Friday, May 23, 2008

The Return of the Indy

Well, I got our tickets in advance, middle seats of the middle row, for opening night. I was hankering for this film.

Brutal spoilers follow, so do not proceed unless you have already seen the film.

Things I liked about it:

  • The soundtrack. Exceptional, in a word. Because I was six when the third film was released, you can easily imagine I didn’t see any of the first three in the theatre. I saw them over, and over, at home. One of the best things about seeing the latest film was that I saw and heard Indy, and his accompanying orchestra, in a theatre.
  • Shia. I respect casting this young lad. It was a smart move. To maximise their box office takings, they needed an up-and-coming to draw the ’tweens, and if I had to pick, Shia probably would have been on the list (if not topping it).
  • Allusions. I appreciated the salute to the hallmarks of the legend; to rolling sculpture heads, the cherubim-topped Ark of the Covenant, the line “bedtime stories”, characters from film three, snake-phobia, fedora silhouettes, and frank disdain for opposing armies.
  • The fedora. After starting the previous point, I realised the hat deserves its own bullet. The fedora is awesome, and was always cheesy, and should remain so. The silhouettes were fabulous. Moreover, I was so relieved Shia did NOT put it on.
  • The red line on the map. Also worthy of its own spot on the list, the beloved map was given its due place. Thank you!
  • The acknowledgement that Harrison’s aged. Perhaps overdone, but unavoidable, we, as audience, needed to know THEY knew Harrison is old now. This was made clear.
  • The bomb scenes. Considering this adventure has been slotted into a decade characterised by fear of such weaponry, I felt the bomb scenes earned their place in the film. At first, I felt they were disconnected from the rest of the story, but upon reflection, I realised the surreal little utopia town – with all its blues and oranges – was probably the part I drank in most deeply. The washing line, the décor, and finally the family’s dress – nice to watch.
  • The posters. The film’s posters and other promotional material match the others so well. Bravo for using the same artist (Drew Struzan).

Things I didn’t like:

  • The dissolution of honoured themes. What happened to the balance of science versus faith being weighed? This has always been the heart of these films for all their intentional Upper-B-grade wonder. While melodramatic in tone, I felt what caused number three to rise to greater grandeur, was its theme! The science v. faith theme has served as the tune of Indy’s journey in the past. This time, although he questions the validity of tales presented, it appears there is no struggle to accept and believe in the unprovable.
  • The insertion of animal motifs. Whether crawling out of holes, carrying bodies into holes, or swinging from vines, animals seem to parade through this movie. First, to be cute (?), and then, terrifying? I did not “ooo” or “ah” in either case. I thought we were done with monkeys after the red-jacketed little guy in one, and then eating their brains in two. SURELY a sign.
  • The aliens. One of my science fiction pet peeves is aliens that do not resemble humans. I am not a fan. Signs went downhill the moment we saw those little green men and Taken became laughable in some scenes. The greatest of directors seem all too happy to give the nod to the CGI team when it comes to creating something I’ve never been able to suspend disbelief sufficiently to embrace. Give me aliens I cannot see, that I can wonder about, and find hauntingly mysterious, and I will feel suspense. Show me green men, and I will shake my head. After dealing with the paranormal Ark, the voodoo of pulsating hearts, and finally, a Christian crusade…I should have seen the aliens coming. Sadly, I did not.
  • The waterfalls and wedding. Indiana does the unbelievable, but two clichés in one film? I hate waterfalls in adventure movies, and I hate wedding endings in anything but a soppy romantic film – that’s their business. (I know, it’s Marion, but all the more reason to finish with a little more finesse.)
  • The villains. After giving us Hitler, and an empathetic Grace Kelly-like femme fatale, and Nazi brutes, it is hard to convince us the Cold War proffers comparable villains. Strive as she might, Cate Blanchett is not menacing. No Daddies were shot. Real villains would shoot your Dad, in the stomach, in a heartbeat.
  • The Scrubs dude cameo. No.
  • The sidekicks. The two old fellas are not fun, interesting, or likeable. Sallah, Marcus, and Dr Jones Snr are hard to beat. The Crusade steals the light again.
  • “The space between spaces.” If you’re going to go all science fiction on me, at least explain yourself, come on!
  • The aliens.

Things I missed:

  • The passion for success. Save Dad! Save the girl! Save the world! By disguise, by force, but fast-paced bluffing! This was the way of the past! There was a serious shortage of “giddy as a school boy” moments. Indy was all defence, no aggression. You have to want to win!
  • Laugh-out-loud comedy. What made The Last Crusade my favourite of the (former) trilogy, was pacing. The film has a sprinkling of strong humour, and a thick spread of truly memorable predicaments and puzzles. I missed that humour in the latest film. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull made me smile, not laugh.
  • Horses.
  • Complex, hypnotic puzzles.
  • The bitterness of betrayal. The audience is meant to feel a kick to the stomach to learn of a trusted character’s betrayal…or at least that satisfying pinch of excitement that the tables have turned. I missed the bitterness of learning someone I had trusted was in fact, a baddy. The betrayal in this film doesn’t cause me to feel anything, because there was not enough exposition surrounding the character doing the betraying. You need to care about a character to enable them to cause you to feel anything.

Things I found interesting:

  • Lucasfilm playing the “I am your father” card.
  • The opening scenes have a comic-book appearance. The jilted close-ups and conscious mise-en-scene make for a rigid and cartoonish start – which feels wrong in 2008 (when compared with the current style) – yet this matches the first three perfectly.
  • Indy must yet again lean down to save the betrayer from impending doom and a collapsing palace.
  • The love for heavy vehicles.
  • Cate Blanchett is hard not to watch, even though I was reminded of her performance as Katherine Hepburn. I can see why they cast her, but I found her painful and fascinating at the same time.

Overall feeling:

I’m glad they made it. I’m happy it has revived attention and appreciation for what I consider an institution. I’m glad it was better than the Temple of Doom, but, I left underwhelmed. Maybe I was too psyched…but then, it could have delivered. I just know I walked out feeling nostalgic for The Last Crusade, instead of still shaky from having experienced something new and great. In the past few years The Village, The Prestige, and even Transformers, surprised me, and left me a little giddy as I emerged from the cinema. This, sadly, left me with satisfaction that a legend lives on, and a desire to watch the third film…again.

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