Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Review: Indiana Jones 4

WARNING: The following review contains SEVERAL plot spoilers. If you haven't yet seen the movie, proceed at your own risk.
OTHER WARNING: I was in severe "geek mode" while writing this so please excuse my endless nerdy ramblings.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull was among the top five movies I had been highly anticipating this summer. I resigned myself to the fact that it probably wouldn't live up to my expectations and that it would inevitably be somewhat different from the past Indiana Jones films but of course I still hoped it would at least be good. Prior to seeing it, I set aside all my pre-conceived notions and viewed it with a completely open mind, curious to see what new and (hopefully) exciting directions Spielberg and Lucas were going to take it in.

And here are my thoughts:

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is a carelessly constructed mess of a movie, and a HUGE disappointment even for someone who had tried to shed all their expectations. Although there were a couple of fun action sequences and it was great to see Harrison Ford revisiting one of his most famous characters, the film's script was sloppy and idiotic, the characters are underwritten and one-dimensional, the storyline is lazy and predictable, and the ending is absolute nonsense. What should have been an exciting return to form for Spielberg and Lucas turned out to be nothing more than a barely passable, mildly-amusing adventure story with more plot-holes than you can shake a stick at. Which is a shame because Indiana Jones is one of cinema's most beloved action heroes and after a 19 year wait, he deserved better. MUCH better.

Considering the amount of time it took to make this and all the talent involved, there was really no excuse for this to be anything less than well-conceived. For something that's been in development for almost two decades, this movie feels awfully rushed and slapped together. The film is so haphazardly scripted (by hack screenwriter David Koepp) that I can't understand how any sane person would greenlight such a project and pour millions of dollars into it. For example: This time Indiana Jones HELPS the bad guys get what they want instead of trying to outwit them. There is a "surprise" subplot about Indy's son which is IMPOSSIBLE not to guess and which seems to exist only to set up future sequels starring Shia LaBeouf. Marion Ravenwood (Indy's love interest from Raiders of the Lost Ark) returns here but is completely wasted and shoehorned into a romantic subplot that feels forced and contrived. There are multiple scenes of boring exposition that really don't advance the plot all that much. The dialogue is inane and groan-inducing. I could go on and on...

One of my main issues with this film is the unbelievably silly "action" sequences found throughout, which are so outlandish and slapsticky, they could have been pulled straight from a Saturday morning cartoon. Although the original trilogy was frequently over the top, at least those films adhered to the rules they had established within their own universe. Crystal Skull expects us to go way beyond the reasonable suspension of disbelief we gladly allowed in the first three installments and assaults us with repeated scenes of Looney Tunes-type stunts which require enormous leaps of logic. As a result, we never quite become emotionally invested in the story or the characters. There is never any sense of excitement or danger for these characters and nothing ever seems truly at stake. A more well-crafted film would make us wonder how our heros will get out of dangerous situations even though we know they will. But here everybody seems completely indestructible and impervious to any laws of physics or reality and so we never care for them in any way.

For those of you looking for specific examples of what I'm talking about, here are four:

1. At one point, Marion (Karen Allen) intentionally drives her amphibious "boat-jeep" vehicle over a huge cliff, landing perfectly on top of a tree which is growing out of the side of the mountain. The tree then gently lowers the vehicle down into the water below and snaps back up, swatting the bad guys who had begun to descend the mountain on ropes.
2. One scene later, Indy and his sidekicks effortlessly survive THREE MASSIVE waterfalls (all in immediate succession) in their small, roofless boat.
3. Then there's the sequence in the jungle where Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) suddenly learns to swing through the trees like Tarzan after briefly observing some cartoonish CGI monkeys. He then magically leads an army of monkeys as they swing through the jungle and all inexplicably jump out and attack the bad guys just as they were about to run Indy off a cliff.
4. And who can forget the infamous "refrigerator" scene where Indy survives an atomic bomb by hiding in a fridge?

For a movie made by two of the most legendary and talented director/producers of our generation Crystal Skull contains a staggering amount of blatant plot-holes, continuity errors, and abandoned plot-lines that immediately stand out to anyone who's paying the least bit of attention. This is absolutely inexcusable for a major motion picture, ESPECIALLY one made by the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Here are a handful of examples which illustrate the kind of lazy, sloppy writing and complete disregard for continuity that plagues Crystal Skull:

- A plot line involving Col. Spalko (Cate Blanchett) having extrasensory perception is introduced in the opening scene and then completely dropped, never to be mentioned again.
- The film spends it's first 25 minutes setting up a plot line about Indy getting blacklisted for suspected Communist ties, and being forced to leave the country. But once the adventure begins, this is subplot is completely abandoned!! Gone!! Never mentioned again!! And by the end of the film, Indy is magically back in the States living happily ever after with NO mention of his blacklisting. Why would they spend so much time setting this up unless they were going to resolve it or work it into the rest of the story?
- Why would there be a jet car testing facility INSIDE of a giant storage warehouse unless it was put there simply to give Indy a cool way of escaping?
- Why would there be a nuclear testing site within walking distance of that warehouse?
- Why is it that during the debriefing scene, Indy claims to have no knowledge of Spalko aside from a physical description, and even asks the CIA men who she is when not only did she introduce herself to him one scene earlier, but he also calls her by name while making his escape ("Drop the guns or Col. Dr. Spalko is dead!")?
- If the Russians are stalking Indy at the diner and at the school where he works, wouldn't there be someone waiting for him at his house too?
- What kind of "help" would Indy expect Oxley (John Hurt) to get during the quicksand sequence? They're all out in the middle of the jungle with nobody for miles except the bad guys. And given Oxley's mental state, did he REALLY expect him to bring back anyone BUT the Russians???
- While stuck in the quicksand pit, Indy explains to Marion that the suction of the sand is so strong that pulling yourself out of it is like "trying to lift a car." This is immediately followed by Mutt using a live rat snake as a rope to pull them out of it (?????). If that explanation about "lifting a car" was the slightest bit true, that poor snake would have been torn right in half.
- The film establishes that the crystal skull is highly magnetic, but then it inexplicably loses it's magnetism anytime it's placed in a burlap bag.
- We see the Russians plowing their way through the jungle with a huge tree-cutting machine, and then a few minutes later there is a chase scene in that very same jungle which takes place on TWO SEPARATE PARALLEL ROADS!!
- How is it that NOBODY had noticed those enormous temples before? They were completely out in the open and easily visible from the sky.
- How could the ancient Spaniards have entered the alien chamber to steal a skull if the chamber doors can only be unlocked with a skull?
- Once the skull is returned to the chamber and re-attached to the headless skeleton, all of the 13 alien skeletons come to life. If being complete gives them life, how the hell would anyone have been able to steal one of their heads in the first place (even if they HAD made it though the impenetrable chamber doors)?
- If there were 13 alien skeletons, why did they morph together and form only ONE living alien? Why would an alien need 13 skeletons in order to live? The dead alien Spalko recovers earlier didn't split up into 13 skeletons.
- Why did the alien suddenly turn evil and brutally kill Spalko? This is never explained.

Now, a lot of people seem to really hate the fact that this story features aliens. I actually felt that bringing aliens into an Indiana Jones story made perfect sense given the new time period we find him in. This is the 1950's, a time when UFOs and aliens were starting to become part of the popular culture and many films of that era dealt with extraterrestrial beings and "saucer men." Aliens also fit into archeology because they've been used in several archaeological theories such as the building of the Egyptian pyramids, the "ancient astronaut" theories, and the Nazca lines. But somehow Spielberg and Lucas find a way to make this completely uninteresting and ridiculous; having no real payoff whatsoever.

Another major issue I had with this movie was the CGI effects. In spite of Spielberg's claims that CGI was to be used "only when necessary", there is an enormous amount of incredibly shoddy computer-generated effects beginning with the opening shot of the movie which features a distractingly phony-looking CG prairie dog. There are COUNTLESS scenes featuring obvious CGI that could have easily been done with practical effects. One such case is the alien which shows up during the film's climax. This has got to be THE worst looking alien I've EVER seen and I cannot understand why Spielberg didn't make use of his extensive creature effects department and employ an animatronic puppet for those shots.

Anyway, I'm done griping about this movie for now. There are still plenty of potentially fantastic films still to come out this summer which will hopefully erase my memory of this disappointment of a film and actually deliver quality entertainment with some substance. It's just a shame that once again I was let down by some supposedly top-notch filmmakers who resurrected a beloved franchise and then delivered a sub-par product.

*To be fair though, I really should't complain TOO much about this film. After all, ONE good thing did come out of it. That's right. THESE sweet little babies...