Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Seriously, everybody. What did you think the underside of Indiana Jone's hat looked liked? Personally, I figured it was stained with the head sweat and blood of a thousand untold adventures, dust from the four corners of the earth smeared under the brim, but I guess he just buys a new one at the airport on every trip. For that matter, the lining of his leather jacket is probably a comfy local satin -still with tags!

I don't go to the movies anymore. My need for escapism has vastly diminished (thank God) and it's the overlooked details like this that drove me to other pursuits. Also, cel phones. The advent of cel phones in movies theaters coincides with my declined attendance. The sum of all these petty annoyances (including, but not limited to, theater commercials, lights coming up during the credit roll, paying for parking, cheap DVD releases a couple months later, and stadium seating. Yes, stadium seating. I know, I'm the only one in the world who detests stadium seating. Look, I don't want to stare down at the screen! But that's an issue for another blog.)

The old Spielberg and Lucas adventures were so great with their stunts and models and miniature effects and how-did-they-do-that? magic, and yet today's films have that slick CG glisten which no high concept can overcome with any convincing persuasion. Seriously. I can't watch movies nowadays without that nagging little voice in my head saying "That's real. That's CG... That's real... CG... CG... CG background... CG sunset... CG buildings half way up..." etc. Robert Zemeckis, master of that filmic wonder Back to the Future, recently made Beowulf which was all CG -including Angelina Jolie's mostly naked body! I mean, where's the fun in that?

One of the reasons I loved Serenity (and Firefly) so much is because they took the time to scuff it up. It still looks CG, don't get me wrong, but that eye-aware voice in my head goes, "-hey" when you see the blur, dirt and flak of those ships going by and the camera trying to keep up. Plus, Joss Whedon actually spent some time on the characterization, of all things, which today's filmmakers can define by rote from their film school days, but hardly execute.

So I'm interested to view the new Indiana Jones in the post CG world, and see how it holds up. When Lucas and Spielberg were making their flicks back in the seventies and eighties, no one else could do it like they did, but twenty years later a generation of filmmakers who grew up on Star Wars and Jaws are now doing the thing at home on their Macs, with all the power of computers at their disposal and none of the talent.

This is why the photo above bugs me so much. It was Spielberg and Lucas just not even trying anymore. More energy was spent cashing the checks, it seems. Because, really, it's not about the effects. It's about the story, and making the story believable -which I've heard George and Steve recount endlessly in interviews, but I can't abide such laziness. It bugged me the moment I saw it back in 1989, and I felt a certain youthful innocence just drop away. It was like seeing your hero drunk off his stump -and I'm not talking about Indiana Jones, here. Maybe in a future anniversary release, Lucas will CG some dirt into the hat.

Now that I think of it, you got four minutes? Check it out. Here's characterization at its best. It's a near perfect scene, and not a single special effect. It's kinda hard to see the nuances in that small box, but you get the gist. It's what I want from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and I suspect it's what every fan wants, whether they know it or not.

By the way, that scene's almost all ripped off from one part or another of Casablanca, and who could blame them? (Rene Belloq's suit and hat is Victor Lazlo's, for example.) Casablanca is (also) one of the best films ever made.