Sunday, November 16, 2008

Indiana Jones' European Vacation

Yeah, I like this one. And to think I originally boycotted it because of the Holy Grail subject matter! I've made up for it since, seeing it once at a revival. Some say it's the best one of the series. I don't know if I'm there yet, and I'll get into that later. But I think it's proof after all that Spielberg is the best action director of all time. Or maybe a close second to Buster Keaton, but that's hardly fair either. Someone save me some trouble and compile their own list, will ya? Okay, I'll give you a head start: Richard Donner second, James Cameron third.

We all sat down and saw the whole thing recently. Kind of a purging after the fourth one... That's all I'll say about it. As for me, it's been a while since I actually sat down and watched the whole thing. Usually I skip to my favorite parts: the action scenes, of course. Well, I felt like I paid my dues with all that stuff in between; what do you call it... plot, character development. All the chaff that launches films to greatness. You can't escape orbit without it! I just love that one part where the two Nazi motorcyclists are overcome by the one motorcycle. And the tank chase, obviously... that's all I can think of at the moment.

Perhaps it's a lesson long learned by Hollywood (and now that I think about it, it is), but the real key to sequels is you need to bring new characters into the fold. The good news is we get Sean Connery, Indy's dad. Although... I must confess I thought, is Bond phoning it in? How would David Hasselhoff have handled this role? And just like we saw the Alltel rivals as young nerds, we also see how Indy was an action star as a teenager, and his big Origin scene where he gets the trademark hat. Which further led to the Young Indiana Jones TV series... To me, that's the bad news. Maybe I'm wrong; I never saw any of those, nor have had them recommended to me for that matter. I'm sure they're fine, and Powder did a bang-up job, of course.

The reason I put this in second compared to Raiders is Indy's a little tougher here, especially when dealing with Dr. Schneider. The humor of Raiders is a little mellower, less blatantly self-referential. "What are you sitting around for when we're so close to the end!", says Dad near the end of the movie. To be fair, Harrison Ford doesn't often get to show off his flair for accents, as he did in Blade Runner. At one point here he does a pre-Groundskeeper Willie Scottish accent. Pretty good! Also, everyone's more certain about the power of the Grail than they were about the Ark. "The search for the Grail is the search for the divine in all of us." So what's the Ark? Chopped liver?

And of course, one can't help but admire Indy's catch phrase "Ah! Venice." In terms of Movie as Travelogue, this is of course magnifique as the French would say. We get Venice, Spain, Germany, Monument Valley, George Lucas's backyard, and as all you trivia buffs know it culminates at Petra, Jordan. A great film for film trivia buffs, but I don't have the curiosity to go too far beyond the special rat farms just for the film. Not all things free-range are good after all.

Academy Award winner Sir John Williams and his fleet of brass once again provide a fun soundtrack. I think they have a little more fun on this one than the first, to be sure, with quick references to the Ark of the Covenant theme, and a snippet of the French National Anthem after Dad mentions Charlemagne in passing. And to think he went on to Home Alone right after this! Not enough time on his hands.

Okay, here's the part where I defend Alison Doody, as every other review seems to trash her. But she can't help it! She's an ex-Bond girl. She was in A View to a Kill, after all. She's been dealt an unlucky hand career-wise; she wasn't even invited to that Bond Girls are Forever thing, for Chr... God's sake! Here she has to walk that fine line between loyalty to the Nazis, and being madly in love with Indy. ...yeah, you're right. She's terrible. Kinda cute, though! But really, she and Julian Glover go hand in hand. Perhaps he makes a dull villain because he also represents what we all aspire to be: rich socialites whose only achievement left is finding the Fountain of Youth and drinking from it for the rest of our days. Eternal damnation? Why not? The dude's just in it for the grail. Even he seems kinda shocked at his ballsiness when he actually fires the gun.

To be glib and over-reaching, when Spielberg reflects on his life, surely the 80s was his favourite decade? I mean, even though the critics didn't yet take him seriously. It was also the decade of Rube Goldberg, and the fascination with booby traps is a central preoccupation of the Indy series. The Goonies also had quite a few over-elaborate devices in it. I guess Hook was the last gasp of such whimsy for Spielberg. Still, I won't trash them too much, but why do I keep thinking of laserdiscs with the first Grail-protecting 'device'? And when was it supposed to have been built? And even in 1938 what kind of technology would know to start it up when an intruder approaches?

Too many questions, but that's the basic framework of doubt right there. Frankly, it's just rude to question the logic of the booby traps. Despite the nitpicking, Spielberg always gives you a full emotional plate. Close Encounters, A.I., you can't help but feel like you've been through the full wringer: there's comedy, drama, smart stuff, obvious stuff, and usually nothing less than a big Earth-shattering finale. So whether you think this one's the best, or Raiders, or Temple of Doom, God forbid, there's no denying it's all high quality stuff. And I got my copy! Of course, now I gotta get it on Blu-Ray. (hint hint?)

-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

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