May 17, 2010
Posted by Danny
The Cannes Film Festival is currently in full swing and, apart from being the world’s most glamorous film festival, it’s also a place where the film industry indulges its penchant for hyperbole, self-congratulation and back-slapping to seemingly ever-greater heights.
This year, however, there was a particularly surprising and engrossing piece of unguarded honesty when Shia LaBoeuf, at Cannes to promote the forthcoming sequel to Oliver Stone’s WALL STREET, revealed his true feelings about his (controversial) involvement with the revival of another slice of Iconic Cinema from a couple of years ago: Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull.
As a quick aside, here’s the reaction of some of my elite cadre of Geek pals to this greatly-anticipated “film” at the time, in picture-story form…!
ANYWAY: Speaking with the Los Angeles Times, it appears that, now free of promotional obligations (and doubtless informed by the relentless waves of vocal fanboy hatred that came his way), the lad is now inclined to agree with the gents above and every other sane person on the planet: Indiana Jones IV was the cinematic equivalent of a War Crime. (Actually, what he said was “”I feel like I dropped the ball on the legacy that people loved and cherished,” – but it’s in the same ballpark. Sort of.)
Of Indy IV’s infamous monkey sequence, the earnest LaBoeuf firmly believes the buck stopped with him: “You get to monkey-swinging and things like that and you can blame it on the writer and you can blame it on Steven [Spielberg]. But the actor’s job is to make it come alive and make it work, and I couldn’t do it. So that’s my fault. Simple.” LaBoeuf adds his opinion that, ultimately, the film fooled no-one: “I think the audience is pretty intelligent. and I think if you don’t acknowledge it, then why do they trust you the next time you’re promoting a movie? We need to be able to satiate the appetite – I think we just misinterpreted what we were trying to satiate.”
The interview’s real gold, however, came with this startling admission:”[Harrison Ford] wasn’t happy with it either. Look, the movie could have been updated. There was a reason it wasn’t universally accepted.”
Well, well, well… I always thought that the truestory of this film would eke its way out one day. I rather admire LaBoeuf for this frank commentary. Telling the truth in Hollywood is a particularly risky business, especially if you’re a star on the up-and-up, as Boeuf undoubtedly is. You have to admit that it takes a high degree of guts to basically call out The World’s Most Successful Director and say that he delivered an artistic turkey. Speaking of whom, the 23-yeard old fully expects some words…
“I’ll probably get a call. But he needs to hear this. I love Steven. I have a relationship with Steven that supersedes our business work. And believe me, I talk to him often enough to know that I’m not out of line. He’s done so much great work that there’s no need for him to feel vulnerable about one film. But when you drop the ball you drop the ball.”
Shia, my boy, I couldn’t agree more: Spielberg does need to hear this.
I’ve fervently believed that Spielberg never, ever wanted to do Indy IV. There are countless interviews from 1989 onwards that reiterate his firm belief that the Indy franchise ended perfectly with The Last Crusade – absolutely true – and he wasn’t interested in revisiting it. So, why did he return to the franchise? Answer: he didn’t want to be the party-pooper – pure and simple. Paramount needed a film that would be a sure fire hit (and they were right, Indy IV ended up grossing just south on $800 million worldwide), George Lucas needed something big to keep Lucasfilm going after the end of the Star Wars films in 2005 and, as for Harrison Ford, I imagine returning to his signature character (barring Han Solo) probably made a lot of sense (to his agent): a dead-cert career-invigorator after more than a decade of flops.
Consequently, in the face of three such potent voices of enthusiasm, I think Spielberg simply caved in – and, frankly, can we blame him? Who wants to be the guy who puts the kibosh on the return of such a fiercely-beloved franchise? However, I vigorously maintain that Spielberg’s innate reluctance remained palpable in the final product: any seasoned observer of Spielberg’s filmography will know that the films where he wasn’t fully engaged in or enthusiastic about the material – prime examples: Hook and Jurassic Park II – stick out like ET’s glowing finger.
Indy IV is unquestionably of that ilk, plagued with a barely-concealed air of “let’s-get-this-shit-over-and-done-with” as opposed to one thriving with genuine inspiration. Certainly, there are moments (albeit few and far between) where Spielberg shows his true colours – the shot of Indy staring up at a mushroom cloud – but, he appears to be content to wholly capitulate to the indulgent whims of his producer on this occasion, Mr. G Lucas. Damning proof of this suggestion came with the shocking incongruousness of what Spielberg only-too-eagerly indicated the finished film would be like in a Vanity Fair article profiling the production – back-to-basics, firmly Raiders-like, practical special effects, replicating Douglas Slocombe’s lighting techniques etc – with the eventual trailer that crushingly indicated absolutely nothingof the kind. Instead, an overwhelmingly “Lucasian” spectacle.
Above and beyond my fierce sense of disapointment with Indy IV was the shock that Spielberg, Lucas and Ford – three world-class filmmakers who form a huge part of my love of film – could produce something so utterly soulless and lacklustre, especially with a creative property that they had previously nurtured with such passion and love, generating a cast-iron, deathless classic with Raiders of The Lost Ark. This very belated and wholly unnecessary sequel doesn’t taint the esteemed reputation of the original, classic films – but it gets bloody close. Indeed, I’ve never watched it since the press screening and have refused to own it on DVD. To my mind, Indy ends the way it should – with a ride in to the sunset.
So, while I appreciate and respect Shia LaBoeuf’s hindsight admissions, I do have to disagree with him: the films faults are certainly not his to bear. As I recall, LaBoeuf was at the least a charming presence, who had effective chemistry with Ford. It’s not his fault he was burdened with a ragged, Frankenstein’s Monster of a script or had to stand in front of poorly-conceived, poorly-executed CG sequences. I don’t blame Ford, who, let’s face it, looked more alive and engaged on screen than he had done in a long time. I don’t even blame Lucas because, frankly, he was just doing what he was doing in The Prequels – no one should have been surprised.
I do blame Spielberg, though. He should have known better. For one of Hollywood’s most powerful creatives who has nothing to prove, he acted like a journeyman director who could be easily wrangled. Given that he’s my favourite director – and how much I love the Indiana Jones series – it was a depressing sight indeed. If anyone should have been able to say to Lucas, “No, George, that idea is terrible, let’s reconfigure it” – it should have unquestionably been him, the one filmmaker who easily equals, or possibly exceeds, Lucas’ stature. The irony, of course, is that, in Hollywood terms of “The Almighty Bottom Line”, he delivered a stunning success, maintaining his reputation as the world’s most successful filmmaker – but there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s far and away his weakest moment, one where I think he embarrassed himself unnecessarily, staining a career rich with fortune and glories with mere hack work.
Still, at least someone has had the common decency to say “sorry” for the single-greatest cinematic disappointment of the last twenty years.