Top Ten Moments From Disney Animation… So Far

The Walt Disney Company is unlike the other big studios that make up Hollywood.  While the likes of Universal, Warner Brothers, and Paramount built up their brands with their stables of stars and filmmakers, Disney came to prominence a different way.  They had their own stars, but they weren’t dashing leading men or entrancing leading ladies; they were cartoons.  Begun a century ago in the back of a tiny law office in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, The Disney Brothers studio was born and out of that tiny back room grew one of the most powerful media empires the world has ever known.  Now the Disney Company has expanded to include other valuable brands like Star Wars, Marvel, 20th Century Studios, as well as having a major foothold in theme parks and even it’s own cruise line.  But, even with all that growth, Animation is still at the core of the studio.  The character of Mickey Mouse undoubtedly was responsible for making Disney what it is, but what has also come to define Disney over it’s 100 years are their historic milestones that pushed the medium of animation further.  Not every invention in animation can be credited back to Disney, but they are responsible for mainstreaming innovations.  It was going to be inevitable that someone would attempt a feature length animated film, but it took the initiative of Walt Disney and his artists to actually take that first step, even when many in the industry thought he was crazy.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), their first feature film, sparked a revolution in the art of animation, and all that followed for Disney can be attributed to that success.  In the 85 years since Snow White, the Disney Animation Studio has produced 61 feature films, with the upcoming Wish (2023) marking their 62nd this November.  This group of films has come to be known as the Disney Canon; an official grouping of films linked  back to Snow White and meant to stand apart from all the rest of the films made at Disney.

In the Disney Canon, there are six distinct eras; the Golden Age (1937-42), the War Years (1943-49), the Silver Age (1950-67), the post-Walt Dark Age (1968-88), the Disney Renaissance (1989-2004) and the Digital Age (2005-present).  From all of these names, you can imagine the different shifts the Disney company went through, and the movies released in these eras are very much reflective of that.  The Golden, Silver, and Renaissance years were times of incredible growth and prosperity for Disney, whereas the War Years and the Dark Age were very disruptive.  But even during those disruptive years, Disney still produced a lasting classic every now and then, like The Three Caballeros (1945) in the War Years, and Robin Hood (1973) in the Dark Ages.  Looking over all of the Disney Canon films, it really is interesting to see the evolution of animation playing out before you as each film is it’s own time capsule.  And in many of the films, there are moments that remain iconic no matter what age it is.  These are the moments that stick with us for years afterwards and they are also the moments that have come to define the Disney name in the pop culture.  What follows is what I think are the Top Ten Moments from Disney Animation that have appeared so far throughout the years.  I’m drawing solely from the Disney Canon and at 9 decades and 61 films worth of material to go through, there are some tough choices about what to leave in and out.  So, with all that said, here are the Top Ten Disney Animation far.



Disney is most well known for their lavish, Broadway style musical numbers and slapsticky cartoon hijinks.  What they are less well known for is staging epic battle scenes.  Sure, there have been climatic one-on-one battles, but a harrowing battle featuring armies numbering in the hundreds is something very out of character for them.  That’s not to say they couldn’t do it; all they needed was the right story.  They eventually found such a story with the Chinese legend of Mulan, the girl who impersonated a man in order to join the army.  The movie Mulan does an admirable job at building a captivating story around it’s heroine, but where the film really excels as a work of animation is in it’s staging of it’s more epic moments.  The film made use of the studio’s new innovative computer enhanced animation tools, which included the ability to fill a scene with literally hundreds of characters with a crowd simulator.  The most amazing use of this tool is found in a harrowing battle scene on the slop of a mountain.  Drawing inspiration from filmmakers such as David Lean and Akira Kurosawa, this battle against the Huns showcases a level of scale and scope never seen before in a Disney animated film, or any animation up to that point in fact.  You really get the sense of the overwhelming odds on screen, as the villainous Shan-Yu leads the charge down the slope, followed by all of his soldiers spilling over the crest on horseback in a seemingly unending horde.  Impressive as the effect is, the movie also gives us a surprising twist as Mulan uses her quick witted thinking to defeat the enemy single handedly, by launching a cannon at the mountaintop, causing an avalanche.  To this day, even with all the advances in computer animation, this scene still manages to wow, mainly because of the epic way it is staged.  You really get the sense of scale that Disney’s animators were trying to go for, and as a result, it shows that they could do so much more than just the cartoon stuff.



The movie that sparked the beginning of Disney’s Silver Age is also one of the more grounded of the era.  Sure, talking mice is a fanciful touch, but Cinderella’s dilemmas are much more grounded in reality than the typical Disney fairy tale narrative.  Our heroine is not under some curse, or is the key to solving a magical riddle.  She is a poor soul being tortured and humiliated in her own home by a wicked Stepmother and her vain step-sisters.  Where the fairy tale element of the story comes in is at the moment Cinderella hits her lowest point; after the step-sisters have torn her dress to shreds, preventing her from attending the Royal Ball.  As she loses all hope for happiness, that’s when the Fairy Godmother arrives and works her magic.  The whole scene that follows is pure Disney magic, as the Fairy Godmother gifts her a full royal entourage out of all the animals in the garden and a magnificent carriage out of a pumpkin.  Set to the memorable tune of “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo,” the whole sequence is a delight, but it reaches it’s high point when the absent minded Fairy Godmother finally remembers that Cinderella is in need of a dress.  And the moment Cinderella’s dress forms out of the rags of the old one may just be one of the most iconic single moments in animation ever.  Drawn by the iconic animator Marc Davis, one of Disney’s notable Nine Old Men, this moment really shows you what animation is capable of in contrast to any other form of filmmaking.  Any live action effect, especially in that time, couldn’t effectively do the same as what animation was capable of in realizing that moment, from the swirling of magic dust all around her to how the dress itself forms fluidly from the rags that Cinderella is wearing.  And it’s an iconic dress as well, complete with the all important glass slippers.  It may not be one of Disney’s flashiest moments, but it is one of the most magical.



The Digital Age of Disney Animation is one that is still trying to find it’s identity compared to eras of the past, and for many die hard Disney Animation fans, they have a harder time finding things to love about computer animation when contrasted with the hand drawn films.  But there are certainly moments that are too good to ignore from this period in time, and one of the most iconic naturally comes from the biggest hit of this era.  The movie Frozen is noteworthy in the Disney Canon for a lot of things, but the moment that everyone remembers in the film is the show-stopping musical number “Let it Go.”  After fleeing her kingdom and finding herself in exile in the chilly mountains that border those lands, Queen Elsa resolves to cast aside the fear and self-loathing that caused her to hide her ice-based power for so long.  In doing so, she finally gives herself the motivation to “let it go” and take her power to the extreme without any inhabitations.  The song itself is quite the uplifting number, but the sequence definitely reaches it’s high point when Elsa begins to create a palace of ice on the mountain peak.  Shown in an incredible one shot, we see the foundations of the palace rise right out of the snowy slopes, followed by the cathedral like walls and then finally in a magnificent snowflake chandelier.  The way the virtual camera floats through this whole sequence is what really makes the scene special, putting us right in the middle of the magic.  And even after that breathtaking tracking shot, we get another magical moment as Elsa uses her power to change her royal garb into a icy blue and white gown.  Out of all the movies of the Disney Digital Age, this is the moment that still rings out as iconic almost a decade later, and it easily stands as one of the most memorable in the Disney Canon.



It would be wrong to overlook an iconic moment from the movie that started it all.  When Walt Disney first proposed to make a feature length film at his studio, many in Hollywood thought he was crazy.  “Disney’s Folly” is what they called it, and there were several in the industry that believed it was impossible to hold an audience’s attention for more than the average 7-10 minutes when it came to animation.  But, Walt Disney persisted, believing quite rightly that this was the future of the medium.  His team of animators pushed themselves to innovate and take animation in a direction that could believably support such a monumental project.  In the end, they managed to go above and beyond, with Snow White not just showing that a feature length animated film was possible, but that it’s story could rival anything told in live action.  The animators really got a sense of how successful they were when they attended the film’s premiere at the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles.  At the climax of the film, Snow White is put into a death like sleep by a poisoned apple given to her by her step mother, The Queen, in the disguise of a hag.  The Seven Dwarves eventually chase down the Queen, who receives her comeuppance falling off a high cliff, but they return home believing their beloved Snow White is slain.  They chose not to bury her, instead placing her in a glass coffin in the forest, where the Prince pays her a visit to share his own grief.  He gives her a kiss, and this act magically revives the sleeping Snow White, leading to a triumphant celebration.  What struck the animators at the premiere was that they were seeing members of the audience, including A-List stars, openly weeping in the theater.  One of Disney’s animator’s, Ward Kimball, recalled the moment in amazement, realizing that what the audience was crying at was just a stack of drawings.  This showed that Disney transcended the medium of animation and could tell a story as captivating as any other made in Hollywood.  These were no longer just drawings; they were fully fleshed out characters whose stories could make you forget that you were watching a cartoon.



Sometimes the most magical moments in Disney movies don’t have to have actual magic.  Sometimes it can be something as simple as a Spaghetti and Meatball dinner.  That’s the case with this iconic moment from Lady and the Tramp.  The movie is one of Disney’s more grounded films, with a simple love story told from the point of view of dogs.  Lady is a cocker spaniel from a nice neighborhood, while Tramp is a mangy mutt from the rough side of town.  Circumstances bring them together, as Tramp helps Lady remove a muzzle forced on her by a  cruel new caretaker.  Still far from home and afraid to return, Lady needs some guidance, so Tramp agrees to show her around town.  Eventually they arrive at Tony’s Restaurant, one of his favorite haunts where the namesake owner is always happy to give him a handout.  Upon seeing that Tramp this time has company, Tony has the idea to give the two more than just scraps.  Tony gives them a full spaghetti dinner, complete with candlelight ambiance and Tony and his assistant Joe giving them a musical serenade.  In the real world, this would all be absurd, but in the hands of Disney’s animators it becomes one of the most romantic moments in cinema history.  The song, “Bella Notte” is itself a beautiful tune, and it perfectly sets the tone for the scene.  Of course the iconic moment that everyone remembers is when Lady and Tramp both start to chew and swallow the same strand of spaghetti, causing their heads to be pulled closer together until they lock lips.  Lady bashfully looks away and Tramp gallantly pushes a meatball closer to her.  The moment is so subtle and beautiful, and one of the most sublimely romantic moments ever put on film.  And it’s all the more remarkable that they are doing this with dogs as the main characters.  It’s a far more mature take on finding love than the standard fairy tale love at first sight.  Here, we see love bloom in the most unexpected way, and it’s a moment that still continues to delight many years later.



The Disney Renaissance marked a high point for Disney Animation.  After languishing in the Dark Ages of the post-Walt Disney years, Animation made a triumphant return with the release of The Little Mermaid (1989).  Of the Disney Renaissance films, none was bigger than The Lion King, a film that truly showed that Disney had grown bolder in it’s storytelling during this transformative era.  The Lion King was epic in scale, showcasing the vast wilds of the African savannah in a majestic tapestry of beautiful naturalistic animation.  It very much was a Disney film in the grand tradition that came before, but it also was innovative in a lot of other respects.  Computer animation had been coming a long way through the other films prior in the Renaissance Era, but in The Lion King, they created one of the most complex scenes that had ever been done in animation.  With the intent of killing both the king and his son in one fell swoop, the deceiving villain Scar lures his nephew Simba into a trap, unknowing of the peril he’s about to get into.  Simba is brought into a canyon where a huge herd of wildebeests are forcibly chased into, creating a stampede in which Simba is right in the path of.  The moment is truly terrifying, as the Disney animators used for the first time a duplication software that allowed them to create a limitless amount of wildebeests, making the horde heading Simba’s way to be an overwhelming force.  It’s the same software used in the battle from Mulan, but here it’s even more impactful.  When the wildebeests begin to crest over the ridge of the canyon, you get the feeling of dread of an oncoming storm, and the filmmakers punctuate that moment with a simulated smash zoom onto Simba’s terrified face.  Simba’s father Mufasa does eventually save him, but he’s overwhelmed by the sheer force of the wildebeest’s size and numbers.  Scar of course sabotages Mufasa’s escape, and it leads to one of the few on screen deaths in a Disney animated movie.  Though The Lion King has it’s fair share of iconic scenes, this is the one that has come to define the movie as an all time classic.



The Lion King may have been the most epic scale film of the Disney Renaissance era, but for the most action packed scene of this Age, you’d have to watch the movie that preceded it.  Aladdin is a magnificent ode to Golden Age Hollywood, with it’s incredible mix of high adventure, iconic music, and a general sense of campy fun.  In the most harrowing part of the film, Aladdin, deemed the “diamond in the rough,” is sent to retrieve a magical lamp from the Cave of Wonders.  The cave itself is vast and treacherous and Aladdin eventually finds the lamp high on a pedestal above a subterranean lake.  He takes the lamp, believing the worst is over, until he sees his monkey companion Abu trigger the self-destruct trap of the cave.  Massive boulders fall from the ceiling and the lake turns from water to lava instantly.  With the help of the Magic Carpet, Aladdin and Abu have a means to escape, but the lava lake magically follows after them in a fearsome tidal wave.  The flight through the cave itself is the moment that sets this scene apart.  While Aladdin and Abu are still hand drawn, their environments were completely rendered in computers, creating a 3D environment so complex it became immersive.  Sure it looks graphically primitive today; coming across just slightly more complex than a CD-ROM era video game, but in the early 90’s, this was ground-breaking.  Disney’s CGI team apparently looked to flight simulators, such as the one found in the Star Tours ride at Disneyland, for inspiration for this sequence, and it shows.  The flight through the cave definitely feels like you are on a ride with the characters, and it was a brilliant way to use computer graphics in a traditional animated film, helping them to do things that never had been seen before.  And it also fits well within the film’s whole general sense of fun.  Aladdin is a film full of moments that boldly pushes the limits of animation, and the Cave of Wonders sequence is where you especially see the film take things to it’s wildest and most edge of your seat potential.



Moving to a completely different tone in Disney Animation, there is one other thing that the studio has excelled at and that’s pulling at the heartstrings of it’s audience.  There are some definite heart-breaking moments in their movies, like the aforementioned death of Mufasa in The Lion King, or the reunion scene of Dumbo and his mother in Dumbo (1941).  But, if there was ever a moment in a Disney movie that left a scar on the hearts of generations of children, it’s the fate of Bambi’s Mother in the film Bambi.  Throughout the movie we are told of the ominous threat of “man” in the forest.  The incredible thing about the film is that you never once see a single human being, at yet their foreboding presence is felt throughout.  The only trace they leave in the film is the sound of a gunshot.  And that sound itself plays a very key role in the moment that defines this film.  On a seemingly normal morning, Bambi’s mother leads him to a fresh patch of grass they can feed on in the midst of a snowy field.  As they feast, the “man” theme begins to creep into the score.  Bambi’s mother’s sense flare up, and she tells her son to quickly run to shelter.  Bambi runs ahead, with his mother motivating him onward, and then “bang.”  Bambi makes it to the shelter unharmed, but he made it alone.  He heads back out just as a flurry of snow begins to fall, calling for his mom.  After a fruitless search, Bambi runs into the Great Prince of the Forest, his father, who sadly confirms his worst fear, that he won’t be seeing his mother anymore.  This was a shockingly harsh moment for a Disney film to have, especially in it’s early days.  Unlike so many of their other films, this one delivered a harsh truth about the real world.  Bambi’s mother was not going to come back through any type of magic; she was just gone and never coming back.  A lot of children probably learned a lot about mortality and dealing with grief from this moment in the film.  Disney has a history of tugging at heart-strings, but none broke our heart as much as this moment did.



The Silver Age of Disney came at a time when Hollywood was changing as a whole, embracing big widescreen epics as the answer to the rise of television.  Disney likewise embraced the widescreen medium as well, applying it to animation in innovative ways.  Lady and the Tramp was the first official widescreen film for Disney, but it was shot in that format in a last minute change-up, with much of the compositions on screen not really designed for the full wide frame.  Their follow-up, Sleeping Beauty would on the other hand be designed for widescreen from the get go.  And there are some incredible moments that beautifully utilize the full dimensions of the wide frame.  Of course, the one that stands out the most is the climatic battle at the end of the film, between Prince Phillip and the Mistress of All Evil herself, Maleficent.  The movie’s climatic battle, which sees Maleficent transform into a massive fire-breathing dragon, has become something of a gold standard for epic climaxes in other Disney movies.  You can see the battles against Jafar as a giant cobra in Aladdin and against Ursula as a giant version of herself in The Little Mermaid having been inspired by the battle against Maleficent’s Dragon in this movie.  It is a harrowing climax to a sequence that had already seen Phillip and the good fairies escape from giant rolling boulders, fireballs from the sky, and a forest of razor sharp thorns.  And the widescreen frame makes it feel even more grandiose, especially if you see this on a big screen.  The use of color in this scene also helps to heighten the tension, as the sky turn from somber grey to bright yellow as Maleficent’s inferno engulfs the whole scenery.  The dragon is only on screen a short while, but every second she’s there it is memorable.  The image of Prince Phillip tossing sword against a lunging dragon across the bright yellow sky is by itself a still image as great as any medieval work of art, and a perfect showcase of Disney Animation at the peak of it’s power.



All of the moments on this list left a lasting impression in it’s own way on both the film they were in as well as the era that they represented.  But there is a moment in Beauty and the Beast that exemplifies all of the tricks of the trade that Disney had built up to that moment in time all working together to create a truly pure cinematic moment that just stands above all in animation.  Set to the melody of the title song, Beauty and the Beast brings the film to another level as the two characters make their way to the ballroom.  Aladdin and The Lion King both had incredible moments that showcased incredible integration of CGI into traditional animation, but none were as sublime as what they accomplished with the ballroom scene in this film.  The way that the camera sweeps across the floor with Belle and the Beast and then shoots up into the ceiling is breathtaking, as is the spiral downward from the chandelier back down to the floor.  The moment is both complex and subtle at the same moment.  The computer animation team knew they could create even more dynamic camera movement, like they would eventually with the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin, but here it’s restrained enough to wow us, but also feel natural in it’s sweep.  The scene after all is meant to be romantic.  The camera’s trek in a way mirrors the balletic movement of the dancing duo.  And the integration of the traditionally animated characters into this three dimensional space is impressive, even by todays standards.  Here we see animation taken to it’s cinematic power.  It’s interesting to note that the filmmakers were unsure that they could pull the scene off, and even had a back up plan called the “ice capades” version, where Belle and the Beast would dance in complete darkness with a spotlight following them.  Thankfully the rendering of the 3D Ballroom worked out, and we have this iconic moment presented in it’s full glory.  Beauty and the Beast was the first ever animated film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and it probably helped that this iconic wow moment left so many audiences so enchanted by the film.  It may not have been the most exciting scene in a Disney film, but it is definitely the scene that showcased the animation studio working all of the knowledge of their long history of innovation into a pure cinematic moment.

So, there you have my picks for the most iconic moments in the first 100 years of Disney animation.  There were certainly many other moments that I wish I could’ve included, like the “Hellfire” sequence from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), the Wizards Duel from The Sword in the Stone (1963), The Sorcerer’s Apprentice casting his first spell in Fantasia (1940), the Pink Elephants from Dumbo, Ariel hitting her high note with a wave crashing behind her in The Little Mermaid, the Big Ben fight in The Great Mouse Detective (1986), the flight to Neverland in Peter Pan (1953), and the escape from Monstro the Whale in Pinocchio (1940) to name a few.  Suffice to say, there is a proud legacy of iconic cinematic moments that have come out of the Disney Animation studio.  The moments that stand out the most however are the ones that surprise us the most, like the Ballroom from Beauty and the Beast, or the Spaghetti Dinner from Lady and the Tramp.  The death of Bambi’s mother is also one where the sheer brutality of that moment hits incredibly hard, making it memorable in a way that transcends the artform and makes us consider the morale meaning behind what we saw in that moment.  And of course, there are those moments that we remember because they just felt magical, like the moment when Cinderella gets her stunning ball gown.  Disney Animation just has that special ability to connect with their audience, and it’s managed to stay strong through a tradition of excellence and imagination that goes all the way back to when Walt and his tiny team of animators were working out of that back room in Los Feliz.  Hopefully that spirit of innovation and imagination continues to remain strong going into their second century.  For now, we have a long legacy of exceptional animated art from the most storied animation studio in the world, with a canon of films 61 one strong and growing.

Oppenheimer – Review

I know that you’re clicking on this to hear my thoughts on Christopher Nolan’s new big screen epic Oppenheimer, but before I get to that, I really want to delve into the strange phenomenon that is surrounding the release of this movie.  Back in 2020, Nolan was set to release his highly anticipate film Tenet (2020) into theaters; specifically in large format venues like he has for many of his previous films like The Dark Knight (2008), Interstellar (2014), and Dunkirk (2017).  Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic upended those plans, as theaters across the country were closed, especially in the big markets of New York and Los Angeles.  This made it impossible for Tenet to get the kind of roll out that Christopher Nolan preferred for his movies.  Being a champion for large format filmmaking, with 70mm IMAX being his go to choice in film stock, Nolan wanted to be sure that his movie would be getting the ideal release in theaters in the preferred format.  Unfortunately for him, Warner Brothers (the company behind the film) didn’t see eye to eye on his plans for the film.  They seemed more willing to release the film on streaming to help boost subscriptions for their then struggling launch of the HBO Max platform than sitting on the film for another year once theaters were ready to re-open.  Eventually, the movie released in theaters right in the midst of the pandemic, with Nolan unable to have the ideal roll out on large format screens, and as a result the film had a measly result at the box office.  This in turn soured relations between Nolan and Warner Brothers, which had been his home for the last 20 years, and Christopher Nolan soon cut ties with the studio, seeking a new distributor for what would be his next film, Oppenheimer.

Universal Studios wound up taking Christopher Nolan into their wings and granted him the chance to make his ambitious new project at their storied studio, ironically just across the street from Warner Brothers in the San Fernando Valley.  With the pandemic now in the rear view mirror, Nolan finally had the opportunity to make a large format film that could connect with a mass audience once again, and with movies like Top Gun: Maverick (2022) and Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) helping to revitalize the IMAX experience, the timing couldn’t be more ripe for this movie to succeed.  Unfortunately, Nolan’s plans ran into a roadblock with his former studio.  Warner Brothers decided to release a big blockbuster film on the same weekend as Oppenheimer; that being their big screen film based on the Barbie doll line.  The colorful Greta Gerwig directed film starring Margot Robbie as the titular icon couldn’t be more different tonally than Nolan’s Oppenheimer, and many saw this move as a petty move on Warner Brother’s part to undercut Nolan at the box office.  WB had the mass appealing, toy brand film and Universal had the introspective historical drama about the creation of the atomic bomb.  Surely, Nolan didn’t have a shot at succeeding, and many believed that Oppenheimer would budge from it’s release date first so it wouldn’t have to compete.  Only it didn’t.  Both Warner Brothers and Universal decided to keep their release dates, and this in turn led the internet to create a faux rivalry about these two polar opposite movies.  It became Barbie vs. Oppenheimer; a joking battle that sparked a lot of discussion about this inevitable showdown.  But then, a funny thing ended up happening.  Instead of two warring factions forming, people on the internet began to create a new faction that was in favor of celebrating both films together.  The “Barbenheimer” phenomenon was born, with many people deciding to turn the release of both films into a cinematic event, committing to seeing both back to back.  So ironically, if Warner Brothers did mean to undercut Christopher Nolan by releasing Barbie opposite Oppenheimer, it ended up backfiring as the Barbenheimer craze ended up inextricably linking both film’s fortunes together.  No matter how well each film performs, which early estimates point to being very strong, this phenomenon is something that will probably go down as one of the most peculiar in movie history.  With that, let’s now finally talk about the movie Oppenheimer itself.

The movie is a look at the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the physicist who oversaw the development of the first atomic bomb; a pivotal moment in scientific and human history.  The film itself looks at Oppenheimer’s life from several different points; his early years as a student in quantum physics, his development of the nuclear research program that would lead to the creation of the bomb, and then the years afterwards when his distress over the rise of the atomic age led to him being suspected of treasonous activity by the US government.  In his early years, we see him gain prominence in the field of physics based science, earning recognition from esteemed peers in the field, such as Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh) and Albert Einstein (Tom Conti).  While working in the same laboratory as prominent American physicist Ernest Lawrence (Josh Harnett), Oppenheimer is approached by Army General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon), who is seeking to enlist Oppenheimer into the program to develop nuclear powered weapons for the military.  Though Oppenheimer is opposed to war, he knows the dangers of allowing Nazi Germany to gain a nuclear capabilities before the Allied Powers, so he accepts the position.  In a short amount of time, Oppenheimer and the military personal under Groves command achieve their miracle and develop the first successful atomic bomb test.  In the years after, Oppenheimer feels guilt for the destruction his work caused, and he begins to become a vocal critic of American nuclear policy.  This puts him at odds with the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) who works secretly to discredit Oppenheimer  and ruin his reputation.  Dirt is dug up around Oppenheimer, including his ties to people who were members of the Communist party, including his own brother Frank (Dylan Arnold) and a woman named Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) whom he had a multi-year affair with.  The turmoil of this period also puts a strain on his relationship with his wife Kitty (Emily Blunt).  Facing both internal turmoil over the guilt of his actions and the severe attacks to his moral character in the public eye, Oppenheimer’s story turns into one of tragedy after he had gained immortality for changing the world; a distinction that has gained him the nickname of the “American Prometheus.”

There is a lot going on in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.  It is to date the longest movie that the director has ever made, running an even 3 hours, which is quite something, given that the average Christopher Nolan film typically clocks in at 2 1/2 hours.  And even in those 3 hours, Nolan does not let off the gas once.  This is a movie that covers so much ground and doesn’t waste a second.  Like he did with Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan tells his story in a non-linear way, moving back and forth in time to different points in time.  This is a bit disorienting, and it actually is one of my nitpicks about the film, as Nolan doesn’t give us much time to ground ourselves into the story.  In some ways, it is kind of refreshing that he doesn’t hand hold us through the movie; there are no texts printed on screen to give us historical context, nor to tell us where we are, or who the people we are seeing are.  It’s a good sign that Christopher Nolan is trusting his audience to keep up, but one thing that I think undermines the effectiveness of this mode of storytelling is that the story being told is a tad too complex for it to work as well as intended.  Dunkirk played around with non-linear storytelling much better because it kept things simple; three specific storylines with easily definable characters, which made the whole through-line more consistent.  Oppenheimer doesn’t exactly fail in this regard, but it comes up just a little short too, because the different parts of the story don’t completely line up as well as he planned.  That being said, the individual story elements are still exquisitely constructed and are very impressively put together.  This certainly is the most ambitious film in Nolan’s oeuvre and that is saying something.  As I am writing this review, I am only separated from my first viewing by 24 hours, so I am still trying to process everything, and subsequent viewings may indeed allow me to see the film as a more complete whole.  For right now, my most nagging feeling after seeing this film is that as impressive as it is, I feel like I’ve seen Nolan do better before, but at the same time it’s a movie that I am still processing and may appreciate more over time.

It’s perhaps the fact that this movie is working on a much different level than other Christopher Nolan films and it wasn’t the same visceral viewing experience that I got from my first time viewings of Inception (2010) and Dunkirk, which to this day are still my #1 and #2 favorite Nolan films.  Oppenheimer is Nolan’s first ever biopic, and that is kind of uncharted territory for him.  Instead of developing larger than life conceptual films like Inception and Tenet, or an original story set in backdrop of a real historical event like Dunkirk, here he is applying his filmmaking skills to telling the story of a real man who achieved one of the most monumental actions of not just the 20th century, but of all human history.  The story of Oppenheimer fits well within the filmography of Christopher Nolan, as he has always been fascinated with the perils of human beings who play around with the extremes of science.  That’s a trademark of most of his work, including even some of the Batman movies he made.  Certainly the IMAX loving filmmaker that Nolan is would be drawn to the idea of making a movie about the first atomic bomb test, which would certainly be epic enough for the larger than life format.  But, strangely enough after seeing this movie, I feel like it’s the man who drew Nolan in more than the event itself.  The vast majority of this movie is devoted to examining the life of Oppenheimer, and the firestorm of controversy that surrounded it.  It is far more of a drama than a spectacle, though the movie does have it’s sweeping moments too.  As a dialogue writer, Nolan does have some shortcomings.  There are some oddly written moments that seem a little too poetic for a grounded film like this.  At the same time, Nolan’s sweeping narrative never lags, as he covers a lot of ground and manages to keep the pacing consistent, which is impressive for a movie this length.

One of the most striking things about this movie is it’s cast.  Despite being centered around one man’s journey, the film features a stacked cast of hundreds, and a hefty chunk of them are all played by familiar faces.  A lot of people have likened this to Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991), which had all the parts, no matter how big or small, filled with a famous actor.  Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) also comes to mind.  Watching Oppenheimer, you’ll be struck by just how many well known actors suddenly pop up throughout the movie, even for just one scene.  But, out of all that cast, there are certainly standouts, and chief among them is Cillian Murphy in the title role.  Murphy has been a long time favorite of Nolan’s, first appearing as the villainous Scarecrow in Batman Begins (2005), Murphy has subsequently been cast in five more films that Nolan has directed.  But here, for the first time, he gets to play the lead, and he does not disappoint.  Cillian appears in almost every scene in this movie, and he commands every moment.  It’s not a showy performance; J. Robert Oppenheimer didn’t exactly have an outsized personality.  But, Murphy does get across the humanity of the character in a profound way, with the pained look in his eyes as he is constantly having to balance the science in his head with the realities of his life.  Of the supporting cast around him, there are certainly some great stand outs.  Matt Damon brings some much needed levity to the film as the tough as nails general whose personality style clashes with the quiet, methodical Oppenheimer, which leads to some of the film’s more amusing character interactions.  Emily Blunt also brings some fiery sparks to her character of Oppenheimer’s opinionated wife Kitty.  But perhaps the most astounding commanding performance other than Murphy’s Oppenheimer is Robert Downey Jr. as the vindictive government power player Lewis Strauss.  Downey’s Strauss is another fascinating character, a person who feels threatened by the shadow that Oppenheimer casts, and RDJ does an amazing job of portraying this character without turning him into an overt, base villain.  There’s a lot of other surprisingly deft work from a variety of actors; including a couple of Nolan’s favorites like Kenneth Branagh, Tom Conti, and even Gary Oldman in a surprise role; and there are great performances from Nolan first timers as well, like Benny Safdie, Josh Hartnett, David Krumholtz, Florence Pugh, and Jason Clarke.  For a cast as monumental as this one, you never feel at all like Nolan wasted any of that talent.

Of course, the thing that most people are going to talk about with this movie is the craft behind it.  Nolan is working again with Hoyte Van Hoytema, the Dutch cinematographer who specializes in large formats that he has worked with consistently since Interstellar.  They once again deliver a stunning display of the 70mm IMAX film format, though the strengths of their work here are not what you would expect.  The movie has some amazing sweeping shots of the Los Alamos testing site, but just as impressive are the IMAX close-ups of Oppenheimer himself during his most intimate moments of self-reflection.  Perhaps the most brilliant moment of the movie is not the actual bomb test itself (which to be honest was a tad underwhelming), but instead it is a moment in the movie where Oppenheimer gives a speech.  What Nolan and Hoytema do in this scene, holding the camera uncomfortably close to Cillian Murphy’s face in the scene, really emphasizes the isolated state of mind he is in and it is a captivating moment, especially given how the scene plays out.  Another incredible thing about the cinematography in this film is that the team actually coordinated with the people at IMAX to essentially invent black and white IMAX film; something that had never been done before.  Those black and white moments in the movie are quite something too; especially with the amount of clarity the image has.  It’s also thematically inventive as well, as black and white alerts us to when we move away from Oppenheimer’s POV, and shift to the POV of his rival, Lewis Strauss.  And while I did state I felt the actual atomic blast looked a bit underwhelming for what could have been the most impressive IMAX image ever (what we got sadly lacks scale), the use of sound in that scene was still inventive and interesting.  The sound mix in this movie alone is a work of art, with much of the sound effects helping to lift the sense of bigness to this film.  It is also impressively underscored with a largely experimental epic music score by Ludwig Goransson, who returns to team Nolan after working on the score for Tenet.  Couple all that with exceptional era detail that really helps to drop you into the time period and you’ve got an epic drama that truly lives up to the word.

It will take me some time to figure out where I would rank it with Christopher Nolan’s other films.  I did like it more than Interstellar and Tenet, but it also didn’t hit me with the same visceral first time reaction that I had with The Dark Knight, Inception, or Dunkirk.  Those are among my favorite films of all time, so it’s an extremely high bar to overcome, but that’s my tastes.  Overall, Oppenheimer is a mostly successful work of cinematic art that just falls a little short of perfection for me, but at the same time I feel like this will be a movie that grows on me.  After a day to let the movie simmer in my mind, I am still processing what I saw and that’s a good sign that it’s a movie that is sticking with me well after I’ve first seen it.  Given that we’ve had a summer full of movies that have failed to leave much of a lasting impact, it’s refreshing to finally have a movie come out that I actually think will leave an impression on cinema in general for this year and beyond.  For one thing, the Barbenheimer phenomenon is something that I think is going to be studied and analyzed for years to come.  For something to start off as little internet joke to actually manifest into a full blown real cinematic event that actually mutually benefitted both movies involved is one of the most unexpected cultural outcomes that I have ever witnessed.  On the plus side, these are two movies deserving of the good fortune that fell into their laps; as an aside, I do also recommend Barbie as well.  After a lackluster summer so far that saw longtime franchises like Mission: Impossible, Indiana Jones, and Transformers fail to light up the box office, it’s great to see audiences rally around these two movies that somehow by virtue of sharing the same day have become spiritually linked.  One other added pleasure is that the overwhelming success that these two films are likely to have really breaks the back of the “get woke, go broke” narrative about Hollywood that so many annoying internet trolls have been proclaiming all summer.  Because of the “Barbenheimer” craze, the two most “woke” movies are about to be the summer’s biggest successes; the gender conformity breaking social commentary of Barbie and the compassionate biography of the unambiguous leftist J. Robert Oppenheimer.  In the end, it’s not about politics, but about making personal stories that connect with a broad audience, and offer something new and fresh, and that in essence is what is making Barbenheimer the event that it is.  We are finally getting movies that actually have ambition behind them, and don’t just feel like an obligation to keep entrenched franchises going.  This is an especially lucky moment for Oppenheimer in particular because a 3 hour historical drama about the creation of the atom bomb is not the kind of movie that should be riding the wave of a grassroots internet driven phenomenon.  “Barbenheimer” is a rare beneficial good thing that has gone viral in our often toxic internet culture, as it is helping not just to make hits out of two deserving and provocative movies, but it’s helping to boost business for movie theaters that have been struggling with the lackluster summer we’ve had so far.  Despite some flaws, Oppenheimer is a genuine big screen event not to be missed (preferably on the biggest screen possible), and if you so choose to make it a double feature with Barbie, all the better because both films are great reminders of why the cinematic experience matters.  Here’s to Barbenheimer, savior of cinema.

Rating: 8.75/10

Evolution of Character – Hercules

When we think of the legendary heroes of Ancient Greek mythology, the one who probably comes first to mind is Hercules.  Hercules, the demi-god hero famous for completing the 12 labors to earn his way into Olympus and Godhood, may be a creation out of the myths of a long gone civilization, but his presence can still be felt today.  Many of the core elements of his story have become the inspiration for the mythological heroes of today; super heroes.  Hercules mighty strength can easily be seen as a template for many comic book icons like Superman, and his half-god half-mortal identity is found in the back story of a whole lot of other characters, like Aquaman.  Though the comic book heroes today are not quite worshiped like the gods and heroes of Ancient Myths, their purpose in their narratives are nevertheless very similar.  It makes sense that Hercules himself has also made his way into Comic Book pages, most famously as a sometimes friend and sometimes foe of Thor in the Marvel comics.  Even more than two Millenia after Hercules’ legend was first born, he is still a relevant character in pop culture.  For the most part, he is the quintessential legend of Greek mythology; the one that all the other legends aspire to.  That’s not to say that all the other heroes like Jason, Perseus, Theseus, Achilles, or Odysseus are forgotten.  But when it comes to pop cultures’ idea of what constitutes an iconic hero, his similarities with the comic book heroes of today is what helps Hercules to stand out that much more. This has proved true as Hercules has been the character of Greek Mythology that has made the most appearances on the big screen.  It is quite interesting to see how his presence in a variety of movies reveal how little of his key characteristics have changed, but at the same time also how depictions of him change along with the culture.  Below are a few of Hercules most noteworthy big screen appearances, and looking over most of them, you’ll definitely see a pattern form.


There weren’t a whole lot of cinematic depictions of Hercules in the early days of cinema, and that might be because the type of movie that could be centered around ancient myths had to rise up in an era where those kinds of movies were fashionable.  In the 1950’s, the movie industry began to invest in big, widescreen spectacle flicks to help the movie theaters compete with television.  This was the “swords and sandals” era, where the studios were interested in bringing larger than life stories from the ancient past to magnificent technicolor life.  A lot of these Hollywood productions also brought a lot of business to a war torn Europe that was still in recovery, and in particular, a lot of these sword and sandal epics were filmed in Italy.  The legendary Cinecitta Studio was founded during this time, and it was home to both foreign and domestic large scale productions.  After big Hollywood movies like Ben-Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963) came through the Rome based Cinecitta, they left behind all of these elaborate sets recreating the locations of antiquity.  What was the studio going to do with all of these sets?  Reuse and recycle them of course in cheaply made B-picture epics.  Quite a lot of lower-tier sword and sandals films were made out of the Italian film industry during this time, and naturally Hercules would be one of the characters ideal for crafting a movie or two around.  American bodybuilder Steve Reeves, with his signature broad shouldered physique, became ideal casting for these movies.  His performance is decidedly limited; it’s clear he had the part more for his looks than anything else.  But, the movies were cheaply made enough that they turned an easy profit for the Italian producers, and Reeves would continue playing the part a few more times.  The Italian Hercules films are notoriously cheesy, and are more well know today for being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  But, as far as Hercules on the big screen goes, this was just the beginning.


While Italy was making their own series of films centered around Hercules, Hollywood was trying out their own unique spins on legendary Greek myths.  One of the biggest highlights of that era was this adaptation of the Jason and the Argonauts myth, which Hercules did traditionally play a part in.  What this movie is most famous for is it’s amazing, ground-breaking visual effects, created by the legendary Ray Harryhausen.  In Jason and the Argonauts, Harryhausen utilized his stop-motion animation expertise to bring to life out of this world creations like flying harpies, a hydra, a giant bronze statue, and most famously an army of skeleton soldiers.  Aside from the effects work, much of it which still holds up very well today, there are some mildly interesting characterizations at play as well.  Perhaps the most interesting character of all in the film is Hercules.  He’s not present for most of the movie, but his brief time with the Argonauts is memorable.  What is particularly unique about this portrayal of Hercules is that it’s so different from the character we expect.  A far cry from the He-Man version that Steve Reeves played, this version played by South African character actor Nigel Green is more grounded and human.  He’s not a character in peak physical condition, but ratter a grizzled veteran who has been worn down over time.  Still, he’s incredibly strong and a reliable ally in a fight, but it is interesting to see a version of this character that deemphasizes his godliness.  Here, he’s more vulnerable, which offers up a bit more interesting character aspects, as he is pressured by the mission he’s undertaking with the Argonauts.  The movie on the whole certainly is remembered more for it’s iconic visual effects, but at the same time it gives us heroes worth rooting for, and one of the more relatable versions of Hercules that’s ever been put on the silver screen.


If there is one thing that more often than not helps to get an actor a role as Hercules, it’s having an incredibly muscular physique.  That’s why so many of these Hercules movies seek out bodybuilders who gained notoriety participating in competitions like Mr. Olympia.  One of the movies that pulled from that pool unexpectedly found someone who in time would become one of the biggest movie stars in the world.  That person was a young Austrian body builder known as Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he made his movie debut playing none other than Hercules himself.  It might surprise many people that Schwarzenegger’s first movie role was not in an action film, but rather a comedy.  This very low budget production played around with the idea of Hercules ending up lost in modern day New York City, and mining all of the fish out of water hijinks that would lead to.  The movie is one of the more odd films to ever feature Hercules as a character, and it for the most part does little to portray any of the traits of the character that we know about him from legend.  His character in the film is pretty much limited to buff demi-god has adventure in the modern world.  Schwarzenegger definitely has a presence on screen, but it’s not in the way that reflects back well on him.  The movie even dubs over his voice, making him sound very different from the actor we know today.  Apparently his Austrian accent was still so thick at the time that his lines were indecipherable, so the change was made during ADR.  Of course, Schwarzenegger improved over time, which helped him to gain the attention of filmmakers like John Milius and James Cameron, who ultimately would change his career forever.  It’s no surprise that Arnold looks back on this film with embarrassment, and there is no blaming him.  For a big screen depiction of the mythological hero, this is certainly one of the least effective and is only noteworthy because of who was playing him.


Not long after Schwarzenegger made his screen debut in Hercules in New York, he would also be feature in an acclaimed documentary about the world of body building called Pumping Iron (1977).  Arnold would be featured alongside a few other noteworthy names in the bodybuilding competition circuit, and one of those other body builders featured in the documentary was another aspiring actor named Lou Ferrigno.  Ferrigno, who coincidently beat out Schwarzenegger for the role of the Incredible Hulk in the classic TV series, also got his chance to play the legendary Hercules on the big screen.  This opportunity came with this 1983 film production that felt very much like a throwback to the old Harryhausen effects driven spectaculars of Hollywood’s Silver Age.  Ironically, interest in making movies based on legends of Greek mythology again was the result of two unexpected hits, the Harryhausen involved Clash of the Titans (1981) and the Schwarzenegger starring Conan the Barbarian (1982).  So this movie’s existence is thanks in part to the legacy of two past Hercules movies.  Ferrigno, like Schwarzenegger, had his voiced dubbed over too, though it was less because of the accent and more because of Lou’s hearing disability, which made line readings difficult.  There is little doubt that Ferrigno’s impressive physique fits well with the character, and he for the most part does a serviceable job in the role.  Some of the effects used in the film are still impressive today, like when Hercules grows to massive size in order to split the continents of Europe and Africa apart.  Story wise, it’s nothing particularly noteworthy.  It doesn’t have the rich mythology of Conan the Barbarian nor the delightful campiness of Clash of the Titans.  It’s more or less a movie that is following a trend and trying to compete with more iconic movies.  Still, Ferrigno does stand out as the titular hero and some of the effects do recall back to the best parts of the old Harryhausen adventure films.


Like a lot of other classic stories, audiences’ first introduction to the legend of Hercules at a young age likely came from a Disney movie.  This movie in particular brings the story back to it’s mythological roots, but does so with a perspective that makes a commentary on modern day celebrity culture.  It’s interesting that the filmmakers behind this version, legendary animation directors Ron Clements and John Musker (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Moana), drew a lot of inspiration for their version of Hercules from comic book superheroes like Superman, whose own origins are echoing the legend of Hercules from Greek mythology.  It’s everything coming into full circle.  Though not as consistently funny and resonate as past Disney Renaissance films, Hercules does have it’s fair share of hilarious spins of the Greek myth.  The film is very well designed with a pastiche of Ancient Greece mixed in with contemporary inspirations, and some of the action set pieces are real stand-outs, particularly one with the Hydra, which featured some ground-breaking computer animation for it’s time.  Oddly, the weakest link of the movie is Hercules himself.  The movie never really finds an interesting angle to play with the character, so he just comes off as bland and generic.  This is too bad, because the rest of the film is filled with some of Disney’s best characters, such as Hercules’  trainer Philoctetes (voice by Danny DeVito), the love interest Megara (voice by Susan Egan) and the villain Hades (voice by James Woods).  Tate Donovan does bring a nice tenderness to the character, which feels very much inspired by the good natured wholesomeness of Christopher Reeves’ Superman.  While the character himself is written a little bland, the vocal performance by Donovan helps to at least make the hero likable.  Unfortunately for Disney, Hercules came at a time of downward fortune for Disney after their Renaissance boom, and Hercules seemed to audiences to be a pale imitation of the the more beloved Aladdin.  Still, it has developed a following over 25 years, and there’s even talk of a live action remake.  And as far as portrayals of the legend of Hercules go, this one strangely enough is more in line with the original myth itself, though with a modern day spin of course.


It’s a bit surprising, but Hercules was passed over quite a bit during the brief revival of the sword and sandals epic during the early aughts.  Despite movies based on heroes like Achilles (Troy), Alexander the Great (Alexander) and even a remake of Clash of the Titans (2010), Hercules would have to wait until the following decade to be seen on the big screen again, and by that time the revival of these movies had died down considerably.  This film is another example of a movie trying to chase a fad, but ultimately missing the mark completely.  This movie takes us on a journey to Hercules’ early days as a warrior just beginning to come into his own.  The movie definitely takes strong inspiration from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000), and that’s about where the similarities end.  It has the Gladiator look, but none of the captivating story, nor interesting characters.  The casting of Kellan Lutz, who at that time was best know for appearing in the Twilight series, clearly was due to his buff physique, but it is interesting that his body type is different from past big screen Hercules.  His is less of a body builder physique and more of a pro athlete physique; less for show and more for performance.  He’s a leaner Hercules, though still very physically imposing.  This is something to note about how the portrayal of Hercules has evolved over the years, as physical appearance standards have shifted over time.  There isn’t much else to say about the character in this film.  He’s far less mythological in this film because to put it in line with the Gladiator aspects of it’s presentation, this version of Hercules has his more human side emphasized.  The film even puts Hercules in arena battles, just like the other film.   Just looking at bits of this film made me think this was definitely an early January release, and sure enough I was right.  It’s forgettable for the most part, but it does show an evolving presence that Hercules would end up having on the big screen in the new millennia.


Released mere months after The Legend of Hercules, this second live action Hercules leans even more into the super hero elements that the legend has helped to inspire over the years.  This film features a much bigger budget than The Legend of Hercules which helps to make it a bit more visually interesting.  Story wise, it’s no worse, but it also feels small and a little cliched.  More than anything, this movie was clearly greenlit to be a star vehicle for actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  It’s interesting that Hercules evolved from casting body builders like Steve Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Lou Ferrigno, to casting performers from another field that involves building up a lot of muscle mass; pro-wrestling.  Dwayne Johnson is by far the most successful box office star to come out of the wrestling circuit, and it seems only natural for him to step into the role of Hercules.  As underwritten as the character is, Johnson’s natural charisma does help to make his performance here at least a little engaging.  In the battle scenes, he really gets to shine, as he manages to do most of his own stunt work pretty effectively.  But, at the same time, you do feel like you are watching a Dwayne Johnson movie, and not anything that informs you about the myth of Hercules itself.  Like most of the portrayals of Hercules on the big screen, Hercules is treated more like an idea of an ancient hero, and less of an actual true to legend portrayal of the character.  Dwayne Johnson definitely looks good in the part, particularly with that lion’s skin draped on his head, but it’s more or less a standard action film with the name of Hercules slapped on top of it.  But it’s still clear that it’s a role that Dwayne Johnson loves to play, and it feels like a role like this inspired him to pursue an actual comic book role like he did with last year’s Black Adam (2022) with DC.

Hercules has more or less followed a predictable pattern on the big screen.  He is the prototypical strong man in many mythological stories and the films have more or less been showcases to present actors shirtless with large muscles.  That’s not to say that nothing special has ever been done with the character.  Disney’s meta commentary on celebrity culture in their animated film helped to bring some interesting perspective on the character and his place within the mythology.  Jason and the Argonauts did the interesting move of showing us a Hercules who was less of a God and more of a human.  And Dwayne Johnson’s film definitely leaned more into reflecting the kind of super hero portrayal of the character that in itself has been an inspiration to comic book stories throughout the history of the medium.  What I find interesting is that never once has any film based on the myth of Hercules actually shown the things that he’s most well known for; the 12 labors.  The closest any movie has ever gotten to doing that is the animated Disney film, and at most we just see the battle with the Hydra, plus a couple more shown as part of a musical montage.  I guess showing the labors would make for a boring film narrative; and I don’t quite know how you would depict something like the cleaning of the Augean stables.  When it comes to the big screen, Hercules has served better as a concept of a mythological hero and the filmmakers then form whatever story they want around that.  You certainly can’t overlook Hercules as an important character in the pop culture, given that his legend has endured for over 2,000 years.  And as sporadic as his time on screen has been, there are many filmmakers who like to revisit the myth again and again.  Perhaps it’s because his story is so universally known and is easily applied to changing cultural perspectives.  Given how different eras have their own take on the Hercules myth, it seems to reason that there will be quite a few more appearances of the character on the big screen, and it will be interesting to see how the character will find himself fighting on the big screen again and in what fashion.  Like the Disney film proclaimed, Hercules is a legend that is constantly going from “Zero to Hero” through many different and varied adventures.


A Summer Slump – The Perils of High Costs and Low Box Office and What Actually Defines a Bomb

So  a peculiar thing has been happening over the last month.  2023, by all accounts, was supposed to be a great big comeback year for the Summer box office season.  With the Covid-19 pandemic now thankfully in the rear view mirror and all restrictions having been lifted across the market, we could now finally get the movie going experience back to the roaring engine that it once was.  And up to this point in the year, things were actually looking good for the theatrical market.  We had a strong spring season, buoyed by films like John Wick Chapter 4 (2023), Creed III (2023), and also the surprise juggernaut that was The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023); the year’s first and only entry into the billion dollar club.  But, there were also some warning signs in the Spring box office.  The normally potent Marvel brand suffered an underwhelming box office run for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023), but that was nothing compared to the historically low box office for rival DC’s Shazam: Fury of the Gods (2023).  Hopes were still high, however, for the movies coming out in the summer.  The summer 2023 outlook looked especially promising given that many of the titles being lined up were from tried and true franchises that had served the studios well in the last couple decades.  Disney didn’t just have another Marvel film up their sleeve; they were also calling up a remake of one of their most beloved classics as well as a return of Indiana Jones.  Paramount had their Transformers; Universal their Fast & Furious crew; and Warner Brothers was about to give one of their key Justice League members the spotlight with The Flash (2023).  But, despite a bit of a promising start with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) opening the summer season, the Summer 2023 theatrical market has been less defined by it’s successes and more by it’s failures.  A big box office bomb in the Summer movie season is not very uncommon to see, but for a string of them to happen all in quick succession is enough to startle the industry and make them wonder where things have gone awry.

Now of course it’s easy for a lot of us armchair media experts to pinpoint exactly what went wrong, and in many cases we sometimes make excuses that merely just fit into the narratives that we want to put into place about the state of Hollywood.  For instance, there’s a segment of the online chatter that tries to put a political spin on why Hollywood is not seeing the success it would like to have; with one misinformed refrain being pushed that says, “Get Woke, Go Broke.”  Of course scrutinizing the actual data of the Summer box offices grosses shows that being “woke” doesn’t in fact affect box office.  Quite contrary, the movies with the highest grosses this Summer (Guardians 3, Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse, and The Little Mermaid) are the most “woke” ones in theaters right now.  And that’s just a subjective reading of these movies, because “woke” is such an ill-defined term that most people just use to slander something rather than critically analyze it.  Seriously, can someone please explain what makes Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny “woke”?  The main hero is an 80 white man who reads maps and punches Nazis.  Politics aside, there is another reasoning as to why Summer box office is decidedly off this year compared to before, and it has a lot more to do with economics than ideology.  We are at a point where movies are underperforming because they are costing too much to make.  It’s hard to believe that we’ve gotten to the point where a movie now has to gross a billion dollars worldwide just to break even, and that a movie that takes in $300 million domestic is considered a disappointment.  But, that’s the reality we are in right now, and it’s starting to make the film industry reconsider it’s priorities.

A lot of what we are seeing right now is residual fallout from the economic shock wave that was the pandemic.  With movie theaters shuttered for significant amounts of time (including the key markets of Los Angeles and New York being closed for over a year), a lot of investment suddenly shifted to streaming, because it was the only avenue of distribution.  Much of that shift ran under the assumption that when the movie theaters were going to finally re-open fully, that it would be a significantly diminished market, and that streaming will have supplanted it as the foremost mode of distribution.  But, something happened that many in the industry didn’t quite expect; theatrical made a miraculous comeback, thanks to strong, record breaking box office performances from the like of Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), Top Gun: Maverick (2022) and Avatar: The Way of Water (2022).  These movies not only brought in big audience numbers in their opening weekend, but they maintained those audiences over the months that followed.  Suddenly, the the studios which had put themselves into a streaming mindset had to readjust to capitalize on a renewed interest in theatrical exhibition.  But, as evidenced by this year, not all movies are the same and as Hollywood is finding out the hard way, it really all depends on the kind of movie that’ll drive up box office numbers.  Sadly, it would appear that Hollywood saw the successes of these previous movies and misinterpreted it as business returning to what it was before the pandemic.  There is very much a fundamental difference today to how a movie will perform at the box offce compared to how it did in the past.

One big difference is the increased presence of streaming within the market.  In the last summer season before the pandemic, 2019, there were only a small handful of streaming platforms (Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu).  Since that summer, the market has been flooded with new competitors, most of them coming from the big studios (Disney+, Max, Peacock, and Paramount+).  This really fundamentally changed not just the kinds of movies that were being made, but also what audiences would be paying extra to go out to the theaters for.  With the pandemic complicating things further, we saw what is likely the biggest shift in audience viewing habits since the invention of television.  But, there were those movies that indeed break through and were undeniably must see films in a theater.  Top Gun: Maverick drew in audiences with it’s incredible stunt work on screen, while Avatar: The Way of Water dazzled with it’s fully immersive environments.  These were not cheap films to make, but they still managed to capture their audience in a way that many others in the industry seem to fail to grasp.  So, what made these films soar while others are failing so miserably.  The primary reason is that the films being made are not justifying the exorbitant costs that are attached to them.  Relating back to the big push made during the streaming wars, a lot of the studios wanted to flex their muscles by delivering movies and programs that would outshine their rivals and put greater value into the library of projects that were going to be found on their streaming platforms.  This meant a greater investment on the most popular brands that are a part of each studios portfolio.  If people were excited about the ability to stream all the Tranformers movies on Paramount+, or all the Marvel movies on Disney+, or all the DC movies on Max, then it made sense to the executives to continue to invest a bunch more money into expanding those library titles; no matter the cost.  But, as we’ve found out, not everyone is as thrilled about these franchises as we thought.

In some cases, the cost associated with some of these movies seem excessively frivolous.  To have an Indiana Jones movie cost nearly $300 million in just production alone is particularly hard to justify, especially considering that it’s more than the past 4 movies in the franchise combined.  Whatever accounting made this acceptable for Disney has got to be based on pretty suspect or outdated consumer research.  Sure, Indiana Jones is a valuable brand that has produced some of the greatest action films that have ever been made, but it’s heyday was over 30 years ago.  A more accurate reading of audiences today will tell you that Indiana Jones as a franchise will not perform like a Star Wars or a Marvel project would.  And yet Disney still poured a fortune into this movie.  Disney would be in a much precarious position if this wasn’t a problem affecting all the major studios.  Pretty much every studio has seen slumping box office returns from this Summer.  Fast X (2023) and The Flash (2023) are just as big of disappointments as Dial of Destiny for their respective studios because of their out of control costs, though Fast X has saved face a bit from better international numbers.  The studios are having to come to the realization that not only have they miscalculated the value of their franchises at the box office, but they have also inadvertently undermined their ability to convince audiences that these movies are worth seeing in theaters at all thanks to their years of aggressively pushing their presence in the streaming market.  There are a lot of audiences now who would rather stay home and wait for these movies to release on streaming, which is knee-capping these films upon their initial releases and making it appear like the brands themselves are failing.  One of the most illogical choices made during the streaming wars was taking so many movies that were clearly made for theatrical exhibition and pushing them straight to streaming instead of waiting for theaters to recover.  This made sense when the pandemic was at it’s peak, but when Hollywood was still doing it a year out, it just undermined their brand because now you had made an audience more used to seeing these movies appear on streaming.  No more brand suffered from this more than Pixar, which saw three of their films go straight to streaming; Soul (2020), Luca (2021), and Turning Red (2022).  The necessity could be made for the first two, but Turning Red should have absolutely been given a full theatrical release based on it’s critical acclaim and broad appeal.  Because Pixar’s brand has been associated more with streaming as of late, it has shackled the releases of their films that have made it to theaters like Lightyear (2022) and Elemental (2023) because their audience is more inclined to wait for them to be on Disney+.

It should be understood that while the box office slump looks bad now, it doesn’t mean that this is somehow a sign of Hollywood’s downfall.  Hollywood has gone through these boom and bust cycles before, and they have often involved big adjustments that the market had to undergo in the past.  In the 1950’s, America had a booming post-war economy that helped to grow the middle class, who were keen on spending their disposable income on entertainment.  And yet, movie theaters initially struggled in these post-War years, because there was a new challenger to their business model; television.  To bring people back to the movies, a lot of experimentation in the presentation of movies began to occur, which included 3D, smell-o-vision, and the one that took hold the most, Widescreen.  With the advent of widescreen technologies, movies began to feel bigger than ever and that helped to make the theatrical experience more of a draw for audiences, because it was something that television couldn’t replicate.  However, to take advantage of the widescreen process, the movie industry invested more into movies that would be bigger than life and spectacles worthy of the more massive size of the image.  In the late 50’s and early 60’s, the film industry was deeply invested in the business of biblical and historic epics as well as over-the-top musicals, and while in retrospect all of these movies are wonders to behold for their scale and artistry, they were also drains on their studios bank accounts.  The catastrophic production of Cleopatra (1963) in particular became a wake-up call for Hollywood.  While the 4 hour epic was extravagant and later became one of the highest grossing films of that year, it’s enormous cost could not be overcome, and it nearly sank it’s studio (20th Century Fox) into financial ruin.  The excesses of the spectacle driven era of Hollywood eventually gave way to the more modest budgeted films of the radical 70’s, though even this era came to a head later on when maverick filmmakers from that era also saw budget overruns occur on their own vanity projects; most notoriously with Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980).  As history has shown, these cycles occur all the time, and are often a teaching moment for Hollywood.  The same is likely happening now as the industry is learning to adjust to a post-pandemic and streaming wars world.

It should also be understood that a movie bombing at the box office in it’s initial release isn’t necessarily a sign that the movie is bad.  None of the movies this year that have underperformed are doing so because people hated them.  At worst, people just find these movies to be okay or mildly disappointing.  Unlike what a lot of naysyaers out there are trying to project upon the performances at the box office, these movies are not losing money because of outright rejection; that nobody wanted these movies and that Hollywood is forcing them down our throats.  The disappointments are more to do with the ratio of box office compared to cost, and Hollywood’s inability to properly sell these films on an audience who’s viewing patterns have changed.  Hollywood needs to find a way to make opening weekends of $60 million seem impressive again, and that means that the movie costs really need to be brought under control.  The worry is that making things more cheaply also means loss in quality and artistry.  But, one thing that Hollywood should observe is what is actually working in the industry right now and how that can be applied industry wide.  A big change certainly should be made to the marketing of movies.  Emphasize why movies should be seen in a theater.  Perhaps the industry should reconsider it’s shortened theatrical window push that occurred during the pandemic, because theatrical gives movies a stronger up front boost.  And I hope both audiences and the studios realize that initial box office returns are not the end of the story for most movies.  In fact, for most films they find new lives beyond the big screen.  There was one animated movie in the Summer of 1999 that performed so poorly that it actually shut down the animation studio that made it.  That box office failure was called The Iron Giant (1999), which is now universally praised as one of the greatest animated films of all times.  Great films always find their audiences eventually, so we shouldn’t be looking solely at box office performance as a barometer of the quality of a movie.

All those spelling doom right now for Hollywood should keep this in mind; the Summer season isn’t over yet, and there is still a chance for the 2023 season to rebound.  Sure it was a bad couple of months, but the upcoming films this next month are actually promising.  Amazingly enough, it may come down to Tom Cruise coming to the rescue again for movie theaters, with his highly anticipated new Mission: Impossible sequel coming next week.  We’ll also see how well that Barbie vs. Oppenheimer social media feud actually translates into strong box office for both films.  And some wild cards could be Disney’s Haunted Mansion and DC’s Blue Beetle, considering that they were more modestly budgeted tentpoles than the films earlier this summer.  And even with the low attendance out of the gate for most of the films this summer, it should be noted what films have legs and what films don’t.  Movies like Transformers: Rise of the Beasts and The Flash have fallen like a rock since their opening weekends, but Pixar’s Elemental, which had the lowest opening weekend in the legendary studio’s history, is still holding strong week after week with small drops; having now grosssed $100 million and quadrupling it’s opening weekend.  It may still be a money loser for parent company Disney, but hopefully they see that Pixar films can still maintain audience growth over time and benefit from strong word of mouth.  For some movies, it’s a marathon and not a sprint,  which may not be ideal for people wanting to see immediate riches, but good in the end for long term strength in a brand.   Hopefully, the lessons learned from this season lead to improved investment in the future that will benefit both Hollywood but also the theatrical business too.  Hollywood has got to learn that it’s muscle flexing when it comes to budgeting their summer tentpoles is not generating the kind of business that it once did, and that they could still do well if they invest more in their marketing capabilities and less on the unnecessary spectacle elements of their films.  Your movies don’t need 20 minute action scenes that needlessly bloat the films to make them feel more epic.  They just need good stories and good characters to get audiences invested.  We are definitely not in the last days of Hollywood like so many who don’t know what they are talking about are trying to express right now as punishment for the industry going “woke.”  Disney in particular is not going away any time soon.  They’ve weathered box office bombs before, and if they can survive Treasure Planet (2002), The Alamo (2004), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), John Carter (2012), and The Lone Ranger (2013), they can survive Dial of Destiny too.  The same goes for most of the other studios too.  It’s about recognizing a pattern of success and failure and adjusting to meet the changing market.  We are in the grips of an industry trying to find it’s identity post-pandemic and streaming wars, and a couple box office disappointments will tell them exactly what isn’t working.  For someone like me, theatrical is still ideal, and I hope the best outcome of this era of change is that Hollywood’s presence on the big screen gets better and not worse.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny – Review

There will never be a better pairing in cinema history of actor and character than Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.  To say that he was born to play the part would be an understatement.  The moment we first saw him walk out of the shadows and into the spotlight wearing that trademark leather jacket and fedora we knew an icon was born.  And this was fairly impressive for an actor like Ford who already had the character of Han Solo on his resume.  It helped that the greatest filmmakers in the industry were there to make Harrison shine on screen as the character.  Developed from the mind of George Lucas and brought to life on screen by Steven Spielberg, Indiana Jones’ debut in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a timeless classic that still stands as a high water mark in blockbuster filmmaking.  And unlike the work that he put into the Star Wars franchise, this was a movie completely formed around him as an actor.  Surprisingly, it’s a match that almost didn’t happen, as Tom Selleck was at one time going to play the character, before his commitment to Magnum P.I. pulled him out of the running.  While Selleck might have done alright as the character, it’s hard to imagine this role without Harrison Ford.  The gruffness of Indiana Jones as well as the ability to dive into the silliness of the character are unmistakably things that Ford brought to the character that no other actor would have.  Despite having a career that now spans 6 decades and a body of work that includes many of the best action films ever made, as well as a couple very good dramas and comedies, Ford will always be known best for his performances as Indiana Jones, and it appears that he is happy with that distinction.  Ford has been vocal of his affection for the character, believing that the character is among his best work, and it’s the thing that has allowed him to return time and again over these 40 plus years that Indiana Jones has been around.

The Indiana Jones franchise as a whole has been one that’s inspired a wide range of opinions, both good and bad.  The good thing is that the Indiana Jones films are not serialized, so each movie can stand on it’s own as a stand alone adventure.  But the choices of which adventures he goes on bring out a different mix of emotions in audiences.  Critics initially were not happy with the follow-up film in the series, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), with many saying it was too dark and lacked a cohesive plot like Raiders had.  Of course, over time the movie has been re-assessed, and people of my generation who grew up with the film regard it very highly; even putting it ahead of Raiders.  The third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) was generally better received as it was reviewed as a return to form after the riskier Temple of Doom.  For the longest time, the series stood alone as a trilogy, with Crusade working very well as a fitting end to Dr. Jones’ adventures.  But, that’s not where George Lucas saw it ending.  There was always talk of another Indiana Jones movie, but it would take 19 years for it to become a reality.  The resulting film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) did bring the whole team back together, with Harrison Ford once again cracking the whip and Spielberg guiding the adventure behind the camera.  Unfortunately, the reception to the film did not get the same result as the original trilogy, and in fact the movie was widely panned by the fandom.  Time has also not been kind to the movie like it has been to Temple of Doom, as the majority of Indiana Jones fans still consider Crystal Skull a low point for the series and even a betrayal.  Many people lamented that this was going to be the final note that Indiana Jones left the silver screen on, but fortunes would change as new leadership took over at Lucasfilm.  After being brought into the Disney Company, many hoped that there was a shot of another Indiana Jones movie possibly in the works. With the revival of the Star Wars series, that possibility seemed strong, but it would take some time.  Eventually, it was announced that a fifth Indiana Jones movie would get made, and that Harrison Ford would indeed step into the role one final time.  The movie would be delayed multiple times, with the pandemic being especially disruptive, but now, over 40 years since his debut, we are finally getting the long awaited sequel Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023).  The only question is, does the movie end the series on a high note, or does it further sink the franchise to a new low?

The movie opens with a flashback to Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr. (Harrison Ford) during the final days of World War II.  He has been captured by the Nazis, who are in the process of mobilizing their stock hold of stolen artifacts to get them away from allied forces.  Among the Nazi soldiers is scientist named Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) who has been brought on to authenticate all the artifacts.  Among the artifacts, there is one that sparks Voller’s interest above all others; a device known as Archimedes’ Dial.  Jones manages to make his escape, with the assistance of another archaeologist named Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), and the two manage to steal away the Dial from the Nazis, with Shaw being particularly knowledgeable about the artifact’s importance.  25 years later, Indiana Jones is living alone in New York City, with his marriage to Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) on the rocks, and is on the brink of retirement.  His final lecture at the university is attended by a woman who reveals herself to be Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), daughter of Basil and Dr. Jones’ goddaughter.  Helena inquires about the Dial that her father and Jones found all those years back, but Indy is reluctant to share any information, knowing how the Dial ended up driving Basil crazy in his final days.  Still, Jones helps Helena find the Dial which he’s kept in storage, but they soon learn they’ve been followed by some hired guns also seeking the Dial.  The henchmen (Boyd Holbrook, Olivier Richters) are working for Dr. Voller, who has been working in America on the space program as a beneficiary of Operation Paperclip.  Voller is adamant about finding the Dial, because he believes it has the power to re-shape history, which he believes could lead to a different outcome for the war.  Unfortunately for Indiana Jones, he loses track of the Dial as Helena runs off with it, leaving him having to make a daring escape again, in the typical Indiana Jones fashion.  Despite his advanced age, Jones seeks to go into harms way to find Helena and the Dial, and solve the mystery behind it, with the help of old friends like Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and new like diving expert Renaldo (Antonio Banderas).  But, will this be the adventure that will Indiana Jones make history or become history?

Considering how much time has passed from when this series has started to where it is now, it’s pretty amazing that Harrison Ford is able to still play this part again at all.  Now in his 80’s, Ford definitely is unable to pull off some the same kind of action sequences that made the original trilogy movies so memorable.  But, as long as the movie is able to work with the limitations that the actor now faces rather than try to force him into the impossible mission of going all in again, there’s a way to make an older Indiana Jones work while still being true to the character.  One thing that helps this movie is that it’s being helmed by James Mangold, who has a history of sunsetting legendary characters in one final blaze of glory.  He helped Hugh Jackman say goodbye to the character of Wolverine in the poignant film Logan (2017), so giving him the responsibility of bringing Harrison Ford’s time as this character to a close is well within his capabilities.  He definitely has big shoes to fill, with Spielberg passing the reigns on to someone else for the first time in the series’ forty years.  Mangold has many talents as a filmmaker, but he’s not anything like Spielberg.  The question remains whether or not the injection of a different directorial vision is exactly what the series needed.  The fandom surrounding the Indiana Jones movies is a very vocal one, and making a misstep is bound to rile up some feathers.  I for one am in a minority within the fandom in that I actually like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the most reviled film in the series for a lot of people.  Considering my tastes, I seem to like when the series takes chances and does things in a very different and unexpected way.  Temple of Doom is my favorite film in the series, so I’m a bit more forgiving of the series as even the ones with flaws have their charms.  So, considering that I am more forgiving of Crystal Skull, it would stand that I may feel more positive about Dial of Destiny than most.  For the most part, I would say that Dial of Destiny in no ways changes my view of the series, as it ultimately is a very serviceable sequel.  At the same time, it does have it’s share of flaws, but those flaws to me put it mostly on par with Crystal Skull, which is not a knock against the movie given my scale of judgement.

To expect that this movie is going to reach the heights of the series in it’s heyday during the trilogy is kind of an impossible high standard to reach.  Dial of Destiny does not have the benefit of 40 years of rose colored nostalgia to build it’s reputation upon.  Sadly, it has to contend with a very demanding fanbase that wants to feel the magic that the original movies had once again, and I don’t think it’s going to be able to live up to that for many.  That being said, can the movie stand on it’s own as a rousing action adventure.  I’d say that there are definitely moments that shine in this film, and help to at the very least remind us why we love Indiana Jones in the first place.  What I would say is the biggest problem with this movie is the bloated run time.  At nearly 2 1/2 hours, this is by far the longest film in the series, and it really doesn’t need to be.  One really longs for the economy of storytelling that Spielberg always exceled at with his direction in these movies.  The original trilogy movies have all the fat cut out and each action sequence is perfectly paced for maximum  effect; my favorite in particular is the climatic sequence of events at the end of Temple of Doom, which is an all time great example of how to build tension in a final act.  The action scenes in this movie feel too busy and complicated.  There is one scene with a cart chase through Moroccan streets that was so chaotic and repetitive that it took me out of the film for a moment.  Honestly, where the movie worked best for me was not in the action scenes, which used to be a staple of the series, but rather in the quieter moments where we see Indy doing the actual tomb raiding.  It’s in those moments where it does feel like the old glory days of Indiana Jones again.  There are good action sequences to be sure, like a very well done prologue scene on a train, and none of the action sequences are insultingly horrible by any means, but you can really feel in these moments the absence of the Spielbergian touch.  Mangold is a very capable director, but in this case his instincts are pretty uneven.

The thing that definitely lifts this movie up the most, without a doubt, is Harrison Ford himself.  You can tell that the reason why Ford wanted to come back to this role one more time was so that he could give Indy a proper goodbye.  Crystal Skull it would seem was an unsatisfying exercise for him, and with Dial of Destiny, he is clearly trying to dig a bit more into the character and bring out a sense of Indiana finally coming to terms with the history that he left behind and the history he wishes he could forget.  This movie digs a bit deeper into the psyche of Indiana Jones, seeing him grapple with mortality as time begins to take it’s toll.  He’s not the same death-defying Dr. Jones that we once knew, and I liked the fact that the movie leans into that aspect, showing that while Indy is still a force to reckon with, at the same time he is also bearing all the scars of those adventures.  And yet, the sparkle in his eye when he discovers things once lost to time found again is enough to make you fall in love with the character all over again.  Harrison Ford doesn’t miss one note, and he easily carries this movie, making us all fall in love with Indiana Jones once again.  And the way that the movie settles his narrative in it’s final act is poetic and quite fitting given the legacy of the character.  The supporting cast, while not quite as memorable as characters in years past, are still doing their best with the material.  Mads Mikkelsen’s Dr. Voller is in no way within the same category as legendary adversaries like Belloq, Toht, or Mola Ram, but Mikkelsen still gives him a presence that works well enough.  As underwritten as he is, I still found him to be a better villain than Last Crusades’ Donovan, played by Julian Glover.  Sadly, the other main lead, Helena Shaw, is not as good of a character.  Phoebe Waller-Bridge is trying her best in the role, but her smarmy, quippy attitude feels out of place in the movie, and she ends up being more obnoxious than endearing.  Even Temple’s Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), as corny as she was, still left an endearing impression.  Other than that, it’s also nice to see John Rhys-Davies, another Raiders alum make a return as well, and there are other actors like Toby Jones and Boyd Holbrook who make the most of their limited roles.

One thing that I think will likely be debated hotly about this film is the heavy reliance of CGI.  For a series that was renowned for it’s mix of practical and state of the art visual effects, to see so much of this movie be reliant of CGI is kind of disappointing.  At the same time, it was almost inevitable, as you couldn’t rely upon Harrison Ford to do as much of the on set spectacle as before given his limitations at this age.  There are some effects that do indeed look good and were necessary for the moments in the film, like with a climatic storm near the end.  One moment that I think will either anger or impress viewers is the de-aging effect on Indiana Jones in the opening prologue.  You can tell that the de-aging technology has gotten better over time, and some shots do look pretty believable.  But there are other times when it crosses into uncanny valley territory, and it will be interesting to see how audiences overall accept it.  Given that the de-aging effect happens in the best scene of the entire movie, it didn’t end up being a critical distraction for me, but there were times when it does pull you out of the scene for a moment.  I understand why they did the effect, but I have a feeling that it’s an effect that probably won’t age well over time.  Once we get to the modern day, the movie does have a good sense of capturing the time period.  It’s interesting to see how Indiana’s world has changed through the whole progression of the series, from the pre-WWII era art deco pastiche of Club Obi-Wan in Temple of Doom   to the Vietnam War era grunginess of New York City in Dial of Destiny, each era becomes a character in it’s own right within the movies of this series.  Of course, one of the other things that will indeed earn due praise for this movie other than Harrison Ford’s performance is the new score provided by the great maestro, John Williams, in what will likely be the last big studio production he’ll ever work on.  The 91 year old Williams insists that if Spielberg ever calls him for an assignment he’ll answer, but for now there is a strong likelihood this will be the legendary composer’s swan song at the end of an unparalleled career.  So it is fitting that he is putting down the baton with and Indiana Jones score.  There are some repeating themes in this film, including the iconic Indiana Jones march, but remarkably the vast majority Dial of Destiny’s score is made up of original music, showing that even in his old age, Williams still has got it.  I guess he and Harrison Ford have that in common.

For the things that count the most, mainly doing the character of Indiana Jones justice, I do think Dial of Destiny is a success.  But, it still comes up short of the series’ greatest hits.  I certainly think expecting this to rise to that level is a bit unfair, because it’s impossible to make an Indiana Jones movie feel as fresh and groundbreaking as it was when Raiders of the Lost Ark first came out.  Time has changed and so have the audiences.  It’s clear that the time has come for us to bid farewell to the Indiana Jones that we knew, because a lot of the past glory has clearly faded.  All that said, the movie doesn’t do an insulting job of trying to bring back Indiana Jones to the big screen.  It’s clear that the people who made this film put a lot of love into it.  Unlike a lot of other cash grab sequels, it does not feel cynical in any way.  I certainly felt it does a more honorable job at continuing an old franchise based on classic IP than say what Jurassic World does, and it’s certainly a better series finale than what we got from Star Wars with The Rise of Skywalker (2019).  Despite a script that features some wild leaps in logic and characters that aren’t as endearing as they should be, the movie does stick the landing when it comes to Indiana Jones and how the story puts this era of his to rest.  The final scene in the movie, without giving anything in the way, is almost perfect and is exactly the way I want to remember Harrison Ford’s final scenes as this character.  It’s poignant in the best way possible, a fitting final note to leave on.  I don’t think it will be the end of Indiana Jones entirely as a franchise.  There is always the possibility of Disney doing a James Bond situation and starting fresh with a new, younger actor in the role.  It might even be worthwhile to reboot the Young Indiana Jones TV series again.  Whatever happens, the Harrison Ford comes to a close in a satisfying, if not exactly perfect, way.  Thank you for all the years of fun over the years and for making one of the greatest cinematic heroes in history.  Fortune and glory forever.

Rating: 7.5/10