May 23, 2008

I think everybody's opinions are raging a bit out of proportion over this whole Indy 4 thing. So let me break it down for you right now. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a good old-time adventure romp. It has nostalgia, absurdity, and whip-cracking Harrison Ford on it's side. It's a lot of fun. I like to use the phrase "absurd but awesome" when describing it to people.

But let's get two things straight right off the bat. It's not the slightest bit believable. And Harrison Ford has aged. I've been scanning reviews and comments for a bit now trying to figure out exactly why people feel so let down by this movie. A lot of criticism seems to be leveled at two things: Indy's age and the ridiculous contents of the script.

Indy's Age
It's been nineteen years since The Last Crusade. Nineteen years. A whole legal person. A voter. A drinker. A driver. Nearly two decades. That is a long time in which to sustain a single franchise. And here's a shocker: in those intervening nineteen years Harrison Ford, being human, aged. He actually aged in a very appropriate parallel nineteen years himself. So yes, fans and detractors, Indy is now older. Why is this such a terrible thing? The beauty of Indiana Jones is always that he was a scholar first and sort of put-upon adventurer second. He could hold his own against troops of Nazis or heart-stealing mountain-dwelling crazies but ultimately he always looked sort of thrown-together about it. He was there for the artifact or the rescue and all that action blather he just stumbled into. It's what's so great about Indy. He blundered into some of the greatest action sequences of my childhood. He handled them with aplomb or else blind luck and he looked cool doing it. He also managed to spout off some hilarious witticisms along the way. He never really took things seriously unless it involved research. Age, therefore, is beside the point for Indiana Jones. He should still be able to effectively blunder his way into unbelievable scrapes without much suspension of disbelief because he was never about seeking out the stunts to begin with. He was about the artifacts and solving the puzzle and righting the wrong. Unlike his contemporaries - John McClane of the Die Hard franchise, Rambo of the Rambo franchise, etc - Indy was never all about the bulging muscles and one-on-one takedown of vicious villains. That happened, but it was sort of incidental to who he was. And that is why age shouldn't, and to a large degree doesn't, affect his ability to be innately Indy. Yes, Harrison Ford has aged. But he's still roguishly handsome, self-deprecating, witty, capable, and wears that hat with a style nobody can touch. He's still Indy. Nineteen years notwithstanding, he's still got it.

The Ridiculous Contents of the Script

Unless I've been watching different Indiana Jones movies than everyone else, Steven Spielberg has never struck me as being overly concerned with plausibility in the franchise. It's never been about filming a pain-staking recreation of an actual archaeological dig (in terms of accurate archeology Wes Anderson's depiction of Etheline Tenenbaum's work in The Royal Tenenbaums has more credibility and that's saying something) or about capturing a blow-by-blow account of diffusing an actual terrorist plot. Indiana Jones is escapism, pure and simple. It's a revival of the afternoon adventure serial. The films are about the put-upon hero thwarting insanely unreal plots by badly-accented and obviously-wicked villains. Must I remind the masses that in Raiders of the Lost Ark Indy is seeking the Ark of the Covenant which has the mythical power of unleashing a swirl of Nazi-face-melting energy when opened? Or that in Temple of Doom an ancient cult dwelling in the hidden caverns behind a remote Indian palace enslaves children and sacrifices villagers by having their still-beating hearts torn from their chests by the cult leader's bare hand? And let's not even get started on the whole Knight From Medieval Times Still Alive And Guarding The Holy Grail theme of The Last Crusade. From frame one, this Indiana Jones movie follows hotly on the heels of it's predecessors by establishing arch Russian villians, put-upon hat-wearing heros, and ridiculously implausible action from the word go. That is what makes the Indy franchise so completely enjoyable. You don't have to buy anything except Indy. So long as you believe in him, everything else makes perfect sense while you're in the theatre immersed in his crazy world of adventurous make believe. And I, for one, still believe in Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford is still the heart and soul of the franchise and I'll gladly go with him to El Dorado if that's where he wants to take me. I followed him when he raided the lost ark, I followed him into the temple of doom, I followed him on the last crusade, and I followed him to the kingdom of the crystal skull. This plot is different than the rest in that the villains are Russian and the overall arc is a lot more supernatural but none of the films have bothered with realism and so in that sense this plot is one and the same as the others. It's par for the course. It's Indy. Why nitpick now just because of a nineteen year gap? It's disingenuous. And it's beside the point. The absurdity is part of the series.

All in all, this movie is a lot of fun. There are leaps and bounds in logic and narrative, there is a decisive lack of character development, Cate Blanchett is so adorable with her severe black bob and wildly 'eveel' Russian accent that it's hard to be properly scared of her, and I really am not an Area 51 kind of girl (I prefer vampires to aliens) but all that notwithstanding, I had a helluva fabulous time watching this movie. It's a romp, it's hilarious, it's insane. I loved it. And if you're a true fan of Indy, you won't let the detractors and Serious Critics tell you all the ways in which Spielberg and Lucas have failed you yet again because you'll be too busy hooting and hollering with joy at Indy's latest escapade.

With apologies to Star Wars prequel fans, this movie is not The Phantom Menace. This movie pretty much looks, feels, and behaves exactly like an Indiana Jones movie should. It's just older is all. And contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, age is not a curse.

May 19, 2008

Your Weekly Catherine

Week Nineteen

From a TV Guide CSI promo shoot. Gary Dourdan, Marg Helgenberger, and George Eads.

Crimes, they are a-changin'. Personal off-set troubles have befallen Gary Dourdan and word on the street is that Warrick is leaving the show. I believe he was set to leave prior to his arrest for controlled substances but it's possible that he now doesn't have a choice. Thus Warrick's final episode will air very shortly. No word on George Eads' future with the hit show but at present no news is good news. George, along with Jorja Fox, was famously fired a few years back over a misunderstanding during contract negotiations but both were swiftly re-hired. His Nick Stokes is commonly referred to as Grissom's straight man, the dependable one, so here's hoping CBS recognizes as much and strives to keep him right where he is. Marg Helgenberger, up until this point, had been publicly mulling over leaving the show. Though popular theory placed her departure at the end of the current eighth season, she quickly confirmed that she wouldn't leave until Catherine's storyline had been somewhat wrapped up which many assumed would take place sometime in the ninth season. Now, however, reports have surfaced saying that USA Today claims Marg has just inked a new contract for an additional two years with CSI and that William Petersen (Grissom) has signed a new deal as well. If that's true, things look good for George and perhaps the departures will be contained to just Jorja Fox (who left of her own volition and whose character Sara remains alive and very much a suggested part of the show should she ever decide to return) and Gary Dourdan.

Selfishly I want CSI to continue. But like many fans I feel that Grissom and Catherine (and to a large degree Paul Guilfoyle's Captain Brass as well) are the pillars of the show. If they left, the show would change entirely with new casting and I doubt I'd continue to follow it. If the USA Today reports are true and Marg has inked a new two year deal, I'm thrilled. If she and William stay, the show will continue in much the same vein as it always has, even after the double blow of losing Sara and Warrick.

That said, I also want CSI to end on a high. Go out with a bang, not a whimper. So far its remained strong, at the top of its game, and continues to garner steady high ratings in the States. If it starts to flounder, I only hope the powers-that-be will have the good sense to give it a powerful send-off and not drain it, star by star, character by character, of all that makes it beautiful until there's nothing left to miss.