CGI and the Death of Urgency

Have I mentioned before how much of a huge Indiana Jones fan I am? I think I may have said it once or twice. I’ve also briefly mentioned my feelings on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (short version: I liked it well enough, despite some huge flaws).

Of all the things to not like about Crystal Skull, the thing that annoyed me most was the way Señor Spielbergo backpedalled about mostly relying physical effects, to keep it stylistically in line with the rest of the films in the series. Now, rather than having Terry Leonard actually getting dragged along behind an actual giant truck, hardly a shot went by in Crystal Skull without some sort of digital touch-up, whether it’s a set they couldn’t be bothered to build or a fucking monkey with a 1950s greaser haircut (really?).

All that said, here are my least favourite 16 seconds of that entire movie, the part that almost makes me give up entirely. Fortunately, they happen right at the end, so I can watch most of the movie without wanting to throw something at my TV.

Here we have a set of giant cogs closing in, destroying the only way out. Bad news, right? Except watch the way the characters react to this. Watch Harrison Ford’s reaction. Everyone just strolls along, as if this kind of thing happens all the time, so why worry about itI also have a pet theory, which I don’t think I’ve ever written about before. Watch Marion in this movie. Watch her stupid grin as she drives them over the waterfall. I’m convinced that she has somehow come to the realisation that she’s one of the protagonists in an action movie and she cannot die. If it’s deliberate, it’s brilliantly post-modern. If it’s accidental, it’s a testament to just how much cocaine Karen Allen did in the 80s? Christ, I’ve seen people more stressed out about setting the alarm and leaving the house before the timer runs out. Where’s the sense of urgency? Without urgency, where’s the sense of danger?

I bet this is how it went: Señor Spielbergo said to the actors “Listen guys, I know you’re all old and tired, so don’t sweat it. Take your time. It doesn’t matter how long you take to get across here, we’ll get the ILM guys to make it so that the cogs close just behind you.” Compare this to the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones is running from a boulder. Although it was only made out of fibreglass, that boulder weighed around 300 pounds. And you know what? That’s real fear you see on Harrison Ford’s face as he’s running. That’s real urgency in his movements.

Some things you just can’t fix in post-production.