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Monday, 26 May 2008

Review: The Fourth Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones 4 was very sad. The whole thing was flooded with dusk - a farewell to the boys of summer, Spielberg and Lucas, and Harrison Ford, who brought us so many great sci-fi and adventure classics.

Together, they have given the world much unreconstructed pleasure, and here, again, they revisited their key themes, of Americana, innocence, boys-into-men (and their fear of women and foreign entanglements) - and, of course, aliens wanting to return home. Most critics have noted that Ford looks and acts old - which is the case - and it is shocking, indeed, how grizzled, even (Ryder?) haggard, he does look - surely, that is the point. Rather than conceal the force of age from the fourth film, then, it seems a decision was made to foreground the idea of Time. Shakespearean as this is, it's apt, and adds a dimension to the film that, at first glance, is missing: namely, quality.

The movie feels half-baked. Then, on reflection, one reminds oneself that these are movies paying homage to the old cliffhangers of yore, and that this one, set in 1957, is a homage, even on top of that pastiche-fed floor, to B-movies, or worse. So, the grains of time, and time's losses and consequences, from atomic theory (and practice), to political shifts, to history itself (the struggle between West and East), is all put in a longer, deeper perspective - an ancient civilization, now merely relics, glows with future promise, if change can appear. Notably, the film is strangely menacing - the forces at the end are neither E.T. nor are they "Alien" - but something else - highly intelligent collectors, neutral, and ultimately above human concerns. On the subject of Blanchett's faux Ruskie babe in the ultra-cool uniform - well, you either "get" such things, or you don't. Watching this, I felt old - I felt a generation was turning a page.

I felt Indy's travels in my bones. Spielberg has made us excavate ourselves, all our own thoughts about all our American (read: Western capitalist) yesterdays - from greasers, to milkshakes, to the space race, to the McCarthy witch hunts - and recognize how these were built on force, on violence, on tragedy. At the end (the beginning begins out West, in a cheeky gopher mound echoing the mountain from Close Encounters) we get a comedic ending - a wedding - and are asked to bless this union. Problematic, tricky, and hard to do, given what's come before (Hiroshima and amour, indeed) - but that's the difficult American balancing act, or rather confidence trick - love our Elvis, forgive our Nam etc. - and Spielberg's been one of the masters of it, since Jaws.
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