Indiana Jones and The Case Of the Missing Movie
May 22, 2008
It was revealed to me in a dream that “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was a terrible movie. I assumed this to be a reaction to the so-so early word that the movie was getting from Cannes, and decided not even to mention this to the panel of expert psychoanalysts I keep on retainer. But after the movie started to get generally favorable reviews from generally sharp critics (i.e. Roger Ebert giving the movie 3.5 stars), I started to wonder if my dream contained some sort of hidden wisdom. Perhaps I was chosen to prophecy (or FUTURECAST) a secret truth and spread light to the critiquers who’d lost their way. No matter what, my dream got me interested in a movie that I hadn’t thought about in weeks; if for no other reason, I had to go watch Indy just to make sure that I wasn’t a prophet. With my mind on metaphysics, and money on my mind, I was off to the midnight show.
It’s quite possible that Indiana Jones 4 will be remembered as a great prequel to the Amazing Adventures of Shia LaBeouf: I Have No Facial Expressions What So-Ever. It’s also quite possible that “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” will be remembered as a poor finish for a generally great franchise, the movie where the once infallible action director suddenly looked tired; yet for that matter it’s equally likely that the movie will be remember as a an overall enjoyable popcorn movie which, if it doesn’t cut to the heart of human experience, still provides us with a welcome distraction during a time of mortgage induced malaise. Your opinion probably depends on several factors: 1) Whether or not you believe that Shia LaBeouf does in fact have facial expressions and has fulfilled the promise he showed in “Holes;” 2) Whether or not you believe that a 65 year-old Harrison Ford still has the raw sex appeal of a young Alain Delon and enjoy his boomer second romance with the ageless Karen Allen; 3) You like your movies to have disappointing endings; and 4) Cate Blanchett and the occasional thrill doth a great movie make
The movie is not without it’s positives. It’s surprisingly funny, and the chase around New Haven is quite thrilling. Plus there’s Cate Blanchett channeling equal parts From Russia With Love, Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle, and your crazy uncle’s mail-order bride from pre-Putin/pre-Oil! Russia. The Harrison Ford-Karen Allen love story is often highly entertaining and I even found the story to be an interesting, logical next exploration into the pulp genre. Actually, this might be one of the movie’s biggest scores. Lucas and Spielberg took a big chance by changing genres and moving Indy into the realm of 1950’s Sci-Fi–even if it meant the movie looked a bit too much like “Stargate.” There’s something to be admired in their limited self-iconoclasm.
Yet the movie also strikes out on what should have been its finer moments. Almost every single action sequence goes on for too long. Spielberg and Lucas no doubt sat around rocking out to Daft Punk, repeating “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” like a mantra of moviemaking. As a result, all sense of pacing is lost, and the movie’s second half is one unending chase with nary a hint of faux archaeology. The art design is simultaneously pitch-perfect, really capturing the look of our collectively imagined 1950s, and too much. Everything is bright, bright, bright without a hint of contrast. The relationship between Indy and Mutt quickly becomes one-note, while the movie has almost no sense of subtlety. What made “Raiders” and “Last Crusade Great” was its mix of outrageous mythological treasure hunting and a dash of adventure. Quest narrative’s are some of the most inherently fun types of story. (Just watch “The Ninth Gate” which succeeds in spite of everyone’s best efforts) Yet the quest is downplayed in “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull;” everyone knows where they’re going too quickly. Indy 4 is really an action movie with nods to the franchise’s legacy.
The new Indiana Jones is a spectacle, and there’s nothing bad about that. In fact, it’s welcome. It’s not quite as good as “Iron Man,” this year’s summer blockbuster by which all others will surely be judged, but it provides more thrills. “Iron Man” was a good movie that happened to end with a fight scene between men in robotic suits; it would have been good if it were just about Tony Stark, industrialist and Robert Downey, jr. still played the lead. “Indy,” on the other hand, gives all the thrills you could want and then too many more. In an effort not too look tired the movie is over-caffeinated. And while I try and grapple with the fact that my prophecy didn’t come true, I can at least be happy about the fact that I spent an enjoyable midnight at the movies.