr. Ford owe us anything, especially a "comeback"? You don't actually believe that "Morning Glory"'s lackluster performance actually had anything to do with Ford, do you?

Movies do well or don't do well for a whole lot of reasons that usually have absolutely nothing to do with their cast. In a way, this article is just so vapid and hackneyed that it's hard to figure out whether or not the writer even thought about what he was writing.

But because movies and their success and/or failure is such a gossamer thing to try and understand, the poor souls tasked with writing about them have to construct all kinds of phony scaffolding on which to hang their ideas. It's all just so pointlessly inane.

How dare you.

Are you aware that he made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs?!

The reason Morning Glory was a flop, wasn't Harrison Ford, it was because it seemed like "The Devil Wears Prada" set in a newsroom. (i.e Poor marketing). The reason Extraordinary Measures flopped, Brendan Fraiser looked horrible and CBS Films had no marketing expertise what so ever. (ie Poor marketing). Notice a pattern?

He's old and his brain may be a bit mushy from decades of heavy pot smoking.
Nothing against the guy, he was fun in his prime, but that was a long time ago.
Take up a biting, well written satire and he could probably make it work.
Otherwise, let's put this one out to pasture.

Harrison Ford has to make better choices. Plain and Simple. The problem? There aren't that many choices to pick from. There aren't as many good movies as there used to be. I look at the Netflix movie list and the majority of new releases have a 3 out of 5 star rating. The Oscar race doesn't seem like much of a race. There's nothing that really stands out. I guess "The Social Network" is the closest. Perhaps "The Town"?

With Indy 4 ... I think everyone got lazy. Spielberg didn't direct Harrison Ford very well ... probably because they are all friends and it's hard to tell a friend ... um, you didn't really sell that well. Of course, the script was the biggest problem (probably not the screenwriter's fault either). The #1 reason people like Mark Hamill more now than ever is that he has the best Joker voiceover ever.

It would've been nice to see Harrison Ford in "Red" ... perhaps he'll be there for a sequel.

 
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