17 July 2008

Thoughts On: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

Last Sunday evening the wife and I went to see Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.  It was exactly what I expected: light, innocuous, and disposable.

A lot of people are being "surprised" by Crystal Skull, just as you’ll recall that many Star Wars fans were “surprised” by The Phantom Menace back in 1999. I was not surprised by  either, and fail to see how anybody could've been expecting any different. Anticipating Menace's kiddie tone and inconsistent quality was simply a matter of looking back at the last sequel in that series, Return Of The Jedi, which is nearly identical to Menace in every way, except with a cast of characters we already knew and liked. 

And Crystal Skull is identical in tone and quality to Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. What is this, rocket science?


A lot of folks are tagging Crystal Skull as being “hollow”, which it definitely is.  However, I don't find it  as bad as all that.  After all, Last Crusade already transfigured the living, breathing world of my childhood hero into a candy-dipped counterfeit of his formerly badass self.   Skull takes place inside a similarly airless lucite block.  CGI has replaced cheaply built sets and occasionally lazy matte work, but that's of no interest to anybody except those who can't stand CGI.  Skull is at least partially lively, a product of the hiatus, whereas Crusade was clearly cruising on fumes.
As for the CGI complaint, yes, there is an ant attack in the middle part of Crystal Skull that is indeed worse than the crummy compositing of the mine car chase in Temple Of Doom and the airplane battle in Last Crusade.  It is straight out of the frantic buffoonery of the Mummy movies.

What I found most maddening about Crystal Skull is that no care was taken by producer, writer, director or star to make Indy’s various perils the least bit tense or plausible. Sure, in a movie where the hero and his buddies are captured by the bad guys a half dozen times or more, one might expect a certain amount of jaded nonchalance from all involved.  But Indy and his sidekicks never break a sweat.  A reason for this? The ease of escape. On no fewer than four occasions throughout the movie Indy or someone else stuns their captors into inaction by ... wait for it ... throwing a punch!  (Or tipping something over, and running!)

If only we’d known that the Soviets were so easily outmaneuvered, that whole Cold War thing would've gone a lot easier.

As in Crusade, instead of tension, we get winks and cheap gags.  So easy, so safe. 

I don’t know if there’s some sort of old Hollywood adage along the lines of: “If you can get the laugh, go for it,” but some mighty talented people (and all of the untalented ones) sure behave as if it’s carved in stone. I don’t know why filmmakers as experienced as Spielberg and Lucas think that an easy laugh is equal to getting the audience’s collective blood pumping.  I hope they know it's not so they can feel a least a tiny bit guilty.

Probably the amount of work and attention needed to pull off truly involving sequences is beyond them now.  Or maybe they feel they've “been there, done that.”  Maybe they’re afraid of failing at something they were once great at. At any rate, that’s where Crystal Skull really falls down.   It is all build-up, build-up and more build-up without any release ... except the cute gag.

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