Monday, June 9, 2008

Bad Movie Night: Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Trouble in the Middle East. Hair Metal bands like Poison and Bon Jovi. Nintendo craziness. G.I. Joe and Optimus Prime. Ninjas. Rayban sunglasses. Popped collars on pastel Izod shirts. Break dancing. Duran Duran. Salt-N-Pepa. Evangelical Christianity. Skate Boarding and Tony Hawk. Knight Rider. Miami Vice. Star Wars the films. Star Wars the battle for military supremacy. Billy Ray Cyrus. Cocaine. The Police. U2. Indiana Jones. John Stamos and the Olsen Twins. Howie Mandell. New Kids on the Block. Energy crisis. Superman. Sean Astin, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Josh Brolin. The Lost Boys. Batman. Robert Downey, Jr (no longer associated with the above mentioned "Cocaine"). Madonna. The Incredible Hulk. Hulk Hogan and Professional Wrestling. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest. Roger Clemens.

Ok, now answer the following question:

Which decade were all of these things popular in?

The overwhelming majority of people would quickly answer the 1980s, and obviously they would be correct, but that would be too easy...

Another correct answer would be the 2000s. It seems like all that was old and dated is now new again in an attempt to cash in on the nostalgia felt by people who grew up in the 80s. This is a common marketing scheme used about every 20 or so years when a generation "graduates" to the real world and gets actual access to money (remember how "cool" bell bottoms and pea coats from the 70s were in the 90s...).

Now this "80s nostalgia" can be really wicked awesome, dude; who doesn't like watching Optimus Prime lay the smackdown on Megatron (thank you Michael Bay for making things explode) or Bret Michaels and Flavor Flav getting the pick of the groupie litter? Neither the Transformers movie nor Rock/Flavor of Love take themselves overwhelmingly seriously, and the result is something very entertaining.

But that's the trick. The 80s was not a decade where anything was ever taken seriously except for oil prices and the constant threat of nuclear war and terrorists. When artists of all forms try to use that "80s palette" and notoriety to either do something serious or to cash in, it's obvious and usually not all that great. $400 for Police tickets - come on. The Olsen Twins as fashion icons - seriously? A New Kids on the Block reunion - shame on yourselves for trying to profit off of the lonely women who you enthralled as lonely teens.

Yes, this diatribe is going somewhere - right now in fact.

No single entity has poorly mishandled an 80s legacy worse than George Lucas. This started with the depressing let down of crappy dialog, smug directing, and epilepsy-inducing cgi in his Star Wars Episodes I-III. It most recently reared (as in he pretty much just mooned the audience) it's ugly head in the latest Indian Jones installment.

I went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with a decent cross-section of people: the Fiance, the Peanut, the Jakiddy-Jake, and The Machete (who, like me, likes to watch things blow up). As we sat discussing the movie over a few drinks, the consensus was clear: disappointment.

Don't get me wrong - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a decent enough movie. Harrison Ford was extremely entertaining in his reprized roll (you know, getting punched a lot and delivering the sharp, witty lines we all wish we could think of in the moment) and was supported well by the rest of the cast. Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, Cate Blanchett, John Hurt, and even Shia LeBeouf were all impressive. And of course, as always, John Williams is an unmatched composer.

We all still left the theater feeling a little wanting, though, and it's for a few simple reasons. First and foremost, even though the Indiana Jones stories are typically almost comic-esque pulp serials with unbelievable crazy plots, this latest installment was even too campy for that. Aliens? Come on. I realize that the 40s and 50s were the height of UFO/Roswell hysteria, but the theme of the Indian Jones movies has always been the unbelievable nature of supernatural human history. It takes away from (more like strips clean from the bone) all of the old Indian Jones movies when we attribute all aspects of human culture, religion, sociology, etc... to an alien hive mind from another dimension. It is way too much of a ridiculous jump to expect the audience to make and is actually rather insulting.

I mean it would be like trying to explain the Force in the Star Wars universe movies in terms of micro-organisms in your blood... Oh right, that did happen. Thanks again, Mr. Lucas for beating your audience on the head with the plot stick, thereby taking away any tiny modicum of creativity they may have enjoyed. Hell, if I wanted to be Luke Skywalker, does that mean I could just get a transfusion. Nevermind, I digress...

This past weekend, the Fiance and I Netflix'd the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. What we saw let us down even further. From the "extras" we found out that movie was shot in a few months time in locations all over the world almost three decades ago. The result was a far more "real"-looking movie than its recent cgi-dependent sibling. Don't get me wrong, the ants were cool. What I don't understand, however, is how practically every shot had to be done in front of a green screen (hey, Star Wars epsiodes I-III, how the hell are you again?). While yes, the first three Indiana Jones movies purposely had semi-tacky sets adorned with human skulls, waterfalls, painted backdrops, and torches, the computer-generated rainforests and warehouses just looked plain-old fake and made what was supposed to be a bit outrageous into something stupid.

Finally, it must be stated that this movie seemed more like a Lucas/Spielberg pet vanity project highlighting the height of their creativity (before the clock struck 12:01 AM on 1 January 1990). Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opened with American Graffiti, played through Indiana Jones, The Goonies, and Star Wars, and ended with E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The entire time I sat in the theater I imagined both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg on both sides of me, elbowing and whispering "hey, you remember when we did that in our other movie - it was sooooo coooooool back then. Remember? It was really cool!!!"

Several moments actually elicited a literal "face-in-palm" - like when Indian Solo (or saw it Han Jones?) stated "I have a baaaaaad feeling about this" reminiscent of the famous line from the Star Wars days. By then end of the film I was half-expecting (ok, three quarters) a light saber fight, One-eyed Willie to be at the end of the Amazonian ruins, and for the "alien hive mind" creature to reach out and touch Cate Blanchett with a glowing orange finger.

In a nutshell, even though it (kinda) looked like Indian Jones and it sounded like Indian Jones (at least they kept the original punch effect and John Williams), the narcissistic unoriginality of the project resulted in a less-than-so-so experience you just wouldn't expect from the Indian Jones franchise. That's why this movie is rated as 3.0 Dragon Wars (out of a possible 10; 1 being the worst, 10 the best).

We expected more.