Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Jaded Eye

Watching the new Indiana Jones movie gave me severe diarrhea. Actually, the two events are most likely unrelated, but I wanted to take a cue from the pharmaceutical business and warn of any potential side effects: a small but not insignificant group of viewers reported spending the 15 hours following the movie being frequently and painfully reminded that man lives entirely at the mercy of his gastrointestinal tract.

As for the movie itself: I liked it a lot. I thought it was very much in the spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with the goofiness of Temple of Doom and the self-awareness of The Last Crusade.

I went in almost completely unspoiled, knowing nothing except the basic cast and roughly when it was set. I didn’t have high expectations, and I wasn’t going in looking for flaws, either. I’d recommend everybody do the same.

So don’t bother reading the rest of this until you’ve seen it (and you know you will).

What most surprised me about the movie was how frequently it was able to surprise me. You could make a checklist of everything you need to see in an Indiana Jones movie, and this movie has each one. Still, it managed not to play like checking items off a list; there was enough variation and cleverness and choreography of the individual elements that I felt like I was watching something new.

The two big chase sequences — in the diner and through the rest of the college town, and the later car chase through the jungle — were both lifted right out of the Indiana Jones playbook. But I was impressed by how they kept throwing on new twists and making them better than anything I’d seen before. The jungle chase in particular tops the best action sequences from Jurassic Park (and in case that sounds like faint praise, I still say that Jurassic Park is a not-very-good movie that happens to have some of the best action sequences ever filmed). And the whole bit culminating in the rocket sled and the atomic bomb test was a great way to push the movie forward into the late 50s.

There’s a steady stream of look-how-old-everybody-is humor, and I’ve got to admit that a few of the scenes with Indy cracking a whip or jumping on someone just made me sad to watch, but it all managed to stay just on the safe side of self-parody. Shia LeBeouf has the thankless job of being the Cousin Oliver of the Indiana Jones franchise, but they cleverly avoided Short Roundism by setting up his character as a poseur, to let you know everyone’s in on the joke. He starts as a parody of the greasers and bikers in The Wild One (and I guess American Graffiti, for that matter), but eventually shows a little more depth.

Of course, character depth isn’t this movie’s strength. None of the Indiana Jones movies have been marvels of character development, really, but Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is probably the worst at it. Everyone kind of floats through the movie, character and motivation left vague and muddled. The closest the movie comes to a memorable character is Cate Blanchett’s, a Soviet dominatrix with psychic powers and swordfighting skills! But when you consider how little she actually does in the movie, and compare that to how awesome her character could have been, it’s disappointing.

That pretty much sums up the biggest problem with the movie: it feels pretty shallow, and you can’t help but think how much more could’ve been done with this material. It’s Indiana Jones in the 50s with Area 51 and Roswell and Los Alamos and Rocket Sleds and Motorcycles and El Dorado and Aliens and Psychic Powers and Mayan Temples and Secret Warehouses and a Soviet Dominatrix! But in the end, it’s a bunch of individual scenes that are pretty cool on their own, but don’t add up to something epic. Plenty entertaining, and a very good action movie, but definitely the end of a franchise and not as earth-shattering as the beginning of a new one.

And since I couldn’t completely turn off my jaded obsessive internet fan brain, I do have a few other gripes:

  • I kept wanting the hot rod full of teenagers at the beginning to do something, anything. By the time the opening credits ended, I’d already invented a dozen possible storylines, only to see the car drive away after doing nothing.
  • Would a neighborhood built for an atomic bomb test have electricity and a TV running non-stop?
  • It annoyed me that Harrison Ford’s name went before the title of the movie in the opening credits.
  • As much as they talked about doing everything possible without CGI, there were an awful lot of effects shots, many of the glaringly obvious. Especially the monkeys.
  • I’m still on the fence about the vine-swinging and monkeys. And the prairie dogs.
  • Weird natives coming out of the walls in a temple: awesome. But again, they stopped at the neat image and didn’t bother to do anything with them.
  • The dialogue at the end of the movie, before the wedding, was just plain cringe-inducing.

So it’s not even my favorite movie of the summer (that’d be Iron Man), and in terms of the Indiana Jones movies, it’s running neck and neck with The Last Crusade. Anyone looking for a life-changing cinematic experience like the first time seeing Raiders is going to be disappointed. And anyone looking to be disappointed is going to be disappointed as well.

When I see the mushroom clouds of geekrage erupting all over the internet, I’m a little tempted to feel sympathy for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, since this movie is clearly presented in the same spirit as Raiders of the Lost Ark: a campy, pulpy, action-heavy homage to older action movies. But then I remember how much more money they have than I ever will, and it goes away. There’s got to be some comparison to Oppenheimer there: Spielberg and Lucas basically created the obsessive internet geek by creating the Summer Blockbuster, and now they’re having to live with the repercussions. “Now I am become Dork, the destroyer of words.”

0 thoughts on “Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Jaded Eye”

  1. I’ve seen it yesterday and I thought it was very much over the top. Then I thought about it and realized that the other Indiana Jones movies were very much over the top. This one is maybe a tiny bit too much, and *on top of that* its full of clichés. And it’s not so much about archeology anymore. And… am I the only one who wonders why Indy’s father died? Didn’t he drink that immortality thing at the end of 3? Is it geeky to think like that?

    But I can’t help admit that I was very well entertained. I’m sure this wasn’t the last one and I hope Sallah will be back in 5.

  2. CG monkeys…..why did it have to be CG monkeys?

    To me the whole thing felt like an Indy theme park ride, everything you’d expect to see was in there but there was never any legitimate danger to anyone. Cate Blanchet looked cool but I never bought for a second that she was capable of harming anyone.

  3. “This movie is clearly presented in the same spirit as Raiders of the Lost Ark: a campy, pulpy, action-heavy homage to older action movies.”

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see how this terrible movie was presented in anywhere near the same spirit as Raiders. Raiders is a fantastic popcorn movie, but it always takes itself completely seriously. There is not one single moment of goofiness, slapstick, farce, self-reference.

    In a movie like Raiders of the Lost Ark, of course you know the hero won’t die, but you’re still on the edge of your seat, worried for him, because his (fantasy) world and its dangers seems so real.

    In Crystal Skull, he crashes a motorcycle in a university library and a student asks him a question about class as he rolls to a stop. And he answers. He actually answers him.

    This movie felt more like a Naked Gun film than an Indiana Jones film.

    Is this “geekrage” on my part? I dunno. I just feel sad.

    Hoping for more from Wall*e.


  4. I was entertained and confused by the movie. It felt too much like The Mummy or Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and not enough like Raiders. I feel the biggest fault was that there were no consequences for anything in this movie.I never felt like anyone was ever in any danger, even the crazy insane guy got miraculously cured.
    Thankfully it never reached Jar-Jar levels of awfulness, and usually recovered relatively quickly from the overly ridiculous stuff.
    I really liked everything that happened in the university, to me that sequence felt most like what an aging Indiana Jones movie should be like. The rest, while entertaining, felt like a cartoon.
    Oh and the less said about the monkeys the better. Dear god, that was even worse than when the daughter in Jurassic Park 2 did a gymnastic routine to defeat a raptor.

  5. Oh one more thing, don’t have a russian psychic super agent in your movie if you are not ever going to have her do anything remotely psychic. In a movie so off the wall in terms of what characters are able to do Cate Blanchet’s character was remarkably constrained.

  6. “Jonesy” wrote:

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see how this terrible movie was presented in anywhere near the same spirit as Raiders. Raiders is a fantastic popcorn movie, but it always takes itself completely seriously. There is not one single moment of goofiness, slapstick, farce, self-reference.

    Errr… I think you’re seriously misremembering or underestimating the goofiness of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s all there; we’re just blind to it after years of thinking how cool it all was (and it still is!) I wonder if they did Raiders in 2008, the “Love You” written on the student’s eyelids would be done in CG.

    It’s odd that you’d call out the campus chase from the new movie as being the worst offender, since that’s the part that’s most in the spirit of Raiders, the marketplace chase in particular. It’s only after they get to South America that the new movie starts to go off the rails.

  7. There’s nothing “goofy” about the “love you” scene. None of the adults in the audience groaned and winced during that scene back in 1981. It seems neither ridiculous, nor unrealistic, nor out of place to me.

    My memory of Raiders of the Lost Ark is pretty solid, and I cannot remember many goofy elements. I can only think of these two, which are SLIGHTLY goofy:

    – When Indy dodges the blade of a cairo swordsman, causing him to stab another swordsman, if you look very closely, you’ll notice that the blade sticks into some fruit behind his back, forming a “kebab.”
    – When the arab’s monkey repeatedly gives the Nazi salute and the Nazi salutes him back.

    Can you name some other goofy elements from Raiders that I am missing?

    My memory of Crystal Skull is thankfully thin, but here are a few of the painfully goofy things I can remember:

    – When the groundhog came out of Paramount logo.
    – When Indy was blown across the desert inside a refrigerator by an atomic bomb.
    – When the groundhogs stood around and looked inquisitively at Indy after he escaped the Russians.
    – When Indy and Marion were re-united and their Russian captors stood around patiently for ten minutes to let them banter and bicker.
    – When Mutt found a handy snake to pull Indy out of the “dry-sand” instead of taking off his jacket and throwing him a sleeve.
    – When the Russians needed a jungle-chopping machine designed by Dr. Seuss to get through the jungle.
    – When the Dr. Seuss machine was destroyed and all the trucks found their way through the jungle without it anyway.
    – When Mutt was standing on two moving trucks and the trees thwomped him in the balls.
    – When the monkeys taught Mutt to swing through the trees like Tarzan (faster than the motor vehicles that were speeding away from him).
    – When the monkeys attacked the Russians.
    – When the ants formed an ant ladder to climb after the Russian psychic.
    – When Marion drove her truck onto the tree over the river and then used it to swat the Russians off the side of the cliff.
    – When the rock walls gave birth to the native warriors.
    – All of the dialog.
    – When the aliens from the space within the spaces made the Russian psychic’s eyes bleed fire even though she didn’t really do anything to them.
    – Every single scene in the movie with the possible exception of the discussion between Indy and the Dean (Jim Broadbent) in Indy’s home.

    I have to respectfully disagree w/ ya here. Even though the subject matter and the on-screen action is over-the-top in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the film always takes itself seriously (yet still manages some sharp humor). Crystal Skull seems to constantly poke fun at itself and its audience, and in doing so failed completely to amuse or entertain me and (seemingly) the audience I was with.


  8. Yep, that’s geekrage, I’m afraid.

    Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not as good a movie as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but then Raiders of the Lost Ark is not as good a movie as my memory of Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s just no fighting nostalgia, especially now in the era of Internet Nitpicking.

    If you were to watch Raiders now expecting to hate it, you’d find no shortage of clunky dialogue (bad dates, they’re digging in the wrong place!), cheesy Spielbergian reaction shots, corny gags (since you asked: Toht’s coathanger, Jock’s snake, Sallah’s reaction to the well of souls, Indy getting hit with a mirror), overblown melodramatic scenes (Indy being saved by Sallah’s kids, Marion doing the worst possible job of busing tables at her bar), and cheesy effects (face melting, storm over the well of souls, light in the staff room).

    But none of that crap matters, because we all watched it in the spirit it was presented. Doing the same for the new movie makes it a lot more enjoyable, and it seems like they had a lot of fun making it.

  9. I maintain that those scenes you mention are handled seriously, something that never happens in Crystal Skull. For example, When Indy discovers Jock’s snake, he’s pissed and afraid, but he doesn’t come off as a buffoon, like he does when confronted by the snake in Crystal Skull.

    But hey – it’s always good to find some common ground:
    “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not as good a movie as Raiders of the Lost Ark”

    “It seems like they had a lot of fun making it.”


  10. Naw Chuck. This movie is bad. I also think you’re misremembering how good raiders is. I’ve seen it recently. It’s great. I’ve seen Last Crusade recently. It’s rickety. How can you say:
    bad dates and they’re digging in the wrong place! are bad lines of dialog? I’m afraid you have geek reactionism. It’s easy to argue that if you turn off your brain you’ll enjoy it. I saw “Dude, Where’s my Car” too. Sure you will. But don’t lump Raiders in the same bag with Indiana Jones and the Metal Men from Outer Space.

  11. I never said you couldn’t like it. I enjoyed watching it in its mindlessly campy way. But there’s no way this was at all like the script penned by mr. Kasdan.

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