Archive for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Things I Read Off the Screen in Kronos

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2008 by dcairns

Come up to the Lab...

LABCENTRAL — the top secret government institution dedicated to spaceresearch, nuclearphysics, and weirdlyconjoinedwords.

Welcome to KRONOS!

He’s a BIG SPACE ROBOT. But he doesn’t have any personality, and neither does anybody else in the film.

the Movie

The liveliest character is the lady scientist, played in an inappropriately sultry fashion by Barbara Lawrence. What made her good was that she doesn’t behave like a standard boring B-movie scientist. Also, she’s not really interested in science, she just wants to go to the cinema all the time. When they blow up the giant space robot at the end she’s relieved, mainly because she can resume necking in the back row of the local Roxy with Jeff Morrow. So she’s the only person in the film one might want to get to know.

If you knew S.U.S.I.E...

“Why do you call the computer SUSIE?” she asks, while standing in front of a sign that explains it. Well, it WOULD explain it if the words on the sign made any sense.

Babs may not be the best scientist in the world, but Morrow and his pal are unbelievably stupid, also blind. The script requires them to speculate about an asteroid approaching Earth, which they watch on their big telescope screen / coffee table. But what they see is blatantly a FLYING SAUCER. Yet they continue to calmly talk about an asteroid for like, half an hour of screen time. This may be the worst example ever of a special effects team failing to read the script.

Hubba Hubba

Gee, can Hubbell actually be a first name? True, this guy IS in charge of a big space telescope, so the name has some resonance. But what were his parents thinking? Theory: they asked Mr. Eliot Snr. what he wanted to name his son, and he tried to say “Hubert”, but he was drowning at the time. Mrs. Eliot chose to respect her husband’s last wish.

Actually, I’d rather see that movie than this one.

News on the March!

The news looks bad! But, on the plus side, a State Survey on Housing is Advocated, and Commuter Fares will not go up, so it isn’t all doom and gloom. Chin up!

The Wonderful Dept of Disney

Hubbell, played by Walt Disney’s evil twin, lurks outside the COMPUTING DEPT. He’s been possessed by an alien force. Handed over to a shapeless psychiatrist, he is treated with electro-shock therapy, which makes him lucid, but they don’t like what he has to say so they drug him, allowing the alien force to take over completely! Another victory for psychiatry.

torn from tomorrow's headlines

Opening the paper, he reads an oddly inaccurate headline which nevertheless corresponds closely with what his “lunatic” space scientist has been ranting about. But, like the good Freudian he is, he takes no notice.

While he’s having convulsions, Dr. Hubbel’s face actually starts to GLOW, but nobody thinks anything of it. It’s that kind of film. Director Kurt Neumann was best known for THE FLY. I… I don’t think he can have been a very clever man.

Captain Kronos

The BIG SPACE ROBOT is kind of OK. When he walks about, he’s a cartoon. Otherwise he’s a tin toy. Sometimes he walks about with his legs hidden behind rocks so he doesn’t have to be a cartoon.

It’s a system!

As we were saying, re the new INDIANA JONES film, the portrayal of Latin American countries kind of sucks. Note how Mexico is always orange. KRONOS is a black and white film, so they make do with portraying the country as mostly fields, with people running about, persecuted by a giant robot from space. It’s frankly insulting.

I'm melting!

The scientists defeat the big guy using some special science. He melts like Margaret Hamilton in THE WIZARD OF OZ, only without the dialogue. It might have been quite appropriate for him to moan “What a world, what a world!” before he goes up in a puff of A-bomb test stock footage.

“I came here with a simple dream: a dream of killing all humans. And this is how it must end? Who’s the real seven billion ton robot monster here? Not I. Not… I.” ~ Bender in Futurama.

Indiana Jones and the Garden of Evil

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2008 by dcairns

(We need shorthand ways to refer to the titles of the four INDIANA JONES movies. I suggest RAIDARK, TEMPOOM, LASTADE and CRYSKULL.)

Top of the World

Watching Henry Hathaway’s Mexican-western adventure GARDEN OF EVIL (in glorious Technicolor and Cinemascope) not so very long after seeing Spielberg and Lucas’ INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST TEMPLE OF THE LAST CRYSTAL SKULL got me thinking about various things, including imaginary landscapes.

I don’t want to get all nostalgic and neophobic and bash the Spielberg for being modern — GARDEN OF EVIL isn’t actually a brilliant film either, and the slam-bang ethos of the Spielberg actually helps make it watchable. If you have no very interesting ideas, at least speed of delivery can be your friend.

She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain

It’s actually easier to bash CRYSKULL by comparing it with the first in the series. RAIDARK was an enjoyably SOLID film, using real locations and stunt men, not C.G. dreamscapes and flying synthespians. This had the effect of grounding it — there are very few truly unbelievable things in that film, and they’ve been discussed to death: “How does Indie hitch a ride on a U-boat?” etc. When a truck is overturned, the effects team made it happen by firing a dirty great log through it, hitting the ground beneath and tipping the vehicle over — and you can see the log in the finished film. On the one hand, it’s a technical flaw (no time for re-takes, for the first time Spielberg’s fee was tied to his bringing the movie in on budget and on schedule, so for the first time he TRIED), on the other hand it proves the stunt actually took place. It really happened, therefore it COULD happen.

Where would you even start with TEMPOOM or CRYSKULL? The sequels are catalogues of impossibilities, cartoony assaults on the laws of physics, with miniatures and matte paintings giving way to digital jiggery-pokery, as everyone labours under that terrible misapprehension of modern action cinema: we can do “ANYTHING.” The fact is, just because modern computer graphics allow an expensive filmmaker like Spielberg to represent whatever he chooses in a slick, photo-realist fashion, does NOT mean the audience has to believe it. We don’t for instance, believe that archaeological relic Harrison Ford can survive sailing over three gigantic waterfalls in an amphibious vehicle. We certainly don’t believe John Hurt can. Early on, Ford shields himself from an H-bomb blast by hiding in a refrigerator. “Could you survive an atomic explosion by climbing into a fridge?” asked Fiona. “Let me put it this way,” I replied, all Mr. Science and everything, “You couldn’t survive climbing into a fridge.”

Obviously, a film like CRYSKULL, and far worse stuff like Lucas’ appalling STAR WARS prequels (at least the JONES has some nice lines and appealing performers in sometimes amusing situations) will make hangars full of money by appealing to the public’s fondness for the originals, but the reliance on C.G. strikes me as odd. The public doesn’t actually LIKE C.G.I. Ask anybody. Obviously, what people mean is they don’t like tacky, obvious C.G.I. But what do they mean by THAT?

The hills are alive

Spielberg said something quite interesting once, something about the public ALWAYS knowing when something is C.G. It’s very nearly true. We know something is a special effect when we know it HAS to be. The most convincing effects in that piece of junk JURASSIC PARK II, for instance, are the vehicles. I didn’t realise, watching it, that many of the jeeps and trucks in many shots, are C.G. creations: far easier to make them interact with C.G. dinosaurs that way. So C.G.I. might be most effective when it’s used to present something we can believe in. Trusting the audience to be smart enough to actually question the reality of the images placed before them would be a good first step in fooling them successfully, with entertainment as the ultimate goal.

Think of the dinosaur stampede in Peter Jackson’s KING KONG. Ignoring the rather glaring flaw that the characters running about amid the brontosaurs’ feet are all perfectly illuminated by bright sunlight in three-quarter backlighting, necessitating the assumption that these dinosaurs are somehow TRANSPARENT, does anybody actually believe any of those characters would have survived five seconds in that situation? Scaling back the ambition to wow us with spectacular visuals would be a useful step in actually wowing us with dramatic situations possessing some modicum of convincing risk.

The Hills Have Eyes

Looking at the nice special effect landscapes in GARDEN OF EVIL’s mountain scenes, I was partly moved by an admittedly nostalgic fondness for matte paintings, but I also reflected that what matters just as much as the paintings on the right of the screen is the authentic landscapes on the left, photographed with skill and at some expense of time, effort and money. Doing the whole thing in the studio has always been a mark of cheapness in adventure cinema, with 1933’s KING KONG the honorable exception. We want to believe the filmmakers went on an adventure to get genuinely dangerous footage.

If filmmakers like Spielberg and Lucas followed the same logic in C.G. landscapes that they apply to action sequences, the artificial jungles and mountains of CRYSKULL would teeter on spindles like the Cloud City of Bespin in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, they would be stretching and distorted melting cheeselands like the worlds of Dr. Seuss, and be polka-dotted and patterned in ludicrous hues like the musical numbers in THE GANG’S ALL HERE. But they’re not. Because the filmmakers are smart enough to know that such silly antics wouldn’t fly with an audience. Why can’t they apply the same logic to their action scenes?

I Shot an Arrow in the Air

(There’s a moral question here — should Spielberg have stuntmen do dangerous stuff when he could fake it all up? Recently there have been serious accidents on the new Bond and BATMAN films. Personally, I can’t look in real life if somebody does something dangerous, so I’d be rubbish at this kind of cinema. And yet I love Keaton and admire classic Jackie Chan and quite a few older action films. I think doing it for real is aesthetically preferable in every way, but perhaps not morally. We remember what happened on Spielberg’s production of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, after all. How common are serious accidents? I don’t know, but when Paul Verhoeven needed amputee stuntmen for STARSHIP TROOPERS, he had no trouble finding them. Lots of them.)