Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - 24%

Do not go see Indiana Jones 4.
I know. It hurts me too. I'm a fan of the all of the players, Lucas, Blanchett, Ford, Spielberg but they dropped the ball, big time. I thought it was a bad movie. My friends responded with:

"I didn't walk out."

"I didn't check my watch."

This led to a funny conversation about bad movies. Is it worse if a movie causes you to walk out and save an hour and a half of your life or strings you along for two hours only to end in disappointment because it never actually got better?

In case you think we're elitist, the masses had a similar reaction. I saw this movie with a full theater and we didn't all laugh, gasp in fright, or cheer in unison once. Sometimes people hurrayed in desperate support when they saw a reference to an earlier film. My friend said:

"I made a sound once."

That is my official review of this film.

If you have been left with intense feelings of dissatisfaction then I hope you find this informative -I've identified exactly why this movie failed miserably for me. I feel that if my criticism is articulate then some good can come of this mess.

Additionally, I understand that the film is "just a summer blockbuster" (I have little understanding why it played at the Cannes Film Festival) but there is a definite art to making an action film and the film had the following failings:

No running jokes.
In fact, all of the dialogue is uninspired. Even the required exposition (we need to go to Peru to get a Crystal Skull before they kill this old guy and my mom) is delivered terribly. We all know a Hollywood action movie needs to spell out the plot in a couple lines. But it can still be fun, memorable, and quotable. The exposition in this film was flat and lazy.

Glaring plot holes.

This really made it feel like Spielberg, Lucas, and Ford were just laughing at what sucker-audiences will soak up. In the second scene of the film, Indiana Jones has to describe the villain to the FBI. They present a secret file that introduces her name. There's only one problem, in the first scene she already introduced her name in a monologue and Indy says it aloud to remind the audience. Sloppy film making. Surely a screenplay needs to be tighter than that? I don't consider myself having an exceptional eye for continuity but I did notice that in the great action sequence of the movie Indy and his crew are in a car chasing after the villain -who is escaping with the prize. But in the next shot, the villain is chasing them. What? Albeit most people will miss this because of the terrible choices made in that action sequence.

Terrible action sequence choices.
The memorable action sequence of the film is the jungle car chase that involves a swordfight. Sound great? It was. Only they also tacked on two dreadful choices within the same sequence. The first involves one character getting hit in the genitals and the other involves him swinging on vines alongside his new found monkey friends to catch up with the car cahse (I sh*t you not this happens). These were cartoonish additions that seemed like rejected ideas from a Kangeroo Jack sequel. In the beginning of the film they keep returning to a computer generated gopher in the desert. It was as endearing and comical as the grotesque beavers that Bell Canada uses in their advertising to try and reduce their market share.

Heartless action.

The action is well-shot but meaningless. There are no layers. No one is struggling with anything. No one is forced to choose between the prize and the people they love. Surprisingly, the action sequences lack any sign of suspenseful parallel action. You know how good movie cut back and forth? The hero struggles, then we see the sidekick struggling. Then to the hero and things are bad, then to the sidekick and the situation is worse. Then they both begin to turn the tide, say something witty, and help each other out. In this film action happens very plainly -one thing at a time.

What's worse. There is no character in the action sequences. There's no emotional layers. I remember enjoying the subtext to the Indiana Jones 3. Most action sequences are clearly underscored as a competition of bravado between the father and the son. But this film is emotionally dead. Also, Shia Labouef's character is a tough guy but he cries a lot and has no trouble having everyone see him cry. I'm fine with that but it doesn't cause any tension. It would have been nice if Indy wanted him to "man up" or, at the very least, if he tried to hide his tears. Give me anything between the characters. Please.

I was willing to suspend my disbelief for the use of aliens in the movie. But the plot was terrible. Good stories give the viewers a chance to guess what is going to happen. This movie used "magic" too much. The problem with magic is that it explains itself. There's no game being played, I'm not given a chance to guess anything. At one point the only thing moving the plot forward is Indy who basically says: I have to keep going, the alien technology has hypnotized me. Bullsh*t motivation. They could have played an undercurrent of Indy's potentially unhealthy obsession with archeology and if he was becoming like his father. But in this movie the writer shows no understanding that a movie can be interesting and good.

There are no stakes.
Nothing is ever really on the line. No relationships are threatened and none of the characters' lives are put in any danger. No one even gets hurt. There's no adrenaline in the movie. Some nice special effects if you've never seen CGI.
They were fine. Ford wasn't too old. Blanchett's villain wasn't irritatingly sexualized. This was more of a case of nothing for the actors to work with.

Awkward Racism.
I would have had this criticism even if the film was good. There's something really creepy about the common sci-fi staple that the Mayans were helped by aliens. I never hear about aliens coming down to explain irrigation to white people. The "native warriors" is like an awkward cameo from a more racist age. They have no dialogue, only war cries and they all look the same. an exotic costume designer's dream.


Conall said...

That jungle tribe was pretty embarrassing; why were the Maya still living like that in the 1950s? (And why were they in Peru?)

The undercurrents of racism in alien astronaut stories was even more prominent in the first Alien vs. Predator film, in which it's revealed that the Predators built many of the ancient temples of the Earth as sort of alien prisons. But which cities? Those of the Maya, the Egyptians, the ancient civilizations of Cambodia - not those of the Greeks or the Romans, of course, and naturally not the churches of medieval Europe.

Nemo Dally said...

Great comment.
I knew there were more examples out there. We should collaborate on a more substantial piece about this.

Additionally, a good example of sci-fi that undermines Christianity would be Arthur C. Clarke's novel Childhood's End (or his short story that it was based on: Guardian Angel)

In that story earth is visited by a benevolent alien species who helps us evolve. But the aliens are very secretive. The twist is that the nice aliens look like "demons" (wings, horns, tails). They had already visited the planet at an earlier time but we were so wildly superstitious that we created a mythology of terror against them.