Thursday, May 22, 2008

Simply Passing Through History

21 May 2008

"Indiana, we are simply passing through history. This, this *is* history. Inside the Ark are treasures beyond your wildest aspirations. You want to see it opened as well as I."

Back in November 2001, I read a fantastic essay online (I don't have the exact title or link right now, but I may dig them up later), written by a huge fan of the Harry Potter books, written on the eve of the release of the first POTTER film. In his essay, he wrote something that has really stuck with me, something like, "Tomorrow, the images I created in my head reading and re-reading the books will be gone forever, supplanted instead by those created by Chris Columbus in the Warner Brothers film. Today is the last day that Harry Potter is just a book." Or something along those lines.

Well, you probably know where I'm going with this. Today is May 21st, and it is the last day that there are only three Indiana Jones films: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE.* Tomorrow, a fourth film joins that pantheon: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, making it a quadrilogy, or quadrology, or a saga, or maybe just a series. Or who knows, maybe the rumours are true and there will be a second trio of films with Mutt Williams in the central role and we'll refer to the Eighties films as "The Original Trilogy" and the 21st Century ones as, I don't know, "The Sequel Trilogy." Who knows?

I've said it many, many times, probably in these pages too, that seeing RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK as a child was the first mind-blowing, seminal trip I took to the movies, changing how I thought, who I was inside, and who I wanted to be. I still remember swinging from our garage door, pretending it was my whip, and pulling the garage door down and rolling under it like it was the huge stone door that comes down to seal the chamber forever.

My mom and dad took me to see RAIDERS in '81 and we watched it together. My mom took me and my friends to TEMPLE OF DOOM in '84, and we sat away from her (I believe, in the front row). And my mom dropped me and those same friends off at LAST CRUSADE at that same theatre I'd seen the other two in, since by then, I was old enough to see them on my own. I love all three of those movies, though, unlike you, I love them in order of their release, with RAIDERS being the grand favourite.

I'm not sure if the Indy Jones Trilogy is perfect (there's that moment in LAST CRUSADE where the model tank hits the ground and falls apart, along with an obvious doll attached to it), but it's pretty darn close. And like all people who start getting older, I clutch it fiercely to my breast and want nothing to sully those films (such as renaming the first film INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK).

And that includes a fourth film that may or may not be as good as the originals.

I've seen a couple of childhood franchises brought back recently, with mixed results (SUPERMAN RETURNS, for example, or last year's TRANSFORMERS), but none have been so jarring or unavoidable as George Lucas's STAR WARS Prequels. It is simply impossible to divorce the Original Trilogy from the Prequels (especially since Lucas has now tinkered with the OT, adding Dewbacks and Hayden Christensens and digital changes right and left), and for this generation of children, there are simply six films, not three.

And I quite hate the Prequels. In watching Season Six of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and seeing Willow's fall from grace and turn to the Dark Side, I can't help but feel sad that Lucas couldn't create something similar for Anakin Skywalker's fall, something with that much inspiration, intensity, and emotional power. Nope, the Prequels are what they are, and I'm no fan of them.

But here we are, the EXACT same number of years since the last Indy Jones movie as Lucas waited to follow up RETURN OF THE JEDI, and we've got a new Indy flick. It's actually playing as we speak in my town. And while I've tried to avoid reviews, fan sites, and news articles, I've already heard a bit of buzz that maybe the flick isn't absolutely fantastic.

And how could it be? It's been twenty seven years since I sat in that theatre seat and was whisked away to South America, Nepal, Cairo, and the South Pacific and introduced to my all-time favourite cinematic hero. A lot has changed in the world, in the way movies are made, in audience sensibilities, and in my own mind. There's no way I can see INDY IV the way I saw INDY I.

Plus, to quote Indy, it's not the years, it's the mileage. I have become a lonely, sad, embittered, critical, and curmudgeonly old young man since the old Indy films came out. A lot of the sense of wonder I had in the "good old days" of the nineteen-eighties has been stamped out of me by my many failures at life, by the negative influences of (some of) the people around me, but the loss of innocence we all go through, and by my own near-constant reminders of a myriad of shortcomings and personality flaws. Oh, and by that time I came back after reclaiming my lost droid only to find my uncle and aunt as charred skeletons near the smoking ruins of my childhood home.

My friend Ian, who I met a decade ago, used to always tell me that whenever he got excited about THE PHANTOM MENACE, the first Star Wars Prequel, he'd hear my pesky voice in the back of his mind, saying, "No matter how great it is . . . it can never be as good as I want it to be," like some kind of unpleasant Obi-Wan Kenobi, a depressing sourpuss from great beyond.

I feel bad that I cast a grey shadow over his enjoyment of those movies (and indeed, over pretty much his whole life, as I still bother him at least once a week to give me Top Five lists), but here's a silver lining: as bad as STAR WARS: EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE was, I didn't notice a great deal of that when it came out in 1999. I went to see it with a big group of friends, and was transported to a galaxy far, far away again, dazzled by the special effects, thrilled by the podrace sequence, awed by the John Williams score, and enthralled by that still-fantastic lightsaber battle at the end of the film.

I saw the movie several times that summer, and it wasn't until later, replaying scenes in my head or talking about it, that I found fault and began to decide that, Jake Lloyd wasn't all that good, for example, or poop jokes don't really hold up to repeated viewings. Yes, now I hate PHANTOM MENACE**, but back then I didn't, and that gives me a bit of hope.

I hope that I can enjoy the experience of seeing the new Indy film tomorrow, with a smile on my face, letting the undoubtedly excellent score carry me away, seeing my all-time favourite actor reprising his greatest role, wincing with punches and holding my breath through the hairpin turns and narrow escapes. I hope that I can forget the last couple decades, and be a little boy again, and just believe that it's all happening for real before my eyes, like I used to be able to do all the time (and now only manage when it's Joss Whedon pulling the strings).

I hope I overlook CGI effects or dialogue or changes in sensibilities that might take me out of the film. I hope familiarity breeds affection rather than contempt, and that somehow Spielberg manages to find a little magic in that dusty old hat (a Fedora instead of a top hat, in this case). I do dare to hope.

And as old Red taught us, Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. You know the rest.

Rish Indiana Outfield

*And you know, there have been followups, such as "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" TV series, and the Made For TV movies like "The Mystery of the Blues," which even had Harrison Ford in it, so technically it isn't just a trio of films. But you know what I mean.

**Though not as much as its two sequels, where I feel the real failure of the Prequel Trilogy shines through.

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