BitDepth 631 - June 10

There’s still some life yet in the Trini “double.”
Old heroes face new science

Battle of the movie illustrations. A 3D rendering of the Iron Man suit meets Drew Struzan's pulp inspired Indiana Jones.

It's almost impossible to explain the concept of a double feature to my nephew and nieces. They grew up in Houston and have only ever known the experience of the multiplex, the cinematic iteration of America's mall/superstore sensibility. Visit one building, choose among many options, eat.
But the idea of double features, once the mainstay of Saturday afternoon cinema, not just in Trinidad and Tobago, but also in the US and in many countries around the world, is at the root of what has got to be one of the best examples of the form that I've seen in years, the pairing of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and "Iron Man."
It's an unlikely match up, to be sure.

Crystal Skull is the fourth entry in a franchise long thought to be done. The most miraculous feat that the film accomplishes is putting Harrison Ford, twenty years older than he was when he wrapped "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" in his mid-forties, in an action adventure that isn't an embarrassment.
Iron Man is a second tier comic book character from Marvel, one without the immediate cachet of Spider Man or the Fantastic Four in the public mind, but remains an intriguing character, not least because he manages to juggle creating intricate technology with heavy drinking.
Marvel's recent history with bringing its films to the big screen has improved significantly, but the run has hardly been hardly flawless, so Iron Man proves to be a more than pleasant surprise in its execution.

Two can make the thing go right
What sends this pairing over the top, apart from the undeniable bargain of getting two first run films on one ticket, is their shared respect for their source material. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to play an ageing Harrison Ford for laughs and to turn a known substance abuser into an object of camp laughs as he lurches around drunk in a massive metal suit.
Neither film is burdened by a particularly complicated plot.
Dr Henry Jones Jr is almost instantly hurled into an almost non-stop sequence of carefully choreographed hijinks that are, ultimately, the point of the movie.
But enormous red bachacs, ancient stone contraptions and mysterious magnetic skulls are hardly the most frightening, if largely bloodless terrors in Crystal Skull.

The film makers, and George Lucas is as involved with the adventures of Dr Jones as director Spielberg is, manage to find the time to contemplate America in the 1950's and the real menaces that leave Indy and his audience leery are the overwhelming paranoia of Communist fear and the rise of science that seems as supernatural as Indy's traditional threats. The science angle offers two clear moments of pivotal menace, one atomic, the other interstellar, that bookmark the traditional adventuring.
Shia La Beouf, whose movie presence I usually find either annoying or readily ignored, turns in a winning and enthusiastic performance as the only young person in a cast that largely couches the ageing Ford in with his peers and returns a surprisingly sprightly Karen Allen to the screen.

Heavy metal Iron Man
Where Cate Blanchett works hard with the intractable stiffness of Russian bad girl Irina Spalko, Gwyneth Paltrow spins a small role as "Pepper" Potts in Iron Man into the stratosphere.
James Rhodes (Terrence Howard) may get in a few entertaining male bonding sequences with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), but it's Potts who gets all the zingers, starting with a breathtaking exchange with one of Stark's conquests in the first ten minutes of the film.
What ensues thereafter is much of what one comes to expect from a superhero film, the hero's understanding of his life's role and his past failings, the forging (pretty much literally, in this case) of his new identity and his embrace of truth, justice and the American way.

Which in Stark's case, largely includes stiff drinks, hot hamburgers and fast iron, as he moves quickly from a zippy Audi R8 into a shiny metal suit.
With any double, the question is always about which film trumped the other. Iron Man is fast and snappy and Robert Downey Jr plays the role as if it were his last, but Crystal Skull has the history and doesn't deny it. Hell, the film manages to sneak in a cameo for Denholm Elliot, who played Dr Jones' eternally patient principal in the first three films. No mean feat, since he died in 1992.
But the score is what tips things in Skull's favour. When Iron Man roars into action, his rocking score, abetted by Tom Morello, is has all the appropriate heavy metal snarl, but when Indy cracks his whip, he soars on the third of John Williams' adventure scores (after Star Wars and Superman), and that, my friends, is a music bed of roses.
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