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Monday, October 20, 2008

Movie Watch: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I really wanted to like this movie.

And the guilty truth is - in some ways I did. In some ways I enjoyed it because Indiana Jones is a fun character and Harrison Ford plays him just so very, very well. That's the telling truth about the movie, though, it's watching Ford recapture the charm of his performance that give the film its own - but so much of the rest that hangs around that wry smirk is a low and embarrassing pillage of a franchise that shows, if anything else, that George Lucas needs to stop writing completely.

Spoilers continue.

Let's start with the scene that most everyone has heard about by now, even if you haven't seen the movie. The fridge scene. "Nuke the fridge" is a phrase which is quickly becoming the new "jump the shark" as fewer and fewer people remember Fonzie in the first place.

Long ago I had lunch with someone who used to get the chance to help edit screenplays while they were in pre-production. One action movie had a scene where the hero is protecting a block of C-4 from various flames while running down a tunnel. He pointed out that C-4 is actually designed not to ignite under such situations. It was a pretty stupid writing blunder easily corrected with a bit of research.

The fridge scene makes that look like Ulysses. Ignoring that lead is no way a reasonable protection against the heat of a nuclear blast, surely one with the proximity required to send that fridge flying into the air safely - another action which defies the very laws of physics ... but even if it might have maintained some concept of armor that Indy would have merely been cooked like a November turkey ... we at least know in this day and age that Indy would have spent the rest of the movie dying of radiation poison at the least.

So in one hand, the fridge scene is like those funny "survive the bomb by hiding under your desk" films they used to show kids, only with a fridge instead, isn't funny and possibly makes even less sense.

That hand is already holding a pretty little pile of something stinky, but in the other hand the scene is indicative with what's wrong with the likes of Lucas these days. So in love with fancy computer graphics and the ability to edit all the logic out of a scene by distracting the audience, the fact that the screenplay is practically an insult to the audience's intelligence survives the cutting room floor.

And there's no excuse why that scene did survive the cutting room floor. It's a flimsy segue to another scene and could have been replaced with a fade and some edits in dialogue. Snap. Snip. Snap. Better movie. Better Lucas and Spielberg are like kids at their first college kegger - drunk, out of control, messy and completely oblivious to the above.

The scenes that follow cascade from this fact to varying degrees. While some, if not most, are at least fun to watch - even the best can't rise above popcorn fluff.

The original Indiana Jones captured the joy of a simple action adventure movie while never losing sight on the characters themselves. The best, most memorable, most entertaining scene of the entire franchise was shot while Harrison had a fever, was completely improved and didn't use a single frame of computer animation.

I'm the first person to wave the flag of technology and proudly try to claim new land by shoving it firmly into the ground. The sad fact, though, is that it may have helped men like Lucas rise to where they are now - it stopped helping them make better movies years and years ago.

Sometimes it even just helps make them worse.


Deacon said...

I think it's even worse that the scene in question isn't a recent Lucas idea. Instead, it's cribbed from the original screenplay for Back to the Future, which played up the whole nuclear angle much more than in the finished production. This may be why it doesn't really work - it's shoehorned into a movie that doesn't need it simply because Lucas got lazy.

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JFT said...

Admittedly, it's a hokey thing to "hide in a fridge" (that I remember they specifically mentioned lead lined, for whatever reason... along with the shotgun shell metal being magnetic too... a quick "MacGuyver" moment and they explain it away so people won't nitpick, I'm sure)... but considering the preposterous things that Indiana Jones has been involved with in each movie, having a couple of non-scientific faux-pas moments isn't the worst that could happen. My friend said it best when he summed up the new movie: "It's a typical Indiana Jones movie.. full of plotholes and weirdness, but all's well when they play you out with music."

I don't think it has anything to do with "lazy" or "lost the magic"... it happens that we were able to forgive the flaws in the earlier movies because they were so revolutionary in story and FX. Now everything has benefited from Lucas/Spielberg's magic that we don't see the good popcorn fun the movies are intended to be, and we simply pick them apart like 90% of the movies today.

Spielberg's notorious for GIANT plotholes in his movies... but we forgive him because the movie's fun to watch. Let's allow "the fridge" to be just another giant plothole we forgive in an otherwise fun and ultimately entertaining movie.