Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why I loved Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (MAJOR SPOILERS).

I've been reading a lot of reviews of the latest Indiana Jones movie since I went to see it this afternoon. When I left the theater, I felt very happy... I felt I got just what I was looking for, i.e. a natural continuation of the series I'd grown up with. I didn't truly love or incessantly hate the film, I just enjoyed it for what it was, and was happy I got the chance to see one of my childhood heroes have one last adventure.

But hours later, after reading all the reviews and opinions, I know truly love the film. And here's why:

  • The Soundtrack. - John Williams's music is the voice of almost every movie that made a direct impression on me as a child; Star Wars, Raiders, Close Encounters, Jaws, E.T. Looking at a list of his film scores is to look at a list of the greatest films of all time. But in the past twenty years, his music has gotten kind of boring, a little bland... the magic, that extra spark which added so much to the above titles has disappeared. Occasionally the old Williams has resurfaced here and there; select tracks from the latest Star Wars trilogy show flecks of his earlier greatness. And maybe a couple themes from Harry Potter have shown promise. But for the most part, I'd written him off.

    And then I hear the music from KOTCS, and I'm enthralled by it. It's fast, it's exciting, there's melodic themes and dissonant textures, it's everything I remember Indiana Jones music to be.

    Althugh Mutt's theme pales in comparison to that of Short Round, but that's a topic for another time.

  • The CGI. - One of the big issues I've read that people have with this movie is it's use of CGI in the special effects work. Well, all I have to say is boo-fucking-hoo. The fact is, it's 2008, and that's just the way special effects are done now.

    Of course there were no digital effects in the first three movies, that's because at the time, CGI simply didn't really exist, except for in a small handful of films, such as... oh wait, that's right. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade!

    The scene when Donovan ages to death? Digitally manipulated. Three dummy heads combined into one seamlessly through computer morphing, same effect that a couple years later made the T-1000 in Terminator 2 possible.

    Anyway, the point is, I don't understand the complaints. Is the problem that there's special effects? In that case, all I have to say is, did none of you see the first three movies? What do you think, that there were actually ghosts coming out of the Ark? That a dude's face was actually melted? Or that a group of three actors were thrown into a mine car and pushed down a long, windy broken track?

    Indiana Jones films feature insane, outlandish set pieces, that's a staple of the series. And any time something like that needs to be done, it's usually done via smoke and mirrors. Nowadays, the smoke and mirrors are digital. That's just the way it is. And frankly, I'm fine with that.

    Which leads me into the other possible reason for this complaint, which is that CGI can look fake sometimes. Will, show me what a real UFO lifting off looks like, and then we'll see who's right.

    And the first three movies had a large volume of fake-looking shit in them, I'm sorry. I still cringe thinking of the ridiculously ugly black matte lines surrounding the German bomber plane in Last Crusade. And regardless of the digital clean-up they did on the last DVD of Raiders, the poles which held the Ark spirits in place as the motion-control camera went by them are still CLEARLY visible.

    But now, think of the great things done in this movie that could have never been done, or done well, in the past. The warehouse. The nuke. The jungle chase (which had a large number of digital matte paintings in it, especially the part with the cliffside... heart-pounding sequence, that couldn't have feasibly been done back in the 80's).

    Sure, Shia LeBeouf swinging through the trees looked like a FMV from a Final Fantasy game... but there's only so real a stunt like that can look. Which brings me to my next thing...

  • The insanity. - Another thing I've read in different reviews and forums, is that some people think the action was too much, that the movie got ridiculous at times. To which I will again ask the following question...


    One opinion I read took humbrage at Indy riding out an atomic blast in a lead-lined fridge, being thrown clear and surviving.

    Let me just point that person to the scene in Temple of Doom, where Indy, Willie and Short Round jump out of a crashing plane, IN A LIFERAFT, land on a mountainslope, slide down it until they FLY OFF A CLIFF, and land safely in a river 500 feet below.

    How is that possibly more plausible? This answer, by the way, also goes to the people skeptical about the waterfall scene.

    I've also read reviews stating that the sci-fi element, having aliens involved, was just too hokey.

    So it's totally cool to have a box containing the Wrath of God, a dude who can pull people's still-beating hearts from their chest while they watch (and survive), and a room full of cups, most of which will age you to dust... but Chariots of the Gods is just a bit too much?


    One of the greatest things about these movies is the sheer amount of ridiculous situations Jones gets himself into. They're fantastical, and the series wouldn't be the same without them.

    And c'mon, you're gonna tell me that you'd be satisfied with a Nevada desert circa 1957 scene if there wasn't atomic testing?

  • The Sound Effects.

    Ben Burtt, sound designer for the first three movies, worked on this one again, as was completely obvious to anyone who knows his work. And his effects this time around were like little easter eggs for the fans everywhere, from the sound of the Area 51 door lock being blown (the same sound that the Nazi's generator made when God fried it in Raiders), to the Wilhelm scream that he uses in every movie, this time uttered by a college kid in the library. Brilliant. And speaking of easter eggs...
  • The Easter Eggs.

    As I'm running short on time, I'll just mention the main one that stuck out to me, and that was when Indy mentioned running with Pancho Villa as a kid. Suddenly, watching the always bland and usually boring Young Indiana Jones Chronicles when it aired almost twenty years ago had a purpose, as that gem was lifted directly from an early episode.

So I liked it. Maybe you didn't. Doesn't matter, it's all opinion ultimately. And if you haven't seen it yet, well, you really shouldn't have read this, as by now you no doubt know the ending and more. So, well... sucks to be you...


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