Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Walker of Impending Mortality

I am precisely the wrong sort of person to gauge the relative merits of the new Indiana Jones movie relative to the others. (Also, Star Wars.) When I saw the first movie, I was enjoying it, I was having a good time, and then Harrison Ford rode a submarine across the Atlantic.

I realized later that with Indy (and Star Wars), Lucas and Spielberg were trying to recapture the magic of the serials of their youth. Those serials, of course, blew rotten monkey chunks. Even Fritz Lang's seminal, incomplete serial "The Spiders" isn't very good. And my beloved Flash Gordon serials, while they hold up relatively well, are still pretty high camp.

So, I hated the original Ark (just like I hated the first Star Wars) and then later re-adjusted my view based on a new understanding that these were, essentially, kiddie flicks. Different standards applied. So I enjoyed the heck out of Temple of Doom--and people hated that one. I thought Last Crusade was okay, but mostly for Sean Connery. (The same thing happened to me with the second set of Star Wars. I liked Phantom Menace the best--I've actually written in defense of Jar Jar Binks!--and the other two hardly at all. Though I admit to a real feeling of relief at the end of Sith. It's over! I don't have to see any more!)

So, dragged to #4 in the Indy films, my feeling was that it It's buoyed considerably by the return of Karen Allen to the series, and Shia Le Beouf really isn't bad in his amusing parodic Marlon Brando style. Without a doubt, Ford's age impacts your viewing. I mean, he wasn't really a young man (nearly 40!) for the first film, but at 65, you wanna chide the villains for punching a senior citizen.

Also, if you're 25 and run hunched over, it looks like you're avoiding attacks. If you're 65 and run hunched over, it looks like you need a walker.

Anyway, the killer for me with these films is that there's never any jeopardy to the hero. Now, in point of fact, there can't be too much actual danger to the hero--that's against the formula. Nobody wants to see Indy (or Superman or Spiderman or Luke Skywalker) die. But a skillful approach makes you forget that. There are moments in Raiders--right up to the submarine ride--where you get the impression that something bad could happen to Indy.

This movie opens up with Indy surviving an atomic blast at ground zero by hiding in a (fake, even!) refrigerator. I realized about the time that the party goes over the first (of three) waterfalls, that I didn't feel any suspense because not only was it obvious the characters were not imperiled, the characters acted like they knew they were not imperiled.

Superman is (dramatically speaking) one of the most difficult characters to write for, if you keep true to his roots. He's literally invulnerable, and his morals are flawless. But comic writers and the Salkinds and Donner in the '70s, have managed more-or-less, off-and-on.

Part of Indy's appeal is that he's not Superman, but check it: In the waterfall scene, it's not just he who goes over increasingly larger waterfalls, it's him, Shia LeBeouf (OK, Shia's filled out, looking buff), the 57 year old Karen Allen, and the 68-year-old-probably-playing-older John Hurt. And they all emerge without a scratch.

The score holds up pretty well.

I didn't hate it. I was only bored in a few parts. Probably less than the beloved Crusade. Way more than Doom which (if memory serves) at least had a lot of unexpected stunts.

But I'm getting a "Worst. Indy. Ever." vibe off of people who really dug the first three (or at least #1 and #3) so I'm not the person to ask.

As I noted up front.

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