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.

Summer Smashes & Strike-Outs

10-Mar-08 2:06 PM by
Filed under Films; 2 comments.

There's not been much blogging going on around here lately because there's not been much to blog about. Between rehearsing for both Brigadoon and StrawHat auditions, my nights don't leave me much time for movies.

Fortunately, I don't think I'm missing much, as the current fare doesn't offer anything that interests me. But that won't always be the case, and this month marks the beginning of spring — so let's take a look at what will constitute the highlights of this year's summer blockbuster season:

Superhero Movie (March 28): Though I'm not usually a fan of the [Fill in the blank] Movie spoofs, this one looks halfway decent. Unfortunately, it also appears to be a scene-for-scene parody of a movie that came out six years ago. Had this come out in 2003, I wouldn't've missed it in theaters. Now, I'm not sure I care.

Iron Man (May 2): Robert Downey Jr. is a great actor, from Heart and Souls to more recent sleeper hits such as Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (also based on a comic book). Casting him as Tony Stark is a stroke of genius. Though Marvel's past movie adaptations have been hit-or-miss, and Iron Man looks like it could be a bit goofy, I'm hoping it'll hit its mark.

Speed Racer (May 9): I've never watched the anime on which this film is based, and the live-action version looks to have a bit too much CGI for my tastes. Still, I like rooting for the underdog, and Speed's character definitely seems to be that. Plus he has one line that always gives me chills: "It's all I know how to do, and I have to do something." Must be nice to have such conviction…

Prince Caspian (May 16): The second installment in the Chronicles of Narnia is sure to be a hit. Though I recall Prince Caspian being a rather mundane entry in the literary series, I expect the film version will be sufficiently jazzed up.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 16): The Eighties seem to be back with a vengeance: not just with franchises like Aliens vs. Predator and Transformers, but also actors reprising popular roles, like Rocky, Rambo, Die Hard, and now Indiana Jones. Were these actors one-hit wonders, I'd be more skeptical of their clinging to the past, but their versatility and staying power justifies a look at these returns. I'm hesitant about Shia LeBeouf's role in Indiana Jones — he contributed to what I considered the worst film of 2007 — but for Harrison Ford's sake, I'll reserve judgment.

The Incredible Hulk (June 13): The 2003 take on this popular Marvel comic book character was a mess: phony CGI, awkward script, superfluous characters. This sequel, which exchanges Eric Bana for Edward Norton as Dr. Banner, may be more of a reboot than a continuation. If so, I'm all for it. Please let it be as good as the Bill Bixby series!

Get Smart (June 20): Don Adams, Barbara Feldon, and Ed Platt, all under the supervision of Mel Brooks, made this superspy spoof one of the best television shows of all time. I have no interest in seeing a remake that brings back none of that talent. (The omission of Mr. Brooks as a consultant is especially foreboding.)

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (August 1): I actually like this series, with its rock-em sock-em action and evocative cinematography; I always walk out of the theater wanting to go back to school for Egyptology. Brendan Fraser (who cleverly referenced this series in Looney Tunes: Back in Action) was absent from the last entry, 2002's The Scorpion King (which I found wonderfully reminiscent of Kevin Sorbo's Hercules), so I'm looking forward to his return to the franchise this summer.

This summer's charts will be torn up by plenty of other films, such as The Happening, Wall-E, and The Dark Knight — but I don't know enough about these titles to offer judgment at this time.

Of the eleven films I've mentioned, only two are original, not based on existing properties or licenses (three if you count Superhero Movie). Is that a good ratio? It may not matter, as both history and my write-ups above indicate that a known property is no guarantee of success. Regardless of their origin, what films are you looking forward to this summer?

[All release dates are courtesy Film-Releases.com]

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?

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.

Read All About It

13-Jun-07 4:16 PM by
Filed under Films, Potpourri; 2 comments.

Potentially working as an extra on Indiana Jones 4 later this month has me thinking about my two previous experiences in that capacity.

The first was Fever Pitch, the 2005 film starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. Several scenes were shot in Fenway Park, a small section of which Boston Casting filled with paid extras. Not the whole stadium, though; in any sufficiently wide-angled shot, if you look far enough back, you'll notice none of the fans are moving. That's because they don't have legs. To save money on actual extras, inflatable dummies often fill in the seats that no one will notice beyond whether or not they're occupied.

It took a long time to set up each shot, what with lighting, makeup, cameras, and conferrals among the production crew. Every scene had to be filmed multiple times from multiple angles, so the extras huddled under their jackets, waiting for the call to "Action!" before shedding their covers and acting warm until "Cut!" signified it was safe to warm up again while the crew reviewed the recent footage and prepared for more. No noise was permitted; we mimed our actions, with cheers or catcalls (which may otherwise drown out the main characters' dialogue) dubbed in later. I didn't see Drew Barrymore, but Jimmy Fallon seemed happy to be surrounded by fans. We kept him company that September night from 6 PM to 6 AM — probably the first all-nighter I've ever pulled. (Driving home, I noticed my framerate had dropped considerably.) But it was all worth it:


Fever Pitch
Click for larger image.

The other movie I've worked on was The Game Plan, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. I worked as a sideline photographer at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro and again at Fitton Field at Holy Cross in Worcester. Each required showing up at 4 AM, which meant rolling out of bed at 2 AM. It was wet and dreary that October, and though I was spared the false enthusiasm of pretending to be a fan in the bleachers, I wasn't able to remain seated like they were, which was exhausting. Hundreds of extras reneged, to the point that Boston Casting desperately offered iPod raffles as an incentive for people to show up. I don't know if I'll be visible when the film hits theaters in September, but, as with Fever Pitch (which I've never actually watched, except for my scenes), the DVD will likely prove more enlightening.

Long hours, crappy food, and minimum wage — I'd decided additional extra work would give me insufficient compensation to warrant pursuing further opportunities; they'd just be redundant on my resume, anyway. But, unlike Sean Connery, for Indiana Jones, I'll come out of retirement.

"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).