Sunday, March 13, 2011

Raiders of Raiders of the Lost Ark

A good friend of mine cited timing as being everything.  He wrote eruditely of the boomers, in context of their timing with rock and roll.  I will take his lead to do the same.

While I loathe calling it so, Generation X commenced in 1964.  Its imagination grew in the the 70’s and early ‘80s.  It’s one of the reasons that Star Wars is such a big thing on the internet.  Culture and technology interacting.

Sleight of hand aside, that film is not my purpose, nor is Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I was just trying to attract your attention. 

That film, Raiders, was one of the first films I ventured out of my neighbourhood to see, unsupervised (so I am a full on gen x).  My friends and I went into a newfangled far away thing called a Cineplex, and used our g-rated tickets to get into Raiders.  We walked out afterward into the bright light in ecstasy.  Nothing had ever prepared us for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

 I was torn between how badly I wanted to be Dr. Jones, or have my father be Dr. Jones.

By the time of the second film several years later, I was already lost in arson, theft and other adolescent norms in a bad neighbourhood and such is the chasm of a few years: a far cry from dreaming of adventure.  I never saw the second film until much later.  When I did, I was angry, it seemed cheapened.  It did not remind me of that rich time of childhood when everything was possible.  The first time I encountered it, I think I turned it off.  It seemed to capitalize in a paltry way on the Indie magic in a way that only seems more common today.

If you were young from ’75-85, you are a warm loved child of Spielberg and Lucas.  Why would I have missed and then hated this film?  Jaws came out in ’75; Close Encounters in ’77; Star Wars also came out in ’77, and Empire in ’81.  By the time Temple Of Doom Came out, these crazy lovable films, originally dreamed up by renegades, were being made by wealthy icons beholden to industry.  I missed some of these in the theatre, but basked in them under the golden glow of late night television.Then along came The Thing, and then The Terminator.

I love my youth in film.  I really do.  I had the best of Henson, of Lucas, of Spielberg, of Carpenter, of Cameron.  Unfortunately all that gorgeous mythical beauty spawned the blockbuster.  They inspired big fast films that gripped our needs.  And I had great films later, but they all seemed to keep being watered down.  I do not believe in a golden age.  I think great films happened before my time, and continue to evolve after my time.  But the blockbuster has a monetary hold that it doesn’t deserve and that shapes it into a factory product often enough.  And it derives from my demographic going to the cinema.

I won’t do the math here, but you can look for yourself.  The big blockbusters that spawned our current producer spending habits all made 10-25 times their budget.  It’s no wonder that moguls took notice.  But now, we have big stupid action pieces with no mythos, nothing memorable and they earn 1.25 times their budgets and in the big dollars, that is just barely enough. 

I’m not a curmudgeon.  Some great movies come out of this popcorn film industry.  Little dramas like Monsters, and big extravaganzas like the way the new Batman movies have grabbed people. But the drama, and creative pictures by story tellers are vanishing.  Instead, we get silly blockbusters with truly cut-out characters and they don't enchant so much, hell we hardly pay attention to them even while watching them
I will admit that as a guy reaching middle age, who never met his dreams, I am more willing than ever to see films that distract me from that, and to forgive a cheap effort.

But I am trying to watch Temple Of Doom, and all I can see is the fate of so many films that have come out in the last 25 years.  I feel robbed, not just my child eyes, but my adult eyes too.

There are great movies that are not artistic.  This is where Harrison Ford comes in, because he was involved in some of the best.  Not every movie has to be great, they can’t all be great, but sometimes they are epic.  Sometimes because they were not planned by marketing agencies, or tested, they tap into a vein, someone's inner wonder of something remarkable.  Sometimes they find an unknown icon. 

But in recent times, the films that stand in for great are not actually great or epic.  They are simply tableaus elaborated by visionary music video directors, made into hopeful-iconic pictures.  They are forgettable fodder for our forgettable lives. There are more big set piece films a year than in my entire childhood nowadays, and yet they don't take up memory or cultural meaning like they once did.  I still vividly remember line ups around the block for Superman.  There's already been several big expensive sci-fi movies this year that captured no one's imagination--and it is still winter. 

One of the things I liked about Avatar, which is true whether one loved or hated it, is it was the only movie people talked about that winter, spring and summer.  And some people were as affected by thinking about a race like the Na'avi as people at the end of the seventies were by thinking about Yoda.


  1. (in the light of day) Holy whiny nostalgia Batman!

  2. Other than the first ten minutes, the kindest thing one can say about Temple of Doom is that it is now the second-worst film in the Indiana Jones franchise...

    Raiders is great but it contains one bit that goes from clever to brilliant as you get older: that very last shot of the Lost Ark being taken into the endless matte-painted warehouse. You can't relate to that when you're a kid but as you grow up, you really understand the feeling of doggedly pursuing something and getting your ass kicked in the process, only to have it buried again somewhere it will never be found...

  3. I AM a curmudgeon, and I don't watch movies for the most part. But, I still enjoyed reading this post.