Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Spielbergs

I have long believed that there are two Steven Spielbergs. There's the guy who can make films like Schindler's List and the guy who makes films like Jurassic Park II. One is a filmmaker who has an intimate understanding of story and character, who puts his all into his films and sacrifices nothing en route to making some of the most powerful films on the American landscape. The other one doesn't seem to care much at all about story or logic and is just having a romp at the moviegoer's expense, which brings us to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Not many people are fans of the most recent Indiana Jones film. I personally think it's got some fun moments but it is a stinker. I just read an article with some quotes from Steven Spielberg regarding the film. He told Empire Magazine this:

"I sympathise with people who didn't like the MacGuffin because I never liked the MacGuffin. George and I had big arguments about the MacGuffin.
"I didn't want these things to be either aliens or inter-dimensional beings. But I am loyal to my best friend. When he writes a story he believes in - even if I don't believe in it - I'm going to shoot the movie the way George envisaged it.
"I'll add my own touches, I'll bring my own cast in, I'll shoot the way I want to shoot it, but I will always defer to George as the storyteller of the Indy series. I will never fight him on that."
Jeez. He kind of throws George under the bus, doesn't he? Frankly, I think it's a load of crap. I feel compelled to express this because, as a storyteller, I'm a little surprised that Steven has so completely missed the point.

That MacGuffin would have worked just fine if the rest of the story had been told well. Aliens are somehow less believable than the Ark of the Covenant? Or the Holy Grail? Or the Shankara Stones? I don't think so.

So what made Indy IV so stinky? Well, here's another quote from the esteemed filmmaker regarding the nuclear explosion and the lead-lined refrigerator:

"Blame me. Don't blame George. That was my silly idea. People stopped saying 'jump the shark'. They now say, 'nuked the fridge'. I'm proud of that. I'm glad I was able to bring that into popular culture."

Proud? It's hard to believe this is the same guy who made Saving Private RyanSchindler's List, and Amistad. I admit, I thought that scene was pretty funny, but I'm aware (at the same time) that it was completely ludicrous. When The Fonz jumped the shark on Happy Days it was an event that signified the show had crossed a line, a line you don't want to cross. It's a line that disengages the audience and causes eye-rolling. It became a saying to signify that your show or film no longer has any credibility. Why would anyone be proud to trump such an event? And yet I guess it shouldn't be a surprise; Spielberg has tried to trump it before. Remember the scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where the mine car makes the leap across a huge chasm and lands, with everyone still on board, safely on the tracks on the other side? Ugh. The fridge and the nuke is much more egregious though. I can't believe I'm having to say that, but there it is.

And the worst part about Indy IV? The fridge and the nuke is only the tip of the shark jumping iceberg! How about the giant ants? Or the sword fight on the hood of a jeep? Or (and this is the best/worst one to me) Mutt swinging on vines faster than the speeding jeeps? And we're not even done!!! How about driving a jeep off a cliff only to land in a tree that ever so gently lowers them into the water!? Or said jeep going over not one but three massive waterfalls and all of our heroes staying in the jeep, safe and sound, after all three!? That's what made Indy IV suck.

Or how about the climax of the film, where our iconic hero just walks out of the giant hole as it fill up with water. And once they're out, they stand on top of a hill and watch as the aliens return home. That's how you end an Indiana Jones film!? By having the hero walk and stand!? 

And if all of that wasn't enough, how about the progression of events between Indy, his son, and Marion. There was so much potentially to explore between Indy and Mutt. It would have been much more interesting if the tension between them had continued to build until the climax of the film, or at least the third act break. Mutt sure wasn't very angry at his father for abandoning them. Even if that wasn't exactly the case (Indy didn't know that Marion was pregnant), it could still seem that way to Mutt, especially if his mother had never told him the truth. Indy also gives Mutt lots of good 'life' advice during the film only to completely reverse his thoughts once he finds out that Mutt is his son. Really? Just for a funny line? That undermines Indy as a character. 

I've heard people moan about the aliens, the MacGuffin of Indy IV, and have been able to more or less ignore it, but when I hear the director, a man who's dedicated his life to storytelling, lay the blame of Indy IV openly on that MacGuffin, I have to finally speak out. So there it is, on the record: the MacGuffin in Indy IV is just fine. If you still don't like it, that's fine, but don't say that's why Indy IV stank to high heaven, 'cause it's not.

Oh, and just to clarify, I know, in the end, that there are not two Steven Spielbergs. And how do I know? Because the two met on one film in particular. Minority Report. Spielberg captured some of his best and most exciting storytelling in this film, and yet it was also more or less devoid of internal logic (my term for a story's own set of rules). John Anderton, Tom Cruise's character, comes up on a redball (meaning he's going to commit murder) and yet he still has access to the police building later? He uses his old eyeball to get in. I've been fired before. The first thing they do is restrict your access to the building. They don't even wait for you to get out. His wife is also given Anderton's service pistol with his belongings, which she then uses to rescue her husband. Service weapons are issued, not owned. And then there's the entire logic behind the precogs. It doesn't make any sense. I'm not even going to try and explain why; it'll give me a headache. 

So who's up for seeing Warhorse? And how to feel now about the knowledge that Lucas is working on the story for an Indy V? After all, we've already "nuked the fridge".

1 comment:

zsherman said...

I hear ya, but remember... Both Steven and Harrison threatened to WALK at one point over "creative differences" while I was still at ILM. But Steven, when on Oprah, even said "Raiders was a job, not a labor of love."