Sunday, May 25, 2008

In Which The Warlock Wishes His Fedora Still Fit...

So, earlier today, the PlatinumChick, Lionel, and I went off to The Greene, out in Kettering, to catch a glimpse of yet another massive summer blockbuster. This time on the agenda: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

To be perfectly blunt about this, I've been skeptical about this installment. Yes, I know--I was first in line when it came to the Star Wars prequels, but the casting in those was different; we weren't relying on a 60-something to be a pulp-action hero. And, for that matter, there weren't the massive scripting issues, or the disagreements on the pre-production level. Hell, in many ways, we were lucky that this film even came out. To say the least, I went in with reservations.

That said, onto the movie!

Indy IV opens in high style, with WWII long over and the McCarthyism of 1957 in full-swing. We find our titular hero being dragged into Area 51 by some disguised Commies led by wannabe-psychic dominatrix Irina Spalko, played by Cate Blanchett. It turns out that the Commies are in search of an artifact...an alien body, recovered from Roswell 10 years prior...and an accompanying crystal skull.

This results in a madcap chase across the better part of the Western Hemisphere, ending in the Peruvian Amazon Basin as our heroes--Indy, the resurgent Miriam Ravenwood, an aged and insane John Hurt, and the greaser Mutt (Shia LeBoeuf, whose name I can't help but chuckle every time I hear, as I think "Shia the Beef"). Pursued at every turn, Indy and Co. attempt to return the titular skull to an ancient lost city that might-or-might-not be El Dorado and might-or-might-not be an alien spacecraft. Particularly standing out is the end of the 'jungle chase scene', which culminates with a horde of angry stinging ants carrying away and feasting on unlucky Commie soldiers.

The plot, while servicable, is a distinct departure from the Indy films of old. The pseudo-mysticism of the first three films becomes a Fortean paranormalism in this film, which is reminiscent more of Hellboy or The X-Files than Raiders of the Lost Ark. The problem is...this isn't just a normal action film! This is Indiana Jones, for sweet Zombie Jesus' sake! The whip and fedora are certainly present, but the feel is off...

Any movie that makes me want to run game can't be bad, but in this case...I'd rather be running a paranoid DarkMatter/Warehouse 23 than pulp-ish Eberron.


There's nothing technically 'wrong' with the film. It's a fun little action flick, with some great scenes. Any movie that makes me want to run game can't be bad, but in this case...I'd rather be running a paranoid DarkMatter/Warehouse 23 than pulp-ish Eberron.

Harrison Ford's performance in this go-round really was solid, and as I mentioned, John Hurt does a fantastic job. I honestly could have done without the contrived reunion with Mirian Ravenwood, and the romance sub-plot felt particularly tacked on. What hurts, though, is the lack of a really powerful villian. Cate Blanchett drifts in and out of her Russian accent like the tide coming in and out, and she never gets beyond the 'hot chick in a tight uniform with a sword'. Shia LeBoeuf, similarly, leaves me wanting. Compared to prior Indy sidekicks--John Rhys-Davies' Sallah comes immediately to mind, followed by Short Round--Mutt Williams falls short quickly. While the movie makes him something of an heir-apparent to Indy's whip and fedora, I'd probably avoid a movie that focuses on LeBoeuf as a new Indy.

This is going to sound weird to say...but I was genuinely not impressed by John Williams' score. Coming from someone who owns all of the Star Wars soundtracks, I love John Williams' work, but this time around? No risks were taken, and nothing was rewarded. The soundtrack was servicable, at best, but not memorable or sweeping, as I've come to expect. Definintely one of the sadder points in this one.

I guess nostalgia is the biggest killer for this one. I remember the Indy series fondly, so this film had a ton of expectations to live up to. It's a good movie, really...it's just not the way it once was. If it had any other name than Indiana Jones attached to it, I'd love it. But, in this regard, its own name is its biggest flaw--it cannot possibly be too much.

So go enjoy it for what it is. Just remember...it's not the second coming of the Lost Ark or the Holy Grail.

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