Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones: The Boomers Strike Back

Then and now. We should all be so lucky to age this well. I love that Indy has consistently carried a murse.

There's no way around it. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was bad. It's not that I was expecting the second coming as Lucas has mentioned in interviews, referring to the masses of uber-fans drooling at the notion of judging his latest effort to rekindle the magic. It's apparent that he and Spielberg didn't stress about fan expectation one bit. It's all on the page - characters say things that should mean something, should make the audience feel for them, but the result is soulless and boring. Chase after chase. Fight after fight. And all the elements from the previous movies are there – Indy gets tied up, snakes, Fascists, the hat & whip and lots of cave/crypt/temple time. Then some very sparse dialogue is thrown in to even out the cgi romps and completely obvious trajectory of the flick. And in the end, one is left thinking how anyone could possibly think dumping in a little low budget Sci-Fi Channel into the mix would make the first Indy in decades a good movie. Every other Indiana Jones flick has been about religion, even Temple of Doom in all its racist, stereotypical, India-bashing glory. Why, why, why didn't they have a better script with all the money in the world at their disposal? Huh, that may be the answer right there. Oh, and crystal skulls in general are complete hippie shit dribble and should never be mentioned again, anywhere, anytime. (Though I will use the word "crystal" and/or "skull" like 4 more times.)

Here's a skull I could have become emotionally involved with.
Damien Hirst's $100M platinum diamond encrusted human skull.

Our eyes only have the ability to process so much - just like the camera lens. It's a lovely relationship that’s in jeopardy. When, let’s say, a KGB agent drives a jeep through a jungle at high speeds, a passenger on that jeep cannot generally discern one leaf from another. It's just one big green and leafy blur. (Please note that I am suspending disbelief in a major way already since there are no roads in this particular jungle, especially not parallel ones that allow characters to jump back and forth from jeeps during a supposedly dramatic chase sequence. Fencing and monkeys are also involved.) Anyway, careening through the trees and underbrush is action-packed motion and can be pretty cool (see the low-fi forest speeder chase in Return of the Jedi). It's texture, it's realism - it's film. And Spielberg shot it on film, but after it's been digitized, color corrected, the composite scenery slapped on, the old people tweaked to look not quite so old - you're left with what Lucas seems to think audiences wants, a damn cartoon. Look there goes another perfectly blurred but not quite realistic leaf! Who's got delusions of grandeur now? It's so easy to Lucas bash and it pains me on a regular basis that doing so is a necessity. Who would have thought a few years’ time off would have made him ruin his original "masterpieces" in 1997, then go on to make three of the worst prequels in history and then finally put his "I'm old now and don't give a shit about what anyone thinks, especially 'Hollywood' because no matter what the final product is it's going to make an ass-load of money" stamp on one of the few franchises that appeared to be safe from resurrection. I seriously thought Spielberg would keep him in check on this one - Steven being younger, wiser and more of a critical success. It was like Ocean's 11. It looked like it was a lot of fun to make for the actors and filmmakers, but the source material sucked and in the end it wasn't really worth all the trouble. To think Spielberg wanted to do it all old skool - mat paintings and all. It would have been a site to behold. Side note: Adam and I watched Little Shop of Horrors last weekend (dir. Frank Oz, 1986) and I have to say the animatronics of that plant totally hold up. New is not always better. Little shop also had a more plausible ending.

Indy's one liners are not what they used to be either. At one crucial plot revelation Indy says, "Come on," in response to an insane theory about the use of the skull proposed by our villain, Cate Blanchet’s X-Files like KGB agent sometimes sporting a Russian accent. "Come on" was exactly my response to the preposterousness that was clearly about to unfold, except I said it more like Gob Bluth in my head. It went something like, "The guy who’s dirty dancing with his niece is going to tell the guy in the thirty-six hundred dollar pants how to run the business. Come on!" Now that franchise is worth resurrecting and should make for a good movie.

And then we have this 'Mutt' character, played by Shia LaBeouf, who teams up with Dr. Jones to find his mother (duh, Marion Ravenwood) who's been captured for a reason that escapes me at the moment. Oh, I remember, 'cause that's what the female characters in these movies always get to be - hostages. If the lady’s not evil, she’s captured at least for a little while and she’s totally had sex with Indy at some point in her life. Mutt and Indy don't even talk about traveling the world together, Indy never protests to dragging some leather bound kid into the jungle. (Insert homoerotic joke here.) Just another example of the lack of conflict throughout the entire movie. Things happen because the script says they should, no other reason. And what exactly is Shia LaBeouf's target audience? 'Cause it ain't me. Perhaps they thought by dressing him up like a biker, they'd expand his appeal. But he just looks like a 12 year old on Halloween not sure if he's going as Brando a la Wild Bunch or The Fonz. Mutt doesn't start any broken juke boxes, but his use of a razor comb and flair for primping is a clear homage to American Graffiti and there’s more. The film opens with some crazy teens racing what appears to be an American military convoy down a picturesque desert road and there's also a soda shop brawl a little later. Wait for the "I have a bad feeling about this,” line for another blast from the past. I let out an audible moan at this one. Really, you have a "bad feeling about this” - what gave it away? Was it the ancient temple's impending collapse? Or perhaps it was the fact that all of the main characters are in one room and that it's taken 2 hours to get to this point so something dramatic is sure to go down. The point of announcing that you have a bad feeling is that it’s at a moment when not everyone may see the danger. It’s not just a statement of the obvious. I wish I could just tell you, fair reader, what happens in the end. It would save you up to $12 or a space on your Netflix queue next year, but movie lover in me forbids it.

Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood) has been a yoga instructor, has a master's in fiber and has an extremely successful handmade artist knitting company. I’m sure she lives quiet life, maybe in the Berkshires, I don’t really know. We so need her more than she needs us is what Steven was thinking when he made that call. They clashed on the Raider's set, mostly because she called Steven and George out on their one dimensional portrayal of what was a truly kick-ass character - why did she put that dress on? Do you really think snakes would have bothered her? So, here she is again. Marion Ravenwood makes her long awaited reappearance in the latest, and hopefully last, Indy chronicle. Um, I guess it was exciting to see her. Indy's giddy reaction to her entrance, laying his eyes on her for the first time in 25 years was humorous and one of the few genuine moments of the movie. It was nice to see a male lead actually paired with a woman his age (though she's still 10 years younger than Harrison Ford) and this happening was so rare that it actually felt forced and lacked any trace of the sexual tension from Raiders. Translation - no one likes to old folks gettin' it on or even hinting at it.

What was missing most was the camaraderie. In Crystal Skull the relationships are not established, but assumed, the characters never get a chance to SHOW us how they feel about each other. They barely speak to each other. But in Raiders, when Sallah sees the dead monkey just in time to catch the poisoned date before Indy's toss plants it into his mouth all he says is, "Bad dates." He just saved Indy’s damn life and while Sallah made a few blunders, there was no question that this family man would risk it all for his friend. Less can be more when done right. It seems that the latest Indy is a result of the current state of American film making. Sequels rule, big stars galore, a crappy script and no one cares what happens after opening weekend because the studios have already made their money back at that point. I guess I put too much faith in Spielberg, who is not one of my favorite directors, but the man can entertain and manipulate. It just lacked his signature in so many ways. I actually expected a little bit more.
In conclusion, Temple of Doom is a better movie. Wow, I said it, it’s out there. I can’t take it back now.