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27 June 2008 @ 01:24 pm
Well i didn't get too many comments in response to the post about the party, so let's see what happens if i criticize Indiana Jones ;)

So i'd heard a lot of mediocre things about the new movie before i went to see it. Despite having lowered expectations my final opinion was still very much 'meh.' Usually not expecting much helps with enjoying movies, but in this case i think perhaps it wasn't able to overcome the innate expectations of an Indiana Jones movie.

How did i 'meh' thee? Let me count the ways (with spoilers)

First of all, plain old plausibility. This was actually the least of my concerns if you can believe that.

(Also, i apologize for the poor job of organization and editing, but i'd already spent longer on this than i'd originally meant to, and finally had to give up and just hit "post.")

I'm reasonably good at noticing scientific or logical flaws in movies or books. Not great, but not too bad. However most of the time at the same time that i recognize a problem there is also a voice in the back of my head saying "it's just a show, you should really just relax."

So although i am aware of the flaw it doesn't jar me out of experience. If the flaw is small enough that it can be subsumed in the expectations of the genre that is. If the flaw is big enough even the voice in the back of my head can't overcome it. For example:

Me: "Gunpowder doesn't have metal in it, and it isn't magnetic"
Voice: "It's just a show, you should really just relax."
Me: "That box can make dust fly through the air from a thousand feet away and metal shot fly through the air from ten feet away. Anyone with a watch, a belt buckle, or especially a gun ought to be plastered to the side of it if they get within two or three feet, and gods help anyone with metal fillings in their teeth. Also that jeep should be toast."
Voice: "Didn't you know? The power of a magnetic field in a show is directly proportional to the square of the plot. Just relax."
Me: "They're shooting machine guns at people from 20 feet away and missing"
Voice: "Oh come on, that's not even worth bringing up!"
Me: "Indy just survived a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator and getting thrown what seems to have been at least a mile before smashing into the ground and emerging unharmed. The force of takeoff and landing alone should have liquefied him."
Voice: "It's just a show, you should really just... wait, he did what?"

If this had been a Matrix-like movie or a superhero movie i could probably have accepted that, but although i'm willing to accept a fair bit from a action-adventure movie about an archaeologist that was far outside the range.

The rest of the move continued like that. Kid knowing instinctively how to swing through the jungle Tarzan style, it's a little far fetched but okay. A troop of monkeys choosing to join in on the attack with him, okay. Giant killer red ants that can drag struggling adult humans back to their dens, probably don't exist in real life but plausible for a movie. Said ants are magically repelled by the crystal skull, that's a bit weird, but okay. Driving over the edge of a cliff in such a way as to hit the only tree around and be gently lowered to the river below, rather implausible, but i can live with it. Going over the edge of a large waterfall and coming out at the bottom coughing and spluttering, i can accept that. Then going over the edge of two more even bigger waterfalls, HUGE waterfalls, at least one of which was full of jagged rocks at the bottom, now we've gone a fair bit past the plausibility envelope. If they'd even just kept it at two more moderately large waterfalls without the rocks of death at the bottom i probably could have swallowed it.

Also, i have no idea if snakes have the structural stability to be used as ropes, but i kind of suspect not, and just contemplating the issues involved put some very unpleasant images in my head that made watching the scene uncomfortable.

Aside from the pure "is that even" possible questions there were a lot of issues with entropy and repeatability with the film.

If there were deadly Mayans(?) guarding the cave with the Conquistadors and the crystal skull inside how did the other archaeologist guy, who seemed much less heroic than Indy even when he wasn't being crazy, get in to take it in the first place? And then how did he get in to put it back? Well, maybe the Mayans hadn't been trying to kill people before, but had gotten pissed off by the previous incursions.

Apparently the other group of Mayans spend their time lurking in walls so they can burst out of their plastered/carved/whatevered lurking places whenever intruders decide to trespass. In their off time they laboriously repair the busted out walls so they can jump out of them again when the next group of intruders come by.

Then they discover this giant monolith blocking the only way into the temple, and after some tinkering about they realize they can knock out some stone plugs to let sand flow out and the monolith sink. It continues sinking past the level where the sand was flowing out (one of those logical nitpicks that didn't actually bother me) before opening up the path to the temple. Of course the path has its own booby traps and as they race down the stairs they can see the remains of previous adventurers who had tried to pass. Er, so after the last group came through how did the giant several hundred ton monolith rise at least 10 or 20 feet into the air and suck up all the sand again to reset itself?

Then inside they find a sealed chamber with a single door inside, blocked my a massive locked door. They key to unlocking the door? The crystal skull of course. Inside they find the 13 alien skeletons, one of which was missing the skull. Which had been stolen hundreds of years ago by the Conquistadors. Who went through the door. Which could only be opened by a crystal skull. Which were all inside the chamber at the time... wait a second!

Now we come to the bigger issues, the plot and look and feel of the movie.

Okay, first of all, ALIENS?! WTF?!?

I actually got "spoiled" for this since it took me a couple weeks getting around to seeing the movie. I'd heard that the crystal skull was actually from an alien. I'd also heard a story that Lucas sent three script drafts to Spielberg, and the first two times Spielberg refused saying "I am not going to film an Indiana Jones movie about aliens" before finally giving up, supposedly because the third script had less aliens in it than the first two. I suspect that Lucas just wore him down, because i'm having trouble imagining a movie that involved aliens more than the one that got produced. Perhaps at some point the aliens came out and did a tap dance routine.

Okay, i take that back. According to wikipedia the story of the development of the movie was a little more complicated than that, but essentially true. And the second script ended with "a climactic battle between the US military and flying saucers."

But anyways the inclusion of aliens was a bad idea to begin with, and a bad idea to end with, no matter how much Ford and Spielberg managed to talk Lucas down on the idea. The fact that the MacGuffin is a crystal skull certainly doesn't help. Given that most of the existing crystal skulls are of questionable authenticity at best and they've been heavily latched onto by the new age movement gives them a certain lack of gravitas. The fact that i couldn't help but laugh every time i saw the ludicrously shaped crystal skull definitely didn't help either.

And it's not like there aren't plenty of other mythological items with actual "real" history that they couldn't have used instead. They could have used some Babylonian artifact and spent the entire movie wandering around the desserts of the middle east.

Speaking of which, for some reason the south american rain forest didn't really seem like the right place for Indy to be. Discounting the Temple of Doom, 90% of the rest of the Indiana Jones movies took place centered around the Mediterranean, which seems like a very stereotypically appropriate place for an archaeologist. Event the bit in the jungle at the beginning of Radiers seemed to have more of am.... environmentally friendly atmosphere. This however is a complaint that has no real justification whatsoever aside from a feeling on my part. Aztec/Mayan ruins are a perfectly reasonable place for an archaeologist to go exploring, even if it doesn't fit the stereotype quite as well.

However my biggest complaint about the MacGuffin was that it showed up _way_ too early. I went into the movie telling myself that i needed not to think too much about the fact that the skull was from an alien, and then in the first scene they're busting into Area 51! Okay, that's just a bit of a hint, i think, but then they're actually pulling out an alien corpse! They find the original crystal skull less than halfway through the movie and after that it starts doing magical tricks left and right! The only thing that was really surprising was when they held the crystal skull up the paintings in the temple at the end and gasp in surprise! As if they hadn't been told or shown that it was an alien a half dozen times already! =P

It just seemed like a lot of the tension was lost because they found the MacGuffin so early and by the time we got to the climax it had already done so much that the revelation of yet another power seemed rather blasé.

Anyways, once you get past the aliens bit you then notice the conspicuous lack of nazis. Isn't "Indiana Jones and whoever team up and fight nazis" supposed to be a synonym for "awesome"?

Russian communists lack a certain cachet as villains these days. If you want to examine some alternate history where we actually go to war with them, say "Red Dawn" or *ahem* "Red Alert 2" :) then sure, they're very credible villains. However in our current universe, which Indiana Jones is supposed to mostly inhabit, the USSR just kind of got to sixty or so and then fell over. We never had to get involved in a world war to stop them.

Yes, Stalin _was_ actually interested in psychic research, and yes one can argue that if they _had_ gained the ability to psychically take over it would have been all bad, but the idea is still kooky and the emotional impact just isn't there. Maybe i'm being unduly influenced by things like oh, say Red Alert 2, which had psychics in the Soviet army, led by Yuri, but it was all played for camp.

"Indiana Jones and his son team up to fight Nazis!" sounds awesome. "Indiana Jones and his son, and possibly some aliens, team up to fight Communists, and possibly some aliens!" just doesn't work as well. It also probably doesn't help that Indy is being harassed and coerced by real live communist agents from one side, and harassed by McCarthyism obsessed US government agents on the other, and meanwhile we can't tell if the aliens are on anyone's side but their own. Sure that's probably a more complex and realistic portrayal of things than "good guys" vs "bad guys," but i don't thing most people want complex portrayals in Indiana Jones movies, they want black and white.

And really, if they're going to throw in crystal skulls and aliens then is adding in the legends of groups of escaped Nazis in south america really such a huge leap?

Speaking of those issues, how did Indy end up getting forgiven and instituted as one of the deans or whatever at the end? As far as i can tell the sequence when something like this. Indy is coerced into helping the Communists but escapes. The government worries that he might be a traitor and/or might end up helping the Communists again, and tries to wreck his life. Indy _does_ get captured and coerced into helping the Communists again, but luckily no one in authority knows about it. Indy then escapes and then defeats the Communists, and some aliens, and some geography, but unfortunately no one in authority knows about it (and fortunately no other archaeologists know about the artifacts he inadvertently helped destroy.) He then goes home, and despite that fact that he can't prove anything happened, good or bad, he's suddenly back in good graces without explanation. Did McCarthyism manage to peak and fail entirely during the time while he was gone? Possibly, but it certainly wasn't explained.

As for the aliens, they sat around in their chamber for hundreds or thousands of years before one of their skulls got stolen, and the instant it comes back they need to get the hell out of dodge right _now_?

Of course not offering a reward to those who have valiantly rescued them. However despite the fact that one of them was along for the entire ride in the form of their skull, they don't seem to have a very clear idea of who it is exactly that deserves their gratitude.

Does the psychic russian person get the reward because she was the one to physically put the skull back? Because she was the first one to ask for it? Because the aliens are just dumb?

And although making bad choices when asking for a wish is a trope with a long history, it changes things a bit when the thing granting the wish is sentient and has free will. She asked for "all knowledge" (or something like that) as a reward, and it predictably resulted in a literal mind meltdown, during which the alien just watches her and makes some kind of indecipherable face. So what was it/they thinking at that point? Were they evil? Incompetent? Contemptuous? Just plain confused? "That's interesting, when I mentally access the repository of all knowledge my face doesn't reconfigure itself into liquid form. Is that something special you humans do? Oh well, I need to run now, I'm a few thousand years late for my dinner date. I need to hurry or I won't be getting lucky this eon! Have fun with your face melty thing! Bye!"

And then they depart, sucking up everyone who "helped" rescue them that wasn't smart enough to start running immediately, the chamber of ancient treasures they'd saved from around the world (only to destroy now) not to mention the entire ancient temple, and then topped it off by flooding the entire valley that their tribe of faithful worshipers had been living in for centuries. I guess it was a good thing for them that they were all killed by the Communists before they could be destroyed by the unfaithful gods =P

And speaking of who was responsible for what, why oh why did Indy decide to take his friend back after he had already been betrayed twice? And why did he even bother trying to save him after the third betrayal? It started to seem a little like a sitcom, Indy: "Hey look everyone! We're being betrayed to the enemy for a quick buck again! Oh that Mac!" Studio audience: "HAHAHAHAHA!"

Sure they had some kind of brief conversation in the middle of a fist fight in which Mac claimed he'd been planning to triple-cross the soviets all along, but it wasn't very convincing and it was bizarre that the rest of them never stopped to question it after they had escaped.

So all in all it was an okay action movie, but it didn't really live up to what i was expecting for an Indiana Jones movie. I'm hard pressed to say if i would rate it above or below Temple of Doom, but it's certainly not putting any pressure on Raiders or Last Crusade.
Current Mood: sillysilly
Brie2gouda4u on June 27th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
I could quote the relevant things I'm going to respond to to make it clear what I'm responding to, but I'm too lazy.

First, refrigerator: I had the same thoughts. I almost found it more implausible that he survived the fall than the nuclear blast. Cora had a different take - she interpreted it as a sign that this movie is going to play fast and loose with the laws of physics, so take a deep breath and relax :-)

Second, the snake: I also had trouble with that scene, for the same reason. I have no issues with snakes, but I have serious issues with snakes being torn in half. *shudder*

Third, the skull key paradox: perhaps prior to the initial stealing of the skull, there was no security. After the skull was stolen, they realized how stupid they'd been and set up this elaborate pit trap, door lock situation. To do so, presumably they could take off another skull until they get the lock perfected, then open the door, put the skull back, close the door, leave, and rig the pit trap.

Fourth, the alien reward: maybe the aliens realize that the person demanding the reward is evil, and so "reward" her accordingly. Maybe they're just so pissed off that they've been stuck in this dinky room for so long missing one of their member's skull that they are looking to ruin the day of any human who crosses their path. Maybe this is a way to teach us meddlesome humans a lesson on why meddling is bad. *shrug*

I found the behavior of the betraying friend fairly unbelievable. I realize they were trying to convey how his greed is his downfall, but they kind of blew it. What they needed was some sort of trap he walks into in order to get one last bauble - leaving him stranded, cut off from the escape route. As it was, it's like he knew his role was to die there, so just sort of killed some time being indecisive about what to grab. Maybe I was just zoning out at that point and it made more sense to others.
DonAithnendonaithnen on June 27th, 2008 11:02 pm (UTC)
Yeah, i figured that was the bit that coraa was referring to. I figure different people have different levels of implausibility they're willing to accept for different genres of movie, and in this case my bar, and i guess yours, was set a lot lower(?) than hers was.

I was actually willing to accept most of the things they did in the movie with nothing more than a "well that's kinda silly," but the refrigerator scene and the last two waterfalls just kind of shattered my suspension of disbelief, and i think may actually have made me more likely to question some of the other elements.

I'm pretty sure the technology for the door was well beyond the capabilities of the Mayans, so if the doors must have already been there when the aliens "died," though i suppose it was possible that the last alien to leave the life forgot to close the door (and turn of the lights.)

I suppose the monolith thing would have been possible for them to do, though it would have taken a much larger population than we saw currently living there. How many conquistadors were there though? I thought it was 7 or so? How did they manage to shoot their way through the entire set of guards?

If the aliens had just lashed out i would have believed that, but why try to trick them by offering a false reward? If they wanted to hurt the humans they didn't need the excuse, if they actually wanted to reward them they picked a pretty poor way of going about it.

No, that whole scene with the friend seemed pretty weird to me too, even aside from the trust issues. The whole "i shall put myself in obvious danger because of my greed" thing is pretty cliched, but even given that it was pretty poorly done. But clearly his role was to die there because he'd done some pretty unforgivable stuff, but it had already been established that Indy would naively forgive him anyways, so they'd kinda painted themselves into a corner =P
Pavajmpava on June 28th, 2008 12:37 am (UTC)
I assume the 'skull key' was because only the aliens ever went into that room so it wasn't seeing the skull as the key, it was seeing the skull as the alien. Basically, think retina scanner. So, neither or paradox nor needing extra-mayan technology there. ;->
DonAithnendonaithnen on June 28th, 2008 01:12 am (UTC)
Uh, yes, that doesn't disagree with anything i just said. It was presumably a locking device that was already on the door before the aliens all died. So why wasn't the door shut between the time when the aliens died and when the conquistadors stole the skull centuries(?) later?
Pava: Ur Mom - PWjmpava on June 28th, 2008 01:22 am (UTC)
Oh THAT. Come on, you've seen labs and stuff. Loss of power will cause doors to close so they can serve as fire doors. Standard OSHA requirements.
Cj: haporfinn on June 27th, 2008 10:52 pm (UTC)
...or perhaps it is just a pretty bad film. Don't mistake me; I love Indiana Jones, but the movies just aren't that great, sometimes ya just gotta call it what it is. The first one is way too much fun, and it's a good thing considering how many submarine-sized holes in the plot there are. I never saw the second one, and I thought the third was over-rated, but a ton-o-fun none the less (it has zeplin-sized holes).
I went to see the third one because Harrison Ford and Karen Allen were in it, and I prayed to the gods (alien and otherwise) that Shia LeBouf wouldn't be allowed to boof this movie (Mutt? almost subtle for Lucas). When I saw the refrigerator sail through the sky, I laughed and laughed and laughed, and then I sighed hoping that someone would have the good sense to tie Georgie up and thrust him into one if he ever threatened to write again.
For me the film was fine for two reasons: Karen Allen got to say, "Trust me," and Indiana Jones didn't pass that hat, so to speak. I was grateful it didn't get bogged down in anything so tedious as a story, while still managing to let the characters say fun stuff. I ate my real buttered popcorn, and clapped and cheered with everyone else (or maybe they were with me, hard to say) at any and every opportunity.
Cj: booksporfinn on June 27th, 2008 10:56 pm (UTC)
Oh..and it provided a very interesting (said with a Russian accent) Halloween costume option for me. I got to start looking into wigs and military coats and such.
Pava: Osaka Sez!jmpava on June 28th, 2008 12:40 am (UTC)
That was exactly my take on it. It was a fun film, it wasn't a great film. Just like the other ones. I thought it actually had very much the same sense of play with it that Raiders did. And it wasn't uber-offensive like Doom was.

I personally think this is a classic case of 'these are classic movies, therefore we remember them as GOOD movies'. To me, they were always mostly-goofy action period pieces, and I felt the 4th one did exactly the same.

As for the plot, I think aliens in a 50's piece is about spot on to judeo-christian mysticism in a 30's piece. I really do.
Prof. Gregprofgreg on July 2nd, 2008 06:58 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I agree with the alien thing. My first response to it was "Aliens?!? That's not a lost historical treasure!" But upon further reflection, aliens are no more or less silly than Christian mythology, and fit in well with the 50's.
Squidceph on June 29th, 2008 01:26 am (UTC)

I don't know that a snake wouldn't work as a rope. People make belts out of them, after all. Mind you, I don't think it would be good for the snake, but I also don't think it would necessarily suffer complete structural failure.

They did at one point acknowledge that the skull wasn't magnetic in the traditional sense of the word ("hey, gold isn't affected by magnets...") which made me a bit less vexed by that phenomenon. Be nice if they'd pointed it out earlier, but at least it made it clear that it was Weird Alien Mojo rather than actual known forces.

Also, I really don't see why Communists are such a poor substitute for Nazis. Seems like everyone was pretty worried by them during the Cold War--just because they eventually became ineffectual doesn't mean people viewed them that way during the 50s. And they threatened the US more directly than the Nazis did, what with Mutually Assured Destruction and all. How scary would a remnant group of Nazis really be, sans government backing?
Squidceph on June 29th, 2008 01:28 am (UTC)
Mind you, what DID bug me about the movie was Indy's complete lack of respect for actual archaeological artifacts. "Oh, here's an indescribably rare and valuable mummy, miraculously preserved over hundreds of years! I'll rip it up with my knife and cause it to disintegrate!"
DonAithnendonaithnen on June 29th, 2008 07:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, everyone was very worried about them during the 50s, but although the movie is set in the 50s we're not actually watching it in the 50s.

Like i said, i'm not saying that the Soviet Communists weren't a threat at the time, they clearly were. In terms of the potential damage they could have done they were certainly a bigger threat than the Nazis ever presented. As to whether the world would have been worse off if the Nazis or the Communists had been put in power is debatable.

However from a very biased thematic perspective the Nazis have much more of an emotional impact. (And i am going to be addressing this in a very biased and simplified manner because when you're making dumbed-down entertainment aimed mainly at the US and other western cultures then that's the viewpoint you have to address.)

Like i said, we had to go to war with them. We fought them tooth and nail during World War 2, we invaded entire countries, we kicked ass and for the most part everyone was grateful for us having helped out. The Soviets on the other hand, we fought a couple very unpopular proxy wars with them in second and third world countries, which either ground down to a "tie" or that we lost completely. But mostly we just sat at home and spent money, while the Soviets ran their economy into the ground and fell over all on their own.

Second, as far as basic philosophies go the Nazis have the Soviets beat hands down. The Nazis wanted to conquer everyone, breed a master race, and kill everyone who wasn't up to their standards. The Communist philosophy is "take surplus wealth away from the rich and share it equally with the poor." Certainly everyone agrees that the Soviet implementation of that ideal was fucked up, and a lot of people think that it couldn't possible work under any circumstances, but the general idea just isn't going to introduce the same level of horror. I'm sure any random rich [insert random ethnic minority here] person would rather get stuck with an extreme level of taxes and/or have their property confiscated than get sent off to a Nazi concentration camp. The fact that there are multiple kinds of communists out there, many quite harmless, certainly doesn't help to cement the emotional viewpoint either.

And third, to quote Eddie Izzard: "Pol Pot killed one point seven million Cambodians, died under house arrest, well done there. Stalin killed many millions, died in his bed, aged seventy-two, well done indeed. And the reason we let them get away with it is they killed their own people. And we're sort of fine with that. Hitler killed people next door. Oh, stupid man. After a couple of years we won’t stand for that, will we?"

It's not very nice, but it's true.

Because of all that i don't think people "love to hate" the USSR as much as they do the Nazis. So although the USSR didn't conquer/destroy the world and escaped Nazis didn't manage to take over South America and restart WW2, of the two i think the later scenario would have allowed people to get more emotionally involved.
DonAithnendonaithnen on June 29th, 2008 07:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, and as for the magnetism, yes they did acknowledge that it wasn't behaving like "proper" magnetism later in the film, however at the point that Indy told them to use the gunpowder he supposedly didn't know that yet.

Certainly regardless of whether _he_ knew it, telling the Soviets that they needed "the metal in the gunpowder" was total nonsense. Either the Soviets should have told him he was crazy and there is no metal in gunpowder, or he should have had to explain that it wasn't normal magnetism (or both, in that order.)

And really, how likely is it that a group of Soviet commandos on a covert ops mission in a foreign country wouldn't include even a single member with a compass? Especially if they're planning on going to the Amazon to find a lost city after that! (That being an example of the kind of detail that i notice but wouldn't have cared about if the follow-on hadn't been so blatantly ridiculous :)
Prof. Gregprofgreg on July 2nd, 2008 07:06 pm (UTC)
Kid knowing instinctively how to swing through the jungle Tarzan style, it's a little far fetched but okay. A troop of monkeys choosing to join in on the attack with him, okay.

As stupid as those both were, what bugged me more was that he could swing through the trees faster than jeeps.

DonAithnendonaithnen on July 2nd, 2008 11:02 pm (UTC)
I was kind of assuming that he took a shortcut through the jungle while they were driving three sides of a square around some kind of outcropping in the cliff, but i really wasn't paying that much attention to the angles and such :)