Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 50s McCarthyism and UFOs

Shia La Beouf had told everyone that the plot of the “Indiana Jones 4” movie was a secret, and now that it is out, we know that there is a kitchen sink of themes, set in the 50s rather than the 30s as Harrison Ford is now two decades older. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (Paramount and LucasFilm, dir. Steven Spielberg) really does say a lot and presents a nice theory.

Harrison Ford, speaking last week on network morning news, said that the “I like Ike” years were a fascinating time, with the tornado of McCarthyism that would contribute to a traumatic happening in my own life in 1961 (Nov. 2006 in my main blog, see profile). The Russians (the Soviets, the Commies, call them what you want) here are presented as looking for some sort of final solution to the world itself, as if the space people could alleviate us of the responsibility for perfecting ourselves as individuals, or dealing with real life.

The movie opens at what amounts to the notorious Area 51 in Nevada (and we get a shot of “The Atomic Café”), and says the fibbies will shoot on sight. Pretty soon we see a crate with a corpse inside, acquire by the G-men in 1947, and you can guess where it came from. Yup. Roswell. Then Jones goes on a hike and finds a typical 50s replica of suburbia in the desert, looking vibrant until he finds it populated with mannequins. Inside one house, which is left unlocked, he finds Howdy Doody playing. Soon, he remembers he will have to “duck and cover.” Pretty soon, we get to see a mushroom cloud.

Indiana Jones then gets relieved of his duties as an archeology professor for having too much contact with the Commies – and these were the days of blacklists. The rest of the movie becomes your typical road chase as in the earlier films. 50s motorcycle boy Mutt (Shia La Beouf) seems like a contrivance, but his character becomes real quickly and eventually we find out who he “really” is. He is “a good kid.” They go to Nacza (I thought Spielberg could have done more with the Nacza lines, and even introduced Tiahuanoco). Then they get napped back to the western Amazon, for the final leg of their swashbuckling journey that will take them to a Mayan-type pyramid temple setup with lots of traps and secrets set to activate when this crystal skull from Peru is introduced. The climax of the film reminds me of Clive Cussler, perhaps, as well as a scene early in the movie “Alien.” The biology of the purported aliens is interesting, as to the theory as to what they did – seed most of our ancient civilizations, many of which failed, having not learned their lessons well enough.

The Atomic Café” was a nice little indie movie from Libra films (dir. Jayne Loader and Kevin Rafferty that I saw at the Inwood theater in Dallas in 1982. “Roswell” was a TV cable movie from Paramount in 1994, and covered the well known speculation of what might have happened in 1947, as well as the government cover-up. (I can imagine an Oliver Stone remake from LucasFilm.) .

La Beouf says that a lot of physical conditioning was required for this movie. (They say he smokes, and he admits it on SNL.) There is a scene where he imitates the behavior of monkeys in swinging through trees in the jungle, and I don’t know how the stunt men pulled that off. Actors have to loan their bodies for their fame. After the mushroom cloud scene, Jones has to go through being scrubbed in decontamination. And it appears this was done before Harrison Ford’s depilation on Access Hollywood to make a point about deforestation (of the Amazon, as in the movie) and global warming. (In fact, Ford showed off his sacrifice on ABC "Nightline" May 23.) There is a spectacular sequence involving falls that look like the Iguazu between Argentina and Paraquay.

The movie was actually made in New Mexico, Connecticut, and Hawaii. Since this is a Spielberg film, I don’t know why Dreamworks isn’t one of the production companies.

The movie does mention Mitchell Hedges at several points. Some visitors may have seen the Sci-Fi documentary (also partly based on Hedges's finds) “Mystery of the Crystal Skulls” (review) that purports the theory that the skulls could relate to the Mayan prophecy for what happens in December 2012.

Tips for Theater Chain Management:

In these challenging economic times, theater chains should exhibit their films as professionally as possible. I saw this in a Regal Cinema complex, in Arlington VA. It would be desirable if theater management would inform ticket sellers (employees) of which auditoriums have the largest screens, and if theater chain corporate websites would identify which performances are in the large auditoriums. Also, during the performance (Theater #1), the widescreen image was cropped to about 2.0 to 1 (it is supposed to be 2.35 : 1 Panavision) by failure of the curtain to open fully, to the point that the "G" at the end of Steven Spielberg's name got chopped in the credits.

In smaller auditoriums in this complex (and in many multiplexes) 2.35 : 1 films are shown by cropping the screen vertically, resulting in less surface area for the image and a geometrically smaller image than would be used for 1.85 : 1. (I have yet to see a film fill anamporphic widescreen film like this in IMAX; I'll try one soon.) The practice is not ideal for very visual films like this one. It's interesting because many stages are wide, simulating the viewing effect of widescreen 3-D when well produced.

The large auditorium as about 2/3 full at the 7:15 show on a Friday night. On Saturday night, at a large auditorium of the National Amusements complex in Merrifield, VA, at the 7 PM showing, Disney's "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" filled about 1/3 of the seats during the second week.

I'll also, while I'm at it, point out a "sin" of another film exhibitor, AMC (American Multi-Cinema). At both theaters in Arlington, some shows run a substandard reel of the company's trademark before the feature, with a lot of wow and flutter in the soundtrack that continues for a couple minutes when the feature starts. I would think a company would be careful about exhibiting its trademark. This seems to have to do with worn out feeder reels, and using them seems a bit careless and unprofessional.

(The picture shown took as a negative on a digital camera by accident.)

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