The original "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is an amazing film. I watched it recently and was amazed (all over again) at how smart the movie is, at how well so many of the pieces work together to create such a great movie.
I even caught something that I'd never caught before (I hadn't seen the film in a long time): the idea that Indy starts out the movie as someone who doesn't believe in magic and superstitions and that by the end he fully believes in the power of the Ark. That's his personal journey, his "arc" or the way his character has been changed by the events of the movie.
So understandably the world is excited about the coming of the next Indiana Jones movie. It's funny, everyone seems willing to forget about the more recent two Indy movies and we are all going to pretend that they never existed and that this upcoming one will be a worthy successor to the first one, which, really, is the only movie people ever seem think of when you say "Indiana Jones".
So I hate to be a spoilsport here but there's something about the new trailer that I can't quite swallow and I suppose it's worth talking about because it comes down to a pretty fundamental belief I have about films.
The part of the trailer that sets off alarm bells in my head is the moment when Ray Winstone says "This isn't going to be easy" and Harrison Ford answers "Not as easy as it used to be" (If you haven't seen the trailer, it can be found here or here.
The reason I think this line is troublesome is that it's basically a wink to the audience that refers to the first movie and the fact that the first movie was made over twenty years ago. It's a line that would be meaningless if those first films had never been made and if we weren't all aware of them.
I have a hard time believing that anybody would ever really say that line in that situation. I know people who have aged and have made remarks about their diminished faculties but never at all the way Indy does here, and it's hard to imagine that being the first thing on your mind in the situation that Indiana Jones seems to be in here.
Anyway, my main point is that it's a reference to the first movie and the fact that the character of "Indiana Jones" knows that he exists in movie form, instead of a real character in a real world that exists and once in a while we get to look through a magic screen and spy on him and watch as he has adventures in his world.
It may be hard to see this distinction or see why that matters, I know. Let me try to explain from a different tack:
I've never been a big believer in the approach to film that some people are, that you should sit down and write a biography of your characters and figure out what led them (both emotionally and physically) to the spot they are in when you first see them on the screen. I always felt that it was important to know what they wanted and why they wanted it but I always felt like writing a whole biography for them was a kind of crutch, because you're not going to be showing that part of their life on screen, so to me, writing it down was dangerous because you know it but your audience doesn't, and you might think you're getting all of that on screen, because you've written it all down somewhere, but you're not getting it onscreen unless it's in the script or the storyboards.
So recently I was in a meeting where someone was asking a lot of questions about the characters in the movie I'm working on and we were talking all about the backstory of all of our characters. It was clearly very important to this person and he said, at one point:
"The world of your movie existed before the movie begins, and it will exist after the movie ends."
I have heard that before but never really thought too much about what it means, except that in this specific moment I realized that he was saying that because he wanted the world of our movie to feel real. The reason it's vitally important for the world to feel real is that, unless the world of the movie is real to the characters, you won't ever really believe that they can get hurt, or die, or really fall in love, or that whether or not they ever get what they want really matters at all. And no movie works unless you can believe these things.
I'm not saying that every movie has to feel like reality; not at all. "Toy Story 2" is one of the most emotional movies I've ever seen and yet I know toys don't really get up and talk after everyone leaves the room (well, I'm pretty sure they don't, anyway). Films like "There's Something About Mary" or "Raising Arizona" take place in a strange, cartoony version of our world but I still believes in those worlds, and I always do as long as they seem consistent and they seem real to the characters within it. Movies like "Alien" and "Star Wars" take place in totally alternate universes from ours, but again, if it seems real and consistent to the characters I care about and believe in, I have no trouble buying that those worlds are totally real.
Which brings us back to Indiana Jones. And the reason I am so bothered by the "unreality" of the trailer is that the world of the first movie was so great. It felt so real and so believable and each film since then seems to have dropped the ball on that one completely.
The other moment that really bugs me is when he falls back into the cab of the truck behind him, says "that looked closer" while both he and his enemies look on, dumbfounded, before he regains his composure and punches the person next to him.
There were similar moments like this in the first movie, for sure, but not quite so catoony and unrealistic. In the first film, there would be a physical consequence to something like falling that far and landing on something as unyielding as the cab of a truck. He never would have gone through something like that, had no physical consequence to such an extreme action, and then spouted off a quip while his enemies wait for him to recover.
In fact, in the first movie, all of the humor seemed to come from the fact that Indy was a real guy trying to do extraordinary things and being overwhelmed and confused and scared for most of the time. All of his reactions were humorous but still felt very real. That worked so well, it seemed so funny and it really made you feel like you were following this guy and that you might actually be just like this guy if you went through the same journey. It made you empathize with him and really feel sorry for him when things went badly and root for him to overcome everything.
It's hard to feel sorry for, or emphathize with a guy who's a superhero and never gets hurt or seems to take his peril all that seriously or be afraid of danger, because that's not how I would react in those circumstances, and also if he doesn't seem to care if he survives or not all that much then I sure as hell won't either.
In any case I am sure there are many of you who are thinking "it's just a movie, don't take it so seriously" or "so what if the world of this new movie is different from the world of the first movie"? It's just that the first movie was so great and worked so well, that's it's so frustrating to watch the film makers forget what made the first one so great and squander away what made it work so unbelievably well. I just hate going to the theater and seeing such a pale reflection of something that was once so great, but then again, maybe you will think I'm over-thinking it and aren't movies just about having fun?
Yes, but my favorite movies are ones in which I get an emotional charge out of the experience. And that doesn't mean pulling at your heartstrings or making you cry; it can also mean just putting you on the edge of your seat so that you are scared for a character or just anxious about how the whole thing will turn out in the end. And (to sum up) if the world of your movie doesn't feel like a real place to your characters, then I won't ever really think they can suffer or get hurt or die and I won't really care about how the whole thing turns out.
On a totally unrelated note, I am also concerned that Karen Allen doesn't really appear in the trailer at all. Is she only in the new movie for a scene or two? I hope she gets more to do than that. Marion was one of the greatest film heroines of all time! She was so great and Karen gave such an awesome performance in the first movie, that the actresses of the second and third movie had a giant standard to live up to and obviously neither of them came close. Marion is huge part of what makes the first film work and that's one more example of how the film makers forgot (or didn't realize) what it was about the original that worked so well.
As for those of you wondering how a guy who drank form The Holy Grail and became immortal can still be aging and suffering the effects of advancing years, I don't even know how to begin answering that!
I'm still wondering whatever happened to "Short Round".