Thursday, May 29, 2008
After some long thought, I'm not sure I have a "George Lucas and the love of pulp" essay in me at this time, but having seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it seems a good time to write some Indy thoughts, perhaps some that will be the same as would have been in that promised essay.
I've long had a notion of starting a regular feature about movies I loved when I was 12. I was 12 in 1983, basically, which you can confirm for yourself was a pretty good year to be 12 and going to the movies. Of course the feature itself, in my head, wouldn't be directly limited to that anyway, but movies I saw theatrically between 1981 and 1985. Somewhere in there.
It's an interesting period of development. Between 10 and 14, which seems a little less potentially catchy. There are plenty of movies, like Krull, that I've been deeply disappointed to find painfully unwatchable as an adult.
But there are others, like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that hold up time and again.
It's not that I didn't love Raiders of the Lost Ark, released within my "movies I loved when I was 12" timeframe. But I got permission to miss school to see Temple of Doom the first day. I was supposed to meet a friend, but at the last minute, he couldn't get permission. So I sat by myself at the John Danz Theater - I have no recollection of seeing any other movie there at all - and waiting much of the morning and early afternoon. It was rather invigoratingly independent.
So, my opinions of Temple of Doom are colored with that memory.
But then I also have very fond memories of going to Krull with my friend Quentin, over and over again and discussing it in minute detail, so it's not that I can't overcome those rosy colors of memory.
In the coments of But How Strange the Change From Major to Minor, Greg Ferrara and I had a brief exchange on the relative merits of the first two of the Indiana Jones movies, in which he said, "The thing with the traditions of the serials is that I never liked the spunky kids then either. One thing I liked about Raiders is that they streamlined and eliminated all the crap that didn't work in the early serials and in Temple of Doom they put it all back in."
To the extent that Raiders fails, and I say this while noting it's one of my favorite movies, that failing is taken right out of the serial tradition.
When you need to leave your hero hanging from a cliff, to coin a phrase, at the end of every episode, the easiest way to get them off the cliff and on with the new story the next week is to have another character or simply fate save them. It's a problem featured in even the best serials, and is made more noticeable when one, perhaps foolishly, sits down to watch multiple episodes on DVD. Raiders follows this template in almost every situation right down to an ending that hinges on what must be the most literal example of deus ex machina in modern cinema. In fact, lift Indy completely out of the movie and nearly every event plays out the same.
Of course, with the charms of Harrison Ford, the electric chemistry between him and Karen Allen, the perfect pacing, this is the kind of thing I didn't notice until after quite a few viewings.
It is the chemistry with the leading lady where Temple of Doom does indeed fail. Ford and Kate Capshaw produce no sparks at all when placed next to each other. I've found, however, that my opinion of the Willie character as presented has no fixed position. I have no particular recollection of my original thoughts, but as a younger adult, I recall beginning to find her frustrating in her obviously clichéd and aggravating. Watching it last year, I found that slipping away as soon as I was wrapped up in the world of the movie itself, which is intentionally, as its predecessor, creating a big, expensive modern and fast-paced version of a serial. In both cases, drawing on the good, the bad and the ugly that was found in those serials.
In the strongest sense this is why these two movies meet up in a way that adding Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade mostly frustrates. The first two movies are a perfect couplet of serial tribute storytelling. A bright sunny version and a darker, uglier version.
The Last Crusade is most assuredly a Hollywood movie. You can tell it was broken down into acts and arcs and all of the things that movies are "supposed to" have. And yet it's also easily the most forgettable of the original three. Sure, the father/son chemistry between Ford and Sean Connery is great. The flashback sequences with River Phoenix as, er, Young Indiana Jones are memorable, but those, again, clearly reflect a more modern view of moviemaking.
Seriously, I defy anyone to have a memory of Alison Doody's character or her relationship with Indy a week after they've watched the movie.
As it goes, I felt Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was structured less carefully than The Last Crusade, but it remains its dark partner. They are both strongly tied to issues of family and continuity and both are a little too amused with winking at your specific knowledge of other movies, whether earlier movies in this series or not, rather than playing to your knowledge of a type of movie.
Time will tell whether Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be more or less memorable to me than The Last Crusade, but there's something more satisfying to me about the series comprising two thematically linked couplings than there was previously with the two linked movie with a third that kind of dangled out at the end, as the one of these things that doesn't (quite) belong.