One thing that makes me sad today… Old Man Indy.
Over the holiday weekend, I had the opportunity to take in the latest Indy flick – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The screening came midway through the super-sized holiday weekend and just at the moment that the nagging nasal drip I had been tussling with had morphed into a full-blown chest cold. It also came mere hours after I closed the lid on the kids’ birthday celebration – where we capped this birthday month with a combined party (our second) for Aria and Colin and 12 of their closest cohorts. So, despite my fatigue and the phantom menace that was plaguing my sinus cavities, I grabbed my fedora and headed out to the local multiplex to fulfill my destiny – to see the latest Indiana Jones flick on its opening weekend – just as I had done for all of his previous adventures.
Today, two days later and still mired in the grips of this seasonal affliction, I’m still processing it. I’m still not sure if I liked it or not. Much of this indecision I chalk up to my clouded noggin – it’s hard to enjoy anything when you have mucus like molasses (and by the bucketful) – but there is no doubting the fact that the thought of a new Indiana Jones flick cut through the haze and made me as excited as some of my brethren get for the Star Wars flicks. Sure, I like Lucas’ other property but growing up, I always liked the Indy flicks better. More on that in a moment.
As I write this, this cold is making it challenging to construct a cogent thought so I apologize if some of this comes out muddled. As tough as it is to organize my thoughts, one sensation is clear. I may not know if I loved, liked or disliked Indy 4 but I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt that something about it really saddened me.
Simply put, my hero has gotten old.
Early last week, I screened the original Raiders of the Lost Ark (still my favorite flick of all time). Big mistake. I urge anyone interested in seeing the latest Indy film to avoid digging through the depths of nostalgia. It can only depress you.
Harrison Ford was born in 1942. Raiders was released in 1981. That means Ford was between 38 and 39 when he first essayed this character. Temple of Doom came out three years later in 1984, putting Ford in his early-40’s. By the time The Last Crusade launched at the tail end of the 80’s, Ford was on the downward slide towards his mid-century mark. Despite all this, Ford had that classic movie star’s face and he seemed ageless. In watching Indy’s adventures through the eighties, through my childhood, I didn’t know if he was 30, 40 or 50 – in my eyes he was timeless. An immortal.
If Indy 4 proves anything, it’s that Ford is as mortal as the rest of us. Sure, at the age of 66, his appearance has held up remarkably, but there’s no doubting that time has weathered him – as it does everyone. And that’s what saddens me the most. That nagging reminder that none of us are Gods. Even the Movie Stars.
While I was thrilled to take in the continued adventures of my favorite action hero, I think part of me wishes it remained a wistful dream adrift in the ether. There’s something to be said about keeping our heroes beyond arm’s length – of keeping them above us and not cruelly lassoing them and dragging them down to Earth. We need to keep these heroes superhuman – to keep the tales tumbling through the ages, thus enhancing their legend.
When Spielberg, Ford and Lucas reconvened for this summer’s reunion tour, they may have succeeded in catching us up with the Joneses but they’ve also, inadvertently, shattered some of that mystique. Some of that magic is now gone.
It’s almost the opposite effect as my reaction to the long awaited Star Wars prequels. I thought those flicks suffered from the inability to provide us with continued stories featuring the characters that originally hooked us. Sure, you had Year One versions of Vader and Obi-Wan (as well as R2 and C3PO) but missing from the saga were the characters that hooked us in the first place. Han Solo gave the original flicks their heart and the biggest flaw in the prequels was in the focus on the enemy. In constructing his expanded universe, Lucas sold the soul of his fairy tale.
With the impending release of Crystal Skull, I thought that Lucas and Spielberg would avoid those fatal flaws inherent to the Star Wars prequels. Here they had their core in tact – after all, without their Han Solo there’d be no movie at all. So, knowing we had Ford back as the Man with the Hat just made everything look more promising. When news began to filter down that Indy was being reunited with his long lost love Marion (Karen Allen) it just felt as if kismet was in the cards, with this film connecting a direct through line to the original Raiders (akin to that bright red travel line that has become a staple of this series.)
But that’s the problem with this latest film. Too much time has passed and the years have chiseled at Indy and Marion. I don’t mean that to come off as ageist, it’s just that those two characters – the central performers from my favorite film – occupied a very specific time and place. A point that until now was nicely sequestered in history and thus in my own fond memories.
Like I said, the Indiana Jones flicks are my Star Wars. I saw the first film at the age of 9 with my older next door neighbor. I went into that film, in the summer of 1981, with nary one iota of information as to what the film was about. After all, I was only nine and there was no home Internet. I walked out with my head filled with wild ideas. I just had to be an archaeologist. After all, those guys got to kick Nazi ass.
As a kid who lived to journey into the woods at the end of his neighborhood and seek out lost civilizations, Indy scratched that inquisitive itch. Star Wars was fun but it was outer space – no way I’d ever actually get my hands behind the cockpit of an X-Wing. But the pursuit of fortune and glory? That seemed somewhat plausible to my overactive, juvenile sensibilities.
And that’s what saddens me. It’s not Indy’s advanced age. Nor Marion’s. Nor Ford. Nor Allen.
It’s my own.
For if my hero is all grown up and rendered moral – than so am I. And I think that’s what scares me the most.
So, while I’m not sure if I enjoyed this latest adventure (a repeat showing on DVD should help inform that decision), I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the latest film affected me like no other since the first.
Unfortunately, where Raiders of the Lost Ark sent me into the stratosphere adrift on wild dreams and ambition, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has brought me crashing back to Earth.