Sunday, September 9, 2012
I enjoy reading the cover of this set: "The Complete DVD Movie Collection," because Indiana Jones Meets Aliens in the Kingdom of the Crystal Turd and the Treasure is Knowledge is not included. I can pretend it doesn't exist, because I'm still disappointed.
Originally just called Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first film is one of the best adventure movies ever made, and easily one of Steven Spielberg's top five best directorial efforts. Much has been written about Raiders, so I'll skip most of the lip service. Raiders is an iconic adventure film — one that I come back to often, and one I can't resist watching if I find it playing on television.
In my comic book collection, I have a copy of Marvel Super Special, Issue #18. While it's not a valuable item, it means a lot to me because I'm pretty sure I snagged it from my grandma's garage sale when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. No idea how she got it.
I got the comic before I saw the film, so my perception of Raiders is strongly affected by that comic adaptation. In the comic, the Ark is described as having a low humming sound, like a great energy building up throughout the film. Once that energy was released in the climactic scene, the Ark went back to a lower, less intense hum. I always liked that touch, but I've always been disappointed to not hear the hum in the film. There were other changes, some bigger than others, and they're detailed here.
To establish greater continuity, the creators agreed to re-title the first film Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is maybe the wisest change to any George Lucas or Spielberg project. I've never had a problem with the title change, just like I've never really had a problem with Lucas re-naming Star Wars to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Makes for better continuity.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom comes next. A prequel before most people knew what a prequel was, I found the film confusing when I was a kid. Where were the Nazis? Where was Marian? And why is the blonde woman screaming so much? These were important questions. At least there was a kid in the film. I always wanted to help Indiana Jones.
Once I got older and understood Lucas and Spielberg's motivations behind this film, I could get on board with the prequel concept. I still can't deal with Kate Capshaw screaming constantly, though. Capshaw is, hands down, the most annoying part of the Indiana Jones series, and I'm even including Shia LeBeouf. "The biggest trouble with her is the noise," Indy says at one point, making the most amazing understatement of the whole series.
The best part about Temple of Doom being a prequel is this: You can watch Raiders and Last Crusade back to back, ignore Temple of Doom, and not miss much.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade should've been the last Indiana Jones film, but Lucas and Spielberg couldn't resist going back to squeeze the dusty udders of the cash cow one more time. Let's forget about that for a moment.
Wisely going back to Judeo-Christian archaeology, and including Nazis and a Belloq-type as the antagonist(s), Last Crusade is a spectacular finale to the trilogy. The addition of Sean Connery as Henry Jones, Sr. makes for one of the best father-son dynamics ever put on film.
When junior and senior, along with Sallah and Brody (who were back for this one), literally ride off into the sunset at the end of the third film, they had the perfect ending to a perfect Indiana Jones film. Indy and his father had drunk from the grail, ensuring everlasting life, and they could live on together, having adventures and saving precious religious artifacts from evildoers (or just retiring to quiet lives of lectures and campus life). Really, after the Holy Grail, there's not much more worth finding.
Like Raiders, I can't resist watching Last Crusade if I find it playing on television. For some reason, I always seem to pick up the film during the tank scenes. I still watch to the end.
How about River Phoenix channeling Harrison Ford? What a loss. The "Young Indiana Jones" TV show had some merit, but there's only one true young Indy, and River nailed it.
I love the Indiana Jones films because they're timeless. Even if the special effects look dated now, I don't care, because Lucas and Spielberg wanted to pay tribute to old, cheesy adventure serials. They ended up creating something far better.
In fact, these three films are still better than any imitator before, during, or since. All those Romancing the Stone, King Solomon's Mines type films couldn't compete, and neither could the contemporary TV shows like "Tales of the Gold Monkey." Even now, the National Treasure films seem thin and silly by comparison. Nothing else comes close — not even a fourth Indiana Jones film.
I wish Lucas and Spielberg had taken Henry Jones' advice and "let it go" after the third film, but they reached for the Grail anyway. They chose...poorly. Rather than go on a tirade about all that was wrong with the fourth film, I just like to imagine they left it alone instead.
Saturday, September 8, 2012
My father-in-law, ever the merry prankster, got me a copy of Incubus for my birthday a few years ago, right after I started this project, fully aware that I'd eventually have to sit through it.
(He also likes to stop by the house and rearrange my DVD collection. He doesn't rearrange many of them — maybe switch one or two around, just to see if I notice.)
Incubus is a Leslie Stevens film starring a pre-"Star Trek" William Shatner in an early film role. The great Conrad Hall shot this one, and did a fine job. Incubus was the second film ever shot entirely in the "universal second language" of Esperanto. The first, Angoroj, pre-dates Incubus by a few years.
From the "About this DVD" section:
"For years all the original film materials of this picture were believed to be lost. Most of them in fact were destroyed or misplaced through a strange chain of events that has come to be known as 'the Curse of Incubus.' Fortunately, in the mid-nineties, producer Tony Taylor discovered a lone French subtitled print of the film in Paris where it was playing in a weekly midnight show Rocky Horror-style. With the help of the Sci-Fi Channel, Mr. Taylor was able to oversee the restoration of this print and it's [sic] transfer to video including the overlay of English subtitles over the French subtitles. It is from these materials that this DVD is made. In addition, the soundtrack has been digitized and filtered to improve the sound."
Actually it wasn't Taylor who discovered the film, but Howard Rubin, an agent, who is referenced at the "Curse" link above. A minor quibble, but perhaps an important one. The history of this film, detailed at the same link, is fascinating, and I don't just mean the whole "curse" thing.
As for watching this film for the first time, I have no idea what I'm getting into here.
My first impression is just how much this film feels like an Ingmar Bergman work (if Bergman did B-horror pictures in Esperanto). High contrast photography, gloomy narration, gloomy music, methodical shots, slow dissolves, otherworldly seasides, and the overall malaise of the film all point straight to Bergman. I don't mean Stevens ripped him off, but anyone who has seen The Seventh Seal will be able to see clear connections in style here.
Structure-wise, the hook comes quickly, as does the exposition. At 76 minutes overall, this film doesn't waste time, maximizing shots and economical dialogue for maximum impact. The English subtitles appear in black boxes, laid over the original French subtitles found on the source print from Paris. Overall, the print looks excellent considering how this was "lost" for so long.
When the succubi summon their master, the noise he makes isn't cheesy or low-rent, but downright chilling, and the incubus they summon behaves with a kind of wide-eyed, feral intensity that only contributes to the horror.
Is the film believable or realistic? Well, no. But viewed as a kind of otherworldly parable or fairy tale, the film works very well, and ended up surprising me with the quality. This taut little cult thriller turned out to be a great birthday present.
Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru is another in a long line of Kurosawa films I have not yet seen, but collected anyway, thereby necessitating this project. Critics, scholars, colleagues, and even former students have extolled the merits of this film, but somehow I never found the time until today.
Kurosawa's follow-up to his troublesome The Idiot, Ikiru tells the story of Watanabe, a lonely bureaucrat who is terminally ill and merely passing time rather than really living. Of course, he's not aware that he's terminally ill at the start of the film. He finds out from his doctor several minutes into the story, but not before we see a group of women making a futile attempt to petition the labyrinthine government bureaucracy to have a cesspool cleaned up and a playground built in its place. More on that in a moment.
Watanabe's wife is deceased, and his son and daughter-in-law practically ignore him — mostly just worrying about the fortune he'll leave them when he dies. They don't know he's terminally ill, either. At one point, Watanabe attempts to tell his son, but his son won't listen.
Watanabe takes the news hard, and at first seeks solace in the nightlife with a new friend he meets while drinking. Then he runs into a young female subordinate on the street, and seeks solace in her (platonic) company. She's bubbly, energetic, and in love with the world. She's constantly smiling and full of energy. They spend a great deal of time together, always platonic, and become friends. Finally, after she has taken a job in a toy factory, Watanabe tells her the news. She's not really equipped to process any of it. She can only offer that working with toys all day helps her remember joy.
Back at work, Watanabe finds the women's petition and makes the park his personal mission, doggedly weaving his way through the labyrinth for them in an effort to get the park built. At his wake, his colleagues wonder where Watanabe got all this motivation and why.
Watanabe sees the end approaching and searches his life for meaning, finding little at first, but finding purpose as he goes along.
Ikiru is widely regarded as Kurosawa's best film, garnering a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film contemplates a simple theme: the basic and often unspoken human desire to leave a legacy behind when we die.
For some, a legacy is as simple as having children and counting on them to remember you and cherish what you leave behind for them. For others, a legacy is the creation of some kind of art, again to leave something behind for others to cherish and appreciate. For still others, a legacy is simply making a difference in the lives of others. Once Watanabe knew the end was near, it propelled him.
Do we lead purposeful lives? If not, what are we doing about it? What legacies will we leave? Is a family enough? Is art enough? Is a difference enough?
I have trouble seeing life as anything other than a limited time to make a difference. Our job should be making as much of a lasting, positive impact as possible on as many people as possible. I don't understand how anyone can see life any other way.
Today I attempted to watch Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, which is an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel. I've never seen this film, nor have I read the book. I lasted about 45 minutes.
I'm not saying the film is bad (though it's far from Kurosawa's best) and I'm not saying the source material isn't worthy of a film adaptation. I don't know that. However, I can tell this is a film that will take multiple viewings to understand, let alone get through, without having read the book.
Admittedly, I'm feeling ill-equipped to say much about the film, which could not sustain my interest for more than a few minutes at a time after the 45-minute mark. I hung in there, but kept finding myself looking out the living room window. The narrative jumps around, the edits are awkward, the music is intrusive, and Kurosawa uses numerous title cards and narration to expedite the plot.
At 166 minutes, The Idiot seems to go on forever. I understand Kurosawa attempted a much, much longer cut, adding another 100 minutes to the run time, but the studio would not allow that. I can't imagine 265 minutes of this. I don't know. Maybe the film works in the longer version. Unfortunately, no print of the longer version exists, so we can't know.
The Idiot is part of the Criterion Eclipse Series called Postwar Kurosawa. When I went through my great Kurosawa collecting binge a few years back, this was one of the last pickups. Although I Live In Fear really worked for me, The Idiot just didn't.
I don't feel particularly bad about this one, though. This isn't the film Kurosawa intended — this cut is the result of studio interference and forced cuts he really did not want to make. If I'm going to bail on a film, at least it's not a masterpiece, and at least it's not what the director intended anyway.
For more info on this one, go here.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
I can't watch Idiocracy often, but I feel that I must own a copy, if only to remind me of how the world would be if the idiots really won.
Comedian Bill Hicks used to have this bit where he pointed to "American Gladiators" as something the American public would rather consume than, say, the truth about the JFK assassination (or, for that matter, even critical analysis of the facts at hand). Here's a clip:
Idiocracy supposes the world will devolve to the point where we're all wearing logo-covered sportswear, eating Carl's Jr. food from rude outdoor vending machines (and sporting Carl's Jr. tattoos), and watering our crops with sports drinks instead of water.
I note that no one in Idiocracy seems to exercise (aside from sexual acts), so I wonder why all the sports drink consumption. Do these people even sweat? How do so many of them get to be so musclebound?
But then again, why all the sports drink consumption now, in our time? The United States of America is the fattest country on Earth. If Gatorade were only consumed by people who exercised regularly, the company would go under.
In our time, energy drinks seem to dominate our culture, what with [insert number]-hour energy drinks and 16 oz. mega cans of "energy drinks," which might as well be just like this one:
Also, I had 36 oz. of Diet Mountain Dew today. I'm not proud.
The film, directed by Mike Judge (Office Space) and released in a very limited run in 2006, not so subtly satirizes the anti-intellectualism so prevalent in our culture, which peaked during the George W. Bush administration in America and threatens to peak again.
All through the film, reading, writing, and speaking coherently is considered "faggy." (How come stupid people always equate intellect with homosexuality, yet the same stupid people don't connect sports rock anthems with the homosexuals who perform them? "We Will Rock You," anyone?)
It's as if we are doomed to live in a world where this is interpreted as Truth:
Just recently, Indiana lawmakers voted to incorporate creationist study in public schools, thereby blithely disregarding that whole separation of church and state thing. I wish I could say I'm surprised, but then I read this, which is yet another chestnut in the "Indiana is full of morons" collection.
But every once in a while, smarts win out, and I sleep a bit better.
Before I let this turn into a harangue about how everything sucks, let's be fair. Everything doesn't suck — but everything could be better. Other countries are full of stupid, too.
America is far from the worst country on the planet, and I love the freedom we Americans enjoy. What we can do as a nation when we band together with a common goal is nothing short of breathtaking and awe-inspiring.
Oh, but when we screw up, we look like the World's Biggest Bunch of Assholes — especially when we don't apologize or even accept responsibility for our actions.
When you go around saying how America is the Greatest Country on Earth, shouldn't you look and act the part? You can't just go around saying America is the best and then be an absolute idiot.
Well, in Idiocracy, you can.
Idiocracy is a funhouse mirror that amplifies our laziness, complacency, and ignorance, and works as a warning to audiences. Our future might not be all sports drink agriculture and television shows with grown men getting kicked in the testicles, but where are we going, anyway?
Like any funhouse mirror, Idiocracy gives us an idea of "what if," and leaves us to do the rest.