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Some Ramblings - Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of Crystal Skull
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of Crystal Skull

Absurdity, in movies, is even tougher to pull off than straightforward, meaningful ones, as the burden of setting up the absurdity, supporting it and shepherding it through the length of the movie, piles on with each passing minute. However outlandish the theme, it still has to agree to the regular parameters of reason. Yes, even illogic should be logical, when it comes to movies. Take the example of double action movies, where both the look alike characters share some a common sense of perception, as long as they are within a particular radius. Illogical - certainly yes, but then that is the presupposition, that is the base, there is no arguing that. If the hero throws his hand towards somebody, as in a punch, then his look alike has to do the same, honoring the principle that is already agreed upon. If however this same basic rule is traded for convenience or some plot device, it should be called for violating its own operational rules. Adventure movies come with a pre-packaged element of absurdity. The hero finds a map with some squiggly lines and pictures in it, that he and he alone can decipher in exactly the way intended by the author of the map, to lead everyone at just the right spot, without ever taking a misstep. Absolutely no problems there. If however the elements of coincidence, fortuitousness and in some cases, pure dumb luck, work hand in glove so much for the hero, that he literally stumbles upon the one right answer to the next without even trying, it is just lazy writing. Absurdity relies on simplicity. The smaller the scale, the better is the believability, however much far-fetched the original idea is. If, on the other hand, the original idea is so overrun with outlandish elements that the characters in the film have to come to griding halt at periodic intervals, explaining what it all is and what it all means to the audience, instead of tending to the action at hand, even absurdity, the dear friend of adventure, can't save it, and the movie is, for a lack of a better word, doomed.

Everything about "The Kingdom of Crystal Skull" - the eponymous hero, his legacy, the pre-laid structure of Jones' movies, and the mandatory para-normal aspect - is setup for an uphill task right from the start, this fourth time around. Like James Bond movies, Indiana Jones has a formula - the initial introductory action sequence, the change of garb of Indiana back to his professorial profession, the finding of the next adventure, the immediate change of costumes and getting back in the saddle as the archaeological adventurer, always chasing the supernatural element in question, be it the Ark of the Covenant (Raiders of the Lost Ark), the Holy Grail (The Last Crusade) or the sacred Jewels, in the black sheep of the Jones' franchise, The Temple of Doom. And Indiana stories always succeeded whenever sought out item (Covenant, Holy Grail) was simple and straightforward and the hero's responsibility was either getting to it or recovering it. Adventure is Indiana's genre, not mystery. Jones does not solve things. That is a Hercule Poirot or a Sherlock Holmes movies. Jones figures out the mystery quickly and gets on the action. And the writers of "Crystal Skull" had it in reverse. Inspite of his bullwhip and his fedora hat, three quarters of the movie was plain exposition. It was as though the wrong guy showed up for the job - Henry Jones, the dry-witted professor. The main problem with "Crystal Skull" is the premise itself. To make Indiana's new adventure as fresh as possible, the writers went where 'no man has gone before', and came up with something no one has ever heard before. This 'alien' nature of the subject takes out the adventure aspect and reduces it to meandering mystery that should be marveled at leisure. (If the comparision is not farfetched, "Cyrstal Skull" is the action equivalent of Kubrick's classic "2001: A Space Odyssey", and that is never a good thing, for an action movie). Compare it to how accessible "Raiders" and "Last Crusade" were, when the adventures something that was popular lore and common knowledge. By going too far in the name of freshness, the makers of "Crystal Skull" have shot themselves in the foot, taking the audience out too, in the process.

Plot in Indiana movies exists only as a setup for action (or stunts, specifically). Stories are as much about real archaeology as James Bond movies are about serious espionage. How skillfully he jumps from a moving horse on to a moving vehicle, how gallantly he throws himself into the jaws of death and emerges victorious, how selflessly he trades his own life for the ones he loves - and importantly - how he does all the above at little or no expense to the CGI (Computer Generated Images) department, but in a typical blue collared stunt work, embodies the true spirit of Indiana Jones. Even the flawed 'The Temple of Doom' had some fantastic stunt work, all done with almost no wirework or wireframes (CGI). "Crystal Skull" falls into the same trap as many before - over-indulgence in technology, as none of the stunts feel real, and at every stage, it becomes woefully apparent that entire sequences together are built in computers than on real soundstages. The recent success of the Bourne trilogy and Bond's latest "Casino Royale" was in large parts due to their dogged adherence to realism in stunt work, giving as less maneuvering room for bits and bytes as possible. It is surprising why the makers of "Crystal Skull" would resort to computer antics, when they had tasted great amount of auccess in their prior outings, in spite of them. A plot that is way beyond the reach and grasp for a regular action-adventure, and the execution that was very cold and clinical at best (sterile and, yes, juvenile, at worst), "Crystal Skull" would have greatly benefited from some real flesh and blood - and that goes the same for both the adventure and the action parts.

Parting Shot:

A poetry enthusiast once goes to a mushaayiraa (poetry session) in Lucknow (famous for its Udru culture). One by one, the poets line up and render their poems to the collective enjoyment of the group. Applauses roar and appreciations break out. The evening is about to close out with the rendition of a renowned abstract poet. The poet walks up the dais, adjusts the mike and yells out "Dibbaa" (a box), at the sound of which thunders "wah wah wah wah". Our enthusiast scratches his head unable to understand the loud applause at just a word. The poet carries on "Dibbe pe Dibba" (a box on a box). The crows roars again. Our enthusiast looks around to see, if there is anything that he is missing here before he hears another "Dibbe pe Dibbe pe Dibba" (a box upon a box on another box). The enthusiast is truly perplexed. He proceeds to ask the guy next to him what the fuss was all about and is met wit a loud "shush". The poet on the other hand is going on "Dibbe pe Dibbe pe Dibbe pe Dibba". The enthusiast could not take it any longer. He turns towards the one next to hm and ask "bhai saab! ae buzurg kyaa bOltae jaa rahaa hai! mujhe tO kuch bhee samajh mein naheen aa rahaa hai" (O kind soul! can you be kind enough to let me know what the hell is this guy babbling about! I am unable to get it") to which the kind soul coolly replies "arey bhai! yahaa samajh kiskO aa hO hai, ae dektae jaaO ki woh DibbOn kO balance kaise kiye jaa rahaa hai!" (O wretched soul! who the hell here is concerned about the meaning, just look at the way he is balancing the boxes one on top of another")


More Ramblings on films
Speed Racer
Iron Man
Jodha Akbar
There will be blood
Chrlie Wilson's War
No Country for Old Men
Om Shanti Om
Lions for Lambs
American Gangster
Michael Clayton
Happy Days
Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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