Sunday, July 20, 2008

Indiana Jones Jumps the Shark and Lands in the Temple of Doom

Would someone please take George Lucas's typewriter/word processor/computer away from him before he really hurts someone? Please? The man who almost single-handedly ruined Star Wars and the memory of Episodes 4, 5, and 6 with those horrific reshoots and then with whatever that was that passed for Episodes 1, 2, and 3 (only Samuel L. Jackson escaped unscathed and since he went on to do Snakes on a Plane, that's not a sure judgment either). Please, George, let someone else write – you just keep coming up with cool ways to do special effects and we'll all be better off.

The primary writing credit for Indy 4 is George Lucas (not surprising). Actually, I think Lucas is a very good story imaginer – that is, he comes up with amazing yarns to spin. It's just that he can't write dialogue to save his life. Okay, neither can I. I'm about the worst dialogue writer ever. Every time I've tried to write fiction, it turns out to be half-baked mystery novels with hackneyed dialogue. But, see, here's the thing – I don't write dialogue for a living, nor do I foist it off on an unsuspecting public (yeah, okay, so we should be the "suspecting" public by now, but still…). Lucas was the primary writer for Temple of Doom and we saw what a disaster that was. Frankly, folks, thinking back to Star Wars, it wasn't just that Mark Hamill couldn't act (well, he couldn't, but that's only an exacerbation of the situation), it's that the dialogue was weak. The story managed to thrive in spite of that, but the dialogue was poor. So, when the story doesn't have the punch to save the dialogue, the whole thing becomes a mess. Crystal Skull, my friends, is a mess.

Usually, in my reviews, I try not to ruin the movie by not revealing things. But, friends, I can't ruin this dog. It's ruined now. Whether or not you've seen it already or not, trust me, it's dreck. Playing the role of the bad guy Nazis from 1 and 3, we have the Russians. Only, they are cardboard cutouts. There's nothing there that really fires the animus, even as they chop through the rainforest with no regard whatsoever for it. There's the psychic mumbo jumbo from Temple of Doom; there's Area 51; there's Roswell; there's yet another "here's where the aliens are from" bit. It's all derivative and uninteresting. The things that weren't stolen from the Indy franchise and rehashed were stolen from Independence Day, X-Files, hundreds of bad Saturday morning cartoons and fevered fanfic about what lurks in the desert. That the lost city of gold of the Mayas or maybe Aztecs or maybe Incans turns out to be a space ship with thirteen crystal alien skeletons, all but one with heads (how did the one head go missing?), guarded by aboriginals who break out of the walls (how did they get in there?) and which sits in a chamber that includes stuff from every ancient civilization (that was already done in National Treasure, George) and departs to leave a huge crater lake is just several too many sharks jumped. Indy 2 was a shark jumping bonanza. If anything, this one was even worse. There are so many times when disbelief is supposed to be suspended that it becomes impossible to count. I should remind Lucas that the phrase is the "willing suspension of disbelief," but even if willing, I'm not sure it is possible. For Lucas, Raiders and Last Crusade were great; Doom and Skull were disasters. Hopefully, he will figure out something original, get someone who can actually write dialogue (Joss Whedon, perhaps), and turn out something to save the Indy legacy. It has been cheapened with this dreck. It ought not be so. Unless Indy 5 is in the same league with 1 and 3, I shall treat 4 the same way I treat the Matrix sequels – they simply don't exist.