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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Stuff
May 21, 2008 - Rick Chatenever
A couple of months ago, Paramount Pictures sent me a whip. It’s a very cool whip, made out of something that looks like leather, just like Indiana Jones’. I’d give it a try if I didn’t remember those famous words from boyhood, “Hey,watch out, Ricky, you could take someone’s eye out with that thing.”
In my case, it would probably be my own eye. Indiana Klutz and the Whip of Doom.
A few weeks after that, Paramount sent me these gorgeous posters for “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” They’re actual movie-theater-size posters, Saturday matinee style, in those burnished brown and sepia tones that have made Indy one of the icons of our age.
Those same shades of adventure brown, with Harrison Ford’s face airbrushed into immortality, also grace the shelf displays of brand new flavors of Snickers and M&Ms available at a Minute Stop near you. They, and full-page magazine ads for any number of products, arrived in plenty of time for today’s premiere of the latest adventures of the guy in the hat, some 20 years after his latest demonstration that archaeology is more a matter of testosterone than long hours in the library.
Look for the review in today’s Maui News. By this time next week, I’ll be able to give you my report on the movie. But it seems so beside the point.
Because as much as it may be about state-of-the-art adventure on the movie screen, this reteaming of star Ford with director Steven Spielberg and co-writer and executive producer George Lucas is about packaging. From the casting, which includes Cate Blanchett along with long-lost Karen Allen to the marketing Juggernaut around this week’s release, it’s all about product.
When they started turning their boyhood fantasies — inspired by “Guns of Navarone,” and “The Great Escape”-style World War II movie images — into their own movies, Spielberg and Lucas couldn’t dream of how much and how fast things would change. Nor could they foresee the crucial roles they would play in making it happen.
The technology they glorified was mechanical —planes with propellers, clunky armored cars, vintage motorcycles — but the technology they employed would become increasingly digital. They were cutting-edge alchemists, freeing the genie from its silicon lantern.
Similarly, the kind of heroism and adventure they glorified came from a time when denial wasn’t considered a psychological flaw — but rather the heart and soul of what would become known as “The Greatest Generation.”
They were key players in shaping a new generation. With digital imaging, all things become possible. Unfortunately, it also has the side effect of reducing everything we know into a never-ending parade of products.
This week’s product is called Indiana Jones. It comes in all shapes, sizes and flavors. But if you see me in line at the box office, you’d better watch out. I’m bringing my whip.
World War II also gave rise to the more literary imaginings of author C.S. Lewis. The new film adaptation of his “Chronicles of Narnia,” “Prince Caspian” opened last weekend and enjoyed a brief stint at the top of the box office charts before Indy got to town.
Written in the years just after World War II, Oxford literary scholar Lewis’ “Chronicles” transports the four school-uniformed siblings of the Pevensie family (played by Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell), from the frights of wartime London into a mythological era 1,300 years after “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” to once again become the saviors of Western civilization, with a little help from an almighty lion.
Criticized by some critics for being darker than the cute, cloven-hoofed Christian allegory of the first “Chronicles,” and bemoaned by some studio executives for only making $55 million in its opening weekend, it struck me as charming and affecting, thanks to the earnest performances of its young stars.
But it too provided another example of the difference between digital imagination and the old-fashioned kind you had to do by yourself, using written words in a book to launch the journey.
The week’s most durable movie fantasy, though, came in the form of the long-running, huge hit, “Iron Man.” No less than two friends about my age sought me out to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Clearly, a superhero going through a midlife crisis strikes closer to home than most comic-book action figures. And then there’s Gwyneth Paltrow to fill in more fantasies for guys of a certain age. Any age, actually.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org
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