Old Men, New Magic

By

On May 22 an event will happen that I’ve been longing for all my adult life. Indiana Jones will return. He will ride out of my memory and be real again, large in the light on the screen with his crooked smile, bloodied knuckles, and awkward machismo. Just typing that name got me a little choked up and nostalgic. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the first movies I remember seeing (it was either that or The Empire Strikes Back) and I don’t remember whether my interest in archaeology predates Indy or not but either way, both he and it are integral parts of my childhood. He was the greatest of silver screen heroes. Smart, rugged, wearing a leather coat and a hat that no one since has been able to pull off and he’s got a freakin’ bullwhip! And on top of all this he’s risking his life to save the Ark of the Covenant, the mercy seat itself.

Spielberg and Lucas set the bar high enough for Action/Adventure that a generation has gone by and it hasn’t been touched. They managed to key in on the perfect confluence of character and story, humor and drama, action and romance, human and super-human. The look of the films is at the same time unique and old as cinema itself. It’s as instantly recognizable as the gamboling theme of that unforgettable score. Will there ever be another film composer to equal John Williams?

Every now and again I pull out the DVD set and put in the old Indy movies for the boys I work with and I’m overjoyed to see how well the movies have aged. Even though I can see the pole sticking out of the bottom of the flipped truck in Cairo, even though the ditch Indy is laying in underneath that truck is plainly visible, even though Belloq’s exploding head is as cheesy as a Gob Bluth parlor trick, the stories hold, the action gallops, the jokes land, the spirit of a boy breathes and aches and soars, and no one says, “That movie is old,” they say, “That movie is good.”.

And now, after all those years of wanting and wishing and hoping he’d come back and take me with him, he’ll be here next week. But instead of elation and pure anticipation, I’m scared of it. The scars George Lucas gave us when he butchered my generation’s cherished Star Wars memories with the abominable prequels are still fresh in my mind. Once bitten, twice shy, I suppose. In my dreams, I hear Indy at the end of Raiders screaming, “Don’t look at it, Marion! Keep your eyes SHUT!” as what looks like angels come flooding out of the Ark and then before the eyes of those watching, the beauty they anticipated turns to horror.

So I’m telling myself, everyday now, this movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this movie is going to be awful. This movie is not the longing of the boy inside me. This movie is not going to make me feel like a kid again. It’s not going to inspire a love of archeology in young boys today the way it did in me over twenty years ago. I must lower my expectations. I can’t handle another tragedy on the scale of The Phantom Menace. I hope that if I can convince myself to lower those expectations enough and expect nothing more than another The Mummy-style pretender to the throne that when the day finally comes, I will sit in the darkened, butter-scented theatre and I will hold my breath when the projector sputters to life and I will grow somehow smaller and younger when through misty eyes I see that magical “Lucasfilm” logo spangled across the silver screen and I will believe that old men can bring new magic into the world. And that timeless theme will play. His voice will say “Trust me,” and he’ll smirk. And Indiana Jones will live again.

Don’t think about, I say. Just keeping reminding yourself:

This movie is going to suck…
This movie is going to suck…
This movie is going to suck…

Profile photo of Pete Peterson

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


26 Comments

  1. Jake

    I feel you Pete. I would be so sad if it turned out to be a flop. I watch the films almost everytime I work at the store. Here’s hoping it is wonderful!

    -j

  2. lyndsay

    “Will there ever be another film composer to equal John Williams?” – no.

    i’m expecting it to be terrible….good grief. who am i kidding? i really want, need this movie to ROCK! i LOVE harrison ford, especially as indiana. and i can’t hide my expectation. come on guys. please don’t let me down…

  3. Chris Slaten

    Wow. Ditto. Haha. That is a lot to work through for a movie.
    “This movie is going to suck…”
    Then again while lowering expectations may leave room for a good suprise from the movie. It may also keep us from seeing the good in it.

  4. Mike

    The biggest difference between this movie and the Star Wars fiasco is Harrison Ford. Have you ever seen a bad Harrison Ford movie. I haven’t. ( I haven’t seen them all) I can’t imagine Ford allowing a bad remake. Not at his age. Not when his career is winding down. Not Indiana Jones.

    Rest Brothers and Sisters. Its going to be great.

  5. Aaron Roughton

    Raiders of the Lost Ark was the first movie I ever walked out of. (The only other was Second Sight, starring the guy who played Balkie and John Laroquette, but that was for a completely different reason.) My mom and dad did a great job at shielding us from sex and violence — a task that I thought was stupid until I had 3 kids of my very own. She thought we were too young for the gore and mayhem that Indy laid down. She escorted me and my brother into the adjoining theater where we watched The Muppet Movie or The Muppets Take Manhattan or some crap like that.

    So when I finally got a chance to rent Raiders of the Lost Ark as a teenager, I was intent on catching all the stuff I hadn’t been allowed to see before. One of my friends had a 4-head VCR and we would play the scene where the German bad guy melts frame by frame. We called him “froggie,” because he ever so slightly resembled a frog, and would say later, “Remember when froggie fried in slow motion? That was awesome.”

    All that in mind, I still think the new one will suck.

  6. Bret Welstead

    I share your nostalgia.

    I actually think I saw Temple of Doom before Raiders. I think the face melting in Raiders freaked me out more than the beating heart being pulled from a man’ chest in Temple. Needless to say, my boys will be at least in Junior High and have a strong understanding of special effects before they can share my excitement for Indy.

    I had to laugh at your mentioning the pole under the truck. My parents stayed with us this weekend and I had rented Raiders. My dad took issue with the scene where Indy’s trying to get the truck carrying the ark. “Now watch,” he said. “Here they’re in the middle of the desert, and two scenes later they’re up in the mountains.” [Where the Nazi henchman falls hundreds of feet to his death.]

    “Dad,” said I, “This is a movie where the Nazis are seeking the Ark of the Covenant to gain power to rule the world, and a single man is going to prevent them from doing that. And you’re taking issue with a scene change?”

    Perspective.

    But we both love the series, and I’m sure we’ll both see the new one. I’ve basically heard a “no Jar Jar” guarantee: they’ve vowed to keep CGI out of the film and go with good old-fashioned stunt men and explosions for the special effects in this new one. Time will tell if it’s worthy of the original three…

  7. Theresa Croteau

    Dave and I have pretty much decided that unless somebody we know (like you) gives the thumbs up, we are going to wait on it til rental. We are, however, eagerly awaiting Prince Caspian.

  8. Greg Sykes

    I, too, feel your fear. But let me give you a suggestion that will help you cope, whether the new movie works or not. If you’ve never read “A Boy’s Life,” by Robert McCammon, you should because it captures that nostalgia, that childish sense of wonder we all wish we could recapture.

    Trust me on this one. Just find the book and read the introduction. You’ll be intoxicated with that same feeling you had the first moment you saw Indy on screen, and you’ll devour the book.

  9. Jeff Cope

    Yes, the Star Wars prequels have somewhat tainted my anticipation for Indy’s latest adventure. I hold out hope that when it came down to brass tacks that Spieldberg wielded more control than Uncle George.

    But the Star Wars saga was George’s playground where he could run wild. At least with Indiana Jones he’s got Speilberg’s cinematic sensabilities to hopefully balance things out.

    I remain optimistic. Heck, I’ve already bought a bunch of the new action figures! 😉

  10. Peter B

    Yeah, I’ve been awaiting Indiana Jones and the Colostomy Bag of Doom (can you hear the cynicism dripping off those words and onto a floor covered with lowered expectations?) with all kinds of conflictedness. Believe it or not, I saw The Last Crusade before either of the other two… and I never actually watched the whole Temple of Doom. I blame my sheltered childhood and the six years I spent in the Middle East, away from most Western influences.

    Then again, if Star Wars: The Sucking had been a Spielberg production, maybe… just maybe… it would have turned out all right.

    I still can’t get over that smarmy kid “Mutt”, though. Seriously, what is that?

  11. Drew

    One of the things that worries me about it are the special effects. “Raiders” was made with amazing stunt work and old-fashioned visual effects. Today’s modern computer-generated effects don’t have the same reality. There’s a portion of our brains that, perhaps unconsciously, knows that these things don’t have a real-world “weight.” (It’s why computer generated characters never work. Even the amazing creation of Gollum in LotR doesn’t seem to actually be present in the film.)

    So when I see movies like the Star Wars prequels, I can’t really feel the action on screen. It’s pretty, but it doesn’t communicate action and danger and peril to me. All I can think of is “Oh my! The Pixels are in Danger!”

    Likewise, when stunts are fabricated on a computer (like Spiderman hoppin’ around from building to building) I never feel like this is some Amazing thing that’s happening.

    But Raiders of the Lost Ark, with its REAL stunts, . . . well, that works. That feels real because it is real.

    So I can only hope that Spielberg went back to old-fashioned filmmaking, and Lucas and his computers were kept far, far away. 🙂

  12. Peter B

    Drew, I think Bret (comment #7) has found some sort of assurance about the real stunts issue. It gives me hope.

    Let’s also remember that Spielberg and Ford don’t need the money; hopefully their love of the story and the art will drive them to create something good for the fans.

  13. Jeff Cope

    Peter B,

    Regarding Mutt…

    My 3-1/2 yr old daughter was watching the trailer with me online the other day and when she saw Mutt she said, “heh heh….Mutt. He’s sooooooo cute!”

    So, there’s that.

    I like Shia LeBouf, and have since Holes. He was wasted in Transformers last summer (as was my time, but that’s another post for another time) and hope that’s not the case here.

  14. ToilingAnt

    as cheesy as a Gob Bluth parlor trick

    Illusions! They’re ILLUSIONS!

    Anyway. 🙂 I’m looking forward to this movie, but mostly because I’m weak in the knees for Sean Connery. I remember first clapping eyes on him while watching Last Crusade as a kid, serial-style, during repeated escapes to the TV department while Mom shopped in my tiny hometown’s Wal-Mart (we were good fundies and had no TV at home). I thought he was amazing when I was 12, I still think he’s amazing.

  15. ToilingAnt

    Yes I just realized Connery’s not in this one. WHAT are the producers thinking??

    I could have sworn I saw him in one of the trailers.

    Meh. I’m going back to my Wal-Mart memory now.

  16. John Michalak

    I have no fear. I fully expect it to be inferior. Raider’s is the best Adventure movie ever made (Die Hard, the best Action flick). I didn’t care for the Doom or Grail sequels, and don’t expect much from this one either. However, I may actually see it in the theater as May 22nd is my 40th birthday, and I need someplace to hideout from well-wishers.

  17. Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

    Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    As for me, I don’t think I’m approaching this as a movie, but rather as an “I wonder what Indy has been up to?” kind of deal. I honestly don’t think I can come away from the film disappointed because I guess Indiana Jones was such a treasured part of my growing up (ever since he shot the swordsman dead where he stood).

    I think it will be a relatively easy thing for me to let the movie take me where it will without me ever having to ask myself, “Am I liking this? Is this a good film? Is it as good as the others?” It will be, to me, another adventure of Indiana Jones.

    That guy. What a wild life he’s had, eh?

  18. Drew

    “I like Shia LeBouf, and have since Holes.”

    Not to detract from the main subject, but “Holes” is awesome. The book is a multivalent (and minimalist) idyll on fate vs. self-determination, and fits together like a beautiful puzzle. The movie was very well done, but the book is great.

  19. Julie

    To go even farther from the topic at hand, I loved Shia LeBouf in Even Stevens. Yes, it was a disney show, but it was the best. In fact (this just came to my mind), has anyone ever seen the episode that parodies Raiders of the Lost ark? The one where Louis (LeBouf) goes on a quest under his basement in search of the golden sausage. That’s so ironic! OK, sorry for the diversion, but it really was a great show!

  20. sevenmiles

    I’ll chime in on the whole CGI vs. stunts discussion…

    I couldn’t agree more with Drew’s comments about Spiderman and the Star Wars prequels. I will take the fight high above the sarlac pit over the lava planet swordfight any day. And I’ll take the new Iron Man over the very animated Spidey every time. Yes, Iron Man has a lot of CGI, but you don’t feel it’s in the way, except until the last major battle (and then only a little).

    I think the best combination to date of CGI and live action/stunts is actually one of Speilberg’s: Minority Report. Amazing movie.

  21. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Pete! I love your posts. My wife does, too. I think we’re made of some of the same stuff. I alway end up reading your posts to her and we laugh (though I stutter and I’m sure it’s annoying for her to have to listen to me butcher your flowing prose.)

    Buttressed with lowered expectations,

    JGray

  22. becky

    I read this yesterday morning, and laughed like crazy. Thanks for starting my day out well. I’m glad that someone here is looking forward to the new Indy movie. I have sensed a little bit of scorn on the part of some. I am excited to see it, but I have also been trying not to get my hopes up too much.

    I think you are right about the Phantom Menace debacle. I was very disappointed with that movie. It seemed long on special effects, and short on plot and character development. Make-up, costumes, and effects can never take the place of a good story.

    I was a teenager when Star Wars came out, and I remember how blown away we all were. (Yes, okay, I’m old!) The special effects were like nothing we had ever seen before. But the great thing about it was that they created a believeable environment for the story. They weren’t the main thing, the story was. You can take the characters and story lines out of that environment and put them in the middle ages, for instance, and they would still work. In fact I read an article once that talked about how Star Wars was really just Casablanca in space. Idealistic hero, looking for a way to fly off to the war, meets cynical adventurer in a bar in the desert. Throw in a damsel in distress, and evil megalomaniac, and some colorful sidekicks, and you have the almost the same movie. With Phantom Menace, Lucas forgot that the special effects are there to serve the story and characters, not the other way around.

    So, I’m hoping for better things with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

  23. becky

    Better than Temple of Doom (but what isn’t); not as good as Raiders or Last Crusade. There was a lot I liked and thought was fun, but it just went too far over the edge for me. I also *sigh*.

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