Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Blu-ray)

Written by El Fangorio

This film sucks. I hate it. I gave it three chances: once in the theater on opening day, once at a drive-in, and this last time on Blu-ray. Each and every time, I hated it (with the drive-in being the most painless). And let me state for the record that I love the franchise almost as much as I love the Star Wars trilogy. I love them in the order that they were made (yes, Temple of Doom over Last Crusade; I am willing to fight over it) and find them pretty much flawless. Granted I was the perfect age for them but then so was everyone (parents included) and you would think that if Lucas and Spielberg decided that after 20 years, it was worth bringing Indy back, that it must have been for a hell of a good reason. Why did I think the man that used to be “George Lucas” (seriously, who is this hack imposter?) would be capable of pulling this off? He sucks. He takes great pleasure in taking something beloved and making it totally asinine. Did I mention yet how much this film sucks?

Let’s start with the mandatory-to-the-series opening shot where, in all three prior films, the opening Paramount logo (the mountain) dissolves into the opening shot of the film, matching it perfectly. In Raiders, it segues into a mountain in South America; in Temple of Doom, it’s a gong in the Club Obi-Wan; and in The Last Crusade, it becomes a cliff in some landscape from Indy’s past. This one opens up on a fucking CGI groundhog hill (you know because it costs so much to build a real one these days) and out pops a fucking CGI prairie dog (because apparently they’re extinct now) to let us know that from here on out, this film is going to blow.

Still, this apparent crossover from Over the Hedge is only the tip of the digitally manipulated iceberg. There are CGI monkeys (because real ones are invisible to the camera eye and cannot be filmed) and CGI giant ants (because real ones don’t exist because God knew how damn stupid they would look). There’s a big CGI triple-decker waterfall and everyone goes “whoooaaaaa” every time they go over a level, each time surfacing from the 500-story foot drops onto the jagged rocks below, unscathed and laughing. There’s also a CGI warehouse, a CGI Russian camp, a CGI jungle, a CGI plane, a CGI Classroom, a CGI Library, a CGI Mountain, a CGI temple with a big CGI entrance…the only thing that isn’t CGI are the actors which would have all been better off computer generated.

Starting with Harrison Ford. Did he have a stroke and not tell anyone? Throughout the entire film, he acts like a retarded old man that doesn’t understand what’s going on. The film could just as easily been called Regarding Henry Jones. As for the eagerly awaited return of Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen)? Her performance is totally ruined, likely by an intake of anti-depressants from being out of work for so long. Seriously. She doesn’t stop smiling for the entire duration of the film and looks insane. As for their son Mutt, I have to admit, I was shocked to find that the one thing I thought could sink the film (I was so na├»ve) was actually the only thing that didn’t. Shia LaBeouf (“not quite a nerd, not quite a hunk”) is actually decent. His lines are all tailor-made for his already patented delivery so it’s kind of hard to fail on his part. Wait a minute, he totally sat back and let George and Steven run this idea by him and said “I’ll do it”: We want you to swing on CGI vines with CGI monkeys through a CGI jungle. So forget what I said. Shia LaBeouf, you’re an asshole! Oh yeah, Cate Blanchett is in it and believe it or not, she sucks. She does. Watch it and tell me how scary she is compared to Raiders’ Toht, Doom’s Mola Ram, and Last Crusade’s…well, just compare her to those first two. She sucked! And oh my god….John Hurt. I’ll say he did, too. What an awful, awful role.

And what an awful, awful film (for lack of a better transition). Still, George and Steven have a pretty good excuse: they’re almost 70 years old. Swear to god. How many films does your grandpa direct? Whatever. Lucas has been rolling out the stinkrockets for a loooong time now. He is no longer “George Lucas”. He is one of the lizards from V (that’s a guinea pig lodged in his throat) that plans on making the whole world CGI. As for Spielberg, he made Jaws (and about 15 other total masterpieces), but that doesn’t excuse his going along with this script. To think he actually sat there and listened to George suggest that Indy should survive an atomic fucking blast by hiding in a refrigerator (“we’ll show a close-up of the label on the door indicating that it’s made of lead so we should be fine”)? Next time, just keep it to yourselves. You are obviously too out of touch with today’s film audience, which is pretty much the same one you entertained the first three times out of the park.

Indian Jones and the Crystal of the Kingdom Skulls of Tinytown (or whatever the hell it’s called) is on Blu-ray. Hoo-ray. And like my dear old grandmother used to say, “You can’t polish a turd.” It’s still the same film so who cares? And truth be told, I wasn’t that impressed with the picture quality. Yes, you can see detail down to the individual hairs on their heads, the tiny threads of their costumes, the deep cavernous wrinkles of the skin on almost all of the actors but everything else around them is fake and now really looks like it. And director of photography Janusz Kaminski’s typical unrestrained lighting schemes do not help. The promise Spielberg made early on in production that he and Kaminski were going to try their best to make this film look like the originals? All lies. Yes, they shot on film (instead of digital) but they still ran it through a computer and manipulated the hell out of it. Check out the subtle lighting in just the classroom scene. Those students are literally glowing like something from the afterlife. It’s this kind of photography (hyper-overexposure) that is the proverbial smoke and mirrors as it helps to blend what is real and what is digital but it’s as if the format is working against it, revealing all its digital trickery.

As for the audio, you really can’t go wrong here. Granted the skin-crawling banter between Ford and Allen is there in all it’s TrueHD 5.1 glory but then so are the action sequences that at least sound real even if they do look like a video game. The score by regular collaborator John Williams isn’t as memorable as you’d like (okay, you hum the new theme then) but it sounds great and is never incidental. So if you’re into purchasing Blu-rays based solely on sound design, or if you’re blind, then I would definitely recommend this purchase. But only you guys.

As for the special features available, all are taken over from the standard DVD release except they are all shown in HD which is always nice even if it like putting a silk scarf on a pig in this case. There’s a Pre-Production Featurette (11:00) and a plain old featurette titled “The Return of a Legend” (17:34) along with a longer production diary titled “Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” which clocks in at a healthy 80 minutes. There is absolutely no mention of Harrison Ford’s stroke, Karen Allen’s addiction to goofballs, or Lucas and Spielberg’s playing an enormous joke on the fans so I wouldn’t trust anything this “special” feature has to say. Also, divided into six parts (to make it look longer) are various clips about various crap (most of it CGI). There are also three pre-vis sequences that prove how difficult it is to film actual animals and locations and why everything from now on should be CGI. There are two art galleries and one of these is easily the only worthwhile thing on the release: Stan Winston Studio. Okay, I have to go cry now ‘cause he’s dead. It was this film that did it I tell you. Last but not least, there are some production photos showing everyone having a good time at the expense of the fans. There are also portraits and behind-the-scenes photographs, which apparently aren’t the same as production photos.

So what are you running for? Sit, don’t stand and reconsider watching this film lest you risk tarnishing the admiration you have for this franchise and its creators. It’s a serious mess with flaws of such a ridiculous level. Seriously, the kind you only see in poorly made films (how in the fuck did Indy and Mutt go from that holding room where Hurt’s character was supposed to be to the top of that mountain where all the idiots hop in and out of holes?). Here’s to hoping that Lucas holes himself up at the Skywalker Assisted Living Ranch and that Spielberg’s hearing aide is turned off the next time his buddy has a great idea for a movie.

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