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Thursday, June 29, 2023

Dad would have liked it: My review of INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY

I was seven years old when Raiders of the Lost Ark first came out.  That film more than any other impacted and steered the direction of my life.  The day after seeing it I had volumes of encyclopedias opened up on the floor and the family Bible along with them.  I wanted to learn all about the Ark of the Covenant and ancient Egypt and World War II and the Nazis.  All heady stuff for a kid in second grade!  What can I say though: my childhood interests were pretty atypical.

I think Dad was pretty impressed though, that a movie could stoke a youngster's intellect like that.  And I know that Dad was impressed with the movie too.  When we see Jones board the seaplane that is going to take him west to Nepal, Dad leaned toward me and told me what kind of plane it was and that he had flown on one years earlier.

It was a magic moment that I don't think I've ever shared before, until now.  It was so weird, being with my father and discovering that he and I were enjoying this movie together.  That for all my weirdness and then his practicality, we had some things in common after all.

Every time an Indiana Jones movie came out after that, Dad and I made sure to catch it as soon as we could make it to the theater.  The next opportunity came in 1984 with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  And once again Dad and I had a shared experience.  Actually, I think everybody in that screening had the same experience: almost puking all over the floor at how gross that movie was!  But still we endured.  Dad still thought of that five years later when it was opening weekend of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: "This isn't going to be as sick as the LAST one was, is it?" he asked before we left for the cinema.

And then fifteen years ago came Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  Dad and I saw that on its opening day.  Dad admitted that he was confused by it.  I think a lot of people probably were.  It's a film with numerous faults.  But even so I think George Lucas and Steven Spielberg achieved their goal.  Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a big-budget homage to the hokey sci-fi "B-movies" of the Nineteen Fifties.  Just as Raiders of the Lost Ark owed its spirit to the Saturday afternoon serials at the movie theaters.  Bear that in mind and the film is spot-on entertaining.

There had been discussions about a fifth Indiana Jones movie after that.  As was often the case, those were produced during those fleeting times when the stars were right and Lucas and Spielberg agreed on a new "MacGuffin" to propel the movie.  And if things had hastened, Dad and I could have seen that movie in the theater too.

Except that never got to be.  Dad passed away a few days before Thanksgiving, almost nine years ago.

So it's like this: I wasn't actually sure if I wanted to see a new Indiana Jones film, at least not when it first debuted.  It... didn't seem right.  Like I wouldn't be honoring Dad's memory, or something.  And then gradually it hit me: Dad would have wanted me to see a new Indy movie if one was ever made.  That I would actually be honoring the fun that he and I had together.

That's what I've borne in mind all these long months leading up to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.  A film that I went in absolutely cold about, except for the trailers and the posters.

A short while ago I came back from a day-early showing of this latest chapter in the life of Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones.  My expectations were high... but they were also prepared to be crushed.  I braced myself for whatever the next two and a half hours were going to bring.

And now that I have seen it?

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny isn't a perfect film for the franchise: that will always and forever be the place taken by Raiders of the Lost Ark.  But it is not the disappointment that some have been ready for.  I actually enjoyed this movie quite a bit.  I will say that it is by a great measure much better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, if that gives any indication for you.

The film opens in 1945: the final days of Nazi Germany.  And if it was at all possible I would absolutely love to see this period of Indy's life developed further.  We know what he was doing before World War II began and the fourth movie implied that Jones was quite active against the Axis powers during the conflict.  But until now we've never seen WHAT the heck he was up to.  Dial of Destiny gives us a good peek at that, and it involves a historical artifact that was at one time the original prize in the first few drafts of Raiders.  When I saw this my face broke out into a huge grin, because I have always wanted to see Indy go after that particular item.

That probably won't happen.  Harrison Ford is eighty and has been quite adamant that this is his final film as Indiana Jones.  But I'm still thankful for this little morsel.  And the Lucasfilm boffins did a beautiful job digitally de-aging Ford by four decades.

Well, it turns out that there is another item that the Nazis are interested in.  One that Indy and fellow historian Basil Shaw are keen on keeping out of German hands.  A thrilling sequence aboard - and atop - a high-speed train later, the two have succeeded in recovering the artifact.

Forward almost a quarter century to 1969.  Jones is still teaching archaeology, but the days when his female students flirted with him are long past.  Time has moved beyond the days of high adventure, and Indy is feeling very much like an anachronism.  The Apollo 11 astronauts have returned from the Moon and it hangs over Indy's head: what is his purpose in a world where man is now landing on other worlds?  Which is something that Indy isn't all that crazy about, given that the United States ended up recruiting many former Nazi scientists in its bid to get ahead of the Soviets in the race to space.  It's a sentiment that is having Indy graciously retired by the administration of his school.

And then Indy gets approached by Helena Shaw: Basil's daughter and Indy's godchild.  She has kinda, sort-of followed in the family tradition.  And her main interest is in that strange object that Indy and Basil heisted from the Nazis.

That's probably all I should say about the plot.  If you're reading this, I want you to go in cold too.  Don't be prepared to stack this Indiana Jones movie against the others in the franchise.  Dial of Destiny does a magnificent job in portraying an Indiana Jones whose age has caught up with him but also might have a spark of fight still in him.  This is not Indy age forty and when the calendar hits 1969 it doesn't pretend to be.  It might be pretty sobering just how much mileage Jones has accrued since we first saw him.

But Indy is not "along for the ride".  And he keeps up with the much younger Helena (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) as well as he's ever done in these movies  Let's have no more jokes about "Indiana Bones".  Nobody is phoning it in with this movie, least of whom Ford.  It is in every way a fit and proper Indiana Jones motion picture, with its scope forwarded a few more decades.  It also hit on all the right elements of the Indy movies, like the red line showing where our hero is en route to next.

Dial of Destiny is cast well.  It also seems that the digital effects were kept to a minimum. This doesn't look like an overly-CGI'ed movie anyway.  James Mangold did a terrific job in directing this film (he also co-wrote the script).  And for what may well be his swan song, John Williams has achieved a mighty accomplishment with the film's music.  You'll be certain to hear a number of familiar motifs that have had a presence in previous Indy movies.  If this really is Williams' last movie before hanging up the baton, he has done so magnificently.

I really don't know what else to say without tipping my hand too much.  Except, that Dad would have liked it.  I feel like I got to enjoy Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny for him, in his memory.  It was time well spent on a summer afternoon and I think if we're going to be honest, many other people are going to leave the theater feeling much the same, too.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

"Zathras warn": The trailer for BABYLON 5: THE ROAD HOME

It was released earlier today.  I've watched this trailer for Babylon 5: The Road Home at least five times now... and I am stoked.  It looks beautiful.  And it seems that they've done an excellent job at casting the voice actors for the characters whose original portrayers have "gone beyond the Rim" over the years.

(I'm hoping that we get at least one look inside Garibaldi's quarters aboard Babylon 5.  Just to see if the painting of Daffy Duck is still there.)

Anyhoo... enjoy!

Babylon 5: The Road Home hits digital download, 4K, and Blu-ray on August 15th, 2023.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

My solemn word that anything you see posted here is genuine

You might have noticed a slight addition to this blog.  It's on the header, toward the right of the screen.  There now appears the following label:



I have heard all kinds of insane stories about people using ChatGPT and other "artificial intelligences" as something more than a curiosity.  Students have begun having AI write papers for classes.  Some ministers have admitted that they have used ChatGPT to compose sermons for Sunday morning.  In at least one situation a lawyer had AI create his legal paperwork for a court case: the judge was not impressed.

To be truthful, I'm not impressed by any so-called "artificial intelligence" thus far.  Their enthusiasts are claiming that AI is now able to pass the Turing Test (in which a living person can or cannot differentiate verbal responses from a human being or a computer).  It's not something I'm particularly jazzed about, not yet anyway.

But the horse is out of the barn.  And AI is going to start being used for a lot of things from here on out: some with benefit in mind, some not.

I just felt led to let the readers of this blog know, that I am absolutely committed to producing content that comes from my own mind, or from the rare occasion when The Knight Shift has welcomed a guest writer.  It is my vow to you, that there will be no posts or articles that you see here which will have been generated by a machine.  From the very start I've wanted this blog to be my own little online presence.  It's been that for nearly twenty years now.  I won't "take the easy way" and farm out the writing to a computer, no matter how stylish it is at the moment.

That doesn't mean that I may not experiment with AI some and report about what transpires.  Several weeks ago a good friend caused ChatGPT to lock up and get stuck after he convinced the AI that he too was an artificial intelligence.  It was like something you'd see on any number of episodes of the classic Star Trek.  My friend proved how ill-prepared AI currently is to handle complex concepts. I've an idea for my own experiment that I may carry out soon.  If so, I'll be posting screenshots of the AI's responses, rather than copy and paste it into the article.

Okay, well, there you go.  The Knight Shift will completely be a product of my own mind and heart and soul.  I promise.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Good deals on Indiana Jones computer games

I'm hearing very mixed word about the upcoming motion picture Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.  I seriously want this to be a good movie.  Raiders of the Lost Ark is my all time most favorite film and I found something good in each entry of the franchise.  I even thought that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was pretty good: all you need do is keep in mind that Lucas and Spielberg wanted to make a homage to the "flying saucer B-movies" of the Fifties, that they fondly remembered from adolescence.  Do that and it's a perfectly fine movie.

But I want Dial of Destiny to be good because seeing an Indiana Jones movie in the theater together was something Dad and I did with every chapter of the series.  This will be my first time seeing a new Indy movie without him. I want to enjoy this movie in Dad's memory as much as for my own sake.  We'll find out later this month.  I hope there will be some pleasure in writing that review.

Anyhoo, while we're waiting for that next Indiana Jones movie to be released, you might consider immersing yourself in the role with some of the saga's computer games that have been released over the years.  I've played and completed each of these (including all three of Fate of Atlantis's paths) and can vouch for their entertainment value.  And I just checked: there are some very solid deals going on right now if you purchase them from an online vendor.  Over at GOG.com they're each currently selling for a little over two bucks, while Steam's store has them for $5.99.  So you might wanna jump at the opportunity to add one or all of these to your game library while the iron's hot right now.

Like I said, I can attest to how good these games are.  Especially 1992's Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.  This classic "point and click" adventure set in 1938 finds Indy and former protege Sophia Hapgood traveling from the streets of New York City to Iceland to Monte Carlo and everywhere in between seeking the lost continent, trying to keep the Nazis from obtaining a mystical metal that could power everything from cars and airplanes to atomic-grade munitions.  One of the things I like about this game is that it has great replay value because of its multiple paths feature.  At a certain point in the game the player chooses from three ways forward: Team (having Hapgood along for the entire ride), Fists (where Indy resolves a lot of conflict with knuckle-baring action) or Wits (encouraging Jones to use his noggin to solve various puzzles).  The version on GOG and Steam is the 1993 "talkie" edition that was released on CD-ROM, taking advantage of multimedia technology that was just coming to market.  Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is still wildly acclaimed now more than thirty years after its release.  I would highly recommend this one if you're at all interested in the world of Indiana Jones.

Some years later - in real life as well as in the Indy universe - Doctor Jones is enjoying the relative post-war calm of 1947 as he looks for Native American artifacts in the Utah desert.  That is where he is found by Sophia Hapgood, who wants to recruit Indy on behalf of the newly-formed Central Intelligence Agency.  Seems that the Soviets have had scientists scouring the Mid-East looking for the remains of the Tower of Babel.  The goal: locate a mechanism of extraordinary - some would say un-earthly- power.  So begins Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine from 1999.  This game was LucasArts's answer to the popular Tomb Raider games that had been a hit for a few years already.  Admittedly the visuals when compared to the graphics of nearly a quarter-century later leave MUCH to be desired.  But if you can overlook that Infernal Machine is still a rip-roaring adventure around the globe.

And finally, we have 2003's Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb.  Set in 1935, this game is something of a prequel to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (which itself was a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, pretty meta aye?).  The game opens with Indy in Ceylon (what will later become known as Sri Lanka) and there is a positively enormous crocodile that once encountered you will never forget it.  Afterward our archeologist hero is approached by officials with the Chinese government, asking for his aid in recovering the Heart of the Dragon: a black pearl of reputed power that had been secreted away in the resting place of the country's first ruler.  Emperor's Tomb features far better graphics than its predecessor, and also provides a much more action-oriented experience, especially when using Indiana's signature bullwhip.  Emperor's Tomb is a rather hidden gem of the Indyverse: it was kind of overlooked upon first release. Maybe now, twenty years after it was published, it can be discovered anew and better appreciated.

Just in case you're wondering: no, nobody is paying me to hawk these games.  I'm simply doing it because I'm an Indiana Jones nut (hey, I watched every episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) and have always found the world through his eyes to be a fascinating one.  If you dig (ha-ha, "dig", get it?  Yes ladies and gentlemen I'll be here all week!) a good quest rife with solid story, great action, perplexing puzzles and terrific characterization, and if you just want to experience a bit of what it's like to be cinema's most famous globe-trotting archaeologist, any of these three games will satisfy you.

Come to think of it, I may play one of these also while we're waiting for the next movie to drop.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Thirty years later: JURASSIC PARK the motion picture

Thirty years ago today, I drove to Brassfield Cinema in Greensboro to catch the film adaptation of Jurassic Park on its opening day. A year and a half earlier during fall break of my high school senior year I bought a paperback copy of the novel by Michael Crichton at what used to be KC Books on Freeway Drive in Reidsville. Between getting the book and the release of the movie I read Jurassic Park six times. It was THAT good.

The cinema was packed. Lots of small children excited about seeing the dinosaurs. Some people said they were going back in to see it again after just getting out from watching it the first time.
I can still tell you which screen I sat down to watch it on. After nineteen months of build up, my patience was about to be rewarded.
The lights went down. The trailers began. And then the movie started...

Two hours later I left the theater... and I was possibly the ONE person who was disappointed!!
The book was soooo much better. Yes, the effects were magnificent. Pioneering, groundbreaking. But I had an image in my mind of what it would be like and the finished movie didn't meet the bar.
In years since I've come to be more forgiving. It was the first time a film had been so dependent on computer generated imagery. The crew of the movie had been faced with a seemingly impossible task. In the end, they stuck the landing and more. I can also better appreciate how such deep characters in the novel - like Ian Malcolm - did wind up translating as good enough to the screen as they were likely to get.
At the time I would have given Jurassic Park the movie 2 and 1/2 stars out of 5. There was just so much more from the book - like the pterodactyls - that I wanted to see. Thirty years later, I'd give the movie a solid 4 out of 5 stars.
An example of five star motion picture would also come from Steven Spielberg later that same year: Schindler's List. It was good that Spielberg made Jurassic Park first. Had the two movies switched places he wouldn't have been able to produce Jurassic Park at all. But that's a topic for another time.
It does not seem like it was thirty years ago. But it was. Wow.
So to end this little look back at Jurassic Park the motion picture, here's the song that "Weird Al" Yankovic released a few months later, his parody of "MacArthur Park"...

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

May it never be forgot

Seventy-nine years ago today.

That's a still from the animated special What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?  It was the follow-up to the film Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown.  Charlie Brown Linus, Peppermint Patty, Marcy, and Snoopy are on their way back to America.  They stop and camp for the night and Linus thinks they're something familiar about the place.

Wow.  That premiered forty years ago last week.  It's well worth tracking down and watching.

Remembering all who came ashore at Normandy on this day nearly eighty years ago.