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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gave me mixed feelings

Saw this on Sunday immediately when it premiered in Tokyo. Here's a confession, unlike most, my best film memories in childhood weren't really the Indiana Jones films. Because, quite frankly, I can't remembe them much at all. I saw THE LAST CRUSADE when it first came out in theaters and I was only 6. Then I watched RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK a year later when it was screened in primary school for Children's Day, I remembered how the projectionist was being an ass by putting his hand over to projector during the kissing scenes to 'protect' the children's eyes.

Then I watched TEMPLE OF DOOM perhaps at the age of 8, when it was aired on TV. And that's it, I never really watch an actual Indy Jones film again, but I did follow the Young Indiana Jones TV series religiously back then, and had some of those CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURES Indy Jones books.

TEMPLE OF DOOM was recently aired on Tokyo TV last week, and it was dubbed in Japanese, so I was unable to really pay attention, except to watch some of the climatic action scenes. They were good stuff, didn't seem dated.

So there wasn't much pent-up anticipation for INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF CRYSTAL SKULL, I just treat it as another Spielberg film to look forward to, another summer blockbuster to indulge myself in, and hoping that Spielberg's magic can keep Lucas from pulling another PHANTOM MENANCE on me (now, THAT'S a childhood memory that got tainted, though I do like episode 3). And that Harrison Ford will finally star in something worthwhile again (... since his cameo in Jimmy Kimmel's 'I F*CKED BEN AFFLECK' video). To me, Indy is Indy, not really INDY!

My expectations were low since numerous of my friends told me that the film sucked. But in the end, I don't really think it sucked, just underwhelming, just disappointingly average. Although, objectively speaking, it's not a shitty movie, perhaps I was really just put off by the pacing and its endless exposition in the middle chunk of the film.

The beginning and ending of the film are still fun enough to make me not feel pissed that I blew 1500 yen on the ticket. I like the extended chase sequence at the beginning of the film, the sight of Indiana Jones putting on his hat made my heart skip a few bits. Not because of lifelong fanboyism, but maybe because it was the resurrection of an iconic image that had long immersed itself into pop culture and cinematic history, to see it onscreen again was exciting. And frankly, the action scenes then, from his escape from AREA 51 to reaching the nuclear test site, I had a grin plastered on my face similar to the time when I watched BOURNE ULTIMATUM.

Unfortunately, while I was grinning like that :D:D:D most of the time in BOURNE ULTIMATUM, I only did that a few times when watching Indy 4. During the aforementioned prologue, and when things picked up again and characters were thrown into a nice chase sequence at the jungle after the appearance of Marion Ravenwood. I think Spielberg's still a great craftsman, and its his technical abilities to stage these action setpieces that separates him from subsequent Indy pretenders like TOMB RAIDERS, THE MUMMY films and NATIONAL TREASURE. There's just something retro and appealing about the action scenes of Indy 4 that I favour over mindnumbingly heavy CGI stuff that I see in recent films.

The film is well-shot too, Janusz KamiƄski, who had been Spielberg's cinematographer since SCHINDLER's LIST (but neither of the 3 previous Indy films) seemed to have brought something unique, perhaps it's the framing, there are many times when I actually started marvelling the shots in the film. The acting's fine, I have no complaints with Ford's Indy at all, I thought it might have been his best performance in a long time. Indiana Jones, while older, still reeks of awesomeness. Supporting cast are fine too, nothing out-of-place Star Wars prequels-ish bad. Although I felt that Cate Blanchett's Colonel Doctor Irina Spalko was a bit of a squandered opportunity. Could've been a memorable villain, but didn't really do anything memorable.

Anyway, I don't know whether the pacing problems had more to do with Spielberg or my own tastes. After all, Spielberg had been doing mostly darker fare in the past few years. I liked MUNICH a lot, and while WAR OF THE WORLDS had an incredibly rubbish ending, there was something about it that kept my attention (the investment of my emotions compounded my disappointment with the ending). I've always been more used to 90s to 00s Spielberg than 80s Spielberg, I have more love for A.I., SCHINDLER'S LIST, MINORITY REPORT, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN etc than ET or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, so maybe I couldn't really get used to seeing him emulate his 80s self again. I like Serious Spielberg more than Flippant Spielberg.