Saturday, July 17, 2004

Ye Olde Emporium of High Nerdishnesse, with Divers Geekerye

(Yeah, I know, I'm milking the whole "Ye Olde...." thing for my titles today. It was a whim, one which will presumably wear off tomorrow.)

I saw a couple of things out there in Blogistan that made me want to display my penchant for All Things Geekish And Sad, so here I go:

:: Darth Swank points out a compendium of dumb things in Sci-Fi movies. Now, you might think I'm going to quibble with the one Greg quotes, but I'm not, even if I don't grant that the Imperial Walkers are that bad of a weapon. (Seems to me they pretty much ruled the roost in that battle -- the Rebels only brought down two of them, and one of those was because Luke is such a cool proto-Jedi at the time.) The one that caught my eye is this, about Independence Day:

Independence Day had already lost all credibility when Will Smith climbed into an alien spacecraft and after a few moments, figured out how to fly the thing. But dumb turns to laugh-out-loud ludicrous when Will conquers the aliens with a floppy disk, in an absurd homage to "War of the Worlds." Will should have just stuffed a peanut butter sandwich into the disk drive. It would have had the same odds of working.

Now, there's a decent point there: the idea that these aliens' computers could be flummoxed by something cooked up in mere hours on a circa-1996 Powerbook is totally absurd. But we are talking about ID4, a movie that is so loaded with bad SF stuff that it hardly seems fair to pick on even this most crucial plot point; and anyway, it isn't even Will Smith who does this! Will flies the ship, but it's Jeff Goldblum who does the handy bit of miraculous uploading. Ye Gods.

:: Terminus solicits suggestions for sequels which are superior to their forebeards. There aren't many, obviously -- most people would put The Empire Strikes Back in that category (personally, I don't, but it's incredibly close); Godfather II is often cited (haven't seen it); X-Men 2 certainly fills the bill. Lethal Weapon 2 is amazingly close as well (but it doesn't quite exceed the original, as it gets really bleak in its last half hour). No one mentions Toy Story 2, which is really close to beating out the original, or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which most think is far-and-away superior to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (which I hold to be very underrated, although I certainly understand the criticisms of it). And Die Hard 2 is awfully good, although again, not as good as Die Hard.

But in the comments, a couple of people suggest that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade exceeds Raiders of the Lost Ark in quality. I really think that this film is amazingly overrated, simply by virtue of Sean Connery's performance, which is so good (both by itself and by his pitch-perfect chemistry with Harrison Ford; why on Earth have these two never teamed up again, even in a non-Indy movie?) that it outweighs a lot. But Last Crusade really falters in two key areas of character and story.

Character first: Walter Donovan is not a very interesting villain, whereas Rene Belloq from Raiders is. Secondly, Sallah is little more than a buddy-along-for-the-road in Last Crusade, fulfilling no vital function in the film. He's certainly a sharper-drawn character in Raiders than he is in Last Crusade. But the most egregious example of bungled character in that film is poor Marcus Brody. Brody only appears in a handful of scenes in Raiders, at the beginning and end, but the implication very clearly is that he's a shrewd and passionate man himself; we can almost see that he is what Indiana Jones himself would be in his elder years. But in Last Crusade, Marcus Brody is literally turned into a bumbling fool who provides nothing more than idiotic comic relief. Every time I watch Last Crusade, I cringe whenever Denholm Elliot is on the screen.

And story: yeah, Last Crusade tells a fun story. It really does. (I don't want to give the impression that I don't like it, because I do.) But upon further examination, it tells the exact same story as Raiders. Don't believe it? Well, which film am I describing here:

A father-figure from Indiana Jones's past turns out to have uncovered the final key to discovering the last resting place of one of the holiest of relics in history, but the Nazis are also hot on the trail, aided by a rival archaeologist. Indy first travels to that father-figure's last known location to reacquire that final key, and then he journeys to the Middle East for the final search. After much adventuring, including a harrowing chase through the desert involving a caravan of large vehicles, the final confrontation is set up in which the villain is defeated because he fails to understand the true nature of the powers with which he is grappling. Ultimately Indy gains no real fame or fortune for having found the relic, which remains located in obscurity.

Sure, there are differences here, and those last couple of points also apply to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (which I once hated, but have come to actually enjoy a good deal). But aside from the stuff with Connery, Last Crusade really doesn't have much sense of "new-ness" about it -- it's more retread than anything else.

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