Earlier this week, it was confirmed that Steven Spielberg would begin filming for the as-yet untitled Indiana Jones 5 in April 2019. Okay… now pause. Let’s just think about that for a moment.
Harrison Ford is 75 years old. By the time filming begins, he’ll be almost 76. Which is 4 years away from being 80. Now, I’m not ageist or anything, but we have to be realistic here. I’ll happily pay money to see this film, but I will not be a happy bunny if Indy is jumping from moving cars, or busting faces in ridiculously implausible punch-ups, or swinging from his bullwhip over fiery pits. I will not be happy if his character is physically more powerful or his body more resilient to being tossed around on screen than any character half his age.
Well, it’s just not plausible anymore.
The heinous stain on the Indy franchise that is Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was already pushing the realms of believability. Bouncing around in a lead-lined fridge that saved his life from an atomic detonation. Numerous fisticuffs with TRAINED Russian soldiers, all of whom were younger and, presumably, fitter. Bullwhip-swinging from the rafters of a warehouse; several life-threatening waterfall plunges, a heart-stopping race through the jungle with bullets flying, swords swinging, and great big teethy tree-chomping machines screaming through the air.
I mean… Come on. It was just insane. And the list goes on. Even if you forget the abysmal UFO ending, or Ray Winstone and Karen Allen’s piss-poor performances, or Shia LaBeouf, the one scene in this awful, AWFUL movie which cemented, for me, its utter and execrable disgrace, was the one in which Indy and Marion are stuck in sinking sand.
“Just say rope!” barks Indy, as Mutt comes to his rescue, brandishing a great big fucking snake he found in the jungle.
Oh yeah. Just say rope. Hilarious.
If Spielberg hopes for Indy 5 to be some kind of redemptive success, then I have some advice. Please, mate… please don’t shit all over the memory of the original three movies. Not like you did with Crystal Skull. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of my favourite movies ever, and has been for about 30 years. I first saw it when I was about 10; I fell in love with it instantly and I haven’t stopped loving it. Indy was my hero for years. An ordinary boffin, thwarting the Nazis with eye-popping stunts, daring dos and the coolest hat on the planet. From everything about the character, to the plot; to the costumes, the music and just the overall LOOK of the film, I cannot stress enough how much I love Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Temple and Crusade were okay. Contrary to popular opinion, I actually preferred Temple, despite some slightly uncomfortable stereotypes. Crusade took on more of the comic tone, which was used sparingly in the first two movies. I didn’t like that as much. Temple was dark. Ominous. It retained the spooky quality that was used in Raiders - chasing after forces not to be meddled with. There was a compassionate quality to Indy in Temple, conveyed by his refusal to let the children in that movie go on suffering, such that he damn well would meddle with forces not to be meddled with. In Raiders, the ominous overtones came via the simply unknowable, destructive power of the Ark of the Covenant. "Death has always surrounded it," says Sallah, in a moment of reflective concern. This is not an object being sought as treasure; this is a mission to prevent it falling into the worst hands it could possibly fall into.
Crusade lost all that. I don’t quite know how to define it, even. The Ark of the Covenant is Old Testament power; the human sacrifices in Temple were about some warped human devotion to deities of death and destruction (even if there may have been outrage over a purported misrepresentation of the Hindu Goddess Kali). But with Crusade, the darkness seemed to be missing. There’s just something about it… about the way it looks that isn’t the same, and for me, it didn’t work as much. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, because I did. But by Crusade, it seemed to me that maybe they were best just leaving the whole thing be.
So when, nearly twenty years later, Crystal Skull was released, I can’t deny that I was pretty damn excited, if a little concerned.
So much for that. With the bad taste in my mouth of fond memories having been pissed all over, I did what I did with Alien 3. I just pretended it didn’t exist.
But now… now the chance exists to right some wrongs. I guess it doesn’t really matter that Harrison Ford is 75, as long as Indiana Jones behaves within the bounds of what can be expected from a man of that age. I'm not saying I don't want to see a bit of action; I'm not saying I want to see him forgetting his train of thought halfway through a conversation or the name of the person he's talking to. I'm not saying I want to hear him groan when he bends down to examine clues in the dirt and say: "Oh Jesus, my back!"
I'm just saying it has to be plausible. The character of Indiana Jones is as susceptible to the effects of ageing just as anyone is, and I have no problem with a film portraying his older years, as long as it's believable. It's simply another way of exploring a much-loved character. The one thing they did get right with his character in Crystal Skull was make him more reflective… more teacherly… Indy was always a bit of a clever bugger, but being older, his character’s wisdom was explored more. Shame then, that they also had him leaping from a moving motorbike, into a car, and back again.
I personally don’t know why Spielberg is so precious about the character being played ONLY by Ford. Sure… those are some pretty big shoes for any other actor to step into. But it’s not impossible. Generally speaking, I get as chapped off with re-boots as the next man. With Indiana Jones, though, I may be willing to make some allowances. Especially if they screw Indy 5 up.
For the time being however, it seems, that a re-boot ain’t gonna happen.
So please… for the love of Indiana Jones, and what will likely be Ford’s last crack at the whip, I ask that you join me in hoping to high heaven they don’t fuck this up.
My memories of first seeing The Big Lebowksi are not yet quite twenty years old. Though released in USA on 6th March 1998, it didn't hit the UK until a few weeks later. So, it was on or about 24th April that my housemate Andy and I, living in Carlisle at the time, went to the city's Warner Village (now Vue) cinema. Both hardcore cinephiles and Coen Brothers fans, our expectations were naturally high, especially following on from the success of their previous effort Fargo, which had won two Oscars and been a critical and commercial hit. The fact that I feel moved to write a blog post about it two decades later tell you that we were not disappointed.
Just a few hours later, we were annoying people at a party who hadn't yet seen the film by quoting lines from the film back and forth at each other, particularly most of Jesus Quintana's dialogue, and "this is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass", a line we also employed when leaving the party, as we kicked over a bike belonging to a lad we didn't like for reasons I can't remember.
So I loved Lebowski instantly. It was endlessly quotable, and demanded repeat viewings - in fact, I went back a couple of days later to watch it again, and retain some more of the dialogue to drop into everyday conversation. Many of the actors involved did some of their very best work. Jeff Bridges, having made a career of playing charismatic, handsome but morally ambiguous characters, completely let himself go to play the slobbish, overweight Dude, his fat gut hanging out over his shorts, unkempt beard stained with White Russian. John Goodman, re-teaming with the Coens having worked with them on Raising Arizona and Barton Fink, was allowed to go all out as paranoid, combustible Vietnam veteran Walter Sobchak, pulling a piece out on the lanes and caring for his ex-wife's Pomeranian. Completing the unlikely trio of friends was Steve Buscemi's Donny, the quiet one of the group, about whom we know little beyond him being told to shut the fuck up by Walter, and that he loved bowling and surfing, a fact made clear to us in Walter's clumsy eulogy after Donny has continued Buscemi's tradition of being killed off in Coen Bros' films. Perhaps most instantly memorable of all was another Coens mainstay, John Turturro as Jesus, the hairnet wearing pederast who can fucking roll, man.
But, much as I did love the film, it certainly didn't instantly take on the status of my favourite film. Or even my favourite Coen Bros' film. For a good few years later, I maintained that Fargo was their best work, occasionally arguing the case for Raising Arizona. But, as the film found its true home on DVD (it was considered something of a box office flop, and reviews were lukewarm), it was in this format that, over the course of several years, I grew to appreciate its true genius. There was just something irresistibly compelling about this film, and, during a period on the dole, I fell into a pattern of watching it several times a week, late at night. I came to realise that the lack of enthusiasm from many critics and even some fans was due to the fact that, with so much going on, it was hard to process everything in one sitting, or even several sittings. There's so much great dialogue, so many quotable lines, so many great gestures and facial expressions, that it's hard to keep track of them. A perfect example is the scene where The Dude confronts Da Fino (played by the late Jon Polito). Their inept attempts to square up to each other, and Polito's odd attempts to placate The Dude by making bizarre shapes with his arms, are so funny that one could easily miss the genius 'like an Irish monk?' line.
The fact that it rewarded so many repeat viewings was always its greatest strength. Throughout the script, there is not one line of dialogue, one single utterance, or even facial gesture wasted. Not only does The Big Lebowski reward repeat viewings, repeat viewings are absolutely essential to appreciating the level of its brilliance. I don't know how many dozens of viewings it was before I picked up on the nuances of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Brandt, lickspittle to the titular 'Big' Jeffrey Lebowski. Witness the scene before The Dude meets his namesake where Brandt is showing a disinterested Dude around the many awards his boss has acquired. Several times he asks The Dude to stop fingering a shoe-shaped plaque. As The Dude has one last touch, the discomforted reaction of Brandt is exquisite. Rarely if ever has a film revealed so much hidden depth that you can watch it literally a hundred times and still find something you'd missed before.
For all the hilarious dialogue, at its core, this is also a film about friendship. These three lonely men, who seemingly have little in common other than their love of bowling, need each other. As unhinged as Walter is, he's the kind of friend you'd always want in your corner when confronted by three nihilists in a dark parking lot. And when he tells The Dude "nobody's gonna cut your dick off, not while I have anything to say about it," you absolutely believe him. As mean as he seems to Donny at times, when Donny suffers at heart attack, Walter cradles him in his arms with genuine love. Even when he makes a mess of scattering Donny's ashes, covering The Dude in the incinerated remains of their friend, The Dude can't stay mad at him for long, eventually accepting the borderline psychotic veteran's embrace.
Only a handful of comedies have stood up to such repeat viewings over the years. The Producers, This Is Spinal Tap, Withnail And I, and The Big Lebowski stand out, with Alpha Papa likely to join them. But The Big Lebowski stands head and shoulders above all of them. But it's not just the greatest comedy of all time, it's the greatest film of all time.
And if you disagree, well, that's just, like, your opinion, maaan.