Monday, May 26, 2008

Jonesing for Indiana

A lot has been said by now of the new Indiana Jones movie so I'll throw in my two cents.

Let me preface this by stating that I am a huge fan. I periodically watch the movies to refresh myself on them. There was a time when I was a kid where I'd watch a beat up old betamax tape of Temple of Doom almost every week. I virtually know that movie by heart (no pun intended). So you can tell that I've waited the majority of my life to see a new Indy adventure and here, 19 years after the last one, we get Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I won't spoil the plot for those who haven't seen it but suffice it to say that I wasn't expecting Indiana Jones meet the X-Files.

After seeing it, I can't believe that the majority of critics really liked this movie. Not to say it's good or bad, but the story seems to me tailor made to be hated by critics. Also, reading around the net, the opinion on the flick is very divided, with longtime fans loving it, hating it or thinking it was merely ok. As of right now, I fall into that last category. The movie had some good, some bad (maybe more bad than good), but in the end, seeing Indy on the big screen was enough to lift it to an ok rating in my book.

The good: I thought the action sequences were fun and inventive as usual. The movie started strong and then what followed had a hard time to live up to that. Movies don't normally film in sequence but I'm told that they filmed the beginning on the movie first and it shows. It takes a little while for Harrison Ford to get comfortable under the fedora but after a while, he's back in the saddle like he never left. His delivery is getting a bit slow in his old age but he still has the chops and most importantly the silly faces (like after the ride on the rocket sled). They even managed to keep true to some Indy staples. There are gross bugs, both real (scorpions) and CGI (ants!). Indy gets soundly beaten by a big tough henchman. There's the improvisation to get out of situations. There was a lot to like such as the little references to past Indy adventures, including one to the Young Indy tv show.

Using Russians as the baddies is the obvious way to go and I liked how they said Stalin was interested in developing psychic warfare, much like Hitler was obsessed with the occult. The villainess was good, too, as Cate Blanchett played the Russian accent for laughs, as if she was Natasha from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle shows.

The bad: I won't fault the out-there story at all. I find stories like this one interesting. Indy movies are supposed to be a reflection of the B-movies of the era in which they take place. Since this movie is set in 1957, you gotta look at what the B-movies of the time were and this is what you get. My problem is with the lazy direction. I read somewhere that it was directed as if Spielberg had "one eye on the exit". I like that line so I'll lift it here. Deliveries of lines were off, missing beats. At some places, you know that there was a joke delivered but the reading of the lines just didn't drive home the funny.

I also think the inclusion of Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark was a mistake. She really adds nothing and in fact I found she was pretty grating. In fact, there were too many characters. At one point, Indy is leading a team of 5 (including himself). I suppose they felt he's too old to carry the movie by himself so they surrounded him with allies but I disagree. I actually found the Mutt Williams character wasn't too bad. I thought from the onset that he'd be a horrible addition but he kind of grew on me. It should have been him and Indy running around.

Sean Connery would have been an improvement, too. It's obvious what role he was supposed to play and his inclusion would have brought a great deal of cred to the movie but since he insists on staying retired, we get a character we don't know doing things we don't necessarily care about.

Lastly, I fault Spielberg for the sometimes phony look of the movie. He insisted on filming the entire thing within the USA, instead of going on location like past Indy movies and it shows. To get the desired vistas for their locations, they relied on CGI and it shows. He did the same thing in this movie that ruined A.I. for me, namely going a few scenes too many. Indy 4 could very much have benefited from implying the ending and keeping some mystery. But it seems that Spielberg has lost his touch for subtlety and he went all out at the end, explicitly spelling out the terms of the deal. In addition to this, the original cinematographer of the Indy movies is in his 90s (he hasn't done a movie since Last Crusade). The new guy they brought on board is Spielberg's go-to cinematographer and he photographed this movie in a way that looks completely different than the others and it shows.

But to all the naysayers who complain that certain sequences are utterly unbelievable, I ask: have you even seen the other movies? Granted, Raiders is the most realistic of the bunch, but once you accept that Indy can jump out of a plane in an inflatable raft and survive, you gotta pretty much accept anything.

I enjoyed the 2 hours watching Indy 4. I laughed at times, I cringed at some gross things and creepy moments...and I also cringed at some embarrassingly bad sequences. But in the end, I had fun but it's just not as memorable as the original movies, due mostly to uneven dialogue and languid direction.

I read somewhere that Spielberg made Last Crusade to apologize to fans for Temple of Doom, which was hated in its day (but I personally love). I hope Spielberg and co. agree to make another Indy for the same reasons, but this time, bring him back to his archeology roots and not venture so far on the paranormal/supernatural side.

And to all you "worst movie ever!" reactionaries, I say please, it wasn't that bad.


Masta said...

You have a blog?

Yeah, I agree, it wasn't a terrible movie. But it was easily the worst Indy movie. Especially the ending. Did they have Jesus at the end of the Last Crusade? Then why all that? Why was it necessary? Still, I liked the alien angle. They just butchered it.

Masta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vrej said...

Haha, Jesus at the end of Last Crusade would have been amazing.

"You have chosen...wisely. Now meet my buddy, Jesus!"

Then Jesus comes out and they dance 60s-style Batman dancing.

The extraterrestrial angle was neat but should have been more shrouded to create more of a sense of wonder. Spielberg should have watched his own Close Encounters of the Third Kind to see how to handle alien revelations in movies.

Regardless, outside of our hyper-critical circle (and too-geeky internet trolls like us), the general public seems to really like it. So go figure. I guess we just think too much about things that aren't meant to be thought about. A movie like this is supposed to entertain. I was entertained. Therefore, it's a success.

Masta said...

You're easier than Paris Hilton after a night of drinking. Entertainment is good, but movies can be so much more. I guess it's a success but it's still the worst of the 4 movies. After a 19 year wait why bother then?

Vrej said...

They wanted to pad their bank accounts. Movies can be more but Indiana Jones movies are striving for nothing more than being good ol' entertainment. Not every movie has to have meaning in everything. In fact if they did, movies would be bad.
I love this bad review I read (I think on ign) of Indy 4 where the guy faulted it for not mining the emotional depths of the character and such... I just rolled my eyes. Indy movies aren't about that iand if the guy knew anything about the series, he'd know that.