23 May 2008

According to Wikipedia, screenwriters who either wrote or were approached to write drafts of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull included M. Night Shyamalan, Tom Stoppard, Stephen Gaghan, Jeffrey Boam (who wrote Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), and Frank Darabont (writer and director of The Shawshank Redemption). Apparently Darabont's version of the story was enthusiastically approved by Steven Spielberg, but rejected by George Lucas, prompting the immortal observation (by me) that Hollywood is the sort of place where the guy who wrote The Shawshank Redemption gets script notes from the guy who wrote Attack of the Clones.

I mention all these names because although the new Indiana Jones movie is energetic and sometimes fun, the final screenplay, by David Koepp, is a real mess, a hodgepodge of half-developed plot elements and MacGuffins without an emotional center. It's especially disappointing compared to the screenplay for The Last Crusade, which is literate, exciting, emotional, and makes a surprising amount of sense. No other screenplay has ever seized my imagination as strongly as The Last Crusade did (partly because I was ten years old at the time). By the last reel of Crystal Skull, by contrast, we're still confused about basic plot points and character relationships, and the ending could be scored, not with John Williams, but with Peggy Lee singing "Is That All There Is?"

As my previous postings on the subject might indicate, nobody approached this movie with more unnatural passion than I did. It's possible that I'll change my mind after another viewing—which may happen tonight. There's a lot to admire here, especially near the beginning, and there's one extended chase scene that ranks with the best in the series. In the end, though, action is cheap. I'm not sure what I was hoping to feel instead. Awe, maybe. Or illumination. George Lucas would probably tell me that I'm crazy. (Although, as the Onion points out, he'll probably fix it twenty years from now.)

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