Monday, 9 November 2009

Indiana Jones and the Secret of the Lost Plot

Last weekend I finally got round to watching the latest, and hopefully last, Indiana Jones movie. I bought it off eBay for £2 and afterwards I felt like asking for my money back. It was so bad the better half said we should have watched the X Factor instead. The only good thing in it was Indy, who shows he's a strong character by surviving bad scripting, inept direction and poorly constructed CGI. Harrison Ford plays it right, accepting he's aged, but he struggles whenever he has to spout some of the worst dialogue I've ever heard.

The story was in development hell for ten years, although clearly it never emerged. In the 1950s Russian soldiers defy the Red paranoia to break into a top secret American military base, guarded by three deadmeats, on the eve of an atomic explosion. They're searching for Roswell artefacts that contain important secrets that nobody is studying. Indy is there and after dodging several hundred bullets, for the first and not the last time, he escapes, but not before the Russians steal an alien body. Then an atom bomb explodes fifty yards away and Indy survives by hiding in a fridge. This has been reviled as being the worst adventure idea ever, and it is, summing up everything that's wrong with this film. It replaces proper story-telling with CGI and says nothing matters any more, not the characters, not the story. Instead the makers work out what they can do with CGI and the story and characters follow on behind, no matter how implausible it appears or how unlikely it is that the person would act that way.

After surviving the bomb, Indy visits exotic locations with side-kick Mutt, who arrives on a bike Brando style, but who is so lacking in attitude if someone asked him what he was rebelling against he'd mumble, what's a rebel? They wander around unconvincing old places firing brain-numbing dialogue at each other about crystal skulls and lost cities in the hope they'll convince us something important is going on. They fail. Indy doesn't care about the skulls. Previously he cared about the Ark and the kids and the Holy Grail. Here he just goes on a quest because he has nothing better to do. As he doesn't care, neither did I.

Worse, the story is interrupted by tedious action set-pieces, all with the same rhythm: machine gun-toting Russians surround Indy. He runs away on a dodgy pretext. The baddies fire enough slugs to massacre a continent. Indy survives by running quickly, then defeats a random peril of the kind that are used to cheer up dull sections of computer games. Then he's recaptured, but they don't kill him, and we start again. Eventually a group forms that's so large there's not enough dialogue and scenes to go round, making it impossible to care about anybody: There's Cate Blanchett's bad but unthreatening Russian with a weird haircut and weird accent. Ray Winstone with an even weirder accent playing the worst character of a double-treble-quadruple-oh who cares agent. John Hurt spouts gibberish because he's gone insane, although it's hard to tell as everyone's dialogue is gibberish. Most annoyingly Karen Allen reprises her earlier role, although it's a token revisit as her character is completely different. And there's several dozen stunt henchmen who exist only to get killed.

They embark on an interminable chase in which CGI saps the life out of every scene and proves it'll never replace properly constructed action sequences. The earlier films provided action masterclasses. They set up a nail-biting peril, added in a bigger problem, a ticking clock and a side-kick needing rescuing. And when it looks as if Indy might survive, they hit him with an enormous danger. There's nothing like that here, just lots of confusing scrabbling around where the CGI can do anything so everyone acts like they're indestructible. And it's poor CGI too.

Mutt flies through the trees on vines and catches up with speeding cars. Waterfalls and cliffs appear as the geography morphs to fit whatever is needed to carry on the chase. There's a car swordfight, which is a nice idea, except the poor effects make it look unreal. The worst bit is where for no good reason the baddies scale down a cliff before for no good reason Karen drives a car off that cliff. Her action is suicidal, but a fortuitously placed tree saves her then springs back up to knock off the bad guys. All right, this is supposed to be fun, but the characters have to act believably or why should we care? Spectacular contrived action is no substitute for real tension.

The chase culminates in a pointless ending in which the makers clearly thought up some visuals then stood the characters before them. The revelation has been derided, but that didn't bother me. It was after all flagged up in act one, scene one and about fifty times afterwards. It's the lack of excitement and conflict resolution that annoys me. The story peters out as if everyone has had enough. In a climax to an action story everything must be at stake in the final showdown, except there's no final showdown, just some nonsense in which the nasty people die, through nothing Indy does, and the good people live, through nothing Indy does.

The film's sad failure could be summed up by the moment when early on a box opens in the top-secret unguarded military base. The Ark appears. Nobody notices. In a good film this would be a great moment. In a bad film this is a desecration. The only good thing that could possibly come out of this turkey is that its utter failure on every level convinces everyone involved not to do another film.

Sadly, this film was so bad I reckon I'll have to watch it again just to prove it wasn't a bad dream.

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