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Do svidanya, Dr. Jones

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In honor of the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on DVD today, I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the movie. I expect there'll be some spoilers here, so if you haven't seen it yet and care, read on at your own risk.

First, it's really exicting to see Indiana Jones in action again. I remember talk back in the mid- to late-90s of a fourth film, and for a while I was anticipating it. But as time wore on I started feeling a fourth film should not be made; Harrison Ford was getting too old to do the character justice, in my unfettered opinion. In fact, I felt Ford just really didn't look like Indiana Jones anymore. And with the announcement that, yes, a fourth film was in production, my gut feeling was no, no, no... it's too late.

All that changed for me when I saw a production still of Ford in the jacket and fedora. I don't know what it is, but it must be that Hollywood magic, because when I saw it I knew immediately that Indiana Jones was back! It's amazing what a prop can do, but just looking at Ford with the hat made all my doubts fade and made Indiana Jones real again.

So my anticipation was up. But what of the movie itself? Was it worth the wait?

Yes and no. There's certainly an undeniable thrill to seeing such an iconic character on the big screen after so many years. A lot of the old Indy charm is back, mixed with a fair dose of the grizzled grumpiness that comes with age. This is an older and wiser Indy, a little more worn and torn, but no worse for wear.

I'm even okay with the plot itself, and Indy's involvement with crystal skulls, Soviets and extra terrestrials. I find it fitting, in fact, since Indy in the past travsersed the supernatural path so that a movie set in the Fifties would be based on such a, um, stereotypical Fifties topic (Ed Wood, I'm looking at you). While the first three films, placed in the Thirties, were more an homage to the serials of that time, so the new film is an homage to the B movies of the Fifties. Well played.

The downside, of course, is the character development. I have no problem with Mutt as Henry Jones III, and little more to say about Karen Allen's return as Marion than the dopey grins and googley eyes were a bit much. What started with so much spitfire ended up little more than licks from a puppy. No real complaints with Cate Blanchett, though, but the brief glimpse of her real motivations at the end were not enough.

Then there's the action. The jungle chase was certainly thrilling, but I most certainly could have done without the silly Tarzan spoof. It was out of place and not at all amusing (but the kids loved it). But I liked the motorcycle chase. And the "grisly death fight" was acceptable if far-fetched.

(The "grisly death fight," in my opinion, is a staple of the Indiana Jones movies. They're all a battle to the death between an outmatched Indy and a beefy henchman. The only real letdown in the series, in my opinion, was The Last Crusade's tank treads brawl. I always thought blood stains on the treads were missing from its conclusion. But I digress.)

Unfortunately, like any other Hollywood movie made in the last decade, our hero has transcended his mortal humanity to become something much more supernatural: A 65-year-old man can take punch after punch, run endlessly through the jungle, survive a nuclear blast, and is home in time for dinner. I love Indy and all, but come on.

Looking back, though, my biggest complaint of the film is this: where the hell is the whip? It makes an appearance in an early sequence, then disappears. At no point in the last 90% of the film does Indy use it again. Come on... Indy without the hat and whip would be like Batman without his cowl and utility belt. Its a defining character trait and it's sorely missed. (If you've seen the trailer, you've seen all there is to see of it.)

In the end, though, I really enjoyed the movie, if only to see Indy in action one more time. I don't hold him on such a pedestal that a few flaws totally ruin a film for me. I'll take what I can get. Now if they'd just get to that fourth Back to the Future picture...

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