Spielberg and Lucas have lost their fucking minds.

The more I think about what I just saw, the angrier I get, so I’m going to say this now- I enjoyed the new Indiana Jones movie. It’s a well-paced adventure film, Indy is different but back, and it has several exciting action sequences that had me giddy like a schoolboy. But on the other hand, I can’t imagine a worse ending to a series; it betrays its roots for something utterly empty and meaningless. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may have the longest title of the series, but it’ll reside for the shortest time in our memories.

It begins well enough; Indy and his new old buddy Mac (Ray Winstone) are kidnapped by KGB agents, led by the severe Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) and brought to a remote military base to search for an object they helped retrieve. No, it’s not the Ark, but it’s that same huge warehouse. Whatever it is it’s highly magnetic, so Dr. Jones uses gunpowder dust to help track it down. There’s an action-packed chase through the warehouse as he escapes, to a rocket test platform, and an atomic bomb test site, to solidify the Cold War setting.

Indy gets suspected by the FBI of being a double agent, and there’s an allusion to the Red Scare hysteria, but it doesn’t work really well when the KGB is in America attacking military bases for our relics. There’s a lot of dialogue about Indy and Mac working in the OSS and MI6 against the Soviets and the Nazis, and frankly that’s more intriguing than a lot of the actual plot. But there’s enough excitement to ride on throughout the film.

Indy’s about to leave Marshall College for London when Mutt (Shia LeDouche) shows up on his motorcycle in greaser gear to tell him about his missing friend Professor Oxley (John Hurt). The KGB chase them around the college and the motorcycle chase is good and fun. Indy may be old but he shows his chops. Mutt has a letter in an old South American language that intrigues Indy and they set out to find the missing professor and Mutt’s missing Mom, “Mary.”

My favorite part of the film is in Peru where they do some creepy tomb raiding. The Nazca lines are nearby, and Oxley’s cell full of cryptic scrawls leads them to a lost conquistador’s hidden tomb amidst ancient ruins. Now that’s some real Indiana Jones stuff. This part of the movie had me riveted. And I must say, Shia was not annoying as hell in his role, mostly because he was a snotty punk instead of his usual Vince Vaughn Jr. act.

The Russians chase them up the Amazon, and we meet Oxley, and Karen Allen returns as plucky Marion Ravenwood. There’s a great chase through the jungle on military vehicles, with swordfights and brawls going back and forth across amphibious Ducks and Jeeps, but they lose their minds somewhere near the end of it. Oxley plumbs the power of the crystal skull when they run into a swarm of army ants, and that’s pretty cool. Shia becomes Tarzan, and we get some cartoon physics at the end of the chase which strain the suspension of disbelief. The audience got restless.

Unfortunately it doesn’t get better from there. When we learn the secret of the crystal skulls, it’s an empty promise. There are 12 other skulls, and when they are reunited, they are a font of endless knowledge; but they show way too much. Irina Spalko chanting “I vant to knooowww!!” over and over doesn’t help either. We don’t want to know. Do we know what the power of the Ankara stones was? Did we learn why the Grail can’t pass the Great Seal? We learn more about the skulls than we ever learned about the Ark.

The movie has some other flaws; Indy is a lot more deadpan now, burned out. It grated on me then, but I like it now. It goes with his history of being a hard-working and unappreciated OSS agent. There’s an underwhelming ending to Marion and Indy’s reunion; their meeting is one of the more memorable parts of the movie, and they recapture the chemistry they had 26 years ago. But they end it in a way that feels crafted for the fans. They tease you with the very last scene, but it is very satisfying. Indy isn’t ready to give up the fedora just yet.

If you don’t want the secret spoiled for you, stop reading now.

If you couldn’t figure it out from the metallic mummy they unwrap, Indy mentioning Roswell, the shape of the crystal skull, or the Hangar 51 the movie starts at, the skulls are the remnants of an alien intelligence that came not from space, but from “the space between spaces” to teach us how to farm and irrigate, build the pyramids, and ruin a perfectly good series. When they finally return the skull to the secret city, the temple becomes a flying saucer that disappears to the 8th dimension, but not before the 13 crystal skeletons merge into one alien that apparently resembles the one from the special edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The alien tells Spalko vhat she vants to knooow, and her head explodes. Apparently there are some things we are not meant to know. Like what the fuck happened to Lucas and Spielberg’s fucking minds after 1989.

What’s so bad about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?

Once again, everything. I watched it last night, and I have come up with this formula; Temple of Doom is inversely as good as how long ago you saw either other Indiana Jones movie. For us math-challenged types, that means never see this movie back to back, or a day after, or a week after Raiders of the Lost Ark. I became a Temple of Doom Apologist shortly after the The Indiana Jones Trilogy DVD Box Set came out. I watched all three of them after not seeing them for ages. I’ve seen them all in the theater, from age 10 onward, but sporadically since; I think we wore out our VHS copy of Raiders by slow-moing the end where the Nazis melt and explode.

The first horror we encounter is Kate Capshaw.

I remember watching Temple of Doom and liking it a lot more than I thought. I must have watched it at least a week after Raiders, because this time with only a day since I saw that classic, the first sequel really falls short. It’s been the red-headed stepchild of the Indy movies, and deservedly so. From the opening frame, we’re seeing something very different from the movie we loved just a few years before.

Indiana Bond

The familiar Paramount logo fades and reveals a bronze relief of a mountain, on a gong being rung. We pan to the mouth of a dragon, glowing red and shrouded in mist… something emerges, and it’s… Kate Capshaw. PRANKED! Unfortunately the entire movie goes on like this. We get a long Busby Berkeley opening act as she dances and sings “Anything Goes” in half Chinese, in a Shanghai nightclub. When we first meet Indy, he’s not in his familiar crusty gear or even in a modest professor’s garb, but a white tuxedo, like James Bond.

The second horror is a screeching pygmy named Short Round

He’s there to make a deal with a gangster named Lao Che, and they double cross each other, leading to a decent set piece where they scrabble for a diamond and some antidote on the dance floor, to gunfire, flaming skewers and other shenanigans. They escape with nothing but the antidote, falling into a rather swanky convertible driven by Short Round, a Shanghai street kid Indy took under his wing. For some reason the bad guys chase them, to a plane, where once again Indy gets cocky and heckles Lao Che as they escape, only to reveal that it’s the bad guy’s plane.

Welcome to Fantasy Island

The pilots take a breather and they escape the plane in one of the film’s better action sequences, though it’s so ridiculous compared to the stunt-grounded action from the first movie that we know we’re in for a kid movie. The problem is that it’s a kid movie too dark for kids, and too silly for adults. Part of what made Raiders so good was that it was not for kids; we sure loved it, but they didn’t cater to us one bit. Hell, they poison a cute little monkey in it. Though he deserved it, he sig heiled once.

About as realistic as Howard the Duck

The hardest part about reviewing this movie is deciding who’s more annoying, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan from The Goonies) or Kate Capshaw (from Steven Spielberg’s casting couch). Sorry Kate, you’re no Karen Allen; though to your favor, I’m not sure anyone could have done better with the horribly written part. It needed a Kate Hepburn type with some spunk, but instead we got a scream queen. Most of the movie is either Short Round or Willie shrieking at something or other, and it’s pretty tedious almost immediately.

In the 80’s the greatest horror was poor brown people

As a prequel, we’re puzzled; why is Indy a sleazy adventurer instead of grubby professor? Wouldn’t we rather see how he pissed off Marion, met Sallah, and so on? (Another example of Lucas screwing up a prequel). You don’t need Nazis and Biblical artifacts to make a good Indy movie, though the 4th one may disprove my theory. I enjoyed the “mysterious India” movies like Gunga Din, which also dealt with a secret uprising of the Thuggee cult. It was a good story, but where did it go wrong? Let’s start with who wrote the screenplay, the same people who brought us such runny turds as Howard the Duck and Best Defense, two of the biggest flops of the 80’s. Raiders was scripted by Lawrence Kasdan, and while he may have adapted Dreamcatcher, he has so many classics under his belt that his ball sack should be gold-plated and made into an honorary Academy Award.

Ha, ha. Foreign people eat weird.

The real story begins in an Indian village where the people are starving, because their magic stone was stolen. And also all their kids were taken. It’s a little confusing there. Indy being the hero he is, goes to find them, visiting the new Maharajah in the once-abandoned castle nearby, who is supposed to be behind it all. Instead of giving us one breakneck-paced action scene after another, we get slapstick gross-out scenes in sequence. Vampire bats and jungle antics; a dinner of eels, monkey brains, beetles, and eyeball soup; and finally a cave full of crunchy creepy crawly critters. It’s just not the same. The first movie had lots of humor amidst the violence, but here the balance is way off.

A laurel and hearty handshake

The castle’s dark secret is that it houses the newly arisen Cult of Thuggee, who instead of strangling travelers are now involved in child slavery, working them in a mine beneath the castle that also features a sacrificial lava pit that would be more at home in South America. They are lead by Mola Ram, a worthy enough villain, who has the child Maharajah under his spell. The spell comes in Kool-Aid form, and of course Indy is forced to drink it, and becomes a bad guy for a few minutes. He even beats up Short Round and tries to kill Willie, predicting the audience reaction to these new characters.

The real hero is Evil Indy, who might have saved us from his co-stars.

Much has been said of the movie being “too dark,” because of the infamous scene where Mola Ram tears out a man’s heart with his bare hand, and holds the still-beating ticker up for all to see. It inspired the PG-13 rating, which has ruined many a good movie. I have no problem with the violence in the movie, as its predecessor had pets poisoned, and pugilists pole-axed by propellers. The problem really is that it’s too mawkish and silly. What’s more of a heart-string yanker than kids enslaved? Wasn’t it bad enough that the Cult had spread famine across the land? The real cult of hidden stranglers was scary enough; making them slavers is like trying to make the Nazis worse by saying “yeah, they did all genocide stuff, but they also kicked puppies.”

Head puppy kicker for the Thuggee cultists

Short Round has his own little adventure in trying to save Indy and beat up the Maharajah Kid, who has a Voodoo doll for some reason. Apparently the bad guys in this are Thuggee Voodoo Aztecs. Reminds me of Samurai Cat vs. the Nazi Werewolf T.Rex in those nerdy books of yore. The movie is only saved by the action sequences, which also fall short by relying on visual effects instead of the stunts that made the first one so thrilling. From the scene where the plane crashes into the mountain, you can tell that …. the plane has crashed into the mountain, Lebowski!

Ancient Hindu Voodoo Vindaloo

It looks incredibly fake, vs. the flying wing exploding in Raiders, which looked real, because it WAS. The mine cart ride plays out more like an amusement ride than a sequence, but it’s still exciting; it just doesn’t look real. When the water rushes down the tunnels, it looks as good as it did in the pulp movies this elegizes. And finally, the great Mexican stand-off on the rope bridge is thrilling, but damn do the falling guys look like obvious visual effects. Just throw dummies next time!

The movie does have several nuggets of pure awesome, mind you.

The final insult is a the lesson it pushes on us; Indy says he wants fame and glory, and Willie of all people, the material girl, suddenly is the moral compass. The movie tried to make our hero into a sleazy merchant in antiquities, shamed by the poverty of the third world into becoming the guy who wants everything in a museum. Thankfully the third ignores all this and rewrites his origin. It’s one of the best things about Last Crusade. I wonder if Short Round will get even a nod in the 4th movie; I can imagine him growing up to be Stephen Chow. If they ever make a 5th movie, which is incredibly unlikely, maybe he can beat up Shia LeBoeuf and do us a favor.

Publish PostDr. Jones, this is a lingam, a holy penis object. And you touched it.
You have caught the gay.

What’s so great about Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Everything! I just watched it again last night in prep for the Indiana Jones nerdathon that will accompany the release of the 4th movie, Indiana Jones and the Worst Title Since Phantom Menace, this Thursday. And it’s just as thrilling and enjoyable as when I first saw it as an 11-year old goober on the edge of my seat.

Tennessee Williams

Besides being one of the best action-adventure movies ever made, with one set piece after another, getting topped each time, it’s also got great slapstick comedy and introduced one of film’s enduring characters. That’s right, Karen Allen.

She cost my mom a lot of Kleenex in 1981

Sure, she’d been in that legendary college film Animal House, and that nostalgic memoir of early 60’s city life The Wanderers, but she’ll always be immortalized as the feisty Marion Ravenscroft, daughter of Indiana Jones’s mentor. Abner Ravenscroft, if you forgot, was the original seeker of the Ark of the Covenant and the archaeologist who found the headpiece of the Staff of Ra, instrumental in locating the lost Ark. We never find out how he died, but I imagine that creepy Nazi guy, Toht, whose name I know only because it was on the action figure package, tortured him to death with that funky coat hanger he had.

Another lost toy to re-buy on ebay

Oddly enough that joke was snatched from a James Bond movie, but it works so well that we allow Lucas and Spielberg the discretion. Unlike Temple of Doom, where we see Indy in a white tux bargaining with Chinese gangsters and wonder where the hell his fedora is. I’ll get to that tomorrow; I was a Temple of Doom apologist for a while, and I still think it’s a good movie; it’s just “the worst” in a great bunch. And hopefully it will remain at the bottom, come Thursday.

Major Toht models a Hugo Boss trench, $2430

Raiders works so well partly because there is very little exposition, except when necessary. We see a man with a whip, a gun and a hat guided into a cave; he bypasses some traps with aplomb, gets cocky, and then the real fun starts as he stumbles through them all at breakneck speed to get out of the collapsing ruins, with each trap getting exponentially worse. Alfred Molina, probably best known now as Doc Oc from Spider-Man 2, played the funny-looking guide who utters the immortal line, “toss me the idol, I throw you the whip!” and it’s amusing now to watch him, but he was perfectly cast.

I love his goofy expression.

We meet the villain soon after, with no introduction; the dialogue deftly speaks of the past between the two men and how their morals differ. Then we’re back at Marshall college, where Indy is Dr. Jones, the professor whom girls swoon over and boys admire. No time is wasted; we meet Brody, played by Denholm Elliot, who will be sorely missed from the new movie; he died of AIDS a few years after Last Crusade. He did a wonderful comic turn in that movie, but in Raiders he’s the straight man (no pun intended) and great as always.

How’d you like to polish my apple?

Government men arrive to advance the plot- something about Nazis seeking Biblical artifacts- and Indy is off to meet the plucky Marion, seeking the medallion her father discovered. She’s introduced in the middle of a drinking contest, that she wins handily; she runs a ramshackle tavern in Nepal for sherpas, a fitting place for a pulp adventure. They both lie to each other and only get thrown together when the nefarious Nazi Toht shows up. What perfect casting there- Brit Ronald Lacey looked like a mishmash of every Japanese and German monster in the Allied propaganda posters had a redheaded stepchild and beat them with a creepy stick night and day. He steals every scene he’s in and sells it back to us. They shoot up the bar in a brutal and bloody gunfight with men on fire, bright red fake blood spurting from people’s heads, and guns that change from revolvers to Colt .45’s from one shot to another, but it’s so much fun we don’t even care.

Tomboy hotness defined.

From there it’s off to Cairo where we meet another great stock character, Sallah the digger and fixer, played so charmingly by John Rhys-Davies. The film is so full of memorable scenes that I have to skip them; you know them already, or if not, you should go see them for yourself! We get a famous chase and fight through a bazaar, where we learn you don’t bring a sword to a gunfight, and soon they’re sneaking amongst the Nazis in the ruins to find that Ark in the title.

Asps. Very dangerous. Indy, you go first…

But name another movie whose set pieces come so perfectly paced. An escape from a tomb full of snakes; a bare-knuckle brawl with a Max Schmeling clone underneath a runaway flying wing and a tanker truck ready to explode; a chase up to, into, under and over an Army truck in a caravan, then onto a submarine to a deserted island. It’s hard to believe it’s all in one movie, when you think back on it. Other movies often try to cram so much in, but it rarely works. Casino Royale is the most recent one in memory.

Freudianly, she fights off snakes

And Lucas and Spielberg manage to cap it all with an incredible ending full of top-notch and still believable special effects, showing us the power of the Ark without explaining a damn thing about it. I watched the ending three times last night, sometimes in slow-motion, and it holds up to modern effects in believability. I breathed a sigh of relief when I read that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be done mostly with stunts and traditional effects. About 30% will be CG, and Spielberg (unlike Lucas) has a good eye for when computers are necessary. It’s also being done on film and not digital; the original stunt coordinator and cinematographer are busy or retired, but the new ones studied Doug Slocombe’s work to mimic the look of the original films. That all speaks well for the new (and most likely final) entry.

Cate and Karen at Cannes with Shia Le Douche

The new movie also has … Karen Allen! She was terrific in the underrated Starman, another nerd favorite, but semi-retired to raise kids and knit sweaters in recent years. It’s good to see her in a “big” movie again. (Starman will be an 80’s movie of the week sometime soon, Jenny Hayden). She was at Cannes when the movie premiered this week, looking as feisty as ever. Alongside another fave actress of mine, Cate Blanchett, who plays the Ninotchka-esque Soviet villain. Firecracker may get jealous when we go see it Thursday…

Sexy Soviet

Raiders’ final shot of the huge warehouse full of who-knows-what is one of the most famous endings in film history. How can you top something like that? The other sequels certainly didn’t. I don’t think this one will either, but I imagine it will be a heartfelt and satisfying capper to one of the most beloved series in cinema. When I read that they had 5 films planned, part of me wishes I could go back to the 90’s and smack Spielberg and Lucas around. Did Jurassic Park need a sequel?

Everybody! Do the the Electric Nazi!

Then again that was Spielberg’s sappiest era, when he was putting walkie talkies in E.T., and Lucas was dreaming up the cheese-fest of the prequels. Maybe they weren’t ready to make another Indy movie then; I hope they are now, because if Indiana Jones and the Unwieldy Title is more Temple of Doom than Raiders, I will transform into The Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons and cry out “from hell’s heart I stab at thee!” from my seat before I shuffle out of the theater muttering every profanity imaginable.

“Did you see Shia Le Beef in Transformers?”
“Aghgghhghg yes!”

Here’s hoping Shia LaBeouf tones it down a bit for Indy 4… I bet Mr. Ford would’ve smacked the shit out of him otherwise.