Monday, 26 May 2008

Indiana Jones and the Sub-Cold War Hogwash

This could have been a good idea. I haven't got a problem in principle with the resurrection of the Indiana Jones franchise. But I do have a very big issue with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. You see, there is a world of difference between the original trilogy and this. They were good. This is rubbish.

On the face of it, the plot doesn't sound too much of a departure from previous Indy movies. The Russians, led by the evil Rosa Clebb-alike Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) kidnap Indy and force him at gunpoint to help them steal the corpse of a Roswell alien, recovered from the site of the 1947 UFO crash. There follows a chase through the warehouse, an adventure with an atom bomb test, another chase at Indy's university. The action moves to Peru in the search of his former friend, Harold Oxley (John Hurt), who's gone missing searching for the fabled crystal skull. To cut a convoluted story short, Indy finds the skull, the Russians find Indy, he finds the lost city of Akator, the Russians find Indy again, the crystal skull is returned to its owner - who turns out to be a transdimensional alien being - everything starts falling to pieces, the baddies are sucked into a portal, the city is destroyed, a giant flying saucer rises from the rubble ... and Indy marries his long lost love, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). The end.

The main problem with Indy IV is this: it's tedious and dull. The first three movies were utterly absurd but nevertheless entertaining. This one looks as if Steven Spielberg sat down with George Lucas and came up with the daftest excuse they could find to marry whip-crack away adventuring with Spielberg's little grey alien obsessions and Lucas's CGI fetish. The result is a total mess. Chase sequences, of which there seem to be several dozen, are overlong and pointless. The relationship between Indy and his soviet nemesis goes from warm cooperation to hostility to cooperation again. And worst of all, it insults the viewer by frequently flying off into incredulity.

For example, the opening scene has a US army convoy travelling across the Nevada desert to a military installation. Surprise, surprise, this turns out to be a KGB operation ... with soliders who couldn't look more Slavic if they had 'My Name is Sergei' painted on their foreheads. And what's more, only one of them could speak English (that would be Spalko) ... and that's with a thick Russian accent. Yet we are expected to believe they could easily infiltrate the USA at the height of Cold War paranoia! And then there's the atom bomb scene. Indy escapes the Russian's clutches and makes it to a nearby town, except this town is a mock up for the purposes of nuclear testing. Too late Indy realises he's got a few tens of seconds to find shelter or he's cooked. He frantically tears around the house, and with seconds to spare clambers into a fridge - conveniently lead-lined. The bomb goes off, the town is blown away and the blast wave hurls the fridge into the air at great speed, before crashing down multiple times and coming to a rest. Against the backdrop of an impressively rendered mushroom cloud, Indy staggers out ... completely unscathed. Finally, in Peru, Indy's gang end up going down the river where they meet not one but three waterfalls. They go over each one, including the awesome Iguazu Falls ... without a single scratch! Okay, the first three movies bend the rules a bit, after all it's not everyday Nazi's faces melt off or peoples' hearts can be removed by one's bare hands. But at least they were done well so disbelief could be suspended. Here, it just makes the movie look ridiculous.

Some hay has been made of the Cold War backdrop to the film. The so-called Communist Party of the Russsian Federation are not too pleased. An open letter to Harrison Ford from the party's St Petersburg branch said "in 1957 the USSR was not sending terrorists to America but sending the Sputnik satellite into space!” There have also been ravings about Spielberg wanting to start a new Cold War, or some such nonsense, and some calls for it to be banned in Russia. This is certainly over-egging the pudding, but there is a trace of anti-communist polemic mixed up in the proceedings.

One of the major plot devices is that thanks to his association with Mac (Ray Winstone)- an undercover soviet agent and fellow adventurer, Indy comes under suspicion from a McCarthyite FBI and is forced to leave his professorial post, which sets the sojourn to Peru in motion. Once he's there, as if to prove what a good American he is, Indy faces challenges from a succession of communists - primitive, contemporary and advanced. It is not enough that he and his merry band of rugged individualists (his fiery ex Mary, Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), his James Dean clone of a son, Mac, and the deranged Oxley) do battle with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of faceless soviet soldiers, he manages to avoid the regimented swarms of millions of killer army ants (which, alas, a couple of henchmen fall prey to), runs from hordes of faceless Andeans, whose tribe protects the lost city, before finally meeting the aliens who, we're told, possess a hive mind. So we have four distinct groups of communists - the ants eat the Russians, the Russians machine gun the tribe, and finally, the aliens destroy the Russians. At the climax the aliens offer Indy's group and the soviets a "gift" - Spalko's too enamoured with these advanced communists from another dimension to decline, while Indy's individualist suspicion smells a rat and he and his party get away, just before the place starts collapsing and Spalko is vaporised by the knowledge the aliens burn directly into her brain.

The moral of the story? Collectivism is dangerous. It is out to get you. It will use you, consume you, and burn you out before it destroys you and itself.

I enjoy reactionary sub-texts and cod anti-communism as much as the next movie goer. But if Spielberg and Lucas want to use Indiana Jones again for polemical purposes, let's hope it will at least be entertaining.


redmetalgeek said...

If you're going to do something involving both aliens and communists, you need to hire a Posadist or two as creative consultants. Now that would have been an interesting movie!

Buster said...

It's worth noting that it wasn't the KPRF that protested, but a nutty splinter group. See:

You might also find this commentary on collective thought and the Jones franchise politics of knowledge interesting:

All I know is that now I really need to find a theater in Moscow playing the movie in English (as I don't think I can deal with a dubbed Ford).

steven rix said...

Hmm the movie was in premiere at the Cannes Festival and all I heard was bad reviews. You still can enjoy the movie though without buying their crap.

/// The moral of the story? Collectivism is dangerous ///
When I was a kid, i really believed in social darwinism, and now I just see it as a social disease (because the survival of the fittest is often immoral ). 2 countries that got affected by darwinism were the nazi germany (with Heinrich Himmler then Hitler) and the USA.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

yeah, from what people that i know who've seen it have said i can't help but agree with what you're saying

Frank Partisan said...

Thank you for the warning about that movie. Atleast previous Indiana Jones was fun.

Anton Vowl said...

You're right about the film - what an appalling pile of tosh. And yes, the moral is, don't rely on collectivism, it's a very bad thing - but just don't be *too* greedy.

I don't think those chase sequences are pointless though - pointless in the context of the film, yes, but they're there to flog the tie-in computer games (cf The Phantom Menace).

Anonymous said...

In the immortal words of Rage Against the Machine
"Fourth Reich culture; Americana "

What do you expect, this has always been the case in Hollywood movies. Have you ever watched "Behind enemy lines", the American pilot breaches serbian air space and the serbs still manage to look bad for shooting him down.

BTW, this is the first time i read your blog, got here from Renegade's

Great stuff

Jim Jepps said...

I've not seen it but it seemed a bit of a misfit to me.

Whilst the Nazis actually did have a mystical streak to them, so you could imagine them running after the arc of the covenant et al the soviet union had no such supersticious underbelly.

It just doesn't fit together Soviets and ghosties and ghoulies... that's the way it seems to me not having seen it

Phil said...

I know what you mean, Jim. I was a bit uneasy about casting the Soviets as the baddies for this very reason. But it seems Spielberg and Lucas were at least conscious of this issue, hence the reason why the object of desire was of alien as opposed to supernatural origin.

Incidentally the USSR did seriously look into ESP, remote viewing, psychic phenomena and UFO activity during the Cold War. I suppose the argument could be made that Forteana of this character doesn't necessarily pose a major challenge to official diamat tenets in the same way the Ark of the Covenant does.

Anonymous said...

The other films moved along this plodded along.