Indiana Jones Rides Again

29-May-08 6:12 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

I'd heard rumors of a fourth Indiana Jones film since before George Lucas set out to diminish the Star Wars universe with three prequels. Now that he's fulfilled that undertaking, I worried he may have set his sights on a similar fate for the other franchise that made Harrison Ford a household name two decades ago. Though nothing so severe has occurred with The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this latest Indiana Jones film is not the note I would've preferred the series to end on.

The twenty years since Harrison Ford last donned the whip and fedora translates to about the same time for Indiana Jones, as since 1989's The Last Crusade, the series' setting has leapfrogged from 1939 to 1957. We're reintroduced to professor-by-day, archaeologist-by-night Colonel Jones (WWII has come and gone) as he is forced to reveal to Russian spies a discovery the United States government would rather keep secret. The object of their desire seems an unlikely find for an Indiana Jones film; unfortunately, as with the movie's three predecessors, the opening sequence hints at elements that will play a larger role in the overall plot.

Scrapped ideas from the Lucas drawing board often find their way into the finished product; consider the haunted house that was rejected as the focus of the third film but nonetheless made an appearance. In the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull's case, the idea for Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars has worked its way more deeply into the final film's plot than I would've liked. Xenoarchaeology has always been the domain of Captain Picard, not Professor Jones. The series needn't necessarily be limited to its roots — with each new film, the franchise becomes something it was not. But I've historically expected Indiana Jones to contain elements of magic and mysticism, not science fiction.

Despite that departure, much of the film is consistent in appearance and style with its predecessors, there is some obvious CGI in effect. Most noticeable are when it's used to generally wholly fabricated animals, such as gophers and monkeys, which might be acceptable were they integral to the plot, but more often they prove unnecessary set decoration, distracting from the story. Raiders of the Lost Ark had a genuine monkey; why couldn't this one? The Tarzan-style action that followed, though true to the pulp of the era in which the film is set, was absurd. Again, I've always found that Indiana Jones action which is not mystical is realistic, but this film strains one's credulity.

What isn't strained by this film is Harrison Ford, as he handles the action sequences surprisingly well, his performance as an adventurous archaeologist appearing not to have suffered the ravages of time. Near the film's beginning is a fun motorcycle ride through the streets of New Haven, Connecticut, which was made more enjoyable to this actor by noticing the many extras and saying, "That could've been me!" A later exhilarating scene is a rain forest car chase with clever combat and constantly shifting terrain that involves the entire cast. It culminates in a pugilistic bout that's accentuated with the satisfyingly sound of many meaty connections, reminiscent of Indy's round with the bald German boxer in the first film, which was similarly set on the precipice of annihilation.

But it does seem that Harrison Ford needs more help from his friends than usual, as evidenced by his growing party. Though Indiana Jones has never ventured out alone — where would he have been without Marian, Willie, Sallah, and Short Round? — this time his entourage numbers five, which detracts from Ford's spotlight. But the return of Karen Allen as Marian Ravenwood is a nice bookend to the series, and even I must admit that Shia LaBeouf didn't ruin Indiana Jones nearly as much as he did Transformers. A similarly expansive, though better received, effort is made when the film references the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, as pointed out to me by Showbits contributor GeneD. Though I've never seen that television series, I appreciated the official gesture to expand (or at least acknowledge) the canon of the expanded universe.

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not the weakest of the four Indiana Jones film, but it is, with any luck, the last. As another review pointed out, The Last Crusade was a more fitting farewell to Henry Jones Jr. and Sr., and now feels a bit diminished by this continuing adventure. Yet Crystal Skull nonetheless gives us the thrill of seeing our hero back in the saddle, and the adventure he takes us on has enough surprises to make it worth the ride.

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

12-May-08 1:00 PM by
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On the cusp of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I was curious to see what other roles Harrison Ford played in his youth which may not have had the staying power of the aging archaeology professor. The film I chose to represent this era was The Frisco Kid.

Released in 1979, The Frisco Kid stars Gene Wilder as a student directed to leave his Poland hamlet to become San Francisco's first rabbi. Arriving in Philadelphia, he misses the boat to the West Coast and must make his inept way across the new world. Well into the film's first hour, he meets up with a post-Star Wars, pre-Indiana Jones Harrison Ford playing a very Han Solo-ish cowboy.

It's an unusual pairing that further manifests itself in the film's dichotomic nature. I liked The Frisco Kid, but not because it was a comedy. It's not that the jokes fall flat — there are some laughable moments, to be sure, but most scenes aren't trying to be funny. What I instead found fascinating was Wilder's character and his faith. The rabbi often values his religious practices and symbols above his and his friend's lives, creating some moments that are wonderfully celebratory — a scene that meshes Hebrew and Native American dancing is especially fun — and others that are tragic, driving him to tears. His faith is tested and even questioned — but, like the protagonist of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Wilder's values are strengthened by these trials and ultimately prove central to his character.

Predictably, he also has an influence on Ford's cowboy. When we first meet Ford, he's a loner with few redeeming characteristics and with little interest in anything that doesn't line his coffers. But when he begins mentoring young Skywalker — er, Rabbi Avram — on the ways of the West, he finds friendship to be a powerful and selfless motivator.

The Frisco Kid is a departure from Wilder's time in Blazing Saddles and may disappoint fans looking for more of the same. But it uniquely succeeds as a gentle, lighthearted comedy and heartwarming tale.

The Skull That Wouldn't Die

14-Feb-08 5:47 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 1 comment.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull recently wrapped filming — just in time to precede today's opening of The Spiderwick Chronicles with this blessedly spoiler-free trailer:

On one hand, this preview doesn't offer many clues about the plot, Karen Allen's return, or Indy's relationship to Shia LaBeouf. But on the other hand, we don't want the trailer to give much away. Either way, what could a trailer do to make us want or not want to see the film? I've met people as recently as this calendar year who didn't know a new Indiana Jones was in production, let alone on the cusp of release. So perhaps the advertising Lucasfilm does need not be persuasive so much as declarative: yes, this film exists. You know the name, and you want to see it. What more is there?

The Screaming Skull

10-Sep-07 4:46 PM by
Filed under Films; 2 comments.

Several titles have been bandied about for the next Indiana Jones film. Some may've been tongue-in-check references to its aging cast, such as Ravages of Time. Others, such as The City of the Gods, suggested a continuation of the first and third films' theme of searching for Biblical artifacts.

Finally, today we are presented with the official title — which tells us almost nothing:

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (Sept. 9, 2007) — The title of the new Indiana Jones adventure, now in production under the direction of Steven Spielberg, is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was revealed today by actor Shia LaBeouf.

LaBeouf, who stars in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone and John Hurt, announced the title during today's MTV Video Music Awards, which were broadcast live from Las Vegas.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a Lucasfilm Ltd. and is being distributed by Paramount Pictures. It will be released in the U.S. and simultaneously in most territories worldwide on Thursday, May 22, 2008. Frank Marshall returns as producer, with Kathleen Kennedy joining George Lucas as executive producer.

Breaking news about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull can be found at http://www.indianajones.com.

Now, I don't need spoilers anymore than this film needs advertising. And maybe, not being an archaeologist myself, I'm missing the connotations and backstory implied by the title. But it sounds as fabricated as the Temple of Doom. Come on, Steve — just a hint as to the plot? Pleeease?

Quarterly Review

08-Aug-07 2:45 PM by
Filed under Films, Star Trek; 3 comments.

The June/July issue of Geek Monthly has a cover story on what a great year 1982 was for geeks. We may not have noticed it at the time, but it is astonishing what a plethora of great sci-fi films came out all in that one year. Unfortunately, some of these films I did not see upon their initial release, and some are not as great today as they were 25 years ago. Nonetheless, here in brief is my rundown of their list:

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Considered "the zenith of the Trek feature films", I agree this film began the even-numbered successes that persisted until Nemesis. The tie-in to the original series, Ricardo Montalban as the villain, and the ending were all fantastic facets… but for all that, I still think I prefer the more lighthearted The Voyage Home.

(more…)

Over My Dead Body

02-Aug-07 6:40 PM by
Filed under Star Wars; 1 comment.

From IndianaJones.com's video entitled "Indy Arrives", dated 07.11.2007, I took this shot of Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, and George Lucas:


Spielberg Ford and Lucas on Indiana Jones 4 set

Compare Lucas' shirt to this one:

Han Shot First shirt

WTF is George Lucas doing wearing a "Han Shot First" shirt?! He's the last person I ever expected to be seen in such a thing… It's further proof that his assault on Star Wars canon was just a scheme to make more money by releasing the unremastered trilogy on DVD.

"Who's gonna come to save you, Junior?"

07-Jun-07 5:03 PM by
Filed under Films; 1 comment.

Straight from the horse's mouth: Sean Connery will not appear in the fourth Indiana Jones movie, as stated today on the official site for the film:

I get asked the question so often, I thought it best to make an announcement. I thought long and hard about it and if anything could have pulled me out of retirement it would have been an Indiana Jones film. I love working with Steven and George, and it goes without saying that it is an honor to have Harrison as my son. But in the end, retirement is just too damned much fun. I, do however, have one bit of advice for Junior: Demand that the critters be digital, the cliffs be low, and for goodness sake keep that whip by your side at all times in case you need to escape from the stunt coordinator! This is a remarkable cast, and I can only say, "Break a leg, everyone." I'll see you on May 22, 2008, at the theater!

His absence is disappointing, though not entirely surprising; if we think Harrison Ford is too old for the role, then the years have probably been even less kind on Mr. Connery (not that 76-year-olds can't act — just maybe not in a whip-toting action-adventure).

To be honest, I didn't even know until reading the above announcement that Mr. Connery had claimed to have retired. Too bad he couldn't have gone out on a higher note than The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Moving on, confirmed cast members in Indiana Jones 4 are Harrison Ford, Shia LeBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, and John Hurt. Of course, that's only because I haven't auditioned yet…

Extras of the Lost Ark

05-Jun-07 8:30 AM by
Filed under Films; 3 comments.

Best reason to take a day off from work ever.

Don't look for me in my cubicle next Monday; I'll be cracking my whip in New Haven (along with every other actor and bystander in New England).