Pardon a bit of my bile here, but since going out to a film is a much rarer event than it used to be, I tend to get a little bent when I find the time to catch a movie and it turns out to be filled with Teh Suck. In this case, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
There was no reason to make this film, really, though all parties involved realize that it would be an excuse to print money. But, George Lucas, having been bitten by the first three Star Wars episodes, should have realized it was also entirely possible to find yourself unable to give away the money you’ve printed. Or not, and this lack of awareness–or, rather, lack of artistic awareness, as I’m sure EPs I, II, and III made George a lot of money, crap storytelling aside–may be the contributing factor for why Indy IV is the turd fest that it is.
I know Roger Ebert loved it, and cited his affection for the Saturday afternoon serials as his reason, claiming that he, like those involved, will forgive a great deal if the right nostalgia buttons are pressed. Which is a fine reason to like a film–God knows I use this same excuse to ground my love for The Fifth Element–but the distinction in Indy IV was that the film was an homage instead of a nostalgic nod. The previous films certainly were aware of their antecedents but that didn’t stop them from transcending the cardboard layer of characterization and storytelling, that didn’t stop them from injecting them full of modern cinematic technique and pacing. A generation of stunt men and women cut their teeth on Indy I and II, and most of them wouldn’t have broken a sweat at any point in Indy IV.
And, yes, sure, the pacing and CGI work in the preview for Hancock were a hundred times more thrilling than any of the work done in Indy IV, and you can argue that, well, Indy isn’t about CGI and wire work. To which I will argue that Spielberg shot War of the Worlds with DV and gave every indication of never looking back. And, hell, it was all George’s money and infrastructure (ILM, anyone?). They couldn’t put their A-Team on this project?
No, the real problem here was the script. Koepp should know better, too. He’s done tight work before, and this just felt like something banged out over the weekend after having watched the previous three that Friday morning. There are some great iconic moments (Indy on the hill, looking back over the valley as the skull/mushroom cloud rises; the look he gives the guy who is scrubbing his bits down in the decon chamber; the argument between Marion and Indy in the back of the truck; and . . . er, that may be it), but mostly it is an exercise in missed opportunities. It suffers from the same thing that killed the second film: it’s not about the adventure and mystery of uncovering the past so as to avoid repeating it, but rather How We Become Our Fathers (or, in the case of Indy II, Righteous Indignation Will Overcome Tyranny). As in the second film, Indy–as a character, as a knowledgeable tool–is superfluous to the actual plot. In I and III, it is only someone with his knowledge–the full body of his accumulated knowledge–that can solve the riddle. IV, as in II, requires Showing Up. That’s probably the whole summation of the finale: “Indy Shows Up.”
Oh, and yeah, here’s a note from the audience. If you use the line “you’ve just brought a knife to a gun fight” in a film that is haunted by the absence of Sean Connery, you’ve just fucked yourself. Really. There’s no way you can pass that off as a clever riff; it’s just going to make you look lazy, and undercut the scene. And, frankly, there’s about a dozen better ways to have introduced the knife. Like, say, in the scene five minutes later where Mutt is playing with it as the shot is established. That’s, you know, like, subtle.
Anyway, much like II, Indy IV suffers from too many characters. Too many people for us to wonder why they are in the film, too many bodies that serve no purpose. Mac? Contributes nothing. Should have been cut. Ox? Nothing, again. Out. And, in fact, their continued presence only becomes harder and harder to sustain as the writing must be bent to accommodate them. With them gone, they could have actually done something interesting with Irina Spalko, Cate Blanchett’s psychic Russian. And Marion? Sorry, but Karen Allen spends all of her time on screen with this giddy grin that says, “Gosh, I’m glad to be working again.”
And Mutt? Shia LaBeouf does well with what he has to work with, but the character should have been female. That would have been interesting. And yes, there’s the whole Lara Croft angle to contend with if you go that route, but come on, Lara’s an Indy riff anyway. Why would you pass up the chance to BURY that with a female role model of your own? Oh, right, ’cause that would have meant actually WORKING.
And that’s my ultimate complaint about this film: it lacks any sort of passion. Everyone showed up because they were contracted to do so, but it felt like they were all thinking about their next project. There were a ton of problems with this film, and most of them stem from a lack of passion.
Jeff Vandermeer has a repeat post up on his blog about Inspiration. About the pleasure of creation, about–long slog aside–how the artist had damn well better have some reason to be creative other than just the next paycheck. And, yes, like he says, not every instant or every moment can be filled with numinous wonder of The Act, but there’s got to be enough of a hint of it all along the way to sustain both the audience and the artist. I realize, of course, that the Hollywood juggernaut rolls on, regardless of whether or not the spark is there because everyone needs a paycheck, but for projects like Indy IV, which had no burning reason to be made, how could the imperative to create it have fallen so far from the original passion that germinated it? I mean, after all these years, THIS was the script that said, “Okay, I’m the one. I’m the COMEBACK.”