Treasure Experience – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

It is perfect,” said my cinematographer.

We were waiting for the subway to come, after having caught the film together with another friend of ours. “I did not see any mistakes being made. It was very, very well done.” This sparked off a not-so-intense (and a rather one-sided version) of how American productions are more professional, and therefore make less mistakes. But that’s not the point I am trying to make here.

The point that I am trying to make is that, for the first time, I have almost seen a film through a filmmaker’s eyes. This is what I call the syndrome that many filmmakers go through: instead of sitting back, relaxing and enjoying the show, you find yourself looking for the holes to pick at, wondering how such a shot was conceived, whether this was shot on 35mm or high definition, as well as how natural (or otherwise) the lighting is.

I realise this point at around the ten minute mark, when Indy makes his entrance into the warehouse. As the door opened, and the camera dollied back on the crane, we are treated to wide frontal shot of the vastness of the warehouse. Immediately, I found myself thinking about the practical lighting solutions that had to be found for the film (primarily because, while producing my friend’s film the night before, we went around begging for electricity).

Thus, what should have been one of the most defining experiences of cinema this year…had me wondering where the plug is. And that is when I first realised it. “Oh shit,” I thought to myself, “is the magic going to be gone soon?” I let myself go, and tried to enjoy the show. Fortunately, there is enough magic left in Indy to pull me back into the arms of voluntary illusion, which thrusted me further into the magical realms of archaeological adventure.

That it did manage to was a credit to the cast and crew of the film, who efforts were duly rewarded with cheers, shocks, covering-the-eyes moments (especially for the girl next to me, who practically leapt with abandon when the Crystal Skull was first discovered).

Those, however, are the effect. What is the cause of it? Why…the Indiana Jones experience itself, of course. Set in 1957, Indy (Harrison Ford) and his accomplice, Mac (Ray Winstone, though I had mistaken him for Stellan Skarsgaard initially) were captured by Soviet soldiers on the search for a hidden treasure that would make them powerful psychic warriors. Led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), the soldiers were obviously a bunch of douchebags, since the archaic professor managed to escape their clutches (even with Mac’s betrayal).

Safely back at the university, Indy finds that he is the object of affection of both the FBI and the Soviet Union. Planning to escape to London, he runs into Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), who wants his help to find his old friend, Harold Oxley (John Hurt). Oxley went missing looking for a crystal skull. Tracking down the clues, they find their way to Peru, only to find that…hello, the Soviets are also looking for the same artifact. Captured by the Soviets, they run into Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indy’s old flame. Of course, they escape again, and then…well, you can make a wild guess and what happens next.

If the previous paragraphs sounds lengthy, that’s because it is. I am literally trying to remember the plot back, and remembered that it wasn’t an easy to follow (I actually leaned to my friend and asked, “How the hell did they really figure out the guy was in Peru?”). Perhaps with greater concentration, I would have known, but even looking back at the detailed synopsis online, I find myself being slightly turned off by the trainwreck of a plot. In a sense, it is classic Spielberg (though he didn’t actually do much credited work on the script), always building up to the big climax in the end. I can see what he’s trying to do, and where he’s trying to lead us, but the constant captured-and-escape formula runs dry after a while.

Nevertheless, let that not be taken as a big downer. It is me being nitpicky, for in truth, most of the time I was mesmerised by what I call the Indy experience. Forget plots and storylines, this film is an attempt to add on to the body of works that will forever be regarded as amongst the most iconic in cinematic history. Everyone knows of the Indiana Jones films (though they may not like it). Generations have grown up on it, and no ‘Top 10 Moments in Film History’ or ‘Greatest Movie Character Ever’ discussion would be complete without at least the passing mention of Indy. How then, do you add on to that history?

The answer, in retrospect, is simple: you give them a film to experience, rather than to juggle your minds over. You give them Harrison Ford, who has probably played more famous characters than any other actors in history (Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Jack Ryan), and can still give that one-of-a-kind crooked smile of his to light up any scene. You give them his old flame, Marion Ravenwood, whose appearance brings things round to a nice circle, as far as his romantic interests are concerned. You give him that same old hat, whip, and outfit (Indy’s first appearance in the film, almost ten minutes in, is the silhouette of him putting on that hat 🙂 ). Probably more importantly, you give them the classic Indy score, which is always guaran-damn-teed to bring the house down in any cinema hall. Quite frankly, give or take the age, and the plethora of new characters (out of which, Cate Blanchett really, really shone), and we’re back twenty years earlier, ladies and gentleman.

Try to follow it with your mind, and you’ll probably find yourself being slightly confused. You might even enjoy the initial digs at age (“You’ll get to a point where life stops giving and it starts taking.”), but the constant verbal reminder might eventually annoy. Follow it with your heart, however, and you’ll have not just a film of moving images on screen. You’ll have an experience worth remembering. Cinema, after all, was initially meant to evoke emotions and feelings within us.

I suppose in that sense, it is as perfect as a movie can be.

Fikri can’t seem to find the Indy hat available anywhere…

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