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A Prayer for Indiana
by Bobby B.

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Can I do it? Can I strike gold one more time?

Can I do it? Can I strike gold one more time?
Almost a month from now, to the day, arguably the greatest movie hero of all time will once again grace the silver screen. Indiana Jones is back! This is cause for joy, exultation and celebration among movie fans all over the world. Has any hero ever given us more thrills, chills and spills, more exciting acts of derring-do, more fun inside a total of six hours than the intrepid archaeology and history professor from Barnett College? And this is no fly-by-night, make-a-quick-buck Hollywood throwaway: all the prime movers are back, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and of course, Harrison Ford. Break out the popcorn and the Goobers, in one month we're about to have some of the most fun we could ever have while sitting down.

I'm excited about INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. I really am. If you were say, a thirteen year old boy when the first one came out how could you not be? People used to brag about how many times they'd seen RAIDERS. “Man, I'm going to see RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK for the thirteenth time tonight!” kind of thing. The whole Indiana Jones franchise -- they're great movies! They're “the magic of film” movies, they're “why we go to movie' movies. They take your breath away, they dazzle you, they turn you into kids again, all those dusty old clichés get dragged out and buffed up and look good in the context of Indiana Jones.

And yet…and yet…

Some part of me is worried. I know, I know… Spielberg, Lucas, Ford. They're all back. But I'm worried. I mean Karen Allen is back! And luminaries such as Jim Broadbent, John Hurt and the incomparable Cate Blanchett have jumped on board. This is gonna be awesome, right? Right? Then why is this snake of dread coiling in my stomach, from whence cometh this gathering cloud of fear?

I'm scared the new Indiana Jones movie is going to suck. There. I said it. I'm scared it's going to suck, and that that suckage will break my heart. I'm not concerned for Spielberg, Lucas or Ford. They're all multi-millionaire celebrities, their reputations are secure, their bank accounts are shameful. And regardless, the Indiana Jones movie will make money. Is there anyone in Hollywood who has marketing down to an art form like George Lucas? I mean, if he could get people (including me damnit) to choke down PHANTOM MENACE, ATTACK OF THE CLONES and REVENGE OF THE SITH to the tune of $4.3 (that's billions for those keeping score at home) -- more or less -- he probably figures he's gonna make a little change this time around too. He didn't even have Spielberg and Ford on those last three. And Spielberg! Is there a better movie-maker in the world? I've seen several Spielberg movies I didn't like. I've never seen one that wasn't good. Spielberg is like the Michael Jordan or Joe Montana of film. He just understands the medium in a way that no one else does. And he spent years with his finger on the pulse of the movie going public. His track record is ridiculous: JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, E.T.: THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL, THE COLOR PURPLE, SCHINDLER'S LIST, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN… that's just to name his “instant classic" and that's without the three Indiana Jones films. Wow. I mean, this movie is in good hands. So what the hell am I worried about?

Classic movies are an interesting phenomenon. They are so much more than the sum of their parts. CASABLANCA is a great film, one of the greatest. It has great writing, great acting, gorgeous cinematography, fantastic, note-for-note perfect directing and editing aaaaaaaannnnnnddd
I did it!  I did it...!

I did it! I did it...!
… you can't ever go back there again. We never went back to find out how Rick and Renault's “beautiful friendship” turned out, what happened to Ilsa and Victor, did Sam keep working at Rick's Café Americain. We couldn't. The spell could only last for one movie. Take CASABLANCA out of 1943 and it's simply not the iconic CASABLANCA that we know today. And somehow, that's always been understood and appreciated because no one ever went back. (I mean, they went back on TV but that doesn't count.) You can list all of the things that made CASABLANCA a great film, but you can't re-create the magic. A film that changes the cultural landscape is the result of a special kind of alchemy, the coming together of many different elements which often times even the film makers don't understand. By all accounts, no one working on CASABLANCA had any idea it would become what it became. THE GODFATHER started out as a relatively small picture and the bigger it seemed to get in production the more scared the studio became at having the unknown Francis Ford Coppola at the helm. STAR WARS, before it became a world changing pop-culture force (ouch!) was intended to simply be a one-shot, science fiction B-movie. That these movies would become indelible parts of our cultural consciousness was unforeseen. We've seen it other times: EASY RIDER, SHAFT, BONNIE AND CLYDE, THELMA AND LOUISE, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, JUNO… movies that seemed to take on a life of their own outside even of what was intended by the people who made it. What happened was that these movies touched on something beyond the talent, skill and resources of the film makers, something in the public mien, the social milieu that wasn't entirely understood but was palpable. This is, perhaps, the very definition of magic.

Now, without a doubt, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was intended to be BIG. And it was. But in those days everything Spielberg did literally turned into gold. He seemingly couldn't make a movie that wasn't a blockbuster smash hit. He was dialed in to the movie going sensibility in a way that no one else was. That “magic” was his to wield as his personal, creative, money-making tool. Lucas wasn't quite as infallible as Spielberg, he always seemed more the consummate cinematic businessman to Spielberg's filmic Michaelangelo, but he had created STAR WARS and that was straight up bragging rights no question. Teaming up these two titans, friends from their college days, to create RAIDERS was a no-brainer. But it was a no-brainer because they were both feeling it, they were both right in line with whatever it was that was in the cinematic ether at the time. Can the same be said now?

When PSYCHO exploded on the scene in 1960, it permanently altered American pop culture and horror cinema forever. Once opened you couldn't go back to that Pandora's box of a movie and close it again. Since then entire genres of movies have sprung out of that one, we have a whole new horror vocabulary because of this one movie. But PSYCHO itself is not scary anymore. And neither were PSYCHO II or PSYCHO III. You couldn't go back and have anywhere near the same impact and they didn't. We live in post-PSYCHO world, we are permanently different as a people because of that movie, and it would be impossible to re-create the magic of that movie's initial release.

When Francis Ford Coppola went back to The Godfather franchise in 1990 with THE GODFATHER III, some sixteen years had passed since we had left the Corleone family. In that time we had lived a hundred gangster lifetimes. Besides
Oh no!  The Boulder of the Angry Movie Fan!

Oh no! The Boulder of the Angry Movie Fan!
the two GODFATHER films there had been SCARFACE, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, THE UNTOUCHABLES, Scorsese's MEAN STREETS, RAGING BULL and most importantly, GOODFELLAS to name just the A-listers. GOODFELLAS in particular had irrevocably changed the gangster flick. We now knew that gangsters, even Sicilian ones, ate, burped and shit like the rest of us and they did it under fluorescent lights. The kind of mythic, nostalgic haze that hung over everything in the early GODFATHER pictures had been dispelled, but THE GODFATHER PART III didn't get that. Time had passed and it was almost as though Coppola had missed it. Watching Joe Mantegna, Eli Wallach, and Andy Garcia -- talented actors all -- try and mimic the acting style of the previous pictures and Coppola himself copying the story arc of the previous two films, even Gordon Willis re-creating his luscious cinematography, all felt like one huge mistake. They were trying to capture something whose time had come and gone. (Granted, Coppola should have known that as soon as he replaced Robert Duvall with George freakin' Hamilton the project was doomed.)

Interestingly, 1990 was also the year THE TWO JAKES came out. Likewise, it had been sixteen years since its precursor, the classic CHINATOWN, had been released. Likewise, it came up short. Directed by its star, Jack Nicholson, THE TWO JAKES, like THE GODFATHER PART III, was not necessarily a terrible movie but CHINATOWN had been (is) amazing. CHINATOWN, had it been made in 1990, would have been a very different film. It was borne directly out of the death of idealism that occurred with the passing of the Sixties and the new awareness, in 1974, of political corruption even at the highest levels. By 1990, political corruption was old hat. We understood it as the nature of the beast. Aside from the drop-off in talent director-wise, times, as they say, had changed. The whole story, the character of Jake Gittes, everything was different now. And THE TWO JAKES suffered for it.
When George Lucas finally made it back to the STAR WARS pictures it was too late. He tried to re-capture exactly what had gone before. The look, the feel of the new STAR WARS pictures was the same… but the times had changed. STAR WARS had stayed still and everything else had revolved -- and evolved -- around it. Now, we lived in a post-STAR WARS world. The cultural landscape was entirely different than it had been in the late seventies and early eighties. Since RETURN OF THE JEDI we had seen BLADE RUNNER, THE MATRIX, BRAZIL, STAR TREK XV (or so), ALIEN and ALIENS, MAD MAX, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, THE TERMINATOR… our sensibilities were different, science fiction had, essentially, grown up. None of this seemed to be taken into account with the new STAR WARS films. And the thing is, if you released the original STAR WARS movies now they wouldn't have the same impact, they wouldn't change the cultural landscape… and they didn't. They made a lot of money because of the hype machine, but I would venture to guess that most STAR WARS-philes -- and most movie fans in general -- would say that the movies fell far, far short of the originals.

And some might say, so what? I mean look at the movies I've mentioned, THE GODFATHER, THE GODFATHER PART II, CHINATOWN and PSYCHO. Every single one of these ends up on somebody's “Greatest Film' list most of the time. There is almost no way to match up to what had gone before. Can't THE GODFATHER PART III, THE TWO JAKES, PSYCHO II and PSYCHO III, PHANTOM MENACE, ATTACK OF THE CLONES and REVENGE OF THE SITH, exist on their own? Do
I didn't mean to ruin your childhood, Angry Movie Fan!  Aaaaiiiieeee...!

I didn't mean to ruin your childhood, Angry Movie Fan! Aaaaiiiieeee...!
they have to match up to “classic” status? And by extension, does INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL have to astonishing? Can't it just be good?

Well, “has to” is a strong phrase. I mean, none of the later films match up to the originals and they all still exist. No one died just because THE GODFATHER PART III sucked raw eggs (though maybe George Hamilton should have…how the hell did he get that role?). But it hurt. If you were, as I am, a huge, huge fan of THE GODFATHERs PART I & II it was brutal to see PART III blemish the legacy. If the STAR WARS films held a unique place in your childhood, as they did with me, it was awful to see the three cynical “pre-quel' take their place in the pantheon.

And this is the thing. In our individual-based society it is a hard to thing to comprehend and a harder thing to accept that once a piece of art goes out into the world it no longer belongs to the artist. It becomes the spiritual property of the public, like it or not. Hopefully, in an honorable society, the artist still gets the credit for setting the template but she is after all, only a vessel, her work only an extension of the will of the human condition. This is especially true of great art. If your work of art sucks and no one knows about it you can have it. But if your work of art touches the souls of many, they immediately assume proprietorship because you have touched their souls. This is not an opinion or a moral judgment on my part… this is simply the way it is. Indiana Jones belongs to everybody. Lucas, Spielberg and Ford made sure of that by making three great movies in the 1980's. They can, have and will choose to do what they want, but the social context is different and they will be held accountable. People want no less than greatness from Indiana Jones. We're just as unreasonable in other fields -- people want Michael Jordan to retire after that last jumper against Utah, they want Jane's Addiction to not reform and make another album, they want greatness once achieved to remain unblemished. So what will Spielberg, Lucas and Ford do with this new responsibility of honoring the legacy they've created -- the covenant they've made with the public?

Who can say? We're going to find out in a month. I wish they'd contacted me while they were in production and I could've figured it all out for them because I, like millions and millions of other Indy fans, know exactly how this new movie should be handled. But they didn't, the movie is finished, the inspirations have been had, the mistakes have been made, the final product is signed sealed and delivered. Spielberg, Lucas and Ford had their chance to partake of my wisdom and they blew it. What is it that makes multi-millionaire artists so hard-headed, so short-sighted? Oh well…

But man, I hope they smoke it. I hope INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is a masterpiece. I can hardly wait another thirty goddamn days to see Indiana Jones again. The first three were each the equivalent of a two hour roller coaster. Spielberg, Lucas and Ford will always have my undying gratitude for the hours of pleasure and fun they have given me in the past. Oh, come May 22nd I'll be sitting, hopefully in the middle seat of the middle row, popcorn, Goobers and vodka-laced Sprite in hand, thirteen-year old mindset in full effect, in breathless anticipation waiting to drop into the heart-stopping world of Indiana Jones once again.

And I'll be saying a prayer.



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The Bible of Film
Every other Friday

The Gospel according to Bobby B or Taking a look at our defining art form and how it affects and is affected by the world around us.


Other Columns
Other columns by Bobby B.:

Fear of Comedy

The Sound of Summer Blockbusters

It's the Acting, Stupid

Trinity's Legacy: Badass Babes in Tight Clothes

The New Face of Race in Hollywood

All Columns


Bobby B.
Bobby Bermea inherited his deep and abiding passion for movies from his mom. He writes about them as a fan: from the heart, without agenda or rancor and if he's lucky, with a little humor, wisdom and common sense.


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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Bobby B. by clicking here.


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