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Dial of Destiny Postmortem

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opened to disappointing numbers worldwide. Sure seems like it made money to me, but apparently it cost so much (almost or possibly over $300M, plus marketing costs) that it had to do Avatar business to be considered a hit.

Here’s Variety’s report. I think the Deadline analysis has the obvious and best explanation for its underperformance: “Because it’s coming off of a sequel not many loved, and it’s playing the same game of Indiana Jones getting older.”

These blockbuster movies are youthful fantasies. When your hero is 80, it necessarily adds an unwelcome dose of real, human mortality.

And as Indy has taken on Harrison Ford’s real-life grumpy persona—which inevitably happens with powerful stars, just as Picard became more like Patrick Stewart—it sets the tone in a way that I quite liked, but of course can’t be as fun and freewheeling as the original films. really seems like Helena’s story. She has the “arc” that Indy did in Raiders: to go from wanting fortune and glory to wanting family and love. (Indy is saved from the wrath of God in Raiders because he grows, from arrogance to humility.)

But it has to be Indy’s story—because it is. Nobody is going to the movie to see Fleabag, and I daresay I sense the predictable sexism in some of the negative reactions to her presence.

The film is better than Crystal Skull, which had the George Lucas problem of—you have no idea who the actual protagonist is. Was it Indy’s story? Not really. Mutt’s? Irina’s? Oxley’s?

Think Phantom Menace: Is this Qui-Gon Jinn’s story? Anakin’s? Obi-Wan’s? The Queen’s?

This makes Indy a passive protagonist, which is quite apparent when the action finale of the film (mild spoiler) literally takes place during a cut to black.

I saw it with my kids Thursday afternoon and we enjoyed it. I was worried they were getting lost (or upset by the violence) but they both said they liked it (they’re twins, almost nine).

Anyway, this isn’t a movie review, just a few notes. I saw that the Scriptshadow guy liked it, and I agree with a lot of his points.

My old buddy Andy Dursin strenuously did not like it, and I agree with his points too, particularly about the body count.

The Indy movies always kill a small army’s worth of Nazis or faceless natives (kind of racist), but at least with some sort of “rules of engagement”—it’s in the heat of battle. And for better or worse, it’s not graphic—it’s cartoon violence.

But the number of innocent bystanders in this film who are just ruthlessly executed—it really left a bad taste in my mouth.

I thought there were places where the old magic was back—particularly the parade and horse chase in New York. I was so excited to listen to that track on the album, which surely was so important it must be there, right? Wrong!

So thank you for this nostalgic flashback, whoever put that album together: my favorite piece from the score isn’t on the record. Just like the 1980s!

As much as I think James Mangold is a terrific director (I loved Logan)—and the performances in this film are excellent—I really did miss the Spielberg magic, particularly in the action scenes.

Spielberg is just a Mozart with the camera. You can pick up on all his tricks and tropes: the moving masters, the heads jutting into frame, the delicious, physical cause-and-effect signifiers (we see the effects of the shark, not the shark)—but they are still consistently delightful, and surprising, and so incredibly witty.

And above all, they are clear.

In a Spielberg action scene, you always know who is who, what is what, the geography of the action, the goals and obstacles. It’s really a breathtaking mastery of the form—especially in the original Raiders.

And here...thank goodnesss, it wasn’t that confusing, cutty Bourne style.

But it just wasn’t that much fun. It felt kind of laborious. It seemed to be a lot of medium shots cut together—so that we never got the sense of geography we needed, or close-ups for emphasis, or the kind of dynamism that would make it all stitch together.

If God forbid James Mangold ever reads this—I love you, brother. This is quite the curve to be graded on!

One last thing...

The kids and I saw an IMAX matinee in a nearly empty theater, and I have to say, it physically, literally hurt my ears how loud it was. I have barely been to the movies since before the pandemic, and I got so used to listening to movies softly at night (so as not to wake anybody).

It reminded me of the first time I ever saw a movie with good projection: Star Trek IV, over Thanksgiving weekend 1986, when my family was visiting my grandparents in Philadelphia. My dad took me to a city theater, and compared to the Martha’s Vineyard theaters, it was in surround stereo and sounded amazing. But it hurt my ears, especially the whale probe!

In Dial of Destiny, I almost thought, oh my god, I’m not going to make it.

I have also grown accustomed to the privilege of pausing the movie to go pee.

So, such modern problems.

Farewell, Indy. I still love you!

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