Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

This won't be a review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as much as just a discussion. As a huge fan of the character, I have a lot of thoughts on the subject (as evidenced by my previous post).

First, my nutshell review: I didn't like it. It's a pretty good action movie, but not a great Indiana Jones movie. I went in with very low expectations. It surpassed those. There were many things in the movie I liked, but just as many that I didn't. As I was watching it, I was enjoying it. Then as the movie wore on, I started to like it less. When it was over, my feeling was it was pretty good. As the days wore on and I thought about it more, again I liked it even less.

Regarding my predictions, I was pretty spot on for most of them.
My expectation for Crystal Skull is more "unrealism."
Yep, got that. I mean, surviving a nuclear explosion? Can't get much more unreal than that. And aliens? Please. Actually, though, I didn't really mind the aliens, per se. I guessed correctly about them from the trailer. My problem was that a) Indiana Jones didn't seem to have a problem with them and b) they were still around. I would have much preferred for Indy to have debunked them as a myth, or to have discovered the long dead remains of aliens (as opposed to the long dead but somehow still alive remains).

Prediction for Crystal Skull: more comedy, more one liners from Jones.
I think I was only half-right on this one. Although there were definitely more one-liners from Jones, the comedy in the movie on the whole seemed more restrained and in line with the tone of the others. I was quite worried at the beginning, however, as it seemed as though all Indy could say in the first 15 minutes were one-liners.

Prediction for Crystal Skull: lots of CGI.
Right on the money. It started less than 30 seconds into the movie with the prairie dogs. Ugh. It was fairly restrained for most of the movie (with obvious but acceptable exceptions), until we got to the Brazilian jungle. From then on, it was like watching a bunch of CGIs CGIing other CGIs. Extremely disappointing.

Things I hated:
-CGI prairie dogs
-Super magnetism
-Tumbling refrigerator
-Tarzan Mutt
-Three waterfalls

Things I loved:
-Indiana Jones
-Wilhelm scream in library
-Reference to Pancho Villa & Young Indy

Overall, it was entertaining. Nothing will ever live up to the first one, and that's okay. If I were to sum up my feeling for the the movie, it would probably be "wasted opportunity." There were several, which I'll probably address in a later post.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

IJ Day!

Well, this is it. The big day. The new Indiana Jones movie opens today! Sadly, I'm not going to see it until tomorrow. I actually have very low expectations for it, which I think is the way to go. I might even go as far as to say I think it might suck. But, we'll see.

In preparation for the new movie, I watched the original one last night. I love this movie. I can't count how many times I've watched it. That being said, there are a few things about it that have always bothered me. These are definitely nit-picks, and several of them are probably going to sound ridiculous. In a movie where natives create light-sensitive booby traps out of stone and people get their faces melted off, you would expect a certain suspension of disbelief. I have no problem with any of that stuff. No, my complaints are about niggling little details that have bothered me from day one.

Dr. Marcus Brody - This is actually a complaint about The Last Crusade, but I mention it here because it was the first thing that riled me when watching last night. In Raiders, Dr. Brody is a competent, knowledgeable colleague of Dr. Jones. For some reason, in Crusade they turned him into a bumbling idiot. I have no idea why they did this. Comic relief? For a few gags? It really bothers me. Is Dr. Jones' ego so fragile that he has to be the only competent person on the screen at all times? In Raiders, this was certainly not the case. Belloq, Marion, Sallah, Toht. Everyone of them appeared to be reasoning human beings with skills and personalities of their own. By Crusade, the returning characters are almost laughable. To me, this pattern does not bode well for Crystal Skull.

Shot glass tinkle - Okay, now you know I'm really talking trivial stuff. I have great admiration for foley artists. They're the guys who add sound effects to movies. You would be surprised by the sheer volume of work they do on any typical movie. If they do their job right, the sound effects sound natural and are unnoticeable. Sure, Indy's gun sounds like a small cannon, but that's for effect. Here's my problem. Indy comes to Nepal to pick up the headpiece for the staff of Ra from the Ravenwoods. Marion is holding a couple of shot glasses to her temples to cool her head. Indy walks in, and she dashes them against the floor. The sound they make is so incredibly wrong. Have you ever dropped a shot glass, especially one of the heavy glass kind as shown in the movie? They do not "tinkle" like a fragile wine glass. They "cackle" more like the sound of billiard balls hitting one another. This has always bothered me. Not only because the sound is so wrong, but because it so obviously sounds like a very standard, stock sound effect. Come on, guys! You're the people who hit guy wires with wrenches to make laser blasts for Star Wars. Are you telling me you can't break a few shot glasses? I cringe every time I hear it.

"Belloq, Belloq" - This one is stupid, I know, but it just bothers me because it doesn't make any sense. Indy is visiting with his old friend Sallah, who is describing the German operation. He says, "They have not one brain among them, save one-- a Frenchman. They call him 'Belosh.'" At which point, Indy laughs and corrects Sallah's mispronunciation. The problem is, Sallah said that's what they call him, meaning he had heard it. That means that it's the Germans who are mispronouncing it. But how could they do that if Belloq is right there to correct them?

Well, that's enough nit-picking for now. Clearly, they are trivial. Were I not such a fan of the movie, they probably wouldn't bother me at all.

Regarding the new movie, I have a few more things to say (before having seen it). Upon watching Raiders again last night, I was able to reflect on the changes the other movies made to the franchise.
  • Realism - In Raiders, they made a serious effort to somewhat ground it in reality. The Ark of the Covenant is real; Tannis is real; the legend of the mystical powers is real. However, the next two movies became more mystical and much less grounded in reality. Shankara Stones? The Holy Grail? Not real. My expectation for Crystal Skull is more "unrealism." This is a great shame, actually, for a couple of reasons. First, there are many fascinating, yet real, historical mysteries that could be explored. Second, the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles went to such effort to be historically accurate and introduce Indy to real historical figures. What a waste that the movies have gone in the opposite direction.
  • Comedy - As mentioned above, there seems to have been a shift towards making Indy's friends and allies more comedic relief. This is regrettable, but fairly easily overlooked with the minor characters. However, it is also true of Indy himself. In Raiders, he had some comedic moments, but they were mostly situational; Dr. Jones himself rarely said anything funny. This changed in the later movies (particularly Last Crusade). While it is nice to laugh with the hero, it is also hard to take the story seriously if the main characters in it do not. Prediction for Crystal Skull: more comedy, more one liners from Jones.
  • CGI - I lamented this months ago when I first viewed and reviewed the trailer. It's just a simple fact when dealing with Lucas-- he likes CGI. It doesn't matter whether it looks good or not. Again, this is almost a complete reversal from the Young Indy series, where they took pains to shoot on real, exotic locations. Ironically, it was also in that series that Lucas started toying with digital compositing. I accept the fact that CGI is a permanent effect process of filmmaking today. I expect it to improve over time. However, it isn't there yet. As good as many effects look, they are all still almost immediately recognizable as effects. I will always prefer real effects. Prediction for Crystal Skull: lots of CGI.
I'll write more once I've seen it.

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