Wednesday, June 11, 2008

No Time For Love, Dr. Jones

SPOILER ALERT! If you have yet to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and intend on doing so, you may want to come back to this particular entry later on.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of the prospect of a fourth installment in the Indiana Jones series. The "trilogy" concluded in 1989 and when Indy, his father (Henry, Sr.) and two sidekicks (Marcus Brody and Sallah) road off into the sunset, I was content in knowing that it would, more-than-likely, be the last time. The third chapter ended on a good note, shedding some light on our hero's past. There was really nothing else to say. And after eight years of obsession, I was ready to let the character become nothing more than a footnote in my childhood. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school, and Indy had pretty much been a constant throughout my "formative" years.

Since then, I've cringed at any talk of a possible "next" chapter in the series. The Powers That Be tried--and failed--with a TV series that chronicled the early life of our hero. Young Indiana Jones proved more of a history lesson than an adventure serial. And, besides, we don't need to know too much about our childhood icons. I think I gave the series in question about thirty minutes, within its first season, before I turned it off.

Flash forward to a decade or so later. The trailer for Crystal Skull appeared online and it just so happened I would be showing my students a documentary on that particular day. I had my MacBook hooked up to a dongle so I could project the DVD onto a wall. That morning, before school, I had the documentary ready to go when it occurred to me the trailer had been released online. I downloaded and watched it on the wall of my classroom, alone, in the dark, with the sound turned way up. Then I kept on watching it. As I repeated the trailer, other teachers wandered in and out to witness the spectacle. And throughout the day, before I began the documentary for each class, I showed the students the trailer. Few were interested, and none of them had even heard of this Indiana Jones guy. But I didn't care. For the first time in years, I was excited to see my old friend again.

Needless to say, I wanted to love it. For the first time ever, I avoided reading or listening to anything regarding a movie that I was looking forward to seeing. By the time I sat down to watch it, it had been out for a week or so. I was ignorant of anybody's reactions, good or bad. All I knew concerning the plot was that Marion Ravenwood was back, that kid from Transformers (which I still haven't seen, and don't intend to, thank you very much) was in it and might "possibly" (yeah right) be Henry Jones III, and it took place in 1957.

I wasn't necessarily disappointed. I'll admit, it was odd seeing my old friend fighting the Communists and running around with Elvis Presley music playing. As I sat through the first twenty minutes, I reminded myself that this isn't the Indiana Jones from my youth. This Indiana Jones was nineteen years older than I remembered him and, no matter what he did or how he did it, people were going to be critical.

The script, although unusual with its science fiction theme, was a pretty ballsy move on the part of the film makers. And, as I sat watching, and having no idea what kind of reviews this movie had been receiving, all I could think about was how negatively people have probably been reacting to it. But why not the science fiction? The Cold War? "Colonel Jones," working with the U.S. Government? Mutt Williams' (aka, Henry Jones III) resemblance to Marlon Brando. It's the 1950's. Indiana Jones screams "1930's." Perhaps Spielberg and Lucas were trying to teach us a lesson. Perhaps they were saying okay, you want another Indiana Jones? Here it is, but you're not going to like it.

But I join the minority when I say that I did like Crystal Skull. It wasn't, however, without its shortcomings. I believe the movie would have been much better received if the appearance of Marion--at about the halfway mark-- were a complete surprise. Her character is hinted at earlier on, but could have easily been dismissed as nothing more than a reference to one of the previous chapters (this movie is full of those) and the audience might very well have not considered Mutt Williams to actually be Henry Jones III until the appearance of Marion which, despite my having waited for it, still came with a bit of excitement. Did Spielberg and Lucas intend on word not getting out about her involvement?

Also, as many have pointed out, the film lacked the "heart" that Raiders and Last Crusade had. It seemed as though they had forgotten about what made the franchise so endearing to begin with. It's the same argument I remember having heard about Temple of Doom when it first came out. At the time, I was eleven years old and "heart" meant nothing to me. It was just a really cool follow-up to Raiders. Now, fourteen years later, I still hear that very argument, but I still love that movie just the same (if Temple of Doom is the "red-headed stepchild" of the series, then Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the "unexpected surprise" that appears long after the children have all grown up and moved out). Would my eleven-year-old self be as critical with Crystal Skull? Somehow, I doubt it.

At the end of the day, I just love the character of Indiana Jones. It was nice to see him again and I don't think there would have really been a way for me to have been too disappointed. That said, I believe if this truly is the "last chapter" in the franchise, Dr. Jones can retire with dignity. I'll emphasize the word retire.


Anonymous Sundance said...

Nice review! I feel pretty much the same way. I think the "red headed stepchild" line hit the nail on the head.

12 June, 2008  
Blogger Mark Teel said...

How'd you like that drawing, eh?

I used to draw Indy all the time. When I set out to do it again, it felt as though I had been doing it every day for the past twenty years.

12 June, 2008  

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