Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Movie notes: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Okay, let's be honest about the Indiana Jones movies: they're goofy. I mean, there's nothing wrong with that; they're fun and exciting and fairly well-made movies. But they're goofy. ARTE has recently shown the first three of them to lead up to this new one and, having watched them again, I was mostly struck by how silly they are. Granted, when I was a child, I put together my own Indiana Jones costume and pretended to be the good doctor in the Raiders of the Back Yard , so I understand how much the movies mean to people my age; however, I also think that we all tend to romaticize our childhood memories a bit. Alas, The Goonies is also not as brilliant as I remember it.

So, inevitably, some of the reviews of the new Indiana Jones movie are going to be critical. It's too much like the other films, it's not enough like the other films, the CGI doesn't work, the jokes are still corny, etc. etc. But, again, remember people, we're not talking about Citizen Kane here. If I had to rank it, I'd put this one in third place out of the four: Temple of Doom just does not improve with age.

Also, I hope that this movie is the one that kills off CGI for good. It just looks fake and cartoony and unreal. Even in the best CGI effects, you know it's not there. There's a guy in a studio in front of a green screen pretending to talk to a demon or whatever. So, I don't think CGI will age well either. And this movie actually shows why. I never realized it before but the reason that stunt movies are exciting is because, in spite of all the safety precautions, the guy on screen might really hurt himself. It's a natural human response to have your heart rate go up when you watch a good stunt sequence. By contrast, there's a brilliant bit here with a sword fight atop two racing cars in the jungle, and it's just not thrilling because you know that this isn't a real jungle- it's a cartoon, and the jeeps aren't really moving, and the only danger is that the actor might get tired from acting in front of the green screen. There's no heft or weight to CGI. It's a cartoon, not reality.

Okay, now that that is all out of the way... I liked it. Of course I did. Harrison Ford is still a fun actor to watch; unlike his recent films, he actually enunciates here. Steven Spielberg is still a great director. I'm overjoyed to see Karen Allen on the screen again, and the idea that Marion Ravenwood was the love of Indiana Jones's life makes perfect sense: thank God it wasn't Willie Scott! Cate Blanchett is just brilliant as the Soviet villain, and Shi Lebouf does fine as Indiana Jones's greaser son. There's a great bit with some killer ants, and some nice setpieces involving respectively: a nuclear blast, a fight in a diner, swinging on vines, and a waterfall.

Granted, I would have liked more witty repertoire from Ford and Allen: they argue for five minutes and then they're in love. And they probably could have cut out some of the scenes explaining crystal skullology: it's basically the same old hokum and we don't really watch these movies for the macguffin scenes. And the film seems to be missing one big memorable scene like the bridge collapse in Temple, or the truck chase in Raiders. But, again, if they had that here, it would be in CGI, so it would look fake. Lastly, there's a bit of a lack of imagination here- the Amazon River features prominently and there's no piranha scene?

Anyway, it's a fun movie. It's not great, but none of these films, aside from the first one, are great. And it's worth seeing. Again though, stop with the CGI.


patrick said...

i keep imagining Cate Blanchett speaking English with a German accent in the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull even though she's supposed to be Russian

rufus said...

Yeah, after I saw it, all I could think of was Boris and Natasha.

Holly said...

We saw this tonight. It's... not good. It was entertaining, but so, SO taxing on my suspension of disbelief gland. I almost couldn't hear the dialog over my own internal soundtrack of, "What? the hell? Where'd that come from? Why is the... How did that... " and so on. It was just too much. And parts of it felt really cheap.

But, nonetheless, the pretty much *had* to see it. And now I have.

rufus said...

It's definitely hard to believe. But, honestly, after the ridiculous fall from a plane in an inflated raft in the second one, the series has been taxing on the suspension of disbelief. I think it helps to watch the other ones first. Another example: the bit with a flaming plane crashing through a tunnel and somehow not hurting Indiana Jones and his father inside the same tunnel in the third one. But, I can definitely see how this one was a bit much.

As for the cheapness, yeah I actually think CGI looks cheap. There's a chase scene near the beginning around Harvard that has no CGI, just stunts, but which looked, to me, better than anything else in the movie.

Holly said...

Hmm, actually, I meant the plot felt cheap. For instance, Professor Jones says no, of course I can't read this, and he looks at it for 2 seconds and reads it. Or the selectively magnetic highly magnetized case in the warehouse... or, hell, the diner full of greasers and soc's, that just turns in a huge roiling brawl for no reason at all.... just feels cheap.

Having said ALL that, let me just point out that between groans, I actually had a lot of fun watching it.

rufus said...

Yeah, I guess you definitely need an appetite for cheese with these movies.

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