May 26th, 2008
This past week, Porpoise has continued to educate me in the ways of George Lucas by “encouraging” me to watch the first three Indiana Jones movies before going to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull over the weekend. I’m probably the only member of my generation who didn’t see the original three movies in the 1980s, and I can’t say I’ve felt deprived. I still don’t feel like I missed much, but at least I can understand the cultural influence of Lucas’s and Spielberg’s joint project.
Raiders of the Lost Ark felt overly long to me—and not all that exciting as an adventure. Maybe part of that is because I was bothered by the violence. Yes, it’s PG, but it’s the context of the violence that bothers me. You know that scene everyone thinks is so funny, the one in which the Arab swordsman challenges Indy with fancy sword-twirling, and Indy responds by shooting him dead? Not funny to me. Maybe it’s because I grew up reading fantasy stories with more medieval-style fighting, but Indy’s actions seem decidedly ignoble and cowardly to me. Plus, there’s the question of how, in the relatively modern 1930s, he gets away scot-free after killing so many people. I was also, of course, upset by the monkey’s death, even if said monkey turned out to be a Nazi collaborator. Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood was genuinely fun, but I have to think she could do better than Indy.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Racist. Misogynist. Dull.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was, I think, the one Indiana Jones movie I had seen before, sometime during my teenage years, though I really didn’t remember anything except that it had Nazis in it. Fortunately, it also has Sean Connery, whose appearance as Indy’s dad makes the movie loads funnier and a little more touching than its predecessors. Also, seeing Last Crusade now, I can see how Dan Brown totally pilfered from it to concoct the aesthetic offense that is The Da Vinci Code.
My big problem with the series is with Indiana Jones’s character, who of course is convincing neither as an academic nor as an on-site archaeologist. He’s convincing as someone who is arrogant and thinks he’s an irresistible lady-magnet. The problem is that the films assume that he is an irresistible lady-magnet—which, to me, seems to reflect badly on Lucas’s and Spielberg’s view of women. I know they’re supposed to be referencing screwball comedies of the 1930s, but that doesn’t convince me. The hero of the screwball comedies is often a charming nerd, not a womanizing so-and-so. Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones—or his Han Solo, for that matter—could actually give George W. Bush a run for his money in an egotistical smirking contest, and that’s saying a lot. (Too bad Ford’s too old to play “W,” because he could probably do it well.)
The women themselves? Don’t get me started on Willie from Temple of Doom. In some ways, though, Last Crusade’s Elsa Schneider bothers me even more, because she’s supposed to be smart (she has a Ph.D., though the discipline is never clear), and yet her main function in the plot is sexual. (Look! I wore my best studying clothes to the library! I find tight suits, high heels, and perfectly curled hair so practical for a day of research, don’t you?) The gag in which Indy and his father find out that they’ve both slept with Elsa is mildly amusing, if you don’t think about the fact that it’s just assumed that she would automatically want to sleep with both of them. Beautiful, smart women are easy lays in the Indiana Jones world.
Anyway, now for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Because Indy’s older here (Ford is now 65), he does a lot less smirking. And less running and jumping, though still a lot of punching. I find the aging Indy a lot more tolerable (this film even finds him saying, “Intolerable!”, just like his ol’ dad). Plus, instead of emphasizing what essentially amounts to grave-robbing, the plot of Crystal Skull actually requires Indy to put something back where it belongs. Which is not in a museum.
The plot is, of course, over-the-top and campy, but I don’t have a big problem with that. I like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, after all (all three of them), and I admit that I can see ways in which the Indiana Jones films might have paved the way for their tone. There are huge plot holes that are never addressed, though, mainly surrounding Cate Blanchett’s character Irina Spalko, a Soviet agent who supposedly possesses psychic powers. Why go to the trouble to announce that a character is psychic, though, if we never see her doing psychic-y things? Also, it never becomes clear specifically why, early in the movie, she thinks she needs a certain box from a U.S. military warehouse.
The most implausible aspect of the plot (in a movie that Lucas originally wanted to call “Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars”) is that Indy doesn’t realize that the “Marion Williams” that Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) claims as his mother is Marion Ravenwood. I mean, yeah, Indy says he knew a lot of Marions, but how many of them spend all their time hanging out with archaeologists? Anyway, Karen Allen is a joy as Marion, because she’s allowed to look her age and still be beautiful. Also, she’s clearly had a life after Indy, which is encouraging to see.
It’s not a great film by any means, but I can deal with Indiana Jones better when his ego’s been taken down a notch. Maybe I’d like it even better if they make Indy 5 (which Lucas has said would feature Mutt in the lead) when Harrison Ford is 80 years old. And in a wheelchair.
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