Indy vs the indies: Indiana Jones in the Kingdom of Cannes

Today is Indy Day. This afternoon, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be unveiled for the media horde, followed by the the red carpet premiere tonight. And what’s billed as the biggest blockbuster of the summer, if not the year, will be launched. It won’t be unleashed in commercial theatres until Thursday. But there will be not stopped the floodtide of early reviews. In this case, many critics will break protocol. With a movie this size, a review becomes a news story. They’ll post and publish instant reviews worldwide immediately after this afternoon’s screening.

Which is why Paramount did its preemptive promo interviews early. Usually we see the movie, then interview the stars. This time around, as with The Da Vinci Code, we were asked to interview talent before seeing the movie. That doesn’t necessarily mean the movie is bad. It’s just that the studio wanted to control the media coverage as much as possible before it became overwhelmed by one story: how good is the movie, and just how big will it be at the box-office?

So yesterday I joined selected journalists for group interviews on the top floor of the Carlton Hotel with the stars of Indiana Jones and its writer George Lucas. There were about a dozen of us in our two sessions, which were staged like mini-press conferences in a room draped in black cloth. The first session was with Harrison Ford and Karen Allen, the second with Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBoeuf (who must have a great time in France dining out on that name), and writer George Lucas. I had a seat in the front row, almost awkwardly close to the talent, who sat on a little stage. It felt like a toy press conference. The stars seemed too big for the room.

It was especially odd to be sitting just a few feet away from Cate Blanchett, this luminous creature, and watching her think when the others were talking. Dressed in a filmy black dress that bared her endless legs, she looked amazing for someone who had given birth to her third son just five weeks ago. But she had a faraway look in her eyes. You got the sense that she would rather be somewhere else, with her new baby perhaps.

Blanchett didn’t say much. I asked her about comparing the challenges of playing Bob Dylan in an independent adventure like I’m Not There and starring in an action blockbuster, she talked about how “film is such an elastic medium.” She felt welcomed by the Indiana Jones clan, and was “amazed by what a tight knit family” they were. Asked about the greatest challenge of her role—as a Russian spy—she said, “I was the most worried about how I could deal with action sequences and still keep my hairdo completely neat, and I did manage to do it mostly.” The hairdo is a bob, which Lucas takes credit for. “I’m a big fan of Louise Brooks and a big fan of the bob, and I just couldn’t resist,” he confessed.

Lucas was voluble and candid. I’m always surprised by how erudite he is, given that a lot of serious cinephiles view him, along with Spielberg, as the Great Satan of special effects who blew American indie cinema off the screen with space operas. But Lucas rattled on about his love of history and anthropology, and seemed sanguine about the critical scorn that his work tends to receive. The last Star Wars movie, he pointed out, was a massive hit despite the fact that “everybody hated it.”

As for the new Indiana Jones, he seemed braced for a less than rapturous response from surly pantheon of Cannes critics. “When you do a film that’s this anticipated,” he says, “people have a tendency to think it’s going to be the Second Coming, and no matter what you give them, they’re going to be disappointed. Until ILM [Industrial Light and Magic] can come up with a way of presenting the Second Coming that’s believable. Especially in the new 21st reality when the reality of the Internet is a whole different world. People have very strong opinions and they’re going to express them. Star Wars and Indiana Jones aren’t reviewed in a superlative fashion most of the time. . We knew that going in. We certainly don’t need the money. People are going to throw tomatoes at us, but it’s a fun movie to make and for us it’s all worthwhile.”

And launching the film in Cannes, he added, is a “high risk” proposition in terms of critics. But he and Spielberg thought it’s would be fair, and fun, to premiere the movie to entire world media at once, and Cannes is the only stage large enough to do that. Besides, this movie will no doubt be critic proof.

What about Harrison Ford? He did his usual thing, talking about the craft, the work, the process. Once nervous about doing press, he how handles the media like a seasoned athlete working from a set script . . . more later. Time to pack up the laptop and face the crowds at the Palais, where most of the 4,000 accredited journalists will be trying to get into the 2,200-seat Lumiere theatre for the Indy press screening. A number of journalists invited to an North American press lunch for Woody Allen have blown it off, fearing that they’ll have trouble getting into the the screening if they cut it too close—perhaps the most telling indication of just how big a crater this movie is leaving in the Cannes festival. And once the dust has settled we’ll see the inevitable clash of media forces, between the global juggernaut of media hype and the global prognosis of box-office value that, more often than not, tends to pass for critical opinion.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.