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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Indiana Jones and The Last Chance

It was the fall of 1981 and my parents have decided to endure two hours in a movie theater with their youngest son. We traveled to this old style theater, which I assume is no longer around. It was the kind of place that had those huge lounges, with couches in the restrooms below the box office. The theater itself had those little art deco style lights on the aisle seats illuminating a small path down towards the screen. It was here that I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark at the tender age of six. From the moment the Paramount logo dissolved into a mountain in the Peruvian jungle the rollercoaster never stopped. As a kid who had any exposure to serials of the 50's and 60's, I was stoked. Not just because my hero, Harrison Ford, was trying on a new outfit and character. This film was one of my defining moments in cinemas as a child. The others being Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Nothing could have snapped me out of the blockbuster trance I was in except for the fact that the film broke and melted towards the middle as if to foreshadow the fates of Belloq and his fellow Nazis.

Now, you may ask yourself, "What kind of parents would take their six year old to a movie where the power of God causes Nazis' faces to melt?" These are parents who, two years earlier, had to have their four year old explain Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings to them. I was a little advanced in the realm of movies as a kid. That's not to say that I didn't have my freak out moments as a kid. The original Nightmare on Elm Street and Poltergeist scared the bejezzus out of me and I didn't see them until two and three years later on HBO.

Raiders was the kind of film that threw out the rule book as far as how to make an action film. First off, the hero did not necessarily come adorned with a white hat. Indy's brown fedora and unshaven face signified a break from the norm. While he searched for historical artifacts to be ultimately kept in a museum for posterity and examination, he expected to be well paid for his efforts. On one side of the coin he is a button down, bow tie wearing, professor of archaeology. Quite a polar opposite to his moonlighting as a shoot first, ask questions later approach to being the "finder of rare antiquities." He doesn't always follow the letter of the law as explained in the sequel/prequel Temple of Doom. Secondly, where most films until this point had the hero being triumphant and never wavering in the face of adversity. Jones got his ass handed to him on a regular basis. There are at least four instances throughout the series where he got lucky or had some assistance in disposing of a foe to which he was clearly outmatched. Lastly, the action never stopped. It was one mess after the next and Jones is constantly having to reinvent his plan to get out of the debacle, "making this up as I go" he says.

Now, 27 years after the original Raiders film, Spielberg and company have decided to dust off the oldest of all rare antiquities, Harrison Ford. I kid because I love. Ford is after all 65 and it seemed as if the search for a new Indiana Jones film was as fruitful as a search for the real Ark of the Covenant. The film had been in limbo since 1989 when The Last Crusade rode off into the sunset along with our heroes. To make matters worse, Ford was already close to 50 when the last film was released. If lightning was to be captured once again, they did not have the healing powers of the grail to keep him young. Years have gone by while the holy trinity of my childhood movie geekdom has tossed the ideas and scripts back and forth. All of them voicing concerns over each go at it. Ford, apparently the only one with a logical versus fantastical grasp of the obvious, stated that the film should either be made by 2008 or the entire idea dropped all together. Finally, everyone stood up and took notice and got down to brass tacks. An old idea from the days of the Young Indiana Jones television series finally got its comeuppance. Now, instead of the movie being a throwback to the original Republic Pictures Serials', it could be homage to the 1950's B-movies. Of course, these are the kind of movies prominently shown during Mystery Science Theater 3000's hysterical run.

With this in mind, I have certain reservations with this new chapter in the saga of Indiana Jones. The trailer debuted awhile back and I couldn't help but feel like this was a bad idea. The concept of a rough and tumble protagonist who looks like he should be searching for an early bird special instead of priceless artifacts throws me. So far, it’s clear that a lot of the stunt work is shown from a wide angle allowing the filmmakers the opportunity to conceal the stunt man's face. The editing can only do so much in terms of matching up fact from fiction when it comes to whether or not the real Ford could swing backwards into a moving truck or into a glass window. While the McGuffin, the crystal skull, is a supernatural item by nature, it has no religious undertones which have been a staple of the series. We are now moving into the realm of extraterrestrial and that is a bit out of Jones' league. Unless they build in a back-story on how he develops a vast knowledge of supposed alien artifacts it seems that he will have nothing to offer in the realm of insight. Jones' day job as a professor of archaeology may have to be scuttled in favor of him teaching a night class on government conspiracy at the local community college. Then there is, of course, the question of his age and the apparent acknowledgement of such. "It's not the years, it's the mileage," is probably the most quoted line from the movies just ahead of "No ticket!" and "Asps, very dangerous. You go first." While we all agree that Ford is not the man we knew 19 years ago. I'd like to think that he's immortal and untouchable. Sure, he gets thrown around and beat up and bloodied on nearly every occasion but he's always back with a vengeance or a sneer. I hope the movie doesn't become a 2 hour long Geritol joke. I'm almost afraid to watch for fear that at one broken down moment, Jones will declare, "I'm too old for this sh...." only to be cut off by a continued beating.

In my mind the quest for the perfect script is like the quest for the Holy Grail. There is no medal for second place. It's a test of faith and integrity. Only a true soul will triumph. Spielberg, Lucas, and Ford need to stay true to the character. Indy's M.O. usually follows this pattern.

Paramount logo transforms into mountain or other mountain faced object.

  • Opening gambit

  • Get sucked into a situation I really don't want to be involved in.

  • Show disbelief in magical object. Only be in it for the end result.

  • Get pulled further into the situation because of someone who ends up tagging along.

  • Get a hold of titular object or ultimate clue for getting titular object only to have it taken away at weapon point.

  • Fight, use intellect, quip here, quip there, get captured, escape, get captured, get hurt, and fight back.

  • Have a showdown in which the plot device figures into ability to get away from the bad guys.

  • Tender moment, plot device gets lost, is returned to rightful owner, or gets locked away in huge warehouse.

  • Raiders March.

That's it. That is how the movies work and they work beautifully. Will the change from style of the 1930's to the 1950's change how this will play out, I don't know. What I do know is that I don't want to see any CGI that takes the place of something that could be achieved through old school film trickery. Not to say I want to see the strings attached to the airplanes, but I don't Jurassic Park or Star Wars style special effects. The producers have stated that the film will only use CGI to enhance the environment not take the place of action which will be done with traditional stunts and special effects as to resemble the previous films. This is the only piece of information that gives me any comfort. While I know Spielberg knows how to make a movie, I have started to lose trust in George Lucas. I'm sorry George. I love ya, man. But I have so many reservations with Episodes I-III that I can't help but feel a little cheated. Don't feel bad, I am one of the few people that loved Radioland Murders and understood what you going for and believe me, I get it. Just keep your tech happy hands off the movie and just help shape a great story.

Granted, all of these hopes and dreams are just that. The movie has been made. It's ready to unspool at Cannes next month. The hope for fortune and glory is already set in stone and won't be easily moved like a bouncing block from the wall of the Well of Souls. When all is said and done I can only pray that Spielberg et al. have chosen wisely because it this thing falls quicker than a Nazi driven tank into the Canyon of the Crescent Moon you'll be scratching your heads as to why no one likes it. All I'm saying is that you better be pretty sure you're delivering a blockbuster or you'll decimate all of our memories of a wonderful franchise full of great characters and mythology. When the returns come back while you and Lucas are sitting on a beach in Hawaii. When you start thinking you've got a hit a hit on your hands and say, "Good, God!", remember, "That's just what the Hebrews thought."

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