Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What Say You: Old Heroes


I love movie trailers. Most people complain about them and say how there are getting to be more and more these days. I say there aren't enough. I would probably throw down good money to see two hours worth of trailers. I'm straight up crazy that way. I live literally 3 minutes away from an AMC gazillion-plex. I wish it were some smaller, older theater but I'm not going to complain. The wife likes to leave about 5 minutes before a movie is to begin. I myself don't like to cut it that close. The wife always says "we're only missing trailers, it will be fine." Now this is a woman who knows full well how I feel about trailers, and yet... AND YET... she still says that, digging the blade so deep in my heart. Good Lord, where am I and what am I talking about?

Okay, so I go to see Iron Man in its first weekend and the wife isn't with me which means I get there nice and early so I can catch all the trailers. Among the trailers is one for the new Indiana Jones movie. It's a good trailer and the movie looks to be entertaining enough. But damn Harrison Ford looks old. Not cool old like Sean Connery, just old old. He's not really that old, but he just looks old in this role. And so that begs the question, is The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull doing damage to not only the franchise, but to faithful audiences in general? There's a reason Superman never gets old, and it has less to do with his planet and more to do with the fact that people don't like to watch their heroes go gray. For me it's not a vanity thing, it's a fact that we're witnessing the magic wearing off. Like a really nice potion that turns that beautiful woman that you've been dating for a few months into a 90 year old woman right before your eyes. It hurts. Indiana Jones is all about movie magic. It is an homage to the serial movies of old. So why break that mold with this late installment? An entire age group could give a damn about an older Indy, but not me. To me, it's a reminder that we're all mere mortals, even Indiana Jones. But that's just me. Is the new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull really that big of deal, or just good clean fun.

WHAT SAY YOU?

16 comments:

Ray said...

There is a scene in the newest trailer - Indy punches a guy, and then punches him again with his other fist - that was the first time I thought to myself, "Wow Harrison looks old and slow in this."

It looks like Harrison still has the charm of the character, but Indy's biggest characteristic in these films is his physicality. I'm not sure if this will look quite right in the upcoming movie. The sad truth is that this newest film was made by three old and very rich men who wanted to stick their hands in the cookie jar one last time.

bird flu said...

I just hope there aren't a lot of "I'm getting too old for this stuff" stuff in this installment.It's the final nail in the action sequel coffin-(see Lethal Weapon 4) usually making them too painful to watch. The good news is that they are also too painful to remember.

Fletch said...

"The wife likes to leave about 5 minutes before a movie is to begin. I myself don't like to cut it that close."

Same here. What the hell? I mean, seriously, what the hell?

Gotta disagree with you, Ray. Indy's biggest characteristic has always - ALWAYS - been his wit, in terms of both smarts and humor. I don't think Harrison's even been all that agile of a guy, and he's no hulking mass, either.

I'm with you, Bird Flu - mention the age a couple times and that's fine, but if it becomes the running theme of the movie - ugh. Though with Lethal Weapon it was not only warranted, but the running joke, as Murtaugh was saying that in the first one...then they made three sequels.

Burbanked said...

Piper, I think there's no one answer. The way the characters are treated, and the way the hero archetypes are handled, all depend on the filmmaking. If the writers and directors are up for the task, I don't have a problem at all with seeing an aging hero. It's got to be realistic and truthful to the character, and as long as it doesn't betray something that is inherent to who that character is, I think it'll be great.

While I agree with Ray that so much of Jones' character is tied up in his physicality, I also think that Indy's charm comes much from his humanity: the fact that he is not a superman, that he DOES take damage, that his punches DON'T always fall the villain, and so on. Part of what was so wonderful about River Phoenix's performance as young Indy was the fact that he mimicked Ford's physicality so well, with so many of its imperfections. So why shouldn't we see an older Jones who moves a bit slower and hurts a bit more when he throws a punch - but who still retains the tenacity and the determination to do what has to be done?

I'm probably in the minority in this, but I think the LETHAL WEAPON series does this fantastically well: it's among the only blockbuster franchises that I can think of in which there is a real-world progression of the characters' lives and the fact that they MUST age and evolve and grow over the course of the series. Look at the progression of Riggs alone: from suicidal widower/loner; to a guy who allows his partner's family to befriend him and a new romantic relationship; to a more mature, balanced man with a more mature, better-matched love interest; and finally to a full-fledged grown-up, capable of committing to marriage, family, etc.

Some might say, "Yeah, but by LW4 he's simply not RIGGS anymore, waaaaah", and I would gladly kick those people in their bellies. The fact that both Riggs AND Murtagh are "too old for this shit" by the end of 4 is a testament to the filmmakers putting some actual thought into how these characters would and should age. Why do you think the ending credits for LW4 featured all of the "family" style pictures of the movie's cast and crew? The film itself is about family, about commitment and growing up and accepting responsibility. At the same time, all of those people who got to work on those movies grew and changed and evolved together as well. I think that's terrific! It's a commitment to both story and filmmaking that very few movies make, and accomplish well.

As for what this means for CRYSTAL SKULL, my hope is simply that 1) they remain honest to the character and 2) that they don't f**k it up too horribly. With Lucas and his ridiculously persistent "macguffin" talk, neither of those requirements are a safe bet.

MC said...

I don't hate trailers when I go to see a movie... I loathe television commercials for products during that time however.

Anonymous said...

1. I like trailers too. I could watch them all day. Well, maybe not all day.

2. He is a bit long in the tooth. I think it's time to retire the hat and the franchise.

Ray said...

@ Fletch - I really don't find Indy all that witty. Burbanked hit it on the head: his humanity.

Damian said...

This is a very interesting topic, Piper, because upon reading it, two things occurred to me: 1) Most of our contemporary fictional heroes (James Bond, Batman, Superman, Spider-man, etc) have all remained around the same age since their initial creation (some of them as much as 70 years ago) and 2) there really aren't any iconic "elderly" heroes.

I'll leave the second fact alone at this point, but the first one is, I think, somewhat dependant upon the medium in which the hero is created. It is much easier to keep a character from passing a certain age in a literary format (novel, comic book, etc) than it is in a film/TV series because ongoing stories in audio-visual media are limited by a sort of "inseperable connection to reality." As time marches on and actors age, it becomes increasingly difficult to make an audience believe that years have not passed when the actor (and by extension the character) is clearly much older. In a book it's easy. You just write "So-and-so was 36 years old" and he reader accepts it.

However, while cinema's "connection to reality", as I have decided to call it, might be inseperable, it is not totally insurmountable. Studios have long been engaged in the practice of re-casting a role with a younger actor in order to restrict the character to a certain age limit (case in point: James Bond), but if an actor is indelibly identified with a particular role (as I would argue Harrison Ford is with Indiana Jones) such an act is virtually unthinkable. I, for one, would be totally uninterested in seeing anyone besides Hord wearing the signature fedora.

Part of the reason for that, I believe, is the fact that the origin of Indiana Jones (unlike all of the other heroes I metioned previously) is rooted strictly in the cinema. James Bond, Harry Potter, Rambo, Sherlock Holmes and every single comic book superhero ever created were all born on the written page. Indiana Jones, however, was conceived and manifested, first as a formemost, as a movie character. Thus, there were no pre-conceived notions about Indiana Jones when he first became known to audiences; none, that is, outside the ones formed through his portrayal by Harrison Ford. Ford IS Indiana Jones. In some ways, I think Indy may be less like the other aforementioned heroes (Bond, Batman, etc) and actually have more in common with Rocky or John McClane (although the original Die Hard was loosely based on a book). Both of these characters are identified solely with the actor who plays them. Nobody thinks of Rocky without picturing Sylvester Stallone and nobody hears the name John McClane without hearing Bruce Willis' voice. Stallone simply IS Rocky and McClane IS WIllis. It is interesting to note that these other two characters were also "resurrected" recently in entries of a continuing franchises, both dealt with the phenomenon of "aging" and both were considered highly successful by both critics and audiences. Hopefully Indy IV will be able to follow suit.

Personally speaking, I don't have a problem seeing Indy age (I've always thought that the character's vulnerability and mortality more appealing aspects of his character than his mere physicality) and I had long hoped that they would acknowledge that reality in the fourth film because, the truth is, without dealing with that subject, there really isn't any reason for this movie. As Burbanked has said before, the movie may be unnecessary anyway, but it would be REALLY unnecessary if they were merely trying to pass this off as "just another Indiana Jones" adventure and not see it as another "chapter" in the life of this rather beleivable character who, as we ALL do, gets older an slower with the passage of time.

Fletch said...

@ Damian - "It is interesting to note that these other two characters [Rocky and John McClane] were also "resurrected" recently...and both were considered highly successful by both critics and audiences. Hopefully Indy IV will be able to follow suit."

I may be nitpicking, but "highly successful?" Really? I won't bother to look up box office numbers (High for Die Hard, but didn't Rocky top out at $40-50 mil?) or IMDb/RT scores, but I'd say both were middling successes.

Granted, neither is seen as an embarrassment to the franchise the way that Rocky V is looked at, and I'd guess Indy IV won't be looked at as a failure, either, but will most likely go down as a cash grab (regardless of whether it truly is or not) that succeeded mildly in the quality department. In other words, what most people think of Die Hard 4 as being (though I thought it pretty awful).

@ ray - agree to disagree. His whispered/grunted/under-the-radar sarcastic jabs are always what endeared the character to me, and I doubt I'm alone there.

Damian said...

Fletch:

Perhaps I let my enthusiasm get the better of me in calling them "highly successful." I was originally going to say simply "successful" but at the last second felt the need, I guess, to add my own subjective opinion into the mix. I personally thought they were both indeed highly successful for what they set out to do.

In my defense, however, Rocky's domestic intake was actually $70 million while it's worldwide was 155 (all from a budget of 24) and I remember the reviews at the time being surprisingly positive (out of 164 reviews, it got 70% on rottentomatoes). Die Hard took in $134 million domestically and did 383 worldwide (with a production budget of 110) and the critics were again very favorable towards it (80%, out of 187 reviews, at rottentomatoes). So, despite my own personal opinion of their quality, I still feel somewhat justified in considering their respective performances "highly successful" considering they were both poised to fail (especially Rocky).

Piper said...

Some good debate here gents and I appreciate it.

I got off task a little bit in my first paragraph of this post talking too much about trailers. brian (who has weighed in as anonymous) is trying to make a point with me that I've gotten off subject which I have.

Anyway,

I'm with Ray and Burbanked here. More physicality, but mostly humanity here. The reluctant hero. The professor who will do whatever it takes to find the goods, even if it means that he will have to face a pit of snakes and crawl from the front of a moving truck the back while underneath it. The action seems to be secondary. Indy doesn't seem to look for it, it just finds him.

Damian,

You're right about Harrison being Indy and I didn't mean to suggest that it should be someone younger. And because of your point, I have rethought my stance a bit here. I actually like that they have made this sequel. I think it's pretty ballsy actually. And I can say that with confidence since I don't know how the movie is - either good or bad.

Michael J. Mendez said...

I love trailers and in front of Iron Man, I saw Hulk, Indy and Dark Knight. I almost had an accident! Thanks, Oops, I Crapped My Pants!

Damian said...

Oh, I know you weren't suggesting that someone younger should play Indy, Piper, and I didn't mean to imply that you were. I was merely elaborating on the various ways in which filmmakers have opted to deal with the passage of time in any given movie series. Re-casting the part is one way but it is certainly not the only way.

The truth is that each protagonist of a movie series is different: appealing in his/her own way, with qualities unique unto him/her and with his/her own individual strengths and weaknesses. What works for one character/series doesn't always work with another (for whatever reason) and that's why there really isn't any one set "right" way to do this. Some franchises can be kept going indefinitely (personally, I hope they keep making Bond films until the end of time) while others reach a point where they simply need to be retired (such as, I would argue, Rocky). I was of the opinion, for a long time, that Last Crusade should in fact be Indy's "last crusade" because it wrapped up the series quite nicely (I mean, they literally ride of into the sunset for crying loud!) and I just felt that Lucas, Spielberg and Ford didn't have anything more to say really with the character of Indiana Jones. Apparently they thought so too... for quite a long time.

One of the things that makes this latest film interesting to me is the fact that now these three main creators of Indiane Jones are all--like the character himself--much, much older with a whole new collection of personal experiences under their belt, new insights into their lives and their work and new things to "say" with their art. Don't get me wrong. I have no illusions about the Raiders films being extremely deep and/or profound works of high art. They were, are and always will be primarily entertainment: pure fun, enjoyable popcorn adventure films. Nevertheless, by the very nature of this whole thing, they're still personal expressions of the individuals behind them (they can't help but NOT be) and since I don't think it can be denied that these indivudals are highly talented, they might actually have something interesting to say now; something they didn't have before. Thus, I actually think right now might the best time for another Indiana Jones adventure. Maybe the character of Indy will have grown, changed and learned just as the men responsible for him have. As long as he has not changed to the degree--and this was what Burbanked was getting at--that he is no longer Indy. Indy's "essence" must be maintained for this endeavor to even be necessary. After all, why make an Indiana Jones movie if you don't have Indiana Jones?

On that point, though, I do have to say that I still have faith in Lucas, Ford and especially Spielberg. I think they probably know this character better than anyone else and I'm hopeful that when we see the movie, we'll see a newer (or "older" rather) and different Indy than the one we're used to, but it will still be Indy: at his core, he will still be the exact same Indiana Jones that we first fell in love with almost 30 years ago up on that screen... and THAT will be thrilling.

Remember, it's not the year's... it's the mileage. :)

Piper said...

Damian,

Had Spielberg not been attached to this movie, I would worry. But being that he is, I'm hoping for the best.

Damian said...

Had Spielberg not been attached to this movie, I would worry. But being that he is, I'm hoping for the best.

Certainly I have a lot of faith in Spielberg's talent (moreso perhaps even than in the other two), but I actually think that had not all three of them been attached to the project, I wouldn't be interested. I believe that the character of Indiana Jones really does need this "holy trinity" of artists in order to work. No one of them could do it on their own (not even Spielberg, brilliant as he is). In fact, I don't even think two of them could pull it off. Don't forget that the Young Indiana Jones Chronciles did have, at one point, two of the three working on it: Ford and Lucas. As it turns out, that was the one moment in that whol TV series that even came close to approaching the level of success seen in the movies, and yet it still fell massively short.

One could make the argument, I guess, that Ford and Spielberg might be able to do it without Lucas, but I'm not convinced they could, nor would they want to I think. Nope. Indy needs all three. Fortunately, he's got all three once again, so we'll see.

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