Thursday, April 22, 2010
Re-Examining the Skull
My favorite movie trilogy of all time?
No brainer. The Star Wars Original Trilogy.
If I had but one Trilogy to take with me to a desert island, it would be that. Hopefully I would have a chance to watch it, even though I might have to pause it every 108 minutes to press the button and keep the world from ending. But I digress...
What's my second favorite Trilogy of all time? The Indiana Jones Trilogy. Funny that George Lucas is responsible for 6 of my all-time favorite movie-going experiences.
Though, now that I think about it, after the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull two years ago, I'm not sure that (since there probably won't be a 5th and 6th installment) you can call it The Indiana Jones Trilogy anymore.
You'd have to call it The Indiana Jones Quadrilogy I suppose.
That's if...IF...you even accept KOTCS as a legitimate installment and not some awful attempt to cash in on the character of Indy while Harrison Ford was still alive. Many people do not accept the film. Many people despise the film. I was one of those people.
By the way...KOTCS is shorthand for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, like how we in Geektown refer to Raiders of the Lost Ark as ROTLA or Planet of the Apes as POTA and so on. We also, in Geektown, do not add the 'Indiana Jones and the' to the front of Raiders of the Lost Ark, no matter how many times we see the changed name in print. We also don't call Star Wars by the name Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. We call it Star Wars. Or 'the original Star Wars'. Or 'the first one'.
Are you taking notes? And hug a geek today. We need it.
But back to KOTCS. When I walked out the theater after seeing it with my wife I was about as pissed off and fired up as she has EVER seen me after a film. I could not stop talking about what a piece of shit it was, and how much I hated George Lucas for butt-fucking my childhood memories for a second time.
I was livid. I was furious. I swore I would never, EVER, own a copy of it.
This coming from a guy who, as one of my good friends would tell you while laughing at me about this character trait (as he likes to do about all my quirky traits), pretty much likes any movie I ever see. Even ones that people would say 'WTF!?!' to.
I enjoyed The Godfather: Part III and just pretend Michael's daughter is suffering from a form of Asperger's Disorder and then the acting of Sophia Coppola is just fine with me. I thought The Matrix: Reloaded was the best of the series. I thought Alien 3 was terrific and I thought Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was just as good as Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
But man oh man...driving home from KOTCS I was just insane over how much I hated it.
Fast forward to Fall 2009.
I'd had a copy of LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues for the X-Box 360 for a LONG time. I got it when it first came out, played it five minutes, and then set it down for a number of reasons. I had too much going on with Bennett at the time, I was super busy with MVP work and I wasn't thrilled with the fact that most of the game was centered on KOTCS.
Fast forward again, to a couple of weeks ago. Much to my horror, I was up shit creek without a new game to play. I use my X-Box 360 these days as my therapist. I immerse myself in that while hiding from certain realities of my life at this particular moment. It's a phase. Hopefully.
I had played through Bioshock 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum and didn't have any new games or a lot of extra cash to go pick up anything brand new. So I went to my little game binder looking for a game I hadn't played in a while or something and saw LEGO Indy 2. I figure...what the fuck, might as well PLAY the game since I had nothing else to play.
After a while, I began to really enjoy it, the gameplay differences, which when I first gave it a try had me a bit irked, were actually real improvements in the gameplay and so I barreled through the game and got super into it. But playing through the KOTCS segments was a little confusing, simply because I really did not remember much about KOTCS.
About a week ago, I found a used copy of KOTCS on eBay and ordered it. Got it for .99 cents, how could I possibly lose? I was morbidly curious. Could I watch the film a second time, at least so that I could understand the LEGO stuff a bit better now that I was playing through the game? After this amount of time had passed, would I have a better experience?
I certainly have not had a better experience with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The more time goes by, the more I see it, the worse I think it gets. Especially after spending some time watching the greatest movie review of all time about it, which pretty much summed up everything I ever thought about the film.
If you ever have some time to kill, I highly recommend watching all the parts of that review. It is HYSTERICAL but also very, very insightful. But...it takes some time. Each segment, and there are 7, is around ten minutes, which makes for over an hour, so maybe you watch one part per day? But trust me...once you get going you will not want to stop.
So I put KOTCS in and start watching it. Long story short? (Too late!) I really liked it. Is it the best Indy film in the series? No. Is it the worst? Yes, but in a trilogy of films where all of the films are good and it's 20 years later, how can it NOT be?
But is it a worthy chapter in the saga of Henry Jones, Jr.? Absolutely.
I remember all the things that I, and my fellow nerd brethren, bitched about. The monkeys, the CGI, the aliens, the ants, the refrigerator, etc. None of that stuff bothered me anymore. At all. I still had a VERY difficult time looking at Marion Botoxwood...um, I mean Ravenwood, but hey...I just pretended that maybe the Joker was one of her ex-boyfriends and then I was cool with it.
But the best part of re-watching it this time was that, now that my anger had abated and my mind more open, I saw things that were fantastic about the film that I simply was in no position to see with my eyes as they were the first time I watched it.
The subtle changes in the Indy character that would come with age. The introduction of Indy by pulling him out of the trunk of a car was genius and sublime. Mutt William's character was actually very under-stated, and the first time I saw it I found him over the top. I found myself liking Mutt and appreciating his journey into worlds that actually frightened him, as hard as he tried to act as if he wasn't afraid of anything.
As for the Inter-dimensional Aliens? Why not? Are they any less believable than a 900-year old man living in a cave with no food protecting the cup of Jesus Christ? Is Indy surviving a nuclear blast in a lead-lined fridge any less believable than jumping out of an airplane with a rubber raft and surviving? Besides...it was worth it for the payoff of the silhouette of Indiana Jones, a character of pure fantasy, against the stark, gritty, gut-wrenching realism of that mushroom cloud.
Bottom line is all of the Indiana Jones films have moments of extreme un-believability. Trust me...anyone who has ever been punched square in the face knows what I mean when I say this. You simply don't get back up and start punching again...and again...and again...you get your bell rung like Indy did by the German boxer in ROTLA you end up as a Nazi prisoner.
Why else did Ben Burtt use the sound of a baseball bat hitting a pile of leather coats for all the punch sounds? Because he needed an over-the-top sound for the over-the-top fights. He even said, when preparing to do the sound work on ROTLA , that when he heard that Indiana Jones hat would never come off, he understood EXACTLY the type of film he would be creating sounds for.
Which reminds me of another brilliant thing about KOTCS. During the fist fight between Indiana Jones and Colonel Dovchenko amidst the anthills, Indiana Jones loses his hat. That's very significant and shows the age of the character. I think Spielberg was very deliberate with that action.
I could write a entire blog about Irina Spalko, the film's antagonist. Cate Blanchett created probably the second best Indiana Jones villain in the series, and I don't mean second to Rene Belloq either. See, I think Belloq was the WEAKEST villain of the series. He barely if ever has any face-to-face time with Indiana Jones in ROTLA. Yes, he was a great character, but he really wasn't the 'villain', not in the purest form of the word.
Indy was much more pre-occupied with fighting Time and the Nazi Quest for the Ark as a whole in the first film and Belloq was barely a threat. In the end it is the G-Man who dispatches Belloq and his cohorts to an eternity of damnation. Indy is just a bystander. (BTW...Mola Ram was the best of the Indy villains, from a pure 'villainy' perspective. Just my opinion, but it happens to be True.)
Spalko, on the other hand, is in the film a lot, with a great deal of one-on-one interaction with the aging archeologist. It is clear that the character, despite her Ukranian single-mindedness as far as duty to the Soviet Union, has a great deal of respect and appreciation for Indiana Jones, who he is and what he represents. She even, I think, in some ways was attracted to him. I think if there was more of an Elsa/Jones dynamic and THEN Marion shows up...well, talk about some good drama potential lost.
Anyway, I could go on and on, as I am prone to do, once again breaking all the rules of writing blogs. But suffice it to say, I am now a believer and happy to add the term Quadrilogyto my vocabulary.
1. Time heals lots of stuff.
2. Things aren't always what they appear to be.
3. Sometimes your first impression can be very, very wrong.
4. It's important to give anything, or anyone, a second chance.
5. It's still OK to love George Lucas.
And lets not forget another important lesson. LEGO games kick ass. In fact, they kick so much ass consider this fact. I have never in my life watched a Harry Potter film. And yet in June, when LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 comes out, I will be playing the game. Perhaps that might inspire me to give the films a chance. I hear they are pretty cool.