I remember a rainy evening long ago when I went with some friends to see The Rocketeer. This was a time when superhero movies were touch and go. We had Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher and Alec Baldwin’s Shadow, Billy Zane’s Phantom and Pamela Anderson’s Barbed Wire. The movie gods had spoiled us with Donner’s Superman and Burton’s Batman – but The Rocketeer, for my money, was a return to form.
Featuring solid direction from Joe Johnston (Alive, Congo, Captain America), a great cast featuring Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connolly, Alan Arkin and the delightfully villainous Timothy Dalton, combined with a beautiful and heroically-sumptuous score from the late/great James Horner – The Rocketeer stayed with me after that rainy night back in the early 90’s, and it’s an experience I find myself going back to again and again.
The film though, was not an easy gig for it’s writers. They began their comic book adaptation of The Rocketeer in 1985. Writing for Disney, the partners were hired and fired several times during the five years of the movie’s development. The two had a rough executive experience, in which scenes were deleted only to be restored years later. The film finally made it to theaters in 1991.
But The Rocketeer isn’t the only picture co-penned by Danny Bilson that I love. There is Eliminators, which he wrote with his career-long collaborator Paul DeMeo (They he met and graduated from California State University, San Bernardino and together formed Pet Fly Productions.) One great tale Danny offered is that Eliminators was a poster before it was a movie. I would kill to have worked like that for the Charles Band stable back in the day. Being handed a title or a poster and being told, “Now go write the movie.”
Eliminators, Zone Troopers, Arena and Trancers would be written by DeMeo and Bilson, who aside from being a writer, is also a director and producer of movies, television, video games, and comic books. They worked on the video game James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (2003), the television series The Sentinel (1996), Viper (1994, 1996) and The Flash (1990), and issues of the comic book The Flash. Bilson also directed and produced The Sentinel and The Flash.
Danny Bilson was born into the industry, the son of Mona (Weichman) and the director Bruce Bilson (Bewitched, Get Smart, Hogan’s Heroes). But, after college, Danny struggled to break into the movie business, working as an extra while writing screenplays. Bilson and DeMeo produced their first script, Trancers (1985), a noir tale about a time-travelling detective from the future. Five sequels would follow. Bilson debuted as a director for Zone Troopers (1985), co-written by DeMeo, a tale of American World War II soldiers who find an alien spacecraft. Following this, the duo performed the same roles in The Wrong Guys (1988) a comedic spoof of boy scouting.
Danny and Paul, though the screen has seen their writing credit absent for some time, continue to work. I long for the hour when I see their names up there again, as their collaborative efforts will and always stand, for this cinephile anyway, as an invitation for adventure and excitement. While a Jedi is not meant to crave such things – of my cinema-going prerequisites they are high the list – bordering on essential.
Here he is folks . . . Danny Bilson.