Sunday, June 01, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Natural-Light Cinematography

Last night, Amy and I saw INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL at an appropriate venue: the Mann Village Theater in Westwood, a movie house that was (I believe) around back in 1957, the year IJATHKOTCS takes place.

The first installment of the Indy saga, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, was born of nostalgia for the unbridled adventures that were standard fare in feature films, serials, comic books and strips, and pulps from the thirties through the forties. This one embodies nostalgia not only for the storytelling of that time, but also of the more immediate past -- RAIDERS came out a full 27 years ago, and movies have changed since then.

We had a terrific time with the movie. It managed to juggle several balls quite well: It worked as a sequel to the previous Indy adventures (even managing a reference to an episode of the YOUNG INDIANA JONES TV series of 15 years ago); it delivered the trademark breathtaking stunts and set pieces; it did not whitewash the main character's age, but nevertheless depicted him as vital (and rubber-limbed -- he and the other characters walk away from impacts that would shatter every bone in the body of a non-cinematic citizen); and managed to hit every b-movie and TV cultural reference point of the '50's, up to and including Howdy Doody (with the exception of Davy Crockett).

The only element of the past movies that I missed was the cinematography of Douglas Slocombe, who made every scene of RAIDERS glow with intense golden-time colors that rarely appear outside the imaginations of readers and movie storytellers. The cinematographer of CRYSTAL SKULL reportedly studied Slocombe's cinematography, trying to replicate the look; but the film still reflects the more naturalistic (and sometimes muddy) lighting of Spielberg's recent movies, like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, MINORITY REPORT, and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. Just as Indy's adventures are larger than life, his adventures should be brighter than life.

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