Saturday 29 August 2009

August 2009: Flavours of the Month Pt. 2: Indiana Jones...

I really don't understand why people bitch-out Crystal Skull so much - have they seen Temple of Doom lately? As I got the double-disc DVD of Skull recently, I decided to do a retrospective of the movie saga. It's been a number of years now since I've seen the first three, so let's have a gander across the series.

Raiders of the Lost Ark:

When all is said and done, this is probably the best of the lot - filled with moments of cinematic history, moments that are universal ... like Star Wars universal.

By today's standards, in terms of action, it's somewhat light - but that's what happens with the action and/or adventure genre over the years. For example, go back to Batman 1989 and compare it to The Dark Knight - it's quite surprising how sedate Burton's flick is nowadays.

Regardless, it's a great adventure flick - but it's got it's own share of silly moments. I do think some, even many, people have unfairly and harshly judged Crystal Skull and remained looking at the original flicks with rose-tinted glasses.

Throughout the series, there are plenty of "why didn't they just...?" moments, or "how did they not figure that out?" or "how did they miss that?" or "how is that going to work?" moments. Hell, in Raiders there is a monkey - a Nazi monkey - a Nazi monkey that heils Hitler at one point! To think people bitched about three quick shots of gophers in Indy 4...

It's still an absolute classic, and thank fuck Spielberg & Lucas didn't revamp it digitally - such stuff is disrespectful to the original (think what happened to E.T. or the original Star Wars flicks).

Anyway, moving on - Temple of Doom:

Having completed by retrospective of the series, I can definitely say that Doom is the least of the series for me quite easily. It lacks the suspense and interest of the original movie, the prequel aspect is pointless (how on earth does it provide any character background to Indiana Jones at all? They managed all they needed to do in the first ten minutes of Last Crusade for character background).

Kate Capshaw's character is a useless cardboard cut-out cliche that bumbles from one scene to another screaming incessantly and getting in the way, while providing a luke-warm 'love interest' for Indy himself. Then there's "Short Round" who, while providing the odd moment where you let out a giggle, is just a high-pitched nuisance. A child side-kick was really not what Indy needed.

Temple of Doom is also surprisingly dull for the most part, it feels like everybody was just cruising along - or at least that's what I found - I found myself struggling to really care what was going on, like I had with Raiders.

Save for the fun mine cart scene, and the cool bridge scene at the end, there's nothing in Doom which truly grips or interests, and the elements of dark & violent, as well as light & comedic, are just clunky or ill-fitting.

Next up - The Last Crusade:

For a long time this was my favourite of the series, but I think Raiders has just pushed it back into second place again, but that said, it's a bloody good ride, especially after the lacklustre second outing.

Even still, it has daft moments too - I'm sure people would have been bitching about Indy 4 if a character had ran off to gather a few camels in the middle of a firefight, but here it's fine (not that it bothered me - but you know how stupidly picky some folk have been about Indy 4).

People moaned about the whole refridgerator scene in Indy 4, but what about Indy wading through a river of petroleum with a lit torch that's dropping several, very noticeable chunks of flaming cloth into the river - then when it does all catch fire, he swims with his eyes open just fine and doesn't have to wash them out.

Then of course there's that bit with Sean Connery downing a fighter plane with a flock of scared birds...I wasn't bothered, but again - the Indy 4 complainers really need to look back over the other three flicks without the rose-glasses on.

Finally - The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:

It's a bloody good effort I'd say, and a rip-roaring fun ride with a consistent and unrelenting pace. It's faithful to the original films (none of which really moved into any new territory from each other back in the 1980s), but also does a good job of updating things. Indy is now 20 years older, Henry Jones Senior has passed on, as has Marcus Brody (both dealt with efficiently, and respectfully).

Being set in the 1950s also gives it an injection of something different, as well as fun to play with. We get a veritable Top Ten list of 1950s icons - Elvis, the Cold War, Area 51 (kinda), McCarthyism, nuclear testing, the birth of "the teenager", greasers vs lettermans, and so on. While the original three were distinctly 1930s, so the fourth is distinctly 1950s - a decade though, that had a lot more going for it's culture in terms of standing out than the 30s, which might explain some of the complainer's complaining about the first 40 minutes.

I really enjoyed the nuclear test site segment, even with the daftness of the fridge part - but do remember that Indiana Jones is based on the serial adventures of the 1930s-50s, where some pretty daft things would happen. It's just supposed to be FUN, it isn't supposed to be 'post-9/11' or 'gritty' or anything else which colours many new franchises and summer blockbusters these days.

I loved the comic book Russians (replacing the equally enjoyable comic book Nazis), the discovery that the Ark was housed in Area 51, that whole action set piece with Indy cracking out the whip ... indeed, it's also great to see Harrison Ford getting so much screentime during the action sequences thanks to developments in stunt work and safety - he's still in great physical shape and can therefore get really stuck in to the onscreen action - and this works great.

Shia Labeuf does a spiffing job as Mutt, and his time with Ford on screen throughout mirrors the father/son play-off of Last Crusade. It's great to see Marrion Ravenwood back again, John Hurt is wonderfully nuts, Blanchett has fun chewing the scenery and, well, it's just a bloody good fun time.

As for the jungle segment ... yes, the bit with the monkies is probably the worst bit of the film - but at least they weren't saluting Hitler this time round - and yes, the waterfalls bit is hard to swallow ... but only if you're seeking realism, which Indiana Jones was never, ever meant to be.

Indeed - look back at Temple of Doom - the trio leap out of a crashing plane with no parachutes, just an inflatable raft, land on a snowy mountain, slide down it, then fall over a cliff and crash land safely in a river. If you've got no qualms about that, shut the fuck up about the waterfalls sequence in Indy 4!


In closing though, there is one significant difference between the films of the 80s that I grew up with, and the new flick which I got to see on my 24th birthday in the cinema. The original three are rated PG in the UK, but the fourth is a 12A ... and yet it's nowhere near as violent as the original three. More action packed, sure - but not more violent - for instance:

Raiders of the Lost Ark - at the end, one guy's head drains of all fluid and collapses inwards, the famous Nazi's flesh melts off in a really gory few seconds, and Indy's archeological nemesis' head explodes graphically into the camera lens.

Temple of Doom - hearts are ripped out, monkey brains are eaten, rotten corpses lunge at the camera, Indy gets whipped graphically, and people are devoured by crocs ... or aligators ... whatever.

Last Crusade - Indy shoots three Nazis in a row, and we actually get to see the bloody bullet holes, and at the end that treacherous side-switching greedy bastard grows horrifically old in seconds as he screams in terror, eyes dissolving, flesh shrinking, grey hair shooting out of his crusty scalp, as he holds the Nazi femme fatale, who is screaming wildly, in his grip. That one in particular freaked me out as a kid - but you need to give kids a scare now and then, and at least The Dark Knight deserved its 12A rating (Two Face's reveal even gave me a shock - it was awesome though).

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, however, has a tribe massacred offscreen with barely a sight of bullet wounds, a couple of CGI Russians caught in the jet flame of that supersonic thingymajig at Area 51, and a couple of dudes (one more graphically than the other) swarmed by giant CGI ants. Indeed, the goriest part is when Spalko crushes a giant ant between her knees and a gooey mess shoots into the lens.


These days we can get more action and punching into family films, but it seems you could never have what you got at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark - a movie I watched numerous times as a child, and it did me no harm at all.

Anyway, Raiders first, Crusade second, Skull third (in respect to the Raiders & Crusade for their history - but it is bloody good fun), and Doom fourth.

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