Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones Is Back!

After almost twenty years of waiting, Indiana Jones is back and once more on the trail of an elusive artifact. Harrison Ford reprises the character in the fourth movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

The time frame has been moved to 1957 and the movie opens up with Elvis Presley blasting “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.” Ironically, the song was written with a female singer in mind who would be singing about her boyfriend. The singer didn’t quite fit the song, but it still made a big hit.

That’s kind of what’s happening with Indiana Jones this time. I think Indiana has a hard time fitting into the 1950s. I much preferred him in the 1930s and 1940s. The world was still so big and so raw during that time. By the Cold War, we’d become aware of how small the world was getting, and how everything seemed to be about the coming days instead of the past ones.

The pulp magazines and serial movies that Indiana Jones had more or less sprung from were dead by this time. It was the end of a fantastic era for heroes.

So, in a way, maybe it’s fitting that the last Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones movie would be set in this time frame.

Harrison Ford is simply an amazing actor. After twenty years, he swaggers back into the role and leaps into the saddle. My God, but it was fun watching him square off against the villains, against overwhelming odds, and figure out clues to archeological mysteries. No one could have ever done this role as well, nor will they ever do it again. Harrison Ford is the epitome of a down-to-earth hero rising to meet outlandish circumstance. His facial expressions alone are with the price of the ticket.

In previous movies, Ford did most of his own stunts. This time around, he didn’t have that luxury. But I was surprised at how lithe and spry he was as he performed the ones that didn’t risk significant injury. He leapt and climbed and ran with grim authority, if not with the alacrity of his younger years. The man is in fantastic shape. Again, the sheer beauty of the Indiana Jones character is that, like Batman, fans can aspire to do what he does. Even when he’s a senior citizen.

Ford still delivers the stalwart hero, the wisecracks, and the tough guy patter. When asked for final words while facing dozens of guns and certain death, Indiana says, “I like Ike.” Of course, I had to explain that Ike was President Eisenhower to my ten year old, but the sentiment fit the time period. The whip action, though not as much of it as I wanted, was in place. During one cool sequence, we see that Indy knows he’s not quite the man he used to be when he swings after a fleeing truck and ends up short of the leap.

One of the best bits about the movie was the nostalgia of seeing Indy toss bad guys from the vehicles he commandeers during the action sequences. The action is still over the top, and I’m still a sucker for it.

Shia LeBeouf stars at Mutt Williams and does an outstanding job of following in Indy’s shadow while at time stepping out and seizing a scene. I’ve constantly admired LeBeouf’s acting, and he gets better every year. (Now that trailers for Eagle Eye, his new film, are breaking, I’m even more interested to see what he can do in a serious thriller.) LeBeouf carries the role well, first as a greaser then as Indy’s progeny because they exhibit a lot of the same traits.

Cate Blanchett is terrific as the Russian villainess. She seems spooky and ethereal from the moment she steps into the scene, and she’s a definite challenge for Indy and company. I liked the look she had. The hair bob was a really nice touch, and the choice of a rapier as a personal weapon was great. She has outstanding stage presence in the movie and looks as relentless as a Terminator in her pursuit of Indiana and the ultimate goal.

The film plays fairly with the 1950s as well. There’s an atomic explosion, paranoia about Communism, and the rivalry between Joe College and the greasers, which I feel certain George Lucas wanted in for nostalgia of his own. But once America is left behind, the timelessness of foreign countries sets in.

The settings looked authentic. The sequence where Indy and Mutt find the final resting place of the “lost” Spanish explorers is well-done. Those scenes are eerie and scary at the same time, and the action is breath-taking. The river sequences were well done, even if though expected.

The special effects guys must have had a blast. Not only on the settings, but on the action as well. The army ants looked and sounded chilling as they took their victims, and the camera work that incorporated all of those elements was superb.

I was particularly enthralled by the “solution” of the puzzle at the hidden city at the end. I thought it was ingenious, but I wish I’d been given a little more time to study the puzzle, been offered more clues, and gotten to think onscreen with Indy. However, not even he solved this one, though I don’t doubt for a moment that he would have. I just wish I’d had a better chance at it.

A lot of people might not be happy with the film. I had some problems with it. Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) was given really short shrift in the movie. She doesn’t come on stage till really late, and by then the plot and story are moving so fast that she’s almost eclipsed except for some important reveals. We get no sense of how she’s spent the last twenty years. She was stunning in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and I’d always wondered what it would have been like if she and Indy had hooked up for more adventures.

Another problem for some, me included, involves a spoiler (so here’s your warning) that seems to already be out there on the internet. Even before the film wrapped, there were several rumors that the fourth Indiana Jones film would involve out-of-this-world archeology. In short: aliens.

We got that message loud and clear when the movie beginning more or less starts in Area 51. In minutes, we learn that Indy assisted in the recovery of the alien bodies from the wreck back in 1947.

I personally don’t think aliens and Indy belong in the same movie. However, given Lucas and Spielberg’s affinity for aliens (Star Wars and E. T.), I can’t blame them for wanting to lead Indy that way to tie him into the other worlds they’ve created. But they lost me a little. I was suddenly reminded I was watching a movie, a cool movie, but a movie nonetheless. I ended up being outside of the film in a way that jarred me, and the final scene with the flying saucer taking off was almost anti-climatic at that point.

That being said, Spielberg once again proves himself to be the master of the action movie. The two-hour long film sprints unflinchingly across the screen. There’s hardly time to draw your breath before Indy is thrown pell-mell into some new danger. The motorcycle chase was great, the fight scenes were enthralling, and the scene in the library when a student asks Indy an archeological question after he and Mutt slide across the floor is priceless.

I loved the way Spielberg brought the scenes to the screen. Everything plays big, but we’re never far from the characters.

However, the lack of the whip in the last big fight scene is noticeable. And Mutt’s sudden shift to Tarzan of the Apes comes out of the blue. I don’t know why that was there, unless it was homage to the Johnny Weissmuller films of that hero.

There is one inconsistency that bothered me. In the beginning of the film, Indy is introduced to Cate Blanchett’s character, and even calls her by name, but later he says he doesn’t know who she is and gives a description of her.

But this was Indy 4, and we’ve been waiting almost twenty years for it. Most of the older fans, like me, have had plenty of time to concoct the perfect vehicle for Indy 4, with Nazi villains, obscure corners of the earth (I was wanting Angkor Wat and headhunters), and plenty of danger. This film might not have lived up to some fans’ expectations, or gone astray from where fans feel it should have gone, but it was Indy in the way that only Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas could have brought him to us.

Later in the film, Indy’s hat blows off a rack. We see Mutt pick it up and get seriously tempted to put it on. However, Indy snatches the hat from him and puts it on his own head. That’s an image and a message that I’ll keep forever. I don’t know if anyone will ever try to make another Indy movie, but there’ll never be anyone else able to wear that hat like Harrison Ford. He is, and will always be, the consummate adventurer of the unknown.


Skeeter said...

Cool. The Wife and I are going to see it.

Betty S said...

My hubby and I showed up the day it opened. Gotta admit, I love the Indy movies.