Indiana Jones and Another Look at Iron Man

October 19, 2008

We watched two DVDs this weekend: Indiana Jones and the Whatever of the Crystal Skull, and Iron Man. I saw both in the theatres, so this is round 2. Here we go:

I didn’t like the latest Indiana Jones when I first saw it. This time around, I watched it with the kids, who have seen the original films, hoping that I could figure out why Crystal Skull became the hit that it was. And I couldn’t, because I didn’t like the things I didn’t like the first time, and found new things to not like, if that counts as decent sentence structure. No, it doesn’t. What I figured out, though, is why I reacted so, so negatively to Crystal Skull:

The digital effects.

This movie looks like the Star Wars prequels, and The Lord of the Rings, and all these new movies that use digital effects more than they have to. The entire jungle chase sequence in Crystal Skull, for instance, is blatantly digital. It just doesn’t work. The problem is this: it’s supposed to be the real world.

See, if you watch the original Indiana Jones trilogy again, as I have recently, you find rugged, visceral stuntwork. When Indy engages in his inevitable fight-aboard-a-moving-army-truck sequence, you feel it. You feel the impact of the punches. You feel the pain as he’s dragged, or thrown, or smacked. You feel the desert heat, the catacomb damp.

Harrison Ford is no great actor, but he’s a great hero, and when he put Indy through the paces 25 years ago the audience felt it.

Not so this time. It just looked fake, and therefore unbelievable. When the ants show up, I felt no tension. The waterfall scenes just looked phony. Every set looked like a digital painting, which might be okay if you’re making Coruscant, but not so good when it’s trees and rivers and other places you can actually photograh.

And the whole movie is washed through with that bright white lighting so prevalent in digital filmmaking – it just didn’t look realistic, and so the grit and grimace of the early films is gone. When that happened, the slapstick became the focus, which is what killed the film, I think. Indiana Jones should be funny sometimes; it shouldn’t be what the movie is remembered for.

All that said, I think Shia Leboeuf or whatever his stupid name is is worth all the attention he’s getting. Yeah, he’s name of the week, and that led to him being in this movie. But he pulls his weight.

Next up: Iron Man. I loved this in the theatre. And it improves itself on second watching. Dark Knight hype aside, this is the perfect comic book movie. It takes the original early-60s story, updates it beautifully, and creates a whole new kind of fantasy sci-fi action flick. My two-feet-on-the-ground-at-all-times lady love, who is so not into this sort of thing that she doesn’t even read Weather Station 1, watched it and had a blast, which says something about Iron Man. Or, more importantly, about Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. has always been around, as far as I can remember. When we were teenagers, he was in movies and on Saturday Night Live (people tend to forget that, but yeah, he was the Andy Samberg of the mid-80s). Later, I built a solid professional career while he was making cool movies like The Pick-Up Artist, Less Than Zero, that reincarnation one with Cybill Shepherd, and also Ally McBeal. He also went a little nuts there for a while, which is understandable, given that he reads comics, knows Molly Ringwald, dated Sarah Jessica Parker for seven years, and recently admitted publically that he used to be a chronic wanker, several factoids that may or may not be connected.

This is his movie. If Iron Man had been made with any other actor, it likely would have been a hit, but not the hit that it was. No, that isn’t true; director Jon Favreau really, really got the source material and understands how to put a comic book onscreen, so it would have been a fine film, I think. And the music is perfect. But it would not have been the movie it was without “RDJ” or whatever they call him. He brought exactly what Tony Stark needed to bring.

And the tech, as made-up as it was, worked within the context of the film. My particular favourite was the development of hand-blasting flight stabilizers; I missed out on that during the cinema viewing, but it’s clearly the focus of Stark’s work in the second act as he builds the suit. He wants to fly, and he works out a logical, sensible way to do it, assuming that repulsor technology actually exists. I like that about this movie. The physics are imaginary, but they never, ever, abuse that privilege and work within the rules defined by the story.

The kids say: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was okay but not as good as Raiders. Iron Man ruled, and my nine-year-old has been talking about building armour in the garage. That says it all.

So there you go. Two blockbusters, twice reviewed. The only other movie I saw in the cinema this summer was Sex and the City. Stay tuned for my update on that one. It’s coming soon. Honest. Or not.

“Hey, old man, can we lean on these walls,
or are they actually not here?”



  1. I couldn’t agree with you more about KOCS(I think that’s the accepted abbreviation). And I didn’t realize how much the lighting bugged me until you mentioned it. You’re right, it was too bright all the way through. And the CGI really pissed me off, especially since Speilberg was bragging about how little they used. Part of the fun of an Indy film was watching the actors deal with snakes, and bugs, and rats, etc. But CGI scorpions just aren’t that creepy. My biggest problem was they changed Indy himself. In the other movies he was a real guy to whom unreal things happened. The world got weirder and weirder around him, but he still bled, and winced, and barely survived. In this film he was every bit as cartoonishly invincible as the rest of the world around him, and that killed the magic for me.

    Haven’t seen Iron Man again, yet. Are there any tasty extras on the DVD?

  2. Basically what we had was a horrendous script…and ontop of that, a director who at one point said “I’m doing this for YOU the fans”…when I saw him say that, I was shocked…my reaction was like this… “why are you lying to me like this?…you cant be doing it for us, you have to be doing it for yourself…and if your not doing it for yourself then you shouldn’t be doing it at all”…much later down the line after seeing the film and then reading a lot more interviews and so on…I suddenly realised that I was completely in the wrong…and that, when he said he was going it for us, he actually wasn’t lying at all. But this is not good, well its good that he didn’t lie…I was really happy about that part, but I was not happy about him doing it for the fans…he seems to have done it because he’s been pestered for years to do it?…or I don’t know.

    The choice to use Janusz Kaminski as cinematographer was also a very bad one…they should have used either Robby Müller or Peter Zeitlinger…or, I could come up with a lot of names here, its hard though because director and cinematographer teams vary a lot in how they work together and its sometimes difficult to pinpoint the right person for the task.

    Though Spileberg and Kaminski did sit and watch the first three Indiana Jones and said that they would try very hard to do respect and try hard for a Douglas Slocombe look…you can see on some shots that they have managed to get a nice look, but ultimately Kaminski’s stamp is all over this film.

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