Tuesday, 27 May 2008

A review of 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' in the form of a haibun

Before I start the review, let me just say that I consider the new film to be the 6th, not the 4th proper Indiana Jones outing, since the Lucasarts adventure games Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine are both worthy additions to the canon. The first of these was a point and click adventure game which used the same engine as Monkey Islands 1 & 2 (and which was first developed for Maniac Mansion). Indy teams up with feisty flame-haired psychic Sophia Hapgood and must stop the Nazis discovering the secret of Orichalcum, the legendary metal of Atlantis, rumoured to be more powerful than uranium. As well as being a top-notch example of the all-but-extinct point and click genre, it's a classic Indy story, replete with archaeological arcana, fist fights and witty dialogue. The engine used to create it is now freeware, and as a result there are at least two 'sequels' in production, being made by fans. You can download the demo for one of them, Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Youth. It's pretty good!

Infernal Machine appeared a number of years later and is firmly based on the Tomb Raider series. While there's a lot more running around and jumping (as well as a clunky combat system) and a few overly fantastical enemies, there's still a decent cold war story, involving the ruins of Babylon and King Solomon's mines, plus some sharp exchanges between Indy and Sophia (who returns with a new haircut).

Doug Lee voices Indy in both these games and is every bit as dry as Harrison Ford. After playing through them, you'll find yourself imitating some of his choicest expressions. It's been a while since I've played either, but two come to mind: his frustrated "Sophia!" and, hilariously, "Well, well. An entrenching tool," (upon discovery of a spade).

There are other stories in the Jones franchise as well, but having watched a couple of episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, I prefer to discount them. Spielberg would have us believe that during World War I Indy was simultaneously present at the trenches, taking on the Luftwaffe in the air and playing a vital role in the Allied spy network. Chew on that, Biggles.

I don't really think much of Lucasarts' third Indy game, Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb either, since it was even more action-orientated than its predecessor, with only a loose plot, hardly any dialogue (or comedy) and no Doug Lee. Really, it was only a game, whereas the first two were also stories. As for the comics and novels (??) I've never encountered any of them face to face.

Now for my review in the form of a haibun. Haibun, if you're wondering, are a mixture of haiku and prose poetry. Further information can be gleaned from contemporary haibun online, a quarterly journal.

The Review

The major failing of this film is symbolised by the protagonist's trousers. Something about them is deeply wrong but you can't quite remember what trousers Indy was wearing before, so it's hard to put a finger on the problem. Is the waistband too high? Is it that they seem rather too neatly pressed? Are they too beige? Too lightweight? Should they, by rights, be as ravaged as his shirt after he's survived crashing through several panes of glass, a jet engine ride, cascades of pinging bullets and an atomic bomb?

There are, of course, flaws that you can identify. Plausibility is stretched beyond breaking point. A man's nose is broken, only to be completely healed within moments. Indy stands at the very cusp of a whirling tornado of debris and doesn't even get dust in his eyes, let alone lacerated to a bony stump. Indy and Marion have a heated (and very loud) exchange just beyond the borders of the enemy camp they've escaped, yet the soldiers pursuing them through the jungle still can't seem to track them down. Characteristic Lucasfilm CGI (ie. still less convincing than a Harryhausen creation).

But all would be forgivable in the context of a film that really captured the feeling of the first three flicks. Between a rickety script, cranky actors and creaking sets, Indy 4 never quite gets there.

Indiana Jones
and the Saucer Men From Mars?
Not quite but nearly.

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