Thursday, May 22, 2008

DIRK™ Reviews It For You: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Just got back from the Midnight showing, so it's time for...

DIRK™ Reviews It For You: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Short Version:
The Man in the Hat is back!

Slightly Longer Version: Unless you're looking to hate it, you'll like it.

Many Worded Version: Remember in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke asked Yoda what was in the cave and Yoda replied, "Only what you take with you."? Well, after skimming the laudatory and downright vengeful reviews and seeing it for myself, truer words couldn't apply. Angry nerds who never saw Star Wars in theaters until 1997 and then shrieked that George Lucas "raped their childhoods" two years later have been the worst as they try to nitpick every little thing they can as if they will matter more if they kill the Geek God. F*ck'em - they be hatin'.

Since the "big secrets" have been already leaked all over the place - (invisotexted for the three of you who actually haven't heard) Mutt is Indy Jr. via Marion; aliens are the McGuffin; Red is the new Brown - let's just whip thru what's hawt and what's naught:

First off, it's great to see Harrison Ford back after that pod dude had taken his place for the past, um, long time. If they didn't make a big deal about how he's older at the beginning, it would be easy to forget that he's almost eligible for Social Security. He doesn't phone it in this time; he's a singing, dancing Strip-o-Gram. Welcome back, mack.

Shia LaBeef (sp?) is also very, very good. The Nerd Nation despises him out of jealousy that a guy like him is a movie star while they're hoping at best to be Leeroy Jenkins. Unlike Short Round, you don't want him dead and he's got some tricky poignant moments to play concerning the nature of his relationship with his father figures. He's not ready to wear the hat yet, but perhaps two movies from now.

Cate Blanchett is fun playing Natasha Fatale, but not enough is done with her psychic powers, as in, they don't do anything with them at all. If she actually displayed some abilities, she would be a formidable villain, but as it stands, she's left short by the script. (Between her and Christina Ricci, we should be in for a wave of bob hairstyles, though no one has seen Ricci.) Ray Winstone is also left thinly-written and frankly I half-expected him to belch that he was Beowulf.

John Hurt and Jim Broadbent get better parts but the best is Karen Allen, whom I can't recall a single movie she's been in (if any) since Raiders. I hated Kate Capshaw and Allison Doody (huhuhuhuhuh) is a trivia answer (has she done anything since Last Crusade?) because Marion was always THE GIRL (i.e. like The Man) and she looks good despite being in her mid-50s. The smile is there and you'll wish she had been in the other sequels, too.

Spielberg has been bashed by some for being lazy - one review said that this proves he can direct in his sleep - and that's just not true. I don't know if they're expecting the Spielberg from 25-35 years ago to come thru a wormhole because this guy does just fine. Action scenes are free of shaky-cam and edit-fu hysterics clear in their geography. Spielberg has made so many great movies for so long, we're inured to how easy he makes it look.

The biggest problem is the script by David Koepp. I haven't followed the endless development and various drafts from other writers because it's irrelevant. It doesn't matter if Frank Darabont wrote the greatest script ever or not because we can only judge what we get on the screen NOW. The first act is wobbly as if it's trying to get its legs under it and as a result, it's got too many wisecracks, too much exposition, too much sitting and talking, and too much thematic setup to be comfortable. Once Mutt shows up and the globe-trotting begins, it's pretty much non-stop action until the end when it becomes a matter of "Insert McGuffin here to trigger special effects overload"; it's weak.

Another beef has been the use of CGI effects and this again is more nitpicking. People have complained that there is no sense of danger because we know they're on greenscreen stages, but since when have movies NOT been totally fake? Was there ever a real danger that the hero was going to die in the other films? Action used to be performed in front of obvious rear-projection screens, so why is some darn impressive blending of location footage and CG evil? Oh yeah, that's right, it's Lucas and we just must HATE Lucas. Move on, people. Lighten the f*ck up!

A less obvious, but subliminally problematic factor is the replacement of Douglas Slocombe (who retired after shooting Last Crusade, having shot all three Indys) with Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg's DP for everything he's done since Schindler's List. While the first three films had a warm, golden hue about them, this one has the blown-out silvery bloomed look that gives an icy vibe to the image and causes some dissonance to the viewer; it don't feel right, though most won't be able to put their finger on what's wrong and will blame other factors.

There are a goodly amount of funny gags, some excellent chase scenes and a proper amount of callbacks and touchstones to tickle the faithful without being overly nostalgic. A few of the goofier bits - what's with the CG animals? - are sops to the kiddies because I guess today's 13-year-olds are too ADHDed to be satisfied with what worked for my generation, but again, people who are spitting at this brief moments are just projecting their emo rage at Lucas. Again.

The Bottom Line: Indy 4 (not typing that title again) isn't as good as Last Crusade, but better than the grim Temple of Doom. It doesn't bring any shame to the franchise and if the script had been buffed as shiny as the crystal skulls, it could've been something special instead of something merely very good. If you go in with a chip on your shoulder and your arms crossed like you're from Missouri, then you're probably going to be as dissatisfied as you want to be. If you just go looking for some old-fashioned Saturday matinée fun to munch some popcorn to, then you'll have fun. It'd be cool if they could whip another one of these out in the next couple of years and just blow the doors off instead of trying to build an overly complex Rube Goldberg mousetrap.

Score: 7/10 - See it at a matinée show in a theater.

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