Monday, January 07, 2008

The Magic Goes Away

Ex-sex is not always a particularly good idea. My first time was with The One That Got Away. We had a great night together, reconnecting after so many years. I entertained thoughts of us getting back together. She sent me an invitation to her impending wedding.

The second time was well over a decade later – which goes to show that there are some lessons I simply don’t learn. This time it was with the LA animator. Two thrusts in, I realised it was a bad idea, which put me in an awkward position.

The reason for these admissions is the reason I can’t get it up for the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In much the same vein, so many years have gone by, with so much water passing under the bridge since the last encounter, that in all probability the magic will have gone away.

Raiders of the Lost Ark was “Pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty, good,” as Larry David would say, ably riffing on the old Republic Pictures serials and finding the perfect balance between cliffhanging thrills and spills and laugh-out-loud gags. Of course once it makes money that opens the door for sequels/further adventures, trying to do the same but different, attempting to capture that same initial excitement and exuberance for an audience already wise to the characters and potential situations.

Listening to the tales producer Bob Watts used to regale us with on the making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom during the production of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, apparently they had a much better time filming it than the audience had watching it. The “prequel” sequel was far too shouty and dark. Sadistic on one hand, cloying on the other, if not outright racist in places, Temple of Doom was certainly patronising to different cultures.

Compared to the powerful Ark of the Covenant from the first film, the Shankara Stones in Temple of Doom were frankly just rubbish. Trying to regain some of the Biblical mysticism from the first film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade may have centred on the grail quest but ultimately rested on the stunt casting of Sean Connery and relied too heavily on slapstick. Last Crusade also had to contend with some of the most appalling un-special effects work from Industrial Light and Magic.

While it may not have come close to matching the initial adventure, Last Crusade at least had the very good sense to sign off with the traditional serial ending, with the reconciled adventurers riding off into the sunset. So why bring it all back nineteen years later? After Bourne and a revitalised Bond, what will the generation born after Raiders of the Lost Ark first appeared on cinema screens make of it all? For those of us who did catch it the first time around, do we want to see a grey-haired Harrison Ford creek and groan through the expectant set pieces?

Last summer we had John McClane resurface after a twelve year absence with Die Hard 4.0 (or Live Free or Die Hard depending on which territory you lived in). Though it had its moments as an action film – driving a car up into a helicopter, for instance, or the sequence with the SUV in the elevator shaft –as a Die Hard film it didn’t exactly cut it.

Die Hard had a great concept: A New York cop locked in the top floors of an LA office building with a bunch of terrorists. The lone fly in the ointment concept was so good that it inspired, amongst many films, the only Steven Seagal film I can stomach to watch – Under Siege. Although when he says, “I’m just a cook!” I still reply, “No mate, you’re just a cock!”

Part of the appeal of Die Hard was that, aside from what was going on separately outside, the hero and villains only had a couple of floors, air ducts, and the roof to run, hide and fight in, making the sense of confinement integral to the story. Which meant that with Die Hard 2: Die Harder set at Dulles airport, Die Hard With a Vengeance sending John McClane around New York City then up the Hudson River Valley to Canada, and the fourth film played out around the middle section of the Eastern Seaboard, the impact of each successive film was lessened as the playground grew in size, until it left the wisecracking hero cracking wise and surviving more and more absurd stunts.

Change the name of the protagonist from John McClane and the sequels could easily have been your average action movies written for someone else. It came as no surprise that Die Hard With a Vengeance started life as a Lethal Weapon sequel, especially since McClane pulls Martin Riggs’ trick of dislocating his shoulder to escape being tied to the explosives.

Did we really need another Die Hard film? Back in 1998 the fourth Lethal Weapon film was a tired, unwelcome addition, only put into production by Warner Brothers to plug the gap in their summer schedule once Superman Lives and I Am Legend, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, ground to a halt and were put into turnaround.

The studio decision meant that the film had to go into production without a final script. Director Richard Donner was reported to have said, “I am confident I will have a finished script by the end of principal photography.” By the time Lethal Weapon IV appeared on screen, Riggs, who had started out psychotic and nihilistic in the first movie, was softened and domesticated, falling back on easy laughs around old-fashioned stunts.

Still, at least the Lethal Weapon series got as far as a fourth film before the audience tired of it. Looking back over the last decade or so, there are far too many good films whose memories are sullied by startlingly bad sequels filled with the kind of indulgence and excess that only success can bring.

While The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean are perfect examples, the worst offender by far has to be The Mummy Returns. Ignoring the wonderful goofy charm and Boy’s Own daring-do adventure of the original, instead it proved that bigger doesn’t mean better by favouring a tortuous story that amounted to absolutely nothing combined with possibly the worst special effects sequences ever.

Seven years on, we now have The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor to look forward to. While Brendan Fraser and John Hannah remain onboard, the rest of the cast and crew are new and the action relocates from Egypt to China. Whether it will be able to recapture the spirit of the original remains to be seen.

Whereas Kingdom of the Crystal Skull takes place nineteen years later on screen, setting the action in 1957, one thing Tomb of the Dragon Emperor has going for it is that the story kicks off fourteen years after The Mummy Returns, allowing O’Connell and Evelyn’s son to be a twentysomething adventurer rather than the whining little brat from before.

Perhaps perversely, the one sequel to appear long after the first film that I really like is nowhere near a match on the original. Then again, the film in question is The Two Jakes and the near flawless Chinatown was always going to be a hard act to follow, especially without any contributions from Roman Polanski.

In Robert Towne’s dark history of Los Angeles, Chinatown was concerned with water, The Two Jakes with oil. If everything had gone to plan, a third film, set in the 1950s, would have revolved around a conspiracy involving the city’s transportation system - although Who Framed Roger Rabbit ultimately beat then to the punch on that one.

With Richard Farnsworth’s Earl Rawley nowhere near as monstrous as Noah Cross and given relatively little screen time, the conspiracy remains on the periphery. Instead The Two Jakes shifts into a tale of living with past regrets. On that level it works even if directing and acting, Nicholson hopelessly bungles the all-important last line of the film.

For all its faults, The Two Jakes remains a far better proposition than The Godfather: Part III, released the same year. As a wholly unnecessary sequel that one just blew. Along with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor comes another Rambo and another Terminator. Necessary? Really?

My third and final experience of ex-sex came pretty much after the relationship folded. Adamant that we weren’t seeing each other anymore, the out-of-town lawyer used to pop round on weekends to see how I was doing. Once here she’d decide to take a bath and then, when she was naked in the tub, ask for a cup of tea. After a while I had to ask her to stop turning up on my doorstep because she was doing my head in.


At 5:50 am, Blogger potdoll said...

at least you are still on speaking terms with your exes. i see that as a positive thing.

At 7:43 am, Blogger wcdixon said...

I almost bailed when I read 'two thrusts in'...but the need to read prevailed in the end. Nice post.

At 11:05 am, Blogger Lucy said...

I don't speak to any of my exes and one turns up every week to take out my son (technically his too, though actually I'm still adamant I made the boy all by myself, he doesn't even look like him. In. Any. way).

You've managed to sum up exactly how I feel about the Die Hard franchise though GD and I sure as fuck won't be watching another tired sequel from Indie et al. Tho I thought DH2 was ok. Ish. Naked men doing tai chi, you KNOW you have a psycho in your midst. Woooh!

At 7:09 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


Still on good terms with most of my ex-girlfriends only because we don't have any contact.

A few I occasionally get emails from. One or two remember my birthday, although they get the month wrong. The usual thing.


Sorry about that. Glad you showed more persistence than I did.


Oh, come on! You like a film directed by Renny Harlin?! That's just wrong.

I know some actresses who do tai chi. Mmmmm... wouldn't mind seeing them do it naked.


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