Posted by: Robin | May 23, 2008

A Good Ride and Dessert

Maybe it’s my way of compensating for the fact that I can no longer in good conscious drive a convertible at high rates of speed on weaving country roads with the wind in my hair, or because I’m too cheap to regularly pay the insane prices of amusement parks so I can gorge on riding their roller coasters, but every so often I just need a feel-good, thrill-ride, action-adventure movie full of fun and a mystery that doesn’t raise the question, “How lame is this?”. This week I was feeling it, and my timing couldn’t be better. In the last six days I’ve seen “Prince Caspian,” “National Treasure 2” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” I am pleasantly adrenalin-sated.

“Prince Caspian” rates a separate blog, for reasons to be explained then, but I had the same experience of thrilled culture-shock watching this movie that I had with “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” I have read The Chronicles of Narnia multiple times, taught classes on them, done academic research on them and didn’t think there were any surprises left, but these new movies have done it. Lewis wrote the books like fairy tales told by a storyteller of old. The reader has the sense of sitting before the fire as the teller weaves this adventure where all manner of scary and magical things happen that give a vicarious thrill, but the narrator is always there as a safe buffer, so one can still go to sleep without nightmares. Seeing these stories stripped of that homey narration I’ve had to wonder how I could have ever felt cozy reading them. After all, though Aslan is good, he is not a “tame lion.” In the book Prince Caspian I pictured Miraz as dangerous, but a buffoon. This Miraz was just dangerous. The movie had more departures from the book than the first, some that increased the drama, but more often fizzled and added a burden, especially to the young male lead roles, they weren’t up to carrying. Maybe they took Aslan’s words too much to heart, “That things do not happen the same way twice.” I will say Narnia (New Zealand) is a gorgeous place and the film takes beautiful advantage of its magical sense of place. As an adrenalin fix, it failed because I’m too invested in these stories to be swept along mindlessly for the ride, but it was a nice aperitif, as Hercule Poirot likes to say.

Apart from the thrill of somehow beating out most people who had this movie at the top of their Netflix queue for first day release this past Tuesday, “National Treasure 2” was pure fun. I like it better than the first because following the plot didn’t make my head feel like I’d had a swirly. It was just intricate and cerebral enough to make me feel smart without getting in the way of the adventure. I already knew the characters, so that kind exposition didn’t slow the pace, though I wonder if those seeing it without knowing the first will understand the Gateses, father and son, well enough to know why the smearing of an ancestor’s name all but undoes the father with grief and sends the son into overdrive. The only bumps in the ride I couldn’t ignore were the result of my own novels requiring me to know more about Olmec culture than your average person and a profound skepticism about where they located the City of Gold, but by then I was caught up in the momentum enough not to slow down.

To the good, Justin Bartha’s Riley made me laugh regularly, and Jon Voight (and I can’t believe I’m saying this for oh so many reasons) stole the show for me. His Patrick Gates was in turns endearingly befuddled, grief stricken, a whipped dog with his ex-wife Dr. Emily Appleton (Benjamin’s mom played by Helen Mirren), and a bonafide, believable action hero when the situation required. This may be the most layered, restrained performance of his I’ve seen in years, but it snuck up on me in retrospect. The Voight-Mirren bickering added sparkle to the fun. Nicholas Cage’s Benjamin Gates’ scene with Bruce Greenwood as President provided all the moral gravity you need in an action hero without causing you to gag (at least until your brain kicks in after the movie). Ed Harris’s Wilkinson had the right amount of menace for the villain, though the ending does his character a disservice. And the movie also had the needed touches of visceral humanity and sacrifice that you hope and imagine yourself exhibiting the next time you’re caught in ancient ruins on the edge of death with your pals.  The ending was sloppy, and though I noted it at the time, I have become more conscious of it as an aftertaste I’d prefer not linger. At the time it was just what I needed, but in my mind it was just a light main meal before the flaming Baked Alaska of all action/adventures.

Indy 3 is my favorite of the Indiana Jones’ movies, so learning that Sean Connery wasn’t part of the film diminished my anticipation initially, but finding out Karen Allen’s feisty Marion was making a return visit got the juices flowing again. By this morning I was itching to ride in the first rollercoaster car determined not to hold on to the handlebars. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is a non-stop, crazy ride, but with one early exception it lacks the necessary lulls where you catch your breath and discover why you care about these people. Being a fan of the whole series (well, maybe not the second one), I already knew why I cared about Indy and Marion, but Shia LeBeouf’s Mutt Williams only matters as Marion’s kid, rather than as a character in his own right. Half the time LeBeouf seemed not to know what to do with himself. Cate Blanchett probably had a great time playing the USSR villain, but even she could not overcome the cardboard dialogue she had to utter (Would someone please tell George Lucas to stay away from the dialogue?). Finally, “National Treasure 2” and this movie should not be watched in close proximity, especially if you are a Stargate-SG1 fan. The combo is a little too much “there is nothing new under the sun,” but that is the burden of any fantasy/adventure.

Despite all these caveats, I had fun. The hat, the whip and the theme are like Pavlov’s bell. It plays and any gripes-to-date evaporate at least for the moment. And anyone who was around to see the other three in the theater has to regard Harrison Ford with jaw-dropping awe for making us unquestioningly believe that he is still the action hero of all action heroes. A couple inside joke scenes were really funny, and nobody bickers better than Indy and Marion. It was maybe too easy to keep my hands from grabbing the handlebars, but with Indy for company who notices (as in starstruck, not hunk-drooling). After all Indiana Jones is  . . . well, Indiana Jones. Maybe it wasn’t flaming, but it was still Baked Alaska.

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Responses

  1. haven’t seen Prince Caspian yet but definitely looking forward to it… i’ll have to look over the book one more time just to remind myself how the original story goes

  2. Just read the New York Times review on the new Indy movie, and it turns out I’m not the only one who thought a lot of the plot felt ripped off from Stargate. So does that mean Lucas and Spielberg are fans, or do great minds just think alike?


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