Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Chinese Emperor vs, Crystal Skull, Rick O'Connell vs. Indiana Jones

When you look at IMDb, neither the last Indiana Jones or the last Mummy instalments got a lot of votes. Indiana came in one point ahead of O'Connell, but at 6.8/10 average that's hardly something to crow about.

The main reason for the low rating of either is, I suspect, the viewer's resistance to things changing. Both movies are set a significant time after the 'last' ones; times and technology have changed, making them less romantic in terms of setting; the kids of the main protagonists have grown up; and the stories are kinda hard to write, because you're basically looking for something that is the same, only different. And when that kind of thing gets delivered, everybody either complains about there not being enough of the same or of there not being enough original new things--with 'originality' being an obsession in this day and age, which hungers for the 'new' in a world and time where novelty is actually very hard to come by, and we've been so screwed up and 'new'-habituated by a all-out assault of what's being sold, rightly or not, as 'new', inside and outside of the 'arts'. The irony is, that there actually is very little 'new', but it's all a question of marketing, of course. People are so dumb, honestly! The really 'new' seldom captures wide attention.

Within the context of these issues, follow-ups on former successful movie series (Star Wars is always there as a warning example, with the last ridiculous instalment completely losing the plot by being unafflicted by any human being in sight!) will always have a hard time; be it on TV or the big screen. As for me, I thought they were both good fun.

Bringing back characters from Raiders of the Lost Ark provided a welcome closure to the whole story are, insofar as there was one, and restored a dynamic, at least to some extent, that was completely missing in the second and third Indy Jones movies--which were fun, but lacked something, and it may have been this thing. Unfortunately the movie, in its hunt for the novel and different came up with space-aliens in the von Daniken vein, which really didn't quite work. To my mind it was a writer's copout, because they focused on story and story effects and not on character and character interaction, which was, once the characters were established, completely predictable and lacked something that I couldn't place my finger on until I finally got seeing Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

I know, I know, it was just the previous Mummy instalments set in China, but who cares? It was predictable, but who cares? It didn't even feature Rachel Weisz, whose character in interaction with Brendan Fraser's was kind of integral to the first two. And, yes, there were the usual estrangement issues between father and grown-up son and all that jazz. Nothing new here, really.

But I will eventually buy the DVD, while I won't bother with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and do you know why? Because Mummy 3 had heart, and Indy 4 didn't. Because the Mummy 3 writers and producers (and even the director, though I wouldn't necessarily have expected it from him) obviously understood, intellectually and/or viscerally, that trying to desperately wring 'novelty' out of something that really doesn't require novelty is a fool's game.

OK, so maybe commercially Indy 4 did better than Mymmy 3, but never mind 'commercial'. That's influenced as much, if not more, by marketing and 'star power' and just sheer legend-hype as actual content. And Indy always had a big edge on Rick O'Connell because of Harrison Ford and the whole Indy Jones mythos, harking back to the goold old days of Spielberg and Lucas ruling the Hollywood scene.

When it comes being able to watch something and just enjoying it, Mummy 3 beats Indy 4 hands down though. That is because, even though one will inevitably sit down and start watching it with a sense of "I hope I'm not going to be disappointed", which acts as a terrible detaching influence, in the case of Mummy 3 one is soon immersed in the familiar and utterly predictable. Even the fact that Maria Bello replaced Rachel Weisz ceases to matter after about 5 minutes; or it did for me--because while she isn't Weisz, she is herself, and though she doesn't have Weisz softness, and though nobody would buy her having an Egyptian mother, she has a charm and presence that makes it all not matter--unless someone absolutely wanted to be critical, of course, and there always are those people.

Does it make sense that the Dragon Emperor might conquer the world using his terrcotta army? Of course not, but these things never do, so who cares? What matters is that the grown up son of Rick and Evie is a far more likeable and less cartoonish character than Indy's (Peace, Shia LeBeouf! I think you're very funny and I love seeing you in movies, but this one didn't work.) and that everybody actually seems to care far more about people than about doing adventurous stuff. That's where the heart is, and that's why I'm happy to add Mummy 3 to my 'comfort viewing' list, on which you'll also find the following, which probably pretty much define what kind of a movie watcher I am (and, yes, there are some odd ones in there when it comes to the 'comfort' angle):
  • Mummy 1
  • Mummy 2
  • Stardust
  • Princess Bride
  • The Duellists
  • Tears of the Sun
  • The Italian Job (the remake)
  • You Kill Me
  • King Arthur
  • and, yes, Raiders of the Lost Ark
This list isn't exhaustive, but the ones up there are definitely on it, and I'm adding Mummy 3. If I need to do some stuff that doesn't completely require my attention, like sorting papers and similarly tedious stuff, and I need something more in the background than just music, then these ones tends to come out.

My rating. Indy 4: 6/10, Mummy 3: 9/10.


Anonymous said...

"Mummy 3 beats Indy 4 hands down though."

Sorry but while Indy 4 had its problems, Mummy 3 was a disaster all the way.

Till said...

Nothing to be sorry for, whoever you are. Just a DOO.