(I’ve said that this space is for me to blog about my either my writing or more general geek-related topics. Today deals with the latter…)
Did you hear? Indiana Jones is back! At long last, he has returned as promised after all these years to unite the fans, absolve our geekish sins, and deliver us from the Nazis…or something like that. At any rate, that seems to be how many are viewing the coming release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Some Other Words We Decided Not to Add to the Title. Some look forward to it as if it were the Second Coming, while others, stung by their Star Wars prequel hype disappointment, fearfully await it as if it were a tetanus shot from a one-eyed doctor. People have asked me, “Mike, you’re a geek, what do YOU think about Indy 4?” (Actually no one’s put it in quite those terms, but for the purposes of this blog we’ll just pretend they did.) I can sum up my answer in three simple words:
I don’t know.
But hey, no one likes a summation, especially if it doesn’t really say anything. (Well, okay, political ad-makers do, but that’s a separate topic.) So with apologies to Inigo Montoya, let me explain…
Being thirty-three, I first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark as a kid. It was one of the first movies I ever watched on that amazing new device called a VCR that my dad rented from the store. I can still remember sitting in my living room watching that guy with the bullwhip elude traps, fight Nazis, and have the good sense to stay tied to a pole when peoples’ faces started melting off. (Being an easily scared kid, that whole bit scared the bejezzus out of me, which may be likely why I wasn’t taken to the theater to see it!) Temple of Doom was experienced first as a photo book that I got because I was too excited to wait for the movie. (I also seem to recall finding out later that my family went to see it without me when I was away at a friends’ house. My parents were quite strict on the PG-13 thing, as I recall.) The Last Crusade was, I think, the first one of those films I actually saw in the theater, and I can recall feeling just a bit sad at the end, knowing there’d be no more Indy. (Heck, I even bought that he WAS dead when the tank went off the cliff, knowing it was to be the last film. On the other hand, I’m not always too bright.)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (okay, I’m NOT typing that out again, so I’ll just call it IJatKotCS for shor–screw it, it’s Indy 4) will be the first Indy movie I’ve seen in the theater as an adult. That alone is cause for, well, pause, at least. How much of my enjoyment of the first three comes from seeing them through young-Mike’s eyes? It’s a common question in situations like these after all, especially since the Star Wars prequels came out and failed to live up to fan expectations. Ever since then there’s been a debate in fan circles about how much of the prequel disappointment is due to that phenomenon versus the quality of the films themselves. Will Indy 4 fail to live up to the first three such that there will be a similar debate about it, or will it be so great as to please (most) everyone and be considered a true success?
For my part, I’m approaching it with a slowly-decaying guarded optimism. There’s a friend of mine who tends to view unreleased sequels with a pessimistic attitude in order to avoid getting herself too hyped up about it. If the movie DOES turn out to be great, she’s pleasantly surprised, and if it’s as bad as she’s expecting, then at least there’s no disappointment. (Plus she also gets the pleasure of being smug.) I usually view that as self-destructively denying an opportunity for happiness; after all, anticipation can be fun, right? But I’ve found my earlier positive attitudes about Indy 4 eroding lately, slipping more in line with her way of thinking. Part of that is due to having heard some negative opinions on what insiders have seen, but part may also be due to my having a greater-than-realized emotional investment in this series. Like my friend, I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment. I want to keep the positive attitude (Spielburg! Ford!), but I’ve also cause to be wary (Lucas!).
And then of course there’s the approach another friend of mine is taking: I believe his exact words were, “If it doesn’t kick ass, I’m going to have to kill someone.” I’d like to think I’m not QUITE that far gone, though. (I recently saw Iron Man with him, by the way, and at the end he happily declared that no one would die today.)
The Indiana Jones series is a curious thing; it’s got a broad following of fans wistfully recalling the three stories that brought adventure to life under the brim of a fedora, and yet there is so little out there BUT the movies. If one compares it to that other Lucas/Ford pairing
American Graffiti Star Wars, Indy’s few movies are dwarfed by the “expanded universe” of Star Wars, which features novels, comics, animated shows, video games more novels, and twice the number of movies. I should be fair and point out that Indy HAS had video games and the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, but it’s my understanding (and correct me if I’m wrong) that Young Indy is sort of the equivalent of Mark Hamill’s guest spot on the Muppet Show in terms of how much people really care about it anymore. While Star Wars’s expanded universe has taken on a life of its own (a life that some would argue eclipses the films), Indy is just about the movies.
Indeed, Indiana Jones is the epitome of the popcorn movie–and I mean that in a good way. No deep back-story, no nuanced myth arc, no Nazi goons turning out to be Indy’s father, just pure adventure tales with a fun character. There were the good guys, the bad guys, and very little grey in between. Yes, life is seldom so clear-cut, but that’s part of Indy’s appeal. It’s not about the dark questions that torment men’s souls, it’s about fun. You don’t watch Raiders of the Lost Ark to contemplate the human experience that is life, you watch it to ENJOY life.
I suppose it’s for such reasons that we shouldn’t be too disappointed if Indy 4 isn’t absolutely fantastic. It’s not something that’s completing a saga or filling in a part of the universe that we’ve always speculated about like the Star Wars prequels were. It’s not an adaptation of a beloved book that we always wanted to see as a movie and hope to God they do right, as the Lord of the Rings films were for many. It’s just another couple of hours with a character with whom we’ve always had fun. When you see an old friend whom you haven’t seen in a while, do you compare your new time with them against the old days and, should they fail to be QUITE as much fun, chastise them for it? Or should you just be happy you got to see them again?
I suppose I’ll see how well I can adopt that attitude when I see the movie. …I’ll let you know if my second friend has to kill anyone.
Michael G. Munz