Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Confused Feelings and Monkey Warriors

We've waited for 19 years to finally see what good old Indiana Jones has been up to. Is he still his usual rakish self? Calm under pressure, but as reliant on luck as he is his brain? Can he still work the whip? And more importantly, when push comes to shove, will he just go ahead and shoot first when the time calls for it? Or has he become a useless, forgotten old man?

Sadly, none of these questions become of much issue in the film. Instead we get some good old fashioned chases. Lots of them. And some pretty bad CGI work. But a lot of fun. Mostly.

This is merely a reaction (and a 3 in the morning one, at that), and there will be no plot summary. I don't want to ruin anything about the plot at all, because it's fun to discover it along with the characters. Even if the script sometimes treats you like an idiot.

Man, where to begin. Firstly, this movie is not a disappointment on an "Attack of the Clones" level. It does not murder (nor improperly violate) all the good memories of your childhood Indy. It is, for the most part, a hell of a fun ride. But there's most certainly something rather off about the proceedings. So while I have a big smile on my face during the flick, as soon as it was over, I was starting to let all the little things get to me.

What works: Harrison Ford as Indy, for the most part. It's great to see him back, swinging the whip (in the few scenes he uses it in). He still has it. Although there are some scenes where it looks like Spielberg woke him up from a nap and didn't tell him they were rolling. It doesn't matter, because Ford puts on the hat and is Indy and that's great.

There are also some good chase scenes and set pieces that only Spielberg could have directed. I particularly enjoyed the warehouse chase, and the motorcycle chase with Shia LeBouf, as Indy's reluctant partner this time around. I liked the dynamic between Indy and LeBouf, which grows throughout the film nicely, not forced. And it's great to see Karen Allen again, and the scene where she and Indy are reunited... I'll just let Indy's reaction speak for itself. All the actors do good jobs, really, but their characters feel a little off.

It should be noted that John Williams once again provides an excellent score, referencing the previous music cues of Indy's past adventures, while creating some
new ones. though not quite as memorable.

But then we get to the things that don't work. Which is, like most George Lucas projects, the script. Did we really need to wait 19 years for this story? It feels like pieces of forgotten failed ideas, stitched together with the occasional wink and a nod to the original series. It has far too many characters doing stupid things for the sake of plot purposes, and the final goal in the end, the goal of Cate Blanchett (with her wonderful "Boris and Natasha" accent) is ultimately pointless, and nowhere near as compelling as the MacGuffin in the previous three films.

Oh, and this movie also features the dumbest use of monkeys since Apocalypto. Seriously. It is so mind numbingly stupid, your jaw drops in disbelief that it made it past Spielberg, who usually has a good detector when it comes to these kinds of things.

The CGI effects aren't that great (the practical effects are dandy, and a nice "old fashioned" technique that works). Every single punch and kick sounds exactly the same (although they are most certainly the same noises from the original films, which is nice.) And above all, the look of the film is strange. Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg's DP since Schindler's List, loves to use a harsh white light in his scenes, bringing a sense of "harsh realism" into the palate. Here, he tries to replicate the camera moves of the original, but he continues that blinding light, and it's distracting and off putting. Just like most of the movie.

I'm not going to lament about how the movie feels old and sluggish, because I kind of liked that. I don't feel that the story tarnishes the good name of Dr. Henry Jones Jr. I am not offended by the existence of this film, like I sometimes get. I fully admit, I had a good time at it. I suggest people check it out with a crowd and have a good time at the movies seeing an old hero return.

I am saying, though, that it's definitely the weakest of the Indiana Jones movies. And I think it's because Spielberg and Lucas have gotten old, and fallen into their routines without having too much joy show up on the screen. I feel the making of featurette on the DVD will be more fun to watch, seeing everyone back together and smiling and having a good time that doesn't quite translate to the film I just saw and the films from my youth. And that makes the tears fall outta my face faster than Toht's face melting before the ark of the covenant.


R.BillMountain said...

First Act was pretty damn cool. Second act dragged. Third act...huh? I mean, I've read "Chariots of the Gods," Mr. Lucas. And I think the climax was lame.

This picture went from a cool and fast paced primer on 1950's culture to...not much fun at all. And that's not what it should have been.

Formerly, The Dude Spoke said...

First Act was alright, save the uber-lame drag race that has nothing to do with anything but Lucas' stupid fixation with 50's culture. (Diner in Attack of the Clones, I'm looking in your direction).

I finally figured out what this movie is: It's the movie National Treasure 2 should have been. Hear me out, the first National Treasure was a lame movie, but it had a sense of fun that made me smile, even if afterwards I knew it was bad. National Treasure lost the fun, and had the lame plot and DaVinci Code-esque scenes of people just talking about boring legends instad of, I don't know...DOING THINGS!

Anyway, this Indiana Jones had those fun scenes, but still is not a very good movie. Good scenes, not a good movie.

R.BillMountain said...

Agreed, my young friend.

Lucas loves the 50's like Tarantino loves feet.

And that Shia sure is dreamy.