I Hate Indiana Jones: Day 37

Day 37: Indiana Jones and the Off-Camera Action

As if the very existence of the kung fu monkey man zombie natives wasn't bad enough, the way the film chooses to deal with them is even worse. When you've got an idea this bad, finding a way to make it worse seems like an amazing feat - but one should never underestimate these filmmakers, and their dedication to awfulness. So how do they do it? Instead of just having a fight between Indiana Jones, Shia Laboeuf and a number of the monkey men, they move the fight off-camera so that the audience doesn't get to see it.

That's right, you're not reading things, in this movie a fight happens that the filmmakers didn't think was important enough to let the audience see. This isn't used as an off-camera joke either, like Marion knocking out the Arab with a frying pan, then having the body flop out of the doorway into frame. This is an entire action scene that no one seems to think it's a good idea to bother getting on film. For more than a minute Indiana Jones chases natives through the graveyard, running through caves, popping up in unexpected places, doing interesting visual things. Instead of showing them to us, the camera decides to stay with Shia Laboeuf, who stands still with a confused look on his face as if he's having trouble comprehending what's going on around him.

This decision to show an action sequence entirely from the spectator's point of view is an odd choice, one usually used to enhance a sense of mystery around a character's actions. I.E. something is so much larger than life that the main character that the character doesn't even get a good look at it, making it seem more interesting and enticing to the viewer, and the eventual payoff all the more interesting (as tried, and failed, in the film Cloverfield). When this happens the spectator character is generally an audience identification figure, the kind of character who's new to the goings-on of the world and needs to have things explained to them. Using off-camera action serves to make the world seemed even more foreboding or amazing than it otherwise would. When employed correctly, it can be effective in creating a sense of wonder around what would otherwise be fairly run-of-the-mill events.

The problem with the technique used here is twofold. The first part is that it's based on a fallacy that we, the audience, are uninformed and need a window into the world of Indiana Jones. We don't. This is the fourth Indiana Jones movie. We're all very familiar with the kinds of things that happen in Indiana Jones movies. In point of fact, we've come to the theater to see them. Much as we would like to be imbued with the sense of wonder we had the first time we saw an Indiana Jones movie, that's simply not going to happen. While it might be strange for Mutt Williams to see this 50 some-year-old archaeologist fighting with a bunch of kung fu monkey zombie skull-men, the audience is well aware that it's just another day at the office for Indy. Keeping the action off camera just serves to piss off an audience who came to see Indiana Jones doing interesting things.

The second problem is that even if they thought it was absolutely necessary to attempt this, they did it at the worst possible place and time. If you want to impress people with amazing off-camera action, you do it at the beginning of the film when there's a chance that a new audience might be amenable to the idea that Harrison is a larger-than-life, legendary figure. At this point in the movie not only have we, the audience, have seen Indiana Jones take part in two major action scenes. Even the character supposedly being amazed, Shia Laboeuf, has already seen Indiana Jones beat a few people up while evading Communist thugs.

Imagine the fight with the bald German in Raiders of the Lost Ark had happened off camera, while the screen stayed locked on Marion's struggles to get into the roof turret of the flying wing. Sure, we would've gotten nice close-ups of her blowing away Nazis with the machine gun, although we got that anyway, but how much would it have hurt the film is we'd only seen the barest glimpses of Harrison Ford's struggle with the giant Nazi?

The entire point of this sequence is to take a film that, up until this point, had been told almost entirely from Indiana Jones' viewpoint, or at least Indiana and Mutt Williams' shared viewpoint and forcibly edited it from the viewpoint Shia Laboeuf. The utter idiocy of this decision is that it never seems to have occurred to the filmmakers to question whether spending an action scene ignoring Indiana Jones in an Indiana Jones film was a good idea. For the record, it is not.

In a funny coincidence, a scene almost exactly like this one appeared in the film Transformers, which also starred Laboeuf. In that scene, while two giant robot fought just off-camera, the filmmakers thought it was more important to focus on a much smaller robot's attempts to steal Shia Laboeuf's pants. Perhaps it's Laboeuf - is it possible that, like the plastic skull of the film's title, he exudes some kind of super-magnetism that affects only the glass in camera lenses, causing camears to automatically spin in his direction? It would certainly explain people's habit of filming him when putting almost anything else in front of a camera would be more interesting.

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