Regarded as one of the finest editors of Hollywood action blockbusters, Stuart Baird's earliest credits came in an arena of filmmaking far removed from the invigorating car chases and thrilling combat sequences his post-production expertise made all the more dazzling. Serving as editor of Ken Russell's phantasmagorical rock operas "Tommy" (1975) and "Lisztomania" (1975) signaled a possible career path in the world of alternative film, but it was mainstream cinema where Baird's singular talents ultimately earned their greatest exposure. Thanks to what turned into a long association with Richard Donner, Baird's skillful assembling of the director's action blockbusters "Superman" (1978), "Lethal Weapon" (1987) and "Lethal Weapon 2" (1989) helped him develop a reputation as one that genre's premiere cutters. Baird was also soon pressed into service by heavyweight producer Joel Silver to act as a film doctor, salvaging projects that simply did not work in their current form. Thanks to his guidance, such troubled efforts as "Tango & Cash" (1989) and "Demolition Man" (1993) became moderate theatrical grossers and he earned his first directorial job with the exciting thriller "Executive Decision" (1996). Subsequent assignments in that role were not as successful and Baird returned primarily to his previous position, where he proved to be a key component in the artistic accomplishments of the James Bond entries "Casino Royale" (2006) and "Skyfall" (2012). More so than any of his contemporaries, Baird demonstrated a remarkable ability to keep movies flowing and generating tension without sacrificing their narrative or visual lucidity.
Stuart Baird was born in England on Nov. 30, 1947. A student at University College London, his exposure to screenings at the Slade School of Fine Art helped inspire Baird to consider a career in film. After serving as an assistant to Lindsay Anderson on the director's classic youth rebellion drama "If " (1969), he gained his first theatrical cutting experience as assistant editor on Ken Russell's highly controversial horror opus "The Devils" (1971). Baird's first lead editing credit came two years later on a made-for-television adaptation of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1973), produced in England, with Kirk Douglas in the famous dual role. Russell tapped him to handle the assembly of his phantasmagorical rock opera "Tommy" (1975) and was impressed enough by Baird's skills to bring him back for the similarly kinetic "Lisztomania" (1975). One thing that differentiated Baird from many editors was his preference to aim right from the get-go for a version close to a final edit, rather than gradually whittling down or re-arranging various assemblies. This process allowed films to be finalized in less time and provided him with the ability to trim away the fat, while retaining the project's innate qualities.
His work on the horror hit "The Omen" (1976) established a longtime relationship with director Richard Donner and he brought Baird back for his big-budget adaptation of "Superman" (1978), which earned the editor his first Oscar nomination. In a change of pace, Baird served as associate producer on Russell's offbeat science fiction drama "Altered States" (1980) before returning to his regular duties as the editor of Peter Hyams' Western-tinged sci-fi epic "Outland" (1981) and Donner's stately period fantasy "Ladyhawke" (1985). His next collaboration with Donner proved to be a pivotal film in the careers of both men. Co-produced by Joel Silver, the Mel Gibson/Danny Glover police thriller "Lethal Weapon" (1987) struck a chord with its mix of humor and flat-out action sequences, spawning a franchise that was one of Warner Brothers' cornerstones during the decade that followed. The editor had a distinct change of pace with the biopic "Gorillas in the Mist" (1988), for which he received a second Oscar nomination before returning to the Silver fold for the far less sedate "Lethal Weapon 2" (1989). Silver was impressed enough with Baird to call him in to salvage the Sylvester Stallone/Kurt Russell action/comedy "Tango & Cash" (1989), which had gone through two directors and cost far more than originally planned. While no one's idea of a good movie, the version that eventually hit theatres under Baird's guidance was considered acceptable and helped the studio recoup its investment when the picture proved very popular on video and cable. Now considered the leading editor for action movies, Baird was hired to cut "Die Hard 2" (1990) and "The Last Boy Scout" (1991), but also collaborated once again with Donner on the director's childhood drama "Radio Flyer" (1992).
Baird's restructuring talents were enlisted by Silver once again for "Demolition Man" (1993). Reportedly a troubled shoot under first time helmer Marco Brambilla, the futuristic actioner was revitalized in post-production and what was initially deemed a disaster turned into a medium-sized hit. In gratitude for his efforts, Silver rewarded Baird with his directorial debut, "Executive Decision" (1996). The hijacking yarn starring Kurt Russell and Halle Berry was considered to be one of the best crafted actioners of the 1990s and made back its cost. Baird was also invited to helm "U.S. Marshals" (1998), a follow-up to the Harrison Ford hit "The Fugitive" (1993), with the spotlight this time on Tommy Lee Jones' relentless law enforcement official. The film did business, but failed to duplicate the success of its predecessor and two additional projects Baird was contracted to direct for Warner Bros. were eventually put into turnaround. His doctoring skills were utilized by Paramount to supervise overhauls of their big-budget releases "Mission Impossible II" (2000) and "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (2001) and he was able to leverage those salvage jobs into a directing position on "Star Trek: Nemesis" (2002). While critical response had been fairly good for Baird's two previous times in the director's chair, this fourth entry in the "Next Generation" series was a washout with both reviewers and audiences. Cast members laid the blame at the feet of Baird - who also voiced the film's Scimitar computer, sans credit - stating that he knew little about "Star Trek" and did not appreciate the program.
After this disappointment, Baird went back to editing and eventually earned one of his most prominent assignments in some time with "Casino Royale" (2006), the James Bond reboot that introduced Daniel Craig to the beloved series. The film was a critical and financial smash, restoring credibility to a franchise that had descended into camp, and the crisp and exciting action sequences were often sighted among its strengths. Silver employed Baird once again to try and fix the mystery/thriller "Whiteout" (2009), but his expertise was more evident in the Mel Gibson thriller "Edge of Darkness" (2010) and the Angelina Jolie vehicle "Salt" (2010). The 007 entry "Quantum of Solace" (2008) was a monetary success, but earned justified criticism for aping the style of the "Bourne" movies, substituting fast cutting for coherence. Baird was brought back to the Bond fold for the vastly superior "Skyfall" (2012) and his contributions were a major factor in returning the series to the form fans most desired.
By John Charles