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Overview for Jan De Bont
Jan De Bont

Jan De Bont


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Also Known As: Jan Debont Died:
Born: October 22, 1943 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Netherlands Profession: Cinematography ... director of photography director


Dutch-born filmmaker Jan de Bont was an in-demand cinematographer in both Europe and America before making a huge splash with his directorial debut, "Speed" (1994), which led to a hit-and-miss string of Hollywood features including "Twister" (1996) and "The Haunting" (1999). A member of the Dutch avant-garde in the 1960s, he graduated to the sexually adventurous fare of directors like Paul Verhoeven in the 1970s before heading to the States to lend his energetic camerawork to films like "Jewel of the Nile" (1985) and "Die Hard" (1988). "Speed" proved that he could deliver an action film as well as he could photograph one, but his subsequent efforts, which included "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" (2002), lacked the gritty fun of his debut. De Bont's place in cinematic history seemed to be defined largely by "Speed," though somewhat tarnished by the efforts that followed it.

Born Oct. 22, 1943 in Eindhoven, Netherlands, de Bont fell in love with filmmaking as a preteen, and directed his first films in 8mm and 16mm by the time he was in high school. His film career began while still a student at the Amsterdam Film Academy. There, he not only learned every aspect of the filmmaking process, from directing and photography to sound and editing, but he also shot several documentaries. His first significant collaborator was the Dutch avant-garde director Adriaan Ditvoost, with whom he made his cinematography debut on the 1965 short, "Ik kom wat later naar Madra" ("I'll Be In Madra Somewhat Later"). More shorts and features with Ditvoost and fellow Dutch arthouse filmmaker Rene Daalder followed; many with controversial or sexually charged themes like "Blue Movie" (1971), before he began his lengthy partnership with Paul Verhoeven on 1971's "Wat zien ik." The pair scored hits on the international scene with a pair of lushly photographed, adult-minded dramas: 1973's "Turkish Delight" and 1975's "Keetje Tippel," both starring Rutger Hauer and Monique van de Ven, who would become de Bont's wife from 1973 to 1988. During this period, Verhoeven also worked on the German television series "Express" (ZDF, 1970), which re-staged sketches from "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (BBC, 1969-1974).

De Bont began working in Hollywood in the early 1980s, where his knack for gilding softcore films was put to initial use for the low-budget comedy "Private Lessons" (1981), starring Dutch sex symbol Sylvia Kristel. His technique - high quality cinematography that used handheld cameras to deliver a kinetic edge - was soon in demand for studio films like "I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can" (1982) and "All the Right Moves" (1983). De Bont soon graduated to major releases like "Jewel of the Nile" (1985), "Ruthless People" (1986) and "Die Hard" (1988), all of which benefitted greatly from his muscular camerawork. At the same time, he maintained his working relationship with Verhoeven as the director graduated from the Dutch cinema with his international breakthrough, "The Fourth Man" (1983) and American product like the icy erotic thriller "Basic Instinct" (1992). By the early 1990s, De Bont was largely defining the look of major Hollywood features, thanks to his high-gloss work on "The Hunt for Red October" (1990), "Flatliners" (1990) and "Lethal Weapon 3" (1992), which also featured him in a brief cameo as a Dutch cameraman.

The jump from cinematographer to director seemed inevitable, and in 1994, de Bont made his debut as helmer on "Speed" (1994), a modestly budgeted thriller about a cop (Keanu Reeves) who attempts to rescue passengers from a bus carrying a bomb that will detonate if it slows down. A massive summer hit and Oscar winner for Best Editing, Sound and Sound Effects the film established Reeves as an actor hero, co-star Sandra Bullock as a star, and de Bont as the next great action director. Its follow-up, the Amblin-produced "Twister" (1996), solidified that notion with its eye-popping depiction of tornados and their destructive power. The picture was the second highest-grossing release of the year, but critics were less kind in their estimation, with many lambasting the script by Michael Crichton and wife Anne-Marie Martin as its weakest element.

De Bont's next project was an American adaptation of the long-running series of Japanese monster movies featuring Godzilla, but his projected budget of over $160 million was turned down by Sony, forcing him to abandon the project. In need to maintain his career momentum, he launched into the highly anticipated "Speed 2: Cruise Control" (1997), but the results were both a critical and box office disaster. Keanu Reeves refused to return to the project, citing its dreadful script, and his replacement, Jason Patric, had limited box office appeal. The sequel's setting - aboard a luxury liner - afforded some impressive stunt sequences, but the film lacked the appealing repartee and chemistry between Bullock and Reeves that made the first picture so enjoyable. A sizable disaster, it rattled the faith of many who had rallied behind de Bont after "Speed."

After producing the minor indie "SLC Punk!" (1998), de Bont returned to the director's chair for another big-budget, special effects spectacular. The problem with that arrangement was that the project was a remake of the 1963 ghost story "The Haunting," a film praised by audiences and critics for its ability to generate maximum scares without resorting to cheap thrills. Though he pulled together an impressive cast, led by Liam Neeson and Lili Taylor and featuring Owen Wilson and Catherine Zeta-Jones prior to their own superstardom, "The Haunting" (1999) was a dismal flop, furthering critical opinion that de Bont was the latest variety of ham-fisted blockbuster filmmaker.

The back-to-back failures of "Speed 2" and "The Haunting" inspired de Bont to take a break from his directing efforts and serve as producer on future efforts. "Equilibrium" (2002) was a dystopian science fiction film that wore its debt to "The Matrix" (1999) series on its sleeve, while the Steven Spielberg-directed, sci-fi noir "Minority Report" (2002), starring Tom Cruise, was a hit with viewers and critics alike. Perhaps buoyed by this reversal of fortune, de Bont returned to the director's chair for "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" (2003), the sequel to the 2001 video game adaptation with Angelina Jolie. Despite strong reviews from the press, the film was not a financial success, and brought both the franchise and de Bont's film career to a close. Following its release, he remained inactive as both a producer and director for nearly a decade.

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