Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Film Festival: 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'

It was Rob's turn to choose our weekly flick, so I knew I was in for something action-y, possibly involving superheroes.
Indiana Jones is something of a superhero, with his "secret identity" as a university professor, his fedora-and-bullwhip crime-fighting ensemble, and his one, somewhat odd nemesis ("Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?"). And I have the type of nostalgia for the Indiana Jones films usually associated with men my husband's age and their fondness for Star Wars. I can't help it. Together with my dad, I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade more times than I can count.

So I really wanted to like the fourth installment, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And I really disliked it. (Though not in a George-Lucas-made-the-Star-Wars-prequel-trilogy-and-ruined-my-childhood way.) The problems with it, most of which stem from the script, are so glaring and pervasive as to be distracting. And for a movie with a single character's name in its title, there are a helluva lot of people in this film! And everybody lives! Indiana Jones ends up with four (or is it five?) sidekicks by the film's climax, and most of them aren't terribly interesting.

The one character who kept the movie from being a complete waste of however-long-it-took-us-to-watch-it-with-all-the-pausing was the Soviet villain, Irina Spalko. Several times during our viewing I grumped, "Enough of this! I want more Cate Blanchett!"

Spalko is only okay as a villain - which, again, has more to do with the script than anything else. She postures with her rapier and alleged psychic skills for most of the movie but doesn't follow through with a "Look, I'm not fucking around!" moment. She certainly never rips out anyone's heart. Still, I dig her as a villain, in part because she so perfectly embodies a particular female villain "type."

Spalko isn't the femme fatale, who achieves her goals through seduction. Rather, she is both masculine and feminine, and this is what makes her so dangerous. She's attractive, with her severe-yet-sexy Louise Brooks bob, but walks and stands with a masculine air, proudly taking up space. Oh, and she has a sword. Not to get all Freudian film theorist, but that pretty much screams "phallic woman" loud and clear. And just in case we didn't get it - no, Spalko will not be a love interest for Indy, since she's just as "manly" as he is - we get a lovely visual representation of Spalko's gender, vis-a-vis the film.

Early on, in a moment that's meant to establish Spalko's prowess as a villain, she moves as though to strike with her rapier. In close-up the blade crosses in front of her face, filling the space between her nose and upper lip. The rapier-phallus becomes a mustache.

Unfortunately, this androgynous, dangerous character breaks down as the film progresses, and by the third act, she barely seems more like an annoyance to the main characters than an actual threat. And she's still the best part of the movie!

Perhaps it would've helped if I'd watched this one with my dad.

* * *
Some other fun things about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:
  • The name "Mutt" is a fantastic bit of foreshadowing (though I can't imagine anyone being surprised that this knife-wielding whipper-snapper is Indy's son).
  • When Mutt and Indy talk in the diner, the scene begins with a nice long two-shot, building a relationship for them before they actually have one in the narrative. This is followed by a shot/reverse shot sequence wherein we see the youth culture of the diner over Mutt's shoulder, and the busy "grown-up" world through the window over Indy's shoulder. In other words, we're seeing literal representations of their backgrounds . . . in the background.
  • Is there a director more in love with aliens than Steven Spielberg?
  • In a shot that almost redeems the film's writing issues because it's just that fucking cool, we see Indiana Jones, having been captured by the Soviets, surrounded by the shadow of his own head. It's hard to describe, but completely rad onscreen.
  • The overall look of the film is very stylized, with the colors sometimes looking oddly saturated or washed out. When the screen isn't filled with CGI, the film often appears older than it is. It's almost as though we're watching a period piece within a period piece: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull takes place in the 1950s, but attempts to "match" its three prequels, which were filmed in the 1980s.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I made it two minutes into the movie before I yelled at the screen "Seriously! Aliens?!" Maybe I've been living in New Mexico too long, but seriously? Aliens?