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George Lucas, ruiner of movie franchises? 

The Arkansas Times Movie Club tackles ‘Indiana Jones 4.'

STILL SWASHBUCKLING: Harrison Ford returns as Indiana Jones.
  • STILL SWASHBUCKLING: Harrison Ford returns as Indiana Jones.

David Koon: You know, for the past couple of days, I've been sort of steeling myself up. In the past, whenever one of my beloved heroes of yore has returned for a reboot in a new film (Ang Lee's Hulk comes to mind in this regard), I must admit that I've been overwhelmed by nostalgia enough to give the film a better grade than it deserved. Let's call it the “Sex with an Ex” phenomenon — it might not really be that good, but it reminds you of all the times when it was fantastic, so you're bound to give that B-minus performance an A+.

It's a measure of how much I love “Raiders” (and to a lesser extent, “Last Crusade,” and still lesser “Temple of Doom”) that I really, really didn't want to do that with the new Indy flick. I'm just going to call it like it lays, I told myself. I'm not going to get all school-girl mushy the first time he puts on the damn hat, and the first time he hits somebody and it sounds like he just whacked them with a two-by-four, and the first time he breaks out the whip. 

Couldn't help it. Totally couldn't help it. From the first time we saw Ford onscreen in his rumpled shirt and Sam Browne holster, I was all Spielberg's. I really, really dug this film. It ain't “Raiders” good, but it definitely slots nicely into the middle of the Indiana Jones pack quality-wise. Some of that is, granted, my man-crush on Harrison Ford (Harrison, why oh why did you waste all those goddamn years making “Firewall” and “Sabrina” when you could have been cranking out Indy flicks, man?), but the truth is it's also really entertaining popcorn fare, just like “Raiders” was. 

By the way, I think we should pause here and say a little prayer of thanks to Steven Spielberg for keeping the bearded, childhood-dream-raping menace that is George Lucas as far away from this film as he could. One can only imagine the myriad ways Lucas and the Industrial Light and Magic ewoks could have screwed this up: 

Lucas: “Instead of Russians, how about we have Indy fighting a race of hyper-intelligent goldfish? Boys! Fire up the WHOPR computer!” 

Spielberg: “How about you shut your cakehole, Jar-Jar? The adults are talking.” 

 

Matt Reed: You can call me the AntiDavid. When I adore a franchise I tend to look upon its sequels with, if anything, raised expectations, and sometimes have to rein those in. In that vein, and while we're talking Jar-Jar, the sheer weight of my hopes going into “The Phantom Menace” crushed me at least as much as did the film's awfulness. So I walked into “Crystal Skull” with my +4 Helm of Guarded Optimism on.

If we had webcams, you'd see me squinching up half my face and tilting my head to the left as I ponder how to describe my reaction. Mixed, certainly. The movie had a lot of the fun of the sequels, and certainly Spielberg still knows how to pull off the physics-bending, impossibly dangerous chase scene like no other (I don't want to ruin it for the readers, but the refrigerator scene was both the simplest and largest-scale death escape in cinematic history). Yes, the punches still sounded awesome, yes, there was still room for a Wilhelm Scream, and yes, the whip cracked just as satisfyingly.

But, I don't know, I just didn't feel the magic like I did with the others. The adventure, for all its humongous scale, didn't strike me as all that adventurous. Maybe it was the quick leaps from puzzle to puzzle, maybe it was that he didn't have Marcus or the Indian guy or Connery along for the ride, maybe it was that we've shifted from fantasy to sci-fi, I don't know, but “Crystal Skull” didn't twinkle like the other films do. 

I do know, unquestionably, that Spielberg clearly felt the need to squeeze every last Saturday serial icon into this thing, knowing that it was going to be Indy's last adventure: Tarzan, aliens, giant ants, monkeys, Communist mind control programs.

I'm not saying I disliked the movie overall. It was fun and is definitely worth seeing on the big screen, but I rank it fourth in the series. And also, and I cannot believe I am actually typing this, but Cate Blanchett was not NEARLY vixeny enough.

 

Lindsey Millar: Ditto on coming in with guarded hopes. This is, after all, “Indiana Jones 4.” Has there ever been a good fourth-parter? I don't think I've even ever seen part four of anything, save “Revenge of the Nerds 4: Nerds in Love,” and I know I don't have to tell you how awesome that turned out to be. 

A lot's happened in the nearly 20 years since “Last Crusade.” Harrison Ford has stopped making good movies and started wearing an earring. Shia LaBeouf exists. George Lucas, despite the best efforts of critics, fanboys and good actors everywhere, remains irrepressible. 

Which is why I was surprised to hear you offer up a little prayer for Spielberg for keeping Lucas at arms length, David. I think Matt's right that “Crystal'” is all about the culture that sprang from ‘50s paranoia, but I'd attribute that direction to Lucas, not Spielberg. Lucas, after all, has essentially made three movies: “American Graffiti,” “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars.” Here he gives us a sort of career retrospective, a synthesis of all his obsessions: ‘50s nostalgia, jungle romps and friggin' outer space.

I don't think that combination is inherently bad, but Lucas certainly can't handle it. 

I enjoyed the cool burst of movie theater air conditioning and, on balance, am glad I ponied up the $7 to see “Crystal” in the theater, but once [mild spoiler alert] the aliens started glowing, I pretty much checked out. Abomination!

More nay saying: Since Han Solo and Indiana Jones are essentially the same character, Harrison Ford's pretty much got jocular swashbuckling down pat. But blame (mostly) the script, blame Shia LaBeouf, blame Karen Allen, who wears a dazed, “I can't believe they called me” grin on her face the whole film, because I got tired of it here quick. Also, did y'all notice the lighting? Everyone looked mildly incandescent. I felt like I was watching “Message in a Bottle.” 

But on the other hand: Even if Lucas seems to be forcing his will here, there's still a paint-by-numbers approach at work, and that's not all bad. The chase scenes are consistently fantastic, and the latest gruesome death, via man-eating ants, ranks pretty close to the pulling the still beating heart out of dude's chest in “Temple of Doom.” 

 

David Koon: You're dead on, I think, in talking about this flick being kind of a Lucas sampler. The problem with Lucas — as illustrated by “Star Wars” 1-3 and the horrendous “Special Edition” crapola he added to SW 4-6 — is that the guy has clearly become drunk on the Computer Generated Bathtub Gin. Back in the good old days, the guy made movies. Now, he makes excuses for ILM to think up new gee-whiz ways to make computer-generated 3-D rat fur more realistic. Spielberg, on the other hand, just goes and gets himself a REAL FRIGGIN' RAT and calls it a day (those big ol' dinosaurs he did a couple years back notwithstanding). As far as the '50s paranoia, I'm right there with you. But from what I've heard about the writing and conceptualizing of this film, every single thing that the critics out-and-out hated can be attributed directly to George Lucas. From what I've read, it took Spielberg 15 years to talk the guy out of having Indy fighting some CGI abomination instead of the Commies. 

I think what we've got going on here is that you're setting the difficulty at “Raiders” instead of “Temple of Doom.” We're never going to see Indy in another “Raiders” — that film was dark and foreboding from the first frame, with only a hint of the cornball humor that marred the other Indy flicks. However, saying that “Crystal Skull” isn't as good as “Temple of Doom”? Come on ... have you watched “Temple of Doom” lately? It's got sophomore slump written all over it.

OK, OK. I'll admit that — nostalgia aside — I would have preferred a different love interest than Karen Allen, who does look kind of stoned through the whole film. And the ending [obvious spoiler alert] made pretty much no sense at all. (Alien: “I want to give you a gift.” Spalko: “OK.” Alien: “Oh, and just FYI, it's going to make your head explode into dust.” Spalko: “Let her rip!”) And I have to admit that the adventures Indy and Co. allude to in the film are more interesting that the adventure he's on in the ACTUAL FILM. But I still contend that as souped-up summer blockbusters go, “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is a pretty good one, especially when you figure in the Last Dance with the Old Man factor, which can't be denied. Come on and admit it: watching Indiana Jones get nuked in a refrigerator was pretty freakin' awesome, no?

 

Think we're idiots? Want to vent your LaBeouf hate? Join the debate online on Rock Candy, www.arktimes.com/blogs/rockcandy.

 

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