Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (5.22.2008)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf
Karen Allen, Ray Whinstone, John Hurt,
Watch for: Homages to former Indy moments/cast members and Sasha Spielberg (So I hear?)
Editor(s): Michael Khan.
Would I buy it: Deluxe multi-disc special edition. And again when I upgrade to Blu-Ray.

And you were
When it comes to certain movies coming out, such as this, where there's a lot of anticipation behind them, and it's been a long time since the last one, people start to wonder if it'll be as good as the last one, or will it go the way of, say, the Star Wars prequels. (I love those, by the way, but the general consensus seems to be that they are crap compared to the originals.)

Well, whatever.
With Indiana Jones, in my opinion, they got it right.
I, along with some of my filmmaking colleagues, did notice a couple of flubs with the compositing. Such as the very first scene even, there was a low-angle shot with Cate Blanchett, and the sunset behind her seemed comp'ed in, while everything around her felt like it was a set.
A thought I had was that this was intentionally done, as it really felt like an older shot from a 70's/80's movie where compositing wasn't as good as it is now. However, I may just be dreaming.
The visual style could almost be like something out of the 80's, but some of the CGI moments (not as many as you might think) bring you back to the present.

I gotta say, the 'jungle car escape' is one of the most over-the-top, yet somehow outrageously amazing sequences we've seen in an Indiana Jones film. We haven't seen anything like this since the "Truck? What truck?" chase in Raiders. The tank bit in Last Crusade comes close, but I always felt like Indiana kicking, what, 7 Nazi's out of their own truck trumped that.

This goes way beyond.
First, we get these tree threshers, which are kind of cool, but not really used after Indy blows it up with a bazooka. Nicely done, I love how it comes spinning back and hits every vehicle on the way.
Then there's punching out the henchmen, and Mutt picks up a sword and you just know he's gonna be duelling the russian chick before long. I thought they'd save it for later, but no.
They did it right there, on top of the cars.
George Lucas' quote "I have a fascination with speed" goes right here. I bet he had something to do with this.

Actually, I think they rolled on top of, over and inside three cars during that fight. Then of course, poor Shia's balls and all the plants that meet them head-on.
And instantly I had to think of Short Round being pulled between to rail carts, but at least they didn't hurt him. It was very reminiscent of that, but a little more modern in the style of the fight.
Then this sequence climaxes in the "Indiana has to fight the big guy" + "Dangerous creatures scene" wrapped up into one. Each film has one of these, but combining them was an interesting way to go.
I would hate to be around those ants. Nasty. The effects were obviously digital, but they were still presented in a gross yet frightening manner. It felt like real danger, unlike certain films (coughTheMummycough) where the digital creatures are simply there to be hurt, rather than hurting back.

Put a pause on the action, and let's back up to the archeology.
One thing that I wish they would've done is to explain the natives. Who is this skullmask-wearing blow-dart swallowing assassin that attacked Mutt and Indiana in the tombs? Was he there to protect the grounds/the skull, or was he something else entirely?
Was he affiliated with the natives by the temple?

Actually, this bugged me a little. The natives in the temple, where the hell did they come from? The were breaking out of these blocks of stone. Were these tunnels? Whatever they did, it wasn't like a trap door, they actually broke part of the temple in order to crawl out and stalk our heroes. I don't get what the director/writer were going for with this.

The things like going to the warehouse and getting a glimpse of the Ark of the Covenant were perfect. I knew that's what this building was based on the trailer, but then again, I'm pretty sure everyone else did too. I thought he'd be there needing the ark for some reason, but I'm kind of glad they just left it as a little nod to the original film.
They maintained/raised the bar on the idea of ancient temples come with puzzles and traps. Oddly, I didn't see it coming when Indy was crawling into the tight space w/ Mutt telling him it wasn't big enough, and then it leans down. I just thought he'd poke through. That was a nice idea, and a good moment for some light comedy.

The whole Marion + Henry Jones III storyline worked fine. Actually, I was so into the movie that I almost forgot that she was going to be coming into it at some point. And I'd heard the theory that she was Mutt's mom / Indy was the father, but I really was so engrossed in this film that until they brought it up, I didn't think about it. Good show. It definitely works.

The one moment where I thought about Indiana being more like a/his father though, was near the end of the on-campus chase.
When Mutt knocks down a statue of the dearly departed Marcus Brody... actually, back up.

Briefly, I thought the man flagging down Indy in the classroom was Marcus yet again, having aged 20 years, but this sadly wasn't the case. This new character takes on Marcus' role in the first film as the person who sort of helps shove Indy out the door. It seems the actor protraying Marcus, Denholm Elliott, passed away in 1992. I wasn't aware of this until just now on IMDB, but what they did to keep his character alive in the series was nice.

So, the statue. Mutt causes the Russkies to hit it, Marcus' head falling into their windshield. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the look they share in this moment is exactly like the look Henry Jones Sr. gives Indy after sticking a flagpole into a Nazi motorcycle. Mutt's look of being utterly pleased with himself fits Indy's look in that classes scene as well.
I noticed mostly here that Indiana was becoming his father, not so much that they were becoming like father and son, but it was a nice touch.

"Why didn't you let him finish school?!?" Perfect.

I'm not going to rip apart the 'supernatural' aspect too much, because really, it works for me. I think they only reason aliens (excuse me, interdimensional beings) might be controversial here is because they are such a part of mainstream society that they're often considered a joke.
If you ask me, they're simply another human legend. The modern "Area 51" legend is comparable to searching for a golden city, or a Holy Grail, fountain of eternal youth, whaever. People used to think those actually existed too. And even now, who's to say they don't?
Indiana Jones has dealt with ghosts, magic, immortals and religious forces, so really, a supernatural alien species really isn't that far of a stretch.

The skeletons looked absolutely amazing, too. That was such a cool idea, having the 13 of them sitting around each other like that. When they talked about the skeleton being made of quartz, this did seem a little weird, but if it's more of a paradimensional entity instead of a lifeform from a different galaxy, then this does stand up for a little bit of extra wiggle room as far as suspension of disbelief is concerned.

They looked cool. I love the design. The body Irina Spalko shows Indy looked better than the final close-up near the end, but whatever. It's a classic symbol adapted into a new hypothesis of what they could be like, just like how they took the Holy Grail and made it into a cup.

Excellent film, if you ask me. It stands up just as well as the old ones.
My favorite shots of it, by far, have got to be the two longer wideshots of destruction:
1) Indy stepping out of the fridge to see the nuclear explosion. Like, seriously. Indy/Harrison simply will never die.
2) The 'UFO' takeoff. The ending was a little reminiscent of end of the first X-Files movie, but their presentation was still done in a fresh and interesting way that I didn't notice until later.

There's so much more I enjoyed, but you know what? I might as well just list every scene.

Let me delve into acting for a bit:
Harrison Ford: great. He's done a lot of roles, but this one still felt like Indy more than any other Harrison role.
Karen Allen: Seemed fine. I love her dynamic with Indy, and her son also.
Cate Blanchett: A classic actress, she was wonderful in the role. I love how when they're solving the puzzles she seems like she forgets she has to keep a gun pointed at Indy's head, and gets right in there and interested with him. Kind of like the Austrian girl in Last Crusade, before we see her turn Nazi.
Shia LeBeouf: I wasn't sure how he'd perform here. The only things I've really seen him in were Constantine, as the sidekick 'Chaz', and as Sam in Transformers. Anyone who's seen both can prolly say those are fairly similar characters. He definitely felt like a greaser to me. A little bit of "The Outsiders" and Danny Zucko, but speaking in Shia's voice.
Also, moments that were great from me (aside from the look after Brody's statue) were how torn up he seemed when he saw his teacher all crazied out. He did a good job.
That first shot of him riding in on his bike, well. I went with a group so my girl was sitting in the seat in front of me, but I would swear I could feel her heart pounding faster in that moment. ;)

The greaser/jock bit in the diner was awesome. It's like the whole room was involved in that scene.

Anyway, hats off to you, Indy.
Despite other attempts at reviving and modernizing older films, that you can more or less remain the same and still be just as entertaining as the original.

Obviously special effects have changed, but this really did feel like it was rightly the next chapter. They kept the style consistent enough that I can proudly put this right up there with the originals.

Thanks guys.
It was great.


Anonymous said...

The aliens still bug me.

Andrew Glazebrook said...

The whole film bugged me, I really thought it was dreadful ! :(

Terrance said...

I agree with pretty much everything here. While the story was a little thinner than what I am used to in the other films, and just a little more over the top action than the originals, I still feel like it was an Indy film. Indiana Jones: The Next Generation almost.

Jennifer said...

The reason why the aliens were in the movie is because the Indiana Jones movies are period based... what was everyone in the country talking about in the 50's? Aliens, outerspace, UFO's... etc. Anyway, Chris... I totally agree with you that this was a great movie. :) I was pleasantly surprised. :)