Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Department of Other People's Departments

Just a quick post to point you to Stacy's post from today:

Steps to freak out your husband

It was a good freak out, so don't hesitate to click the link.

Indian Jones and the Geriatric Kingdom of the Arthritic Skull

Note: I had this mostly written up this weekend, but circumstances arose that prevented me from posting it until now. Sorry for the tardiness!

Stacy and I went to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with a bunch of friends this weekend. What can I say but that it was an Indiana Jones movie, through and through?

Indiana Jones movies definitely follow a formula. First, we get to see Indy in his element. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, he is retrieving a golden idol from an ancient temple in the Peruvian jungle; a rousing John Williams score and adventure ensue. In Temple of Doom, he is exchanging the ancient remains of Nurhaci with some Shanghai gangsters; a rousing John Williams score and adventure ensue. In Last Crusade, he is a young boy and retrieving the Cross of Coronado from grave robbers; a rousing John Williams score and adventure ensue.

Steve Spielberg always treats us to character development during the whirlwind adventure in act I. We get to look into a small window into Indiana’s character. One of my favorite things about the first acts in the Indy movies is that he is revealed as wholly human: fallible and mortal. Indiana isn’t super human, things don’t always go his way, he doesn’t always make the right decision. I think this element of the Indiana character helps us normal people identify with him.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn’t part from the norm. The first act starts strong and doesn’t finish until Indiana Jones survives a nuclear bomb. Oops, spoiler alert. I don’t feel too bad, it’s a tiny spoiler and I guarantee I didn’t ruin it for you. I could be wrong, but I think Kingdom features the longest first act of the four movies in the franchise. I have no complaint; the first act is the most fun-loving of the three. You don’t yet have a sense of the seriousness of the opposition or what is at stake in the first act. It’s just good clean adventure. We get more insight into Indy, which is very important considering how much water has flowed under his bridge since last we saw him.

The second act of the Indiana Jones movies usually involves a bit of exposition. This usually happens in Indy’s day job at Marshall College. (The events of the first act in Temple of Doom force Indy to have act II in an Indian village and temple, though.) We get to see how every student wants a piece of Indy, sometimes in a good way, sometimes, not so good. Spielberg reveals the impetus of act III here, too.

Act III consists of the culmination of the previous two acts along with a healthy dose of the supernatural. No matter how faux-realistic the first two acts are, the last one always pushes at the borders of reality, first with the decidedly macabre opening of the Ark of the Covenant, then with the Thugee priest and sacred stone’s otherworldly powers, and rounding out the original trilogy with the divine power of the Holy Grail.

Kingdom’s act III, as its previous two acts, follows suit more so. It’s as if Spielberg distilled down the essence of Indiana Jones plots and presented them to us in a concentrated form. The first act is longer and more adventurous than its predecessors, the second act, while expository, includes more than a healthy amount of adventure as well, and the final act stretches the boundaries between reality and fantasy even further (in my opinion) than the previous three movies.

As for the acting, we have an interesting mix in this one. First and foremost is Harrison Ford. Can he do it? Can he pull off the physically demanding role of Indiana Jones so long, a full nineteen years, after his last outing as Indy? Yes. Yes he can. Ford is Indiana Jones, there is no doubt of it as soon as he steps out of the trunk of the car in the opening scene and dusts off his signature fedora. Time has obviously passed for him, but Spielberg handles that easily by adding enticing hints into Indy’s life since Last Crusade and the fact that the movie is set in the fifties. Also, dig Scrub's Janitor as an uptight FBI agent!

Karen Allen reprises her role as Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s love interest from his youth and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Marion has always been my favorite foil for Indy. She’s tough, no nonsense, and witty. She knows how to handle herself and Indiana, but she still has a soft spot for him. Those feelings haven’t been lost, just tempered with the years between Raiders and Kingdom. Their relationship adds for some excellent dynamics in act III.

That does it for recurring roles. My favorite newcomer by far is Mutt Williams, played by the always entertaining Shia “The LaBeouf” LaBeouf. The LaBeouf shines as an insecure greaser kid, intent on rescuing his mother and childhood mentor, Professor “Ox” Oxley (John Hurt). He masks his insecurities with a tough-as-nails attitude and a fixation with his switchblade.

John Hurt is one of my favorite elderly British actors. I loved him as Professor Broom on Hellboy. Professor Ox is a bit more eccentric, but still enjoyable to watch.

Somewhat enjoyable, but also possessing that wince-inducing quality of a British actor portraying a Russian soldier, is Cate Blanchett as a special officer of the Russian intelligence (I think,) Irina Spalko. She’s chilling and enigmatic, but lacks the sinister quality of Indy’s previous arch-villains.

Ray "I'll Kill Your Monstah!" Winstone, who I totally did not recognize, played Indy’s old as-yet-unmentioned friend George ‘Mac’ McHale. Where we have The LaBeouf playing the young innocent sidekick almost a la Jonathan Ke Quan as Short Round in Temple, Mac plays the world-wise, self-serving sidekick. No Sallah, he. His performance is quite good. You really don’t know where he stands until the end. Speaking of Sallah, I really missed seeing John Rhys-Davies as my favorite Egyptian and Denholm Elliot as my favorite bungling dean of students, Marcus Brody.

Igor Jijikine is only notable as Dovchenko because he fills the ever-important role of the burly Eastern European that just won’t fall down. This character is vital to the Indiana Jones series. Without him, we wouldn’t have the immensely satisfying SMACK of fist on flesh that sounds so unique in the Indy series.

All of these factors combine to make a thoroughly enjoyable installment in the Indiana Jones Franchise. While the movie may not appeal to those that aren’t fans of the films, it will hit all the triggers that Indy enthusiasts enjoy. Being a fan of the Indy movies, Harrison Ford, Spielberg, and many of the other actors in the movie, I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

I give Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull twelve out of thirteen crystal skulls on a scale I just made up that might just mean something.