My Christmas Gift Ideas For You

It’s that time of year again, when your relatives message you on Facebook and ask what so and so might want for Christmas. I never know what to answer to this, and usually wind up suggesting something that I might like myself. But here’s the thing, I am a multi-faceted person, and I like all sorts of things. So, without this descending into parody, and wearing different hats, here’s some gift ideas.

For the Reader …

Easily the best book I’ve read all year is The Song From Somewhere Else by AF Harrold. It’s a kid’s book, and one that’s great for grown ups too. Also, check out The Imaginary. Both are beautifully written and illustrated, and drag you back to childhood in a visceral way.

For the Writer …

Two great books for writers would be The Tools Of Screenwriting by Howard & Mabley, and Into The Woods by John Yorke.

For the Board Gamer …

Still my favourite board game, and the only one guaranteed to reach the table every time we gather to play games is Suburbia. Susan likes it too.

For the Movie Lover …

The Jaws Log by Carl Gottlieb is a brilliant insight into the making of Jaws.

For the Boxsetter …

Friday Night Lights is one of the best TV shows ever made, and well worth anyone’s viewing time. I think, just maybe, it might even be better than The Wire.

For the Woodworker …

Every woodworker dreams of making their own tools, and Making Traditional Wooden Planes will help them do it.

For the Woodturner …

People who make bowls always need sandpaper. So much sandpaper.

For the Comedy Lover …

Jem Roberts writes excellent books about excellent shows, and his one about Douglas Adams is brilliant. It’s called The Frood.

So, I hope those ideas are helpful, or at the vert least inspire your own, better ideas. I own all the above, so no matter how much you might want to buy me something, don’t buy me those. Except sandpaper. I always need sandpaper.

What’s The Opposite Of Indiana Jones?

Well, this week on the blog appears to have turned into an Indiana Jones week, so let’s round it off with the latest episode of setisoppO, the podcast wherein we discuss the opposite of things that don’t have a natural opposite. My choice, unsurprisingly considering I’ve been focused on it, was Indiana Jones.

 

You’ll also learn about an amazing chemical called Chlorine Triflouride, which I have never managed to spell right the first time once.

Here are some rare clips in and around Indy. First up, Siskel and Ebert review The Last Crusade. For what it’s worth, I totally disagree with Gene Siskel.

And here’s Barry Norman talking to Harrison Ford for the May 21st edition of Film 85. It’s peppered with pretty inane questions, to be honest.

And here’s a behind the scenes featurette from the Mythbusters Indiana Jones Special.

Indy Fence Of The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

I nearly didn’t watch The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull as part of my re-visit to the Indiana Jones movies. I remembered thoroughly enjoying it in the cinema, and then being disappointed by it on DVD. I may have even fallen asleep during the second watch.

But guess what?

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is a really good movie.

What’s more, it’s a really good Indiana Jones movie.

(It has more of the colour blue in it that all of the previous three films put together though.)

The whole opening sequence, from car race to nuclear explosion is a seat-bouncingly good re-introduction to Indy, and it doesn’t shy away from the age of the character.

But what about the fridge?

Shut up. We’re doing the good bits.

This could easily be in any one of the films …

While I loved the opening moments with the car race, it always perplexed me why it was there, and then last night I realised why. It was resetting our time frame for us. In fact, that’s the whole point of the first act of the film. The car that could be right out of American Graffiti, I Like Ike, nuclear paranoia. It makes perfect sense that Indy needs to be caught up in a nuclear explosion, and not just witness it third hand somehow. The Red Menace is real, and it’s what informs the whole Saucermen from Mars schtick.

And while we’re at it, there’s a nice thematic link between the aliens inter-dimensional beings, and the whole Communist thing. They are identified as a collective, a hive mind. No wonder Irina Spalko is so interested in them. And then they all merge into one malevolent monster and devour her. That’s good thematic writing.

David Koepp, as always, has produced a great action adventure script. And rather than trying to up the ante of the previous movies, it actually takes a step down with the action sequences. Koepp even takes a few moments to show Indy turning into his Father slowly – once when the statue of Marcus is damaged, Indy mirrors his Father’s face from the motorcycle chase in Last Crusade – and later he exclaims ‘this is intolerable’, just as his Dad did.

“There’s too much CGI,” said a friend of mine after seeing it.

Because the Indiana Jones films were never about pushing visual effects to their limit were they? Opening the Ark? Melting faces? Ageing rapidly? And anyway, there’s very little obvious CGI in this movie – certainly no CGI ragdolls being flung around. Watch that video above again – it’s all practical (with wire removal no doubt). About the only bit that feels CGI-y later is the vine swinging – and I think the launching of the saucer at the end is rather beautiful.

Let’s have a look at the things we associate with an Indiana Jones film.

Fights on fast moving vehicles
Betrayals
Ancient supernatural artefacts
30s style love story
Swings and whips
Gross out creature moments
Indy taking a beating from a more formidable foe
Episodic action sequences
A finale that slips out of Indy’s control
An opening mini adventure before an exposition dump
Puzzle solving

That list could go on, and Crystal Skull would tick all the boxes. And come on, if this isn’t the most iconic shot of all the movies, I don’t really know what is.

But what about the fridge?

Up to this point, we have bought into the existence of the Ark Of The Covenant filled with Godless waifs who incinerate anyone who looks at them, a man having his heart pulled out of his chest and surviving, a nine hundred year old immortal knight, the Holy Grail, Indy being dragged under a truck and only having a sore lip, surviving an ocean trip strapped to a periscope, surviving incinerating Godless waifs by keeping his eyes shut, stopping a speeding mine cart with his foot, falling from the tenth storey of the Obi-Wan Club, falling from a plane using a rubber dinghy, somehow surviving the sinking of a ship in a stormy sea, and managing to jump clear of a tank as it clears the edge of a cliff.

What about the fridge?

 

Using Humour As Exposition In The Last Crusade

What’s the best scene in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade?

You’re quite right, it’s this one.

But why is it so good?

This scene has an awful lot of legwork to do, and it does it all rather well. The best two ways to get exposition across is through humour and conflict, and if you can combine the two, even better. But it’s not just exposition being handled here, it’s setting up an important character dynamic that has only been hinted at before now. Bear in mind, we don’t meet Henry Jones until nearly halfway through the film, but he’s been looming over it ever since the first sequence.

He has to be imposing over Indy, a character we already know and love, and who we know to be far from cowed by anything. And he has to be likeable. And we have to learn about their relationship. And we have to realise why Indy would go out of his way to save his Father, whom he doesn’t get along with. There’s so much going on, and it’s artfully handled with humour.

If your important scene is flat, add some funny. It will make it better.

What The Temple Of Doom Can Teach Us About Writing Action Sequences

As I re-watch the Indiana Jones films, I notice that the colour blue is almost completely absent from the colour palette of the movies.

Anyway, on to The Temple Of Doom, and I think this is the first time I’ve seen an uncut version, complete with swearing and heart-ripping antics. It’s a lot darker than Raiders, but it does still manage to revisit some of the excellent action sequences that made the first film so great.

Not least the rope bridge sequence.

The finale of the movie comes after the mine rescue and the more famous mine-car chase (a leftover idea from Raiders apparently), but it is a masterpiece in suspense building, and how to structure an action scene. It also neatly encapsulates some basic story-telling ideas.

If drama is chasing your characters up a tree, and then throwing rocks at them, then this embodies that perfectly. Chase Indy onto a rickety old rope bridge, and keep removing his options. Oftentimes, if you paint your hero into a corner, then the only solution is going to make for a good scene.

Indy has no choices left. He has to risk his and his friend’s lives for the greater good.

Spielberg’s philosophy when it comes to action sequences is that the solution to one problem should cause the next problem. I often cite the out of control bomber fight scene from Raiders as a good example, but the Rope Bridge sequence is an even better encapsulation of the idea. By cutting the bridge, Indy opens up a whole new set of problems. Only this time, he’s hanging from a cliff face, not up a tree, and they’re hurling arrows, not rocks.

That’s the only blue in this movie.