May 22nd, 2008

Duck Row

Indiana Jones Don't Need No Steenkin' Props and Locations

So I ended up catching the midnight showing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In my defence, I finished everything on my schedule yesterday. Why do I feel I need to defend myself? Because I was on a hell of a roll. But I couldn't resist the call of Indy. I knew I'd need to get there at least two hours early, so I brought a notebook and pen and got a little more work done. I got a great seat, too.

I'm still sorting out my feelings about the movie. Mainly, I liked it. I agree with a lot of critics who're saying the last third is the weakest part of the film. The idea of aliens influencing ancient South American culture just isn't interesting anymore and there's really nothing new brought to the table. The focus on the meaning of treasure is kind of nice, but more as thematic theory than how it is implemented here.

Harrison Ford is great. It's nice to see him not glowering through a film and he's captivating. Though it felt oddly like he didn't have much to do--maybe it's just because he makes you want more. Cate Blanchett is ridiculously hot in this movie. That she and Indy don't end up together is the biggest of missed opportunities. Especially since Karen Allen just made me feel sad whenever she was on screen.

Marion was always my favourite of Indy's dames. She was an equal for Indy--Kate Capshaw mainly annoyed me (though I like her opening number), and Alison Doody lacked Allen's vitality. Plus, well. She was evil.

Gods, I want to see Irina Spalko in lingerie.

Er, anyway. Marion seemed an empty husk of her former self. Every time she smiled, I could practically hear Spielberg trying to coax her into it.

I was right to be wary of David Koepp's screenplay; the dialogue's truly abysmal at times, and the simplistic father/son thread has all the weight of a sub par sitcom. But the worst thing about the movie was the cgi. This is, by far, the smallest feeling Indiana Jones film, and, for most of it, the ugliest. Having just watched the second film again, I lamented the absence of the beautiful matte painting of Pankot Palace with the blue shadows or the Indian landscape. I miss the open deserts of the second and third film, Venice, and even the Raiders South America seemed somehow bigger. This cg South America just felt cluttered. And absolutely fake.

Watching the forest truck chase, I found it difficult to believe that Spielberg for a moment thought it had anywhere near the visceral intensity of the first film's similar chase. This had all the reality of a cartoon.

All the films strain credibility well past the breaking point, but so often it felt like this one didn't have any good excuse to do so.

I better start talking about the things I liked, huh?

Like I said, the first part of the film is the best. The drag race has a very fun energy and actually felt a hell of a lot more real than any chase that followed (positives, Sets, positives). My favourite scene in the whole picture was probably what is being called the "Doomtown" sequence. Funny and dead eerie all at once. Beautiful in insidious ways. Here, Indy escapes in a way that stretches credibility, but I completely didn't care. Because the scene was that sweetly horrific.

I liked Shia LaBouf. Riding up on his motorcycle, he was a dead ringer for Marlon Brando in The Wild One. I suddenly realised LaBouf has rather sensual lips.

Although the father/son stuff never works, I did like some of the energy between Indy and Mutt. I was reminded that the Uncle Scrooge comics were one of the inspirations for the Indiana Jones movies, and here Jones has sort of become Scrooge McDuck, and Mutt is Huey, Dewey, and Louie rolled into one. And a lot of good gags come out of this idea of a greaser completely out of his element.

There's a graveyard scene that was very cool.

So, anyway. Not a bad movie. Though it's definitely the weakest in the series. I won't spoil the ending for you, but prepare to be enormously disappointed. You might even enjoy it if you so prepare.
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Tori's Rat

Introduce Me to Witches from Eastern Europe

A couple more thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull;

Thinking about the Uncle Scrooge influence has led me to wonder if Irina Spalko was inspired by Magica De Spell. Maybe this would explain why I found Spalko to be so profoundly attractive, since I had something of a thing for De Spell when I was a kid.

I don't think I read any of the comic book issues where she appeared, so I mainly knew her through DuckTales. Apparently, hotness was the idea for De Spell, according to Wikipedia;

. . . she would not be in the image of the old hag usually associated with witches. [Carl Barks] wanted to create a youthful and attractive enchantress, so he took inspiration for her look from Italian actresses Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren. He also wanted her to be seductive, amoral, and somewhat threatening. In a later interview, Barks identified a similar figure from the comic strips of Charles Addams as another source of inspiration for Magica, namely Morticia Addams of The Addams Family. Maleficent, the malevolent fairy from Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty, first released on January 29, 1959, has been suggested as a third source of inspiration . . .

That's a lot to ask from a duck. Carl Barks may've had a screw loose in some wonderful way. Or having already worked on comics about duck people for about ten years at the time he'd created Magica (1961), his perspective was completely skewed. I can't say I was particularly as interested in Magica after I hit puberty, yet Magica with a pretty humanoid face and a woman's body really settles well in the primordial soup of my personality.

Of course, I'm also wondering if Irina Spalko gets her first name from Simone Simon's character in Cat People. It all comes full circle.

What else . . . I was very intrigued by suggestions of Indy's World War II experiences as a spy and his perspective on the Cold War. I kind of wish the film had been entirely about that. Maybe I just need to watch From Russia with Love again . . . But, no, there's a wonderful weariness about this Indiana Jones, especially in light of the easier fantasy world of the original movies. The melancholy of Indy aging would work as a nice parallel to the world becoming unimaginatively brutal and senseless.

Though, if you watched the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles*, you know Indy'd already experienced the senseless brutality of trench warfare. I was rather amused that there's actually a reference to one of the episodes in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, mostly because the movies and the series never quite felt like they existed in the same reality.

One other thing about the movie--John Williams kind of falls down. I suppose Mutt Williams must have a theme, but damned if I could remember it, or any other new melody, getting in edgewise with the almost constant reliance on themes from the previous films. Not just the Raiders march, but also Marion's theme, the Ark theme, even the Holy Grail theme. Maybe my ear just wasn't in the right place; I'd missed my afternoon tea and was in sort of a caffeine withdrawal headache. Who knows; maybe I'd like the whole movie better with proper fortification.


*Which, I admit, I did. No, Sean Patrick Flannery wasn't as good as River Phoenix or even really resembled Harrison Ford at all, but . . . good production values. Christopher Lee was in one episode.
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