Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Crystal Ball, errr Skull

He still looks good at 65 and he can still crack the whip like an old schoolmaster but has this series been jolted back to life or fallen over three waterfalls into a watery grave? Inquiring minds want to know and while the box office ıs grand the reviews are decidedly mixed as a brief scan of them at will show.
I first must tell you that I loved the first and third movies in this series but not the Temple of Doom ınstallment. In other words the series has been somethıng of a mixed blessing ın my book. And the major thrust of this new movie frankly doesn't work for me. Just yesterday I was at the Ephesus meeting giving a paper about archaeology and ancient texts. Archaeology ıs by definition about the past. It is not about science fiction. The attempt to combine the two is not only a mixing of genre and metaphors, ıt reflects a lack of imagination and creativity as one tries to provide an interesting twist to the tale. Consider the way the movie begins--- with an Hommage to American Graffiti and an establishment that this ınstallment set in 1957 will play off Cold War fears and re-demonize the Russians. I'll wage that this movie is getting plenty of comment at my next stop on thıs tour--- Moscow. Why go so far to establish credıbility ın creating the ethos of the 50s if you are then going to go sci fi later in the film? Weren't the 50s a time of debunking UFOs in America? Well yes they were. In other words this film even if watched as a fantasy has a hard time getting me to suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride since I actually remember the fifties and the Blue Book Project among other things. This movie could be dubbed Elvis has a close encounter of the first kınd (wait a minute maybe that skull was actually Elvis' sınce he was so out of this world).
But back to the film itself. Yes there are a few chase scenes but actually the movie is not overloaded with these. And yes Indy's wit and cynicism is still in tact but when he says `I have a bad feeling about this´ it rings retro rather than true here. And yes ıts nice to have Indy's previous flame in the film although she looks longer in the tooth and more improbable in doing all those stunts than Indy. And yes Shia le Boeuf (a name which seems to me 'pass the beef') ıs a nice addition as a Brando/James Dean look alike but he has no juice or charisma in his lines or delivery.
But then what is this movie really about-- the search for Coronado's or Cortez's lost city of gold? That might make an excellent archaeology adventure for Indy but I found this subtext rather psychologically revealing since what this film really seems to be about is not reviving Indy but about Lucas' and Spielberg's quest for gold at the box office with Ford's help who frankly hasn't been in a good or truly successful movie in a long while.
But perhaps we should just ignore all the obvious flaws of the film buckle in and eat our popcorn and just enjoy the ride ignoring the gaps and gaffs and incongruities along the way. If someone asks me was this a fun movie I would reply yes-- typical summer faire. If someone asks me if this was a fine movie I'd have to say no--- sadly. I had hoped for much more movie magic from this collaboration. Instead we wandered through too many dark caves and improbable plot twists.
Prince Caspian was better at story-telling and Iron Man was head and shoulders better for sure. It's time to hang up the Indy spurs before the series becomes even more of a caricature of the story at its best.


Drew Tatusko said...

I think the answer to what you and many others report back from the theaters is precisely what George Lucas said about the film, "It's a B grade movie done in A grade style." That could either be really creative and witty (Mars Attacks!). But from the apparent loss of creativity from the mind of Lucas who can't seem to get a good idea out without Joseph Campbell to bounce ideas off of, it looks like a flat script...

Josh McManaway said...

My issue with Indiana Jones is his complete disregard for arhcaeological finds. He destroys everything he touches. That man shouldn't be allowed outside of a (padded) classroom.

Karla said...

I enjoyed the humor and the return of Indy but I was disappointed in the sci-fi plot versus a more authentic archaeological journey. I would like to see Robert Cornuke's adventures on the big screen from his books Relic Quest and Noah's Ark.

normajean said...

Would you have any good but pithy verbiage to comfort someone struggling with the consequences of John 12:40? The concern is that Jesus would harden particular hearts so that they CANNOT believe. Why would He do this?

Lew A said...

My wife and I went to see this film yesterday afternoon. I tend to agree with your complaints. I thought the movie was entertaining, it was good to see Indy be Indy... and not too grandpa.

I felt like the alien thing was a cop-out. As you said, Indy doesn't deal with Aliens, he's an archaeologist. It seemed like they used Aliens to explain something that should have been left up to the audience to imagine.

But this one will be added to my library, just to complete the series. (Although, Shia le Boeuf will probably start/end the next "Indy" or "Mutt" series).

God's Glory,

The Pursuit Online Store

tvtv3 said...

I agree with you that the sci-fi elements don't gel with the archeology mythos the series is based upon. In my opinion, the reason for the clunkiness of the overarching story is because of George Lucas. Supposedly there were many excellent scripts turned in over the past two decades(including one written by Frank Darabont) that Lucas rejected. Lucas is the reason that INDY 4 wasn't made years ago. For instance, Darabont's script was loved by both Spielberg and Ford and those two and Lucas were free at the time it was submitted, but Lucas rejected it--that rejection alone caused a delay of production of at least seven years.

Unknown said...

Professor Witherington,

I agree with your assessment of Indiana Jones I and III as the best of the series. I had hoped that Indiana IV would have dealt with a search for the Garden of Eden (maybe LOST is doing that for us?). The Crystal Skull idea seems to take us back to Indiana II "so what" territory. One more thought: Archaeology may not be about science fiction, but in Raiders, when the Ark is opened, that sure seemed like a bit of science fiction to me (maybe it is my Vandy DIV School cynicism coming out; btw, I enjoyed your rhetoric lecture in A.J's class this spring).


Will Campbell

Matthew D. Montonini said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Ben. The film for me was a disappointment and when you throw the whole alien thing in it becomes rather hokey.

Ryan Vanasse said...

I see that the Indy series is an homage to the pulp serials of the 30s and 40s. The new film's setting in the fifties sets it up to be an homage to the serials of that time, many of which prominently featured alien activity.

That being said, the way they did it was ham-handed, revealing it to the audience within the first ten minutes but not revealing it to the characters until the very end.