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    Sunday, May 25, 2008

    REVIEW: Indy IV



    First, lets check off all of things that they got right.

    Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones - CHECK
    Fedora - CHECK
    Whip - CHECK
    Exceptional REVEAL of INDY in first 5 minutes, with fedora - CHECK
    Exceptional use of whip by Indy - CHECK
    Evil foreign Government soldiers - CHECK
    Evil hot woman - CHECK
    Archaeological mystery - CHECK
    Riddles in obscure languages - CHECK
    Indy in scenes as Professor – CHECK
    Map with superimposed plane and red dots and lines denoting travel – CHECK
    Indy reacting to snake - CHECK
    Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood - CHECK
    Hidden Temple - CHECK
    Car chase where Indy commandeers a tuck by punching then throwing driver and navigator out of the cab - CHECK
    Motorcycle chase scene - CHECK
    Use of RPG - CHECK
    SFX: Impossibly loud gun fire - CHECK
    SFX: Indy hitting bad guy - CHECK
    SFX: Indy getting hit by bad guy - CHECK
    John Williams - CHECK

    Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may be a lot of things, but it isn't an Indiana Jones film. At least it isn't an Indiana Jones film like the ones I grew up with. It feels like what happens these days in Hollywood. Someone thought the Old Indy films were ripe for a remake and so they did.

    They got the music right, John Williams is back on board. They got the costumes right and the director has a feel reminiscent of a young Speilberg. They have the master sound FX reel of Indy both taking a punch and giving one, and of the singular sounds of gun fire that can only exist in an Indy film. The problem is that they left the truth and the heart of the original films somewhere.

    In trying to figure out how this happened, so let us suppose. Go with me here, suspend your disbelief for just a minute.

    First they start by hiring some of the best screenwriters around like Frank Darabont, M. Night Shyamalan and even Tom Stoppard. Tom Stoppard, this is looking good. But something isn't right, so they scrap all that and get someone they're comfortable with, David Koepp. He must turn around his drafts quicker.

    Having not read any early drafts, I couldn't say what is left of them in this film. But obviously they weren't good enough. They were probably too smart. Unsure what to do now, and I'm only guessing here, they go back and watch the first three movies, which they've heard about and even discussed at parties, but have never seen. Then for some inexplicable reason they watch all of Spielberg's work and all of Lucas' work and get the great idea to lift bits, under the illusion of homage I'm sure, of all their films and a few American classics and put them into a food processor and leave it on puree a little too long.

    OK, they don't take from all their films, just CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and AMERICAN GRAFFITI, with a little too much of both. They then add bits of WEST SIDE STORY and THE DEFIANT ONE and one TV show, THE X-FILES. They pour all of this out on a sheet pan and then sprinkle the whole thing with back story from THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES to make sure it all holds together, and let it set, probably a box set in about 8 months. Then they replace the Nazis with the Commies, which is fine, except while the Commies were bad, they never had anything on the Nazis.

    At the end of the film, I wondered why they didn't just bring Hitler back from the dead, or maybe just his brain. I guess that would have been in bad taste, or too over the top. They drop in the FBI, but surprisingly no cross dressing Hoover, and make sure we get a trite history lesson about the red scare and what a stand-up guy IKE was. Oh yeah, and the Commies are led by a female mentalist who can't actually read minds, or at least doesn't in the film. Really, after everything else, she can't actually read minds? Ok, if you say so. I guess that is hard to believe.

    Finally script in hand, and here I imagine the first draft looks like a William S Burroughs' cut up novel and is mostly held together with scotch tape. They convince Karen Allen and Harrison Ford to come out of retirement, wait Ford wasn't retired yet, and bring in one of the hottest young "actors", Shia LeBeouf, to bring in the bubble-gum contingent. Just look at his work in TRANSFORMERS, River Phoenix has nothing on him. They scrap Sean Connery, or he scraps them, and settle for a photograph of him that gets more screen time than necessary, thinking that if we at least get to see a picture of him we feel better about the whole thing. They unfortunately can't get Denholm Elliot, he has left us, but he still gets a painting, a photograph and a statue, all of which actually feels right. To replace him, they hire Jim Broadbent to step in as a character we've never met who makes a sacrifice for Indy we can hardly swallow. They scrap Sala for a character that first appeared with Indy in the YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES, which was actually a very good show, and hire Ray Winstone to play him.

    They then have the gall to ask the audience not to just suspend their disbelief, but actually make you leave it at the door, but don't worry they keep it for you in sterile cups and you get it back when you leave.

    We open with an AMERICAN GRAFFITI vs. Establishment scene as a car full of fun loving hot rodders convince the lead car of a military caravan to "drag" with them. But soon the fun ends as the caravan has to pull into Area 51, a laughably guarded Area 51. I think there were six total guards in charge of taking care of the entire warehouse from the first film that's full of thousands of dangerous trinkets such as the 'ol Arch of the Covenant. I guess if there were too many guards, people might get suspicious that was was there was worth guarding huh?

    We get Indy pulled from a trunk and get his reveal in a nice shadow as he puts on his hat. Then of course it's time to get to business and make Indy show us where the trinket the Evil Commies are looking for is in the warehouse. They know it's there, but they need him to find it. Funny, since he never saw the warehouse at the end of the first movie, but they think he did.

    What they are looking for is a crate that contains something so magnetic that it'll pull gun powder through the air to its location, but doesn't affect any other metal until it's uncovered. Later it'll attract non attractable metals such as gold. Anyway, gunpowder and shotgun shell load, which is pretty big gauge BTW, are all we need anyway. Well, Indy finds the crate, and soon there is whip action, gunfire and explosions.

    Luckily for Indy, we have a Jet car on rails, which evidently couldn't get enough funding to get its own warehouse, so I guess the 1957 equivalent of DARPA just rented part of the secret storage warehouse for it. We have a nuclear test town, which has all the TV sets turned on, and an impossible scenario of Indy surviving a nuclear blast. I don't care what anyone says, the refrigerator might have been good for a bit, being lead lined, but he's too close when he's standing on the hill watching the cloud to survive. Luckily they get him nicely scrubbed off. How they got the radioactive ash out of his lungs I don't know. I think I might know how Indy dies in the end.

    Then we're off to Peru, after a quick interrogation and a meeting between Indy and the young defiant one Shia. Oh, and then there's a motorcycle through the campus ground chase sequence with an anti Communist protest and a wise mentor moment with the students as Indy gets back on the bike that's crashed in the library.

    Truth is, up to this point I could almost get behind it even with the nuclear blast, but somewhere around this time I was just sure that a young Air Force cadet with the last name of Mulder was going to show up. In a way, I kind of wish he had. Well actually I thought he'd show up at Area 51 as Indy is being interrogated by the FBI, but I was willing to see him show up later at the soda shop where he meets Shia.

    In Peru, Indy and his young padawan dodge poison darts, which come from a menacing group of weirdos who live in a cemetery for reasons unknown. Luckily for our heroes, they decide to leave them alone once two of them are taken out. Then there is gunfire, and capture, and Oh yeah, a crystal skull that looks like it could be a carving resembling a once ancient tribe that bound their skulls to elongate them, but you don't ever buy that. Oh, the crystal skull really looks quite stupid. It makes the glowing rocks of TEMPLE OF DOOM seem like the personal rocks of Jesus.

    Of course the Commies get it and them and they are reunited with John Hurt, doing a crazy. Novel. We also get Karen Allen back at this point, looking a little more worse for ware than Indy and the final reveal of Shia being the proverbial seed of Indy. A new Junior, how precious.

    From here we get a spectacularly unbelievable car chase and then three waterfalls, luckily the car was one of the Soviet boat cars, so that was good. By this point I think Indy had commandeered four or five trucks over the course of the movie with his patented Hit them, kick them out of the moving vehicle, take the wheel technique. Usually one or two of these is sufficient. There's also an homage to the great swashbucklers of ages past as Shia sword fights the Commie mentalist, while his legs are split between two moving vehicles and he's being pounded in the junk by some sort of junk pounding flora.

    Wow, at this point I'm getting tired of recapping and I'm barely doing that. So, Car Chase followed by waterfall, followed by waterfall, followed by waterfall, followed by revelation, followed by discovery, followed by great discovery, followed by outlandish shark jumping reveal, followed by stupid maneuver, followed by narrow escape, followed by unbelievably stupid inter-dimensional flying saucer, followed by sitting.

    Luckily the beings aren't aliens. At least they knew that would be going too far so they made them "trans dimensional beings" who traveled here through an inter-dimensional device shaped like a flying saucer. Whew. That was close, I was afraid it was going to be aliens.

    It ends with Indy, Marian, Ox and Shia (Mutt) sitting on top of a rock ridge watching a new lake form where the inter-dimensional flying saucer had once been. The film ends with everyone sitting down, and why not, they were tired, and so was I. Oh wait, there's more, the wedding, which was also a bit strong to swallow. There was a horrifying moment when Shia picks up Indy's hat and you get this prickly sickness in your gut that someone's already signed a contract for something that'll make you puke, but then Ford grabs the hat before he can put it on his head and eventually the nausea goes away.

    Wait, what? Spielberg and Lucas made this? Really? Oh well, there goes the excuse I guess.

    Truth is, even I'm willing to admit that this character and the first three movies meant a lot to me. And maybe I've never been comfortable combining classic old world mythology with aliens. I'm sure the 12 year olds seeing Indy for the first time will love it, and maybe I'm a little too old to care this much about a fictitious character, but that's just the way it is.

    Yeah, I know I left out the ants, which are not realistic. At least the Rats, Bugs and Snakes in the first three were real. Sure there are colonies of ants that have been known to eat sheep and on more than one occasion a sleeping man, but they are not that big and they won't drag your yummy corpse into their giant Hill. I start to wonder if they chose ants for their hive style of living? The Inter-dimensional aliens were a hive mind species. Were they the equivalent of man eating ants from where they come from? Their temples sure did look like ant hills. And wait, what about the gophers? Yeah, what about the gophers?

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