Archive for the ‘Steven Spielberg’ Category

‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ DVD is a mixed bag

October 13, 2008

If you, like me, are an ardent fan of the original Raiders of the Lost Ark and the ensuing Indiana Jones franchise — with all its ups and downs — then Tuesday’s DVD release from Paramount of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull presents a dilemma.

Are you honest with yourself, and everyone else, by acknowledging that this is the weakest entry in the now four-film series (not counting the superb Young Indiana Jones TV series)? And if so, do you side with South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whose “The China Problem” episode last week cast director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas in the metaphorical light of being Indy’s greedy, product-driven “rapists”?

Or do you seek silver linings on the new two-disc DVD, from its lavish special features (with great making-of material) to the fact that the film opens with the one of the best sustained action sequences in recent memory? In short, do you cut slack for Stevie and George — not to mention now retirement-age Harrison Ford as Indy?

My attitude is somewhere in the middle, which is not to say it’s a muddle. It’s simply a mixed bag.

I truly believe that Indy’s time has come and gone, and that this film is a shaky evocation of superior efforts from up to a quarter-century ago. But I also believe Spielberg is one of our finest directors, and it wasn’t his fault that Lucas (as writer of Crystal Skull’s story) delivered yet another murky plot about rivals seeking to get a thing from a place in a big hurry — or something. And who are all these people and why should we care?

I swear, Indy 4 was as plot-challenged as any Star Wars prequel — and for much the same reasons. I was half-way expecting a subplot about Trade Federation blockades or complex senate votes.

Then again, give the film credit for its women, from Cate Blanchett as a stylish yet deadpan serious Soviet bad bongo battling Indy for possession of the thing, to Karen Allen — are you kidding me? — who amazingly returns as Indy’s old (like him) love interest from the first film.

Women in Hollywood just aren’t allowed to do this sort of thing when they no longer look so pretty or young or glamorous. But here’s spunky Allen, bless her, and it’s utterly grand that Indy 4 went against the sexist grain to give her another shot.

On the other hand, the film overcompensates for Indy’s advanced age by making him gallingly indestructible, when it was Indy’s vulnerability — even when much younger — which made him so endearing in the first place. And please, the story goes absolutely nowhere, including Indy’s banal relationship with the biker boy played by Shia LaBeouf, whose name added marquee value and a bit of youthful heat, but who was as miscast as anyone I’ve seen in any recent movie. (Note to Lucas: Working out your daddy issues already had become gratingly monotonous 20 years ago. Think of something else.)

But back to those silver linings: This film also bristles with bold and grand action sequences, and its whiff of nostalgia is more enticing than stale. And on DVD, at least, you can break up its leaden plot with an intermission, which I could have used in the theater.

Hey, I love Indiana Jones. I just didn’t love this movie. But the bottom line is I’d rather it exist than that it never be made. And if that makes me a fanboy — albeit one who avoids the gushy mindset of blind adoration — then so be it. Some of us criticize because we care.

‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ is a long title but not a lot o’ plot

May 21, 2008

OK, I’ve held off long enough. Time to review Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which I caught at a press screening Sunday.

Should the film, opening tonight, be on your must-see list? Why, of course, if you’re a fan of this franchise. How can you not see the first and only Indy movie since its original ’80s run as one of the greatest action-adventure trilogies of all time?

Now, is it worth all the fuss? Why, no. Overlong, charm-challenged and plot-anemic, the film falls into a gratingly familiar category of bloated action epics with scads of effects yet very little meaning and not much story going on. Pirates of the Caribbean, anyone?

Basically, Harrison Ford’s Indy, now 19 years older in 1957, must find a thing and then get a thing to a certain place– and that’s it. How original. Get the Death Star plans to the Rebel base. Get the ring to Mordor. Get me outta here! And in this case, very little of that thing (the skull) makes much sense, which should be no surprise. This was co-written by George Lucas, who is not to plotting and screenwriting what Steven Spielberg is to directing. Stevie, bless his heart, did his best, as does a game cast, especially rapier-wielding Soviet bad-gal Cate Blanchett, who at least has the film’s best hair. But after a promising first 20 minutes, the film goes nowhere except to the next big SPFX and CG scene. When an Indy movie makes it hard to stay awake because it’s so uninvolving, something is clearly wrong.

Plus, unlike Star Trek II, in which the characters’ age became a distinct issue, in this one, it’s briefly mentioned that Indy is older, yet almost never acknowledged in any real-world way. This guy has been quietly teaching for two decades and is clearly at least in his 50s (Ford is 65), yet he can kick butt like always without a wince — and he used to wince a lot, his vulnerability making Indy so initially lovable and disarming. Plus, about seven million bullets are fired his way, and not one nicks him. The old guy is simply too fast.

I will give Lucas and company credit for defying the agism of Hollywood and bringing back Karen Allen from 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, still the series’ best movie. In Tinseltown, men are allowed to age, but not women. She’s aged and she’s back, as spunky as ever. Thanks for that, at least.

But Shia LaBeouf is woefully miscast as a tough-guy motorcycle-riding ’50s greaser whose entry in the story is contrived and serves only to feed Lucas and Spielberg’s obsession for daddy issues. This guy made even Transformers sing with comedy and contemporaneity. Here, he’s a humorless fifth wheel being used for youth-crowd marketing.

Hey, the action is great — no denying that. But a film can’t be all about action and effects and very little about character, story and charm. That’s been a problem for Lucas productions since all his yes-men helped enable the disastrously dull Star Wars prequels’ plots and characters (“George, that step-and-fetch-it Jar Jar is a stitch!”), and it’s still a problem now.

The Indy franchise won’t suffer — it’s too big for that, and people will want to see this film in spite of itself. Hey, I would, too, if I hadn’t already. But if you love this character and what he stands for — good old-fashioned action-adventure with a rakish sense of fun and a soaring sense of wonder — then revisit the originals via those DVDs on your shelf. Now that’s how it’s done.