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  • Robert Farago

Indiana Jones and His Date with Destiny

Wow. There’s a LOT of hatred for the new Indiana Jones movie The Dial of Destiny. Garbage! Unwatchable! Unwatchable garbage! One reviewer call the lead actress a cunt. Which she certainly is, in the movie, but still. I think all the anger comes down to branding. You see…

Indiana Jones is a brand, in the same way that Porsche is a brand. People expect certain things from a Porsche. The way it looks and drives, the Germanic interior design, the smell.

If you slapped the Porsche logo on a Dodge Ram pickup truck, customers – both old and new – would feel betrayed. But especially the old customers. Remember the blowback Porsche received from their loyal customers when they launched the Cayenne SUV? Times ten.

Successful movie characters create the same sense of ownership, but way more powerfully than any product you can name (except motorcycles).

If a male character strikes a chord with a male audience, they are the character. For the audience of the opposite sex (generally speaking), he’s the man they’d want to love. Marry? Sure. Either way, they feel they “own” the character.

In the first four movies – but especially the first one – Indiana Jones is a lovable rogue. He’s a smart, handsome tough guy on a mission. He overcomes adversity through courage, physical strength, historical knowledge, luck and self-deprecating wit. He’s both admirable and lovable.

Again, Indiana Jones belongs to the audience. In The Dial of Destiny, the filmmakers piss all over Dr. Jones and thus, their audience. But not at the beginning.

At the start of the movie, entirely convincing AI magic gives us a youthful Indiana Jones doing youthful Indiana Jones things. Right answer!

OK, the train top fight scene has been done to death. Hello? River Phoenix's young Indiana Jones takes on a group of thugs on top of a circus train in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (Not to mention actor Harrison Ford battling stormtroopers atop a train in A Star Wars Story.)

And yes, who is this “dear friend” who never appeared in any of the four previous movies? Who cares? Indiana Jones – make that “we’” are back! And then, OMG.

We’re confronted by a cranky, broken-down, lonely, bereaved, alcoholic Dr. Jones teaching students catatonically bored by his lecture. Like short people, he’s got no reason to live.

“I wanted it to be character driven and I wanted it to confront the question of age straight on,” actor Harrison Ford avers, “not to hide my age, but to take advantage of it in the telling of the story.”

Fail. While I’ve got nothing against old people per se – being one myself — Dial of Destiny absolutely sneers at our faith in and love for the character, right from the “present day” git-go. All Indiana Jones’ derring-do led to this misery?

If this “one more adventure before he dies” shtick somehow returned Indiana Jones to his former glory – perhaps using “real” magic to end the movie with a de-aged Dr. Jones – maybe. If Indy passed the torch (again)? Perhaps. That’s not how it turns out. At all.

The ending reunites Dr. Jones with Marion so they can… what? Die together in a shitty New York apartment? Or be separated by bars when the cops arrest Indy for the frame-job murder of a college administrator?

Before that, oh brother. Not only does the plot have more holes than a moth-eaten T-shirt, Dr. Jones is endlessly ridiculed, bullied, undermined and betrayed by his God-daughter, Helena Shaw.

The critics are right: Shaw is an unfathomably unlikeable character. Call me sexist, but she’s not even physically attractive. If Shaw died in some horrible way, hoisted by her own greedy and selfish petard, I swear the audience would have cheered.

The better option for this movie, in my opinion the only option: keep going with the de-aged Dr. Jones. A well-made prequel would have been wonderful. Speaking of wonder, there’s precious little of it in Dial of Destiny.

With the exception of Mad Max 2 (released one month before the first Indiana Jones movie), Raiders of the lost Ark set the standard for cinematic beauty in an action movie. Dial of Destiny has nothing to offer in that regard.

Dial’s exotic locations were chosen for tax advantages, shot by an accountant. Don’t get me started about the ho-hum cheesiness of the underground cave system. There is zero sense of wonder to be had.

Watching the last movie of the Indiana Jones franchise left me wondering why Steven Spielberg let this depressing shadow of his previous work make it to the silver screen. Perhaps he related to Dial’s vision of an elderly Indiana Jones.

I can imagine Spielberg as a sour old man transported into one of his magnificent movies, begging God to leave him there for all eternity, just as Indy begs Shaw to leave him in ancient Syracuse. And then a studio executive drags Stevie’s ass back to present day and forces him to film a piece of drek making a mockery of his entire legacy.

Every moment after the de-aged Jones departs the screen is a brand betrayal. No wonder reviewers and movie-goers feel aggrieved. As Sartre might have said, hell is Indiana Jones in The Dial of Destiny.

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