Sunday, June 29, 2008

Epilogue: The Children of George and Steven and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

You can say what you will about the man who created Jar-Jar Binks, George Lucas sure knows his audience. Case in point, this quote from this February's Vanity Fair:

“The fans are all upset,” Lucas says. “They’re always going to be upset. ‘Why did he do it like this? And why didn’t he do it like this?’ They write their own movie, and then, if you don’t do their movie, they get upset about it. So you just have to stand by for the bricks and the custard pies, because they’re going to come flying your way.”

I quoted that a couple of months back, but I can't help but keep flashing back to it when I go over the numerous Internet slams of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, the eagerly anticipated fourth INDIANA JONES film that opened a little over a month ago. It didn't seem to go over so well. The film has made quite a bit of money, as predicted, but it seems as though the fans are not happy. Or at least those who are most unhappy have decided to shout their displeasure as far and loud as they possibly can for as many as possible to hear because, well, it's so god damn important. They've destroyed Indiana Jones! This precious, beloved character and film series has been sullied by a lackluster entry that has all but sunk the series! It had inter-dimensional aliens, characters surviving huge drops from waterfalls and Shai Labouf swinging from vines. The series has nuked the fridge! Damn you George and Steven for pissing on your youth once again! WE WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU!!!

So anyway...

George couldn't have called it better. Not matter what you do, if it's not good enough, then you're toast. Audiences demand quality, that's nothing new, but the quality that the Children of George and Steven, the generation that grew up with STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES, demand is that they must be taken back to the feelings that they experienced in their youths or you've let them down. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL basically had to live up to the previous films in some way or another, and to a lot of people it didn't. Hey, I'm sorry you didn't like the movie. You pay your money, you buy your Twizzlers, you sit down in your seat and you expect to be transported to another time or place via the magic of motion picture making. Expectations being what they are, how could this film ever live up? Hey, I'm sorry you're not 12 anymore.

Allow me to take a moment to focus on the movies that INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is, as opposed to what it isn't. It's pretty good. I've seen it more than once and it's improved with each viewing. I like it. I also liked the STAR WARS prequels, so I'm probably a drooling fanboy who likes everything and can't be trusted, but for what it is, it's pretty good. It's fun; the action scenes are all extremely well done and are that distinctly zippy style that I believe Spielberg does better than anybody. This is a Steven Spielberg film, no question, and those action scenes feel to me like action scenes in an INDIANA JONES movie. In fact, the whole movie feels like an Indiana Jones movie to me, albeit a new Indiana Jones movie, a 2008 INDIANA JONES movie, if you will. I see Harrison Ford in the fedora and leather jacket and it's unmistakably Indiana Jones. And Ford is doing some of his best work in a while here; like my friend Drew McWeeney said in his review on Ain't It Cool News, "Harrison Ford showed up" - he's on his game again, not just that he's fit and can do the action scenes like he used to, but it looks like he's enjoying himself. I also loved Cate Blanchett, who I've never found this sexy in a movie, and I love both of the major chase scenes. Are there problems? Are there flaws? Of course there are. The return of the character of Marion feels like a wasted opportunity, although Karen Allen does have some nice moments, and the film does fall apart once they hit the waterfalls. The aliens just don't feel right and there's nothing at stake other than getting that skull back to its rightful owners. Spielberg's been in need of going to ending school for the last decade or so, although the last scene does put a smile on my face, the perfect way to end it all and, one would think, wrap up the series. Sure there's a lot of silly stuff before for - the fridge and the monkeys quickly come to mind - but it's a sad day in moviedom when we start faulting an INDIANA JONES movie for its lack of realism. Isn't this the series that opened its second installment with our hero and his cohorts surviving an jump from an airplane with nothing more than a life raft? Besides, James Bond not only swung from vines but also gave a Tarzan yell in OCTOPUSSY and we forgave that.

What the reaction to INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL tells me is that the Children of George and Steven don't seem to enjoy movies like they sued to, if they really do at all. They've seen so many of them that a certain burnout settles in, especially where the blockbusters are concerned, especially more where George and Steven are concerned. Now, this sort of thing is true of most anything in life, movies especially, so the reaction shouldn't be too much of a surprise; nothing is a good as it used to be. I wasn't too thrilled with the film the first time I saw it, either. I liked the first third, and then started to lose interest, and left with a bit of a shrug. But I went to see it again because I felt like what was off wasn't the movie so much as it was me. - I couldn't see the movie for what it was, just what I thought it should be. When I saw it a second time it played much better and it was so much easier to just sit back and enjoy it. The groove got considerably easier to get into and I was much, much more entertained. It also helped that I saw it with a group of crazed Spaniards, led by filmmaker Eugenio Mira, who came to Austin just to experience the film at the Alamo Drafthouse, god bless 'em. We all pretty much agreed that it plays better the second time out, and later on Eugenio and I were going through the chase at the university and both remarking on how much we liked it. Doesn't mean that if you didn't like it then you need to the film again in order to appreciate it; I'm sure that others have seen it more than once and probably don't agree, but it's worth another shot. But that's all up to you.

It's easy for me to say that the fan reaction to the film is, in truth, a reaction to a life of failed dreams and grown-up disappointments ("The dreams of youth are the regrets of maturity"), and the asshole part of me kind of wants to rub that in, even though I know it's not true (OK, maybe just a little true). Listen, if you don't like a movie then that's your reaction and I can't change that. But this overreaction I can't comprehend - so fucking what if the movie doesn't live up to expectations?!? People, there are earthquakes and floods and cyclones in this world and the disappointment you feel in the new INDIANA JONES movie, or any movie, is so very low on the list of things that are important that your vitriol is beyond insignificant. Jeez, imagine what would happen if you cared about something that was actually important! But then again, how else would you expect the Children of George and Steven to react to their disappointment? Children, even overgrown children, seem to enjoy crying as much as they do being happy.

I'll let George have the last word here (from an USA Today April interview):

"When you do a movie like this, a sequel that's very, very anticipated, people anticipate ultimately that it's going to be the Second Coming," Lucas says. "And it's not. It's just a movie. Just like the other movies. You probably have fond memories of the other movies. But if you went back and looked at them, they might not hold up the same way your memory holds up... When people approach the new (Indiana Jones), much like they did with Phantom Menace, they have a tendency to be a little harder on it," he says. "You're not going to get a lot of accolades doing a movie like this. All you can do is lose."

This guy's a lot smarter than his former fans are giving him credit for.

1 comment:

Craig said...

Lucas certainly knows how to be selective when it comes to defining his fans: a man who inadvertently created a new religion always has more apologists and defenders on his side than critics and naysayers, but he'll acknowledge the latter more than the former because sometimes isolated billionaire filmmakers need victimhood, especially when they churn out crap work.

I think comparing Crystal Skull to natural disasters -- and cinematic disasters like Octopussy -- shows just how bad the movie is. If that's the bar we're setting, then our heroes have certainly fallen a long way. At least you give good reasons for why you enjoyed the movie, rather than sussing out a bunch of heavy subtext that isn't there. I suppose I'm a child of George and Steven too, but I'm neither apologist nor devotee; I've liked some of their stuff and disliked others, but this is the first time I felt they were being outright lazy and insulting. In the big scheme of things, that's not a crime. Yet with all of the filmmakers' power and creative freedom, shouldn't the onus be on them to produce a decent movie, rather than their audience to lighten up?