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Indiana Jone IV
Two Hearts

"Spielberg Cashes a Paycheck and Breaks my Heart."

Written by Steven Walker

Indiana Jones 4, which I will never append in print with its awkward subtitle, is a travesty eclipsed only by the Star Wars prequels.  Once again George Lucas has taken something sacred, that millions of people cared deeply about, and disgraced it with some of the sloppiest filmmaking I have ever seen.  Only this time, he has managed to tarnish Spielberg’s name in the process.

It was obvious to me from the moment a painfully bad CG gopher pops its head into frame that this was Lucas’s show.  I could practically hear Spielberg saying, “Yes, George.  Whatever you say, George.  Can I go now?”

I would have rather not seen another Indiana Jones movie at all than see it become such a bland, paint-by-numbers exercise in geriatrics that would feel more appropriate if it was called The Mummy 4 or National Treasure 3.  Be warned that I will be spoiling things because there is no way to vent my anger without discussing the money shots.

Spielberg checks off the list of things we expect from an Indy movie one by one, but his heart is so profoundly not in it.  Gone is the energy and wit that graced all three of the previous films.  Gone are the surprising and clever resolutions to all the perilous situations. Gone is the shocking amount of personality that Spielberg gave even the bit-parts.  Alfred Molina from the opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Art (“You throw me the idol and I’ll throw you the whip!”) had more character in 5 minutes of screen time than any new face in this film.

But it shouldn’t even be called a film anymore because of all the obvious sound-stages and green-screens.  What defined Indy movies were the real stunts and the real locations, but there is none of that here.  How are digital ants supposed creep me out even a fraction as much as the very real insects from Temple of Doom?  There is no thrill seeing two people sword fight between vehicles racing through a jungle when it is so obviously fake. 

It’s one thing to have a lightsaber duel on a lava planet be all CG because there is no other way to do it.  The jungle chase scene here could have been done with real cars in a real jungle with real stuntmen and women if Spielberg and Lucas had not been so lazy.  I love CG when it is used correctly, but the rule should always be:  NEVER USE CGI WHEN IT CAN BE DONE FOR REAL!!!

Even Michael Bay, a filmmaker I have little respect for, understands this.  If you saw a car flip in Transformers, it was a real car actually flipping.  Only the giant robots were CGI…and that was the wise choice.  Knowing that most of the vehicular carnage in Transformers is real makes the action ten times more exciting.  Again and again this new Indy offers a sequence that would have been spectacular if real but is merely numbing with all the pixels flying around.

Shia LaBeouf does his best as Mutt Williams, but the character’s very existence is an insult to the spirit of Indiana Jones.  The fact that he is clearly being groomed as a replacement Indy in future joyless movies is depressing to no end.  Maybe if he had a real personality it would work, but he is a watered down Fonzie mixed with a watered down Indy.  How uninspiring.  Can you really imagine yourself getting excited for a movie called “Mutt Williams and the Stupid Subtitle?”

Indy movies are known for unbelievable action, but even the most outrageous stunt in the first three films (The inflatable raft scene from Temple of Doom) had a nugget of plausibility as proven by the Mythbusters.  There is nothing to redeem the refrigerator scene here.  It transcends the absurdist pulp that Lucas clearly wants it to be and attains complete stupidity.  (If the Mythbusters are reading this, I would love to be proven wrong.  Can you guys test to see if a refrigerator can survive a nuclear blast without even scalding the person inside?)

Spielberg has said in interviews that he made this film for the fans.  Well, Steven, that is the problem.  We fans loved the first three Indy movies because you made them for yourself.  Raiders was a bold, adventurous experiment.  Temple of Doom was Lucas getting through a bitter divorce, and that subtext gives the film exceptional power.  Last Crusade was Spielberg eagerly exploring the relationship between Indy and his father. Energy and enthusiasm drip from every frame of those three films, and I would consider them all to be perfect cinematic confectionaries. 

Crystal Skull was made out of obligation.  There is no passion here.  There is no desperate need to explore a new chapter in Indy’s life.  Maybe Lucas thought the 50s sci-fi element was fresh, but all it does is remind me that Spielberg did aliens way better in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. and War of the Worlds. 

The opening of the Ark at the end of Raiders is one of my favorite sequences of any movie, ever.  There are very few movie moments as utterly electrifying as when the Wrath of God unleashes on the Nazis.  It is the ultimate payoff…and while the payoffs of Temple of Doom and Last Crusade don’t quite reach that height, they still manage to inspire awe for both the Sankara Stones and the Holy Grail.

The big climax of Crystal Skull is major thematic cheating.  The villainess, Spalko, begs the Aliens to show her everything…and then they kill her unceremoniously.  I wanted to see all their alien knowledge injected into her brain in a spastic lightshow of outrageous imagery.  I wanted them to kill her with sensory overload, and I wanted a taste of it myself, but instead all I get is Spalko being swallowed up by After Effects Particles.

The final epic money shot, while lovely, is a shockingly un-original combination of the money-shots from The Mummy Returns (Collapsing pyramid), The X-Files Movie (Giant flying saucer hidden underground) and the Two Towers (Massive, cleansing flood).

This movie was released just after Iron Man and Speed Racer…and there is more passion and cinematic enthusiasm evident in any ten minutes of those movies than in the entirety of Crystal Skull.  To Steven Spielberg, I beg you to only make movies for yourself.  I beg you to only tell stories that you are on fire for.  And to George Lucas…you have disgraced my childhood heroes enough now, thank you.  It is time for someone to take away your crayons.

 

Copyright 2008 Flaming Heart Enterprises, L.L.C.