Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull

After seeing the new entry in the Indiana Jones series, I have come to two conclusions. Well, probably about 20 conclusions, but two that I find somewhat definitive.

1). Pretty much without exception, I think sequels are inferior. Oh yes, I know you are all going to say - but what about “Godfather Part 2?” What about “The Empire Strikes Back”?

What indeed? Both movies are fine, but had much less of an effect on me than the originals. The original Godfather, the first time a Mafia story had been written and directed by Italians, was the most completely fresh and distinctive effort in the genre since “Little Caesar”. We all know what “Star Wars” did for Scifi/Fantasy. Their follow-ups, while fine films in their own right, just could not have the impact of the originals.

It’s kind of the same thing as when you try and recreate an experience that was wonderful the first time (like a vacation), and it falls way short. It ALWAYS falls way short. Maybe it’s because the expectations are so high. Maybe it’s because the newness is not part of the equation. Maybe that’s just how it is.

This rule has been so consistent in my life, that it even applied to my dogs. I had a wonderful pet Bichon who was the best, most relaxed and loving animal. She died rather suddenly and heartbreakingly. About 6 months later we as a family decided to get back on the horse (how’s THAT for a mixed animal metaphor) and get another Bichon. While I do indeed love my new pet, she is not exactly the replacement we had hoped for. Almost 3, and she still won’t qualify for totally house-trained, refuses to let me watch a game or movie when I want to without bugging me, tears every toy we get her to shreds, and generally terrorizes anybody passing by the yard. To quote Paul, “You don’t look different, but you have changed”.

But I digress (Oh, really?). Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull suffers by comparison to Raiders of the Lost Ark in so many ways that you can’t enumerate them in a blog. It’s pretty much on the level of Temple of Doom. But where is the gross out joke? Oh, Indy has to hold a snake to get pulled out of a quicksand-ish trap.

Most of the stunts are forgettable, with the exception of the triple waterfall gag, which I will deal with in a moment. Even the heavies are no challenge to Nazis. The Commies of the 50’s just don’t give me that same galvanic fear-response that is generated by the Reich. Plus, their motivation is as much in question as is our hero’s. Another item that pales by comparison is the MacGuffin. It''s basically a Visitor’s skull courtesy of Area 51. Certainly not a rival for the Ark or the Grail.

There are things that make it a cut above the usual action tripe we have shoved in our faces; The acting isn’t too bad, the pacing is quite good, the little side and in jokes are mildly diverting. But there are so many mistakes and loose ends, stuff you would never see in a Spielberg or Lucas effort from the 20th century. I remember watching Star Wars with a friend, who turned to me and stated, “there isn’t a hair out of place in this movie”. Well, there’s a whole damn toupee flopping around with this one!

2) (Finally he gets to the second conclusion.) This one will really be a shocker. I have decided that CGI effects are not as convincing as the old fashioned matte method. (Gasps are heard, then crickets.)

In the aforementioned triple waterfall scene, Indy and an amphibious vehicle full of characters plummet down 3 waterfalls, all at least 50 stories high. Let’s forget, shall we, that this would mean certain death for even Greg Louganis, and simply suspend our disbelief. It just did not look real at all….it had a jumpy, metallically fake veneer. Without wanting to, I immediately conjured up the computer screen upon which this action was designed, animated and choreographed.

Here am I, trying to get into the escapist fun that keeps me from thinking about the demise of our once robust society, the lack of good African-American music on the airwaves, the fact that Djavan came on tour to Boston and New York, but NOT to my Washington, DC, the puddle on my new hardwood floors created by my replacement dog….and all I can think of is the process that created this not so special effect. Some escape, right?

I say let’s forget about computer generation altogether, and go back to when real artists ruled the SFX world. Why, I’d even welcome back stop-motion frame by frame Harryhausen effects. I would! I would!

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Generally agree about the CG in the film (but I didn't have any problems with the waterfall effects). Some of the old fashioned effects don't hold up any better though. The model tank crash at the end of the tank chase in Last Crusade is comical. And the melting claymation face in Raiders? How is that any more "real" than the CG in Indy 4?

I love the Indy movies and really enjoyed the new one (even saw it twice). I can't stand CG when it makes me feel like I'm watching a cartoon instead of a movie, but VFX have always asked the audience to give a little (again, a melting claymation face?), and I've realized that if I don't embrace CG in some form then I'll have to stop enjoying adventure movies altogether.