Confessions a 20th century ne'er do well: Drinking, fighting, stealing and other things one generally ought not do

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Spoiler alert. Invasion of the bad movie stylings snatchers.

The only thing worse than Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull has been the reviews of the movie. Seemingly, they all miss an obvious point.

I had left the theater feeling empty and perplexed. The plot was nonsense, and unlike other Indiana Jones movies, I summed it up by saying “Nothing awesome happened.”
Raiders had been a perfect movie. Temple of Doom had weaknesses. There was no archeology, for one (why would an archeologist ancient remains to a gangster for a diamond?), and the protagonists were completely reactive – they merely reacted to changing circumstances without real direction, as opposed to the other two where the characters choose to undertake a challenge and followed a self directed path, facing challenges as they arose. But for all its weaknesses, Temple of Doom was nothing if not a series of one awesome and memorable scene after another. The song and dance in the beginning. Entering the Indian village. The interactions between Willie Scott and the jungle animals. The dinner scene. The heart getting ripped out. The mine shaft chase. Indy cutting the bridge. Most scenes in between. Most dialog was memorable. The characters were loveable.
In Last Crusade, the banter between Sean Connery and Harrison Ford was top notch, and the supporting cast was as well (especially the guy who also played an art plunderer in Dr. Who’s City of Doom episode).

But Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had none of this, and seemingly didn’t try. I couldn’t even understand what they were trying to do.

Finally, I read one line in a blog review, and “got it”: “….the entire shift of the movie went from the adventure series of the 30's (as originally intended) to the sci-fi B-movies of the 50's…”

Now, I got it. While the first three movies were homages to movies that everyone holds in high regards, this was a spoof of movies that are generally considered to be terrible. Each scene was a slice of what might have happened in such a movie. While it is absurd that someone might survive a nuclear blast riding in a fridge in real life, it is not absurd that someone might do the same in a bad 50’s sci-fi movie. Every bad and inconstant scene can be explained in this way. At one point, blacklisting was the enemy. In another, communists. Why? Because each scene was a spoof of a different movie type. Killer ants. Crazy old hermit. Psychic bad guys. Aliens.
In the originals, the hero wears a fedora, like a Humphrey Bogart movie. His younger heir in this movie, wears leather and rides a motorcycle like Marlon Brando in the Young Ones or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. (and he’s obsessed with coming his hair, while Indy is insistant about wearing a hat)

This movie was more similar to Kill Bill than Raiders, which I believe holds up without the 30s movie analogies.
The difference between Crystal Skull and Kill Bill is that Quentin Tarentino’s masterpiece was based on an obvious love for the second rate movies he ‘spoofed’ He took all the good qualities from a rather horrendous group of genres, kung fu, blaxploitation, and westerns, polished them and reset them in a way that proved their worth. The values and effects that were buried in the camp of the 70s were used to their maximum potential. Everything in Kill Bill is in those movies, but most people can’t get past the other lousy qualities of those movies.

In Crystal Skull, I get the idea that Speilberg holds the 50s spacesman/ redscare/ giant monster movies in contempt.

This understanding did soften my disappointment in the movie, although I still think Spielberg did a disservice to the series.

It is rather artistic what he did, and I don’t think I’ve heard it mentioned before. He did something similar in War of the Worlds. Another nonsensical movie, taken at face value. One moment the aliens are wantonly killing humans by the thousands. The next, they’re painstakingly searching for two random individuals hiding in a basement.
But War of the Worlds wasn’t really meant to be an integral movie. (at least I hope not – I’m worried about letting Spielberg handle sharp objects or drive or whatever one doesn’t let mentally incompetent people do if it was!). It seems to me that it was quite purposefully meant to be a series of vignettes demonstrating to a younger generation what it might have been like to live in Europe during World War II. In reality, these shorts weren’t even meant to be related. First, Blitzkrieg. Next, hiding in the attic from Nazis. After that, being separated from a loved one during battle. Finally, being rounded up in a cage being brought to who knows what horrible fate.
I think he did a good job in that respect, but might have done a service by spelling it out for the audience. I believe this was his goal because Spielberg has a history of chronicling World War II experiences.

Perhaps Sean Connery sat this one out because they were a few years away from stepping on sacred ground?


Blogger T.A.B. said...

Well, all I can say is that while I didn't love the movie, I liked it and will probably pick up the DVD at some point.

Where do you keep that short script you wrote of Indiana Jones on a date? That was awesome.

7:57 PM, May 28, 2008

Blogger NJWT said...

Maybe I can get that one produced when the Indy series moves into the 90s and starts spoofing romantic comedies.

I will admit your interpretation made the movie more palatable in my memory, cause I really was perplexed as to the writer's intent before that.

2:37 AM, May 29, 2008

Blogger Walt said...

I am flattered that you also like Indiana Smith. ( You know they changed the name.) Indeed, I was amazed when fist saw the spitting image of myself in Raiders of the Lost Ark. From the boots on his feet to the leather jacket, and those gangster fedoras. I have them in Gray, Brown, Black, and Olive tan. He also carries on his hip the same M-1917, 45. as I do when I'm out exploring the wilderness. The only thing that was not part of my normal wardrobe, was the Bullwhip. Having been an armature archaeologist since I was 9; the movie really hit home. I always wondered how he keeps that hat on his head? They are pretty aerodynamic. The least wind can send them flying. This very morning I was chasing my hat down the street! They also are not the best thing to wear in a cave or in an old mineshaft. The only problem is that some people now think I,m just an imitation.

8:28 AM, May 31, 2008

Blogger Becky said...

You already know what I thought of it and I hadn't really thought of the sci-fi connection. Still, I don't think it "excuses" the fact it wasn't as good as the others. I find it interesting that Spielberg refused to shoot in digital and used real stuntmen (rather than CGI) to try to maintain a similar feel as the first three -- but then goes in a completely different direction. I just could deal with Indy flying in the fridge but stepping out in the middle of a nuclear cloud and not having any sort of reaction kind of killed it for me.

5:56 PM, June 19, 2008

Blogger NJWT said...

Walt, I'm getting the sense that a camping/caving trip to Kentucky might be in order here.....

Definitely, Becky.
I don't think it excuses it at all, but maybe explains it? Don't confuse my attempt at overanalysis with actually liking the flick.
In Temple of Doom, there is one scene (out of many great ones) where Indy is about to chop the bridge in half. He sets up the sword so you realize what he's going to do. Willie Scott says, Oh my god, is he out of his mind?. Short round says, He not out of his mind, he's crazy. Then he cuts the bridge. In other words, they really set up the scene, acknowledged how unlikely it was, built up suspense, and made you wonder how it was going to work. And you kind of believed that it could have, if only in a movie, because they gave the scene so much love.
So my artsy explanation aside, it doesn't excuse an apparent lack of love on the filmmakers live

6:14 PM, June 22, 2008


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