Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Quick Whip-around With Indiana Jones

Any franchise with such solid pop-culture credentials as Indiana Jones comes complete a flood-tide of merchendise hitting the shelves, but here in the UK there only seems to be a smattering. Aside from the nifty new Lego sets, some Panini-style stickers and kiddie-aimed comics only thing I've witnessed on a regular basis are Crystal Skull scratch cards. Not being a hard-bitten gambler at heart I've rarely dabbled in the murky world of the National Lottery, but the buggers have hooked me in with these Indy cards (especially after I won £20 on a Raiders one...).

The commercial, screening on TV and in cinemas before the actual movie, features Sean Cameron Michael as "Indiana Jones" - and surely it's no mere coincidence that he played a similar role in this year's Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls, from notorious knock off agents Asylum...

When it comes to Indy produce it's a different tale in the US, as this rather bitter blogger informs us (He makes some fair points , but it would have been nicer if he didn't beg for gold stars at the end of it... )

Advertisers have always been looking to make a quick buck or two off the back of the franchise - as far back as the original films Terry's Chocolate Oranges were flogged Indy style in this fondly remembered series....

Wrangler Jeans did the same thing with ten times the budget but hardly any of the charm - although I must admit that being chased by a giant head is a pretty swish idea...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Yep, the man with the hat is back and just like just everyone else I'm beginning to wonder why the blighters bothered... Sure enough, the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a shopworn affair, and anyone expecting something to rank alongside Raiders was destined to be disappointed.

Lighting can't be bottled twice and Raiders was a pretty much perfect product of it's time, with two much maligned purveyors of popcorn cinema at the top of their game. I'm happy to say I genuinely enjoyed the new film first time around, so much so I've seen it twice this week, but despite the novelty of a new Indy adventure I can't see myself going again...

You can slag off it's short comings till crystal kingdom come, and I'll probably agree with you at every turn - but I still took some pleasure in a handful of moments
that did resemble a proper Indiana Jones adventure, and hearing notes from the whip-cracking archeologist's musical back catalog reverberate around a theatre once again did send a few shivers (although any and all new sections of the score were decidedly sub-par). It could have been a whole lot worse - if you've read any of the discarded scripts you may have seen howlers even more shocking than Shia's Tarzan swing - for example, a pension-pounding Indy leaping from biplane to biplane and back again. Maybe we should consider ourselves blessed...

Shockingly enough, the movie has even inspired a new knock-off adventure with King Solomon's Mines hero Allan Quartermain, as well as an intriguing Korean romp, plus talk of a Bollywood Indy. That's nothing compared to the tide of fedora-wearing fakers that swept through cinemas back in the 1980s, however. Rather than gab anymore about the Crystal Skull I'd like to present Poptique's completely non-comprehensive guide to Raiders rip-offs and outrageous adventures inspired by Indy:


The first cash-ins hit the small screen the year following Raiders first release. Since the combination of Spielberg & Lucas smelt of obvious box-office boomtime, it's no surprise networks had a few similar projects ready for the offing. Tales of the Gold Monkey followed the adventures of a grizzled pilot. Inspired by Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings, it dragged it's heels getting commissioned for some years, only getting the production nod after Dr Jones took his bow. As you can see from
the titles the show offered such delights as painted midgets and one-eyed dogs.


Based on real-life big game hunter Frank Buck, who produced a movie of the same name in 1932 (parodied some 14 years later by Donald Duck), the Tron-tastic Bruce Boxleitner played t
he grizzled pith-helmeted trapper for 17 episodes. I particularly enjoyed every character turning to face the viewer during the titles, and the climax where Buck throws himself off a cliff for no apparent reason.

The big problem with these shows soon became apparent - the high cost of high adventure was hard to meet on a week after week TV budget, causing both to get
canned after one season despite healthy ratings. This wasn't such a headache for knock-off and run exploitation film-makers and 1983 proved to be the zenith of Indy imitation...


Inevitably the frenzied rip-off merchants of Italy spewed out the largest number of Lost Arks, with director Antonio Margheriti getting in there early with Hunters of the Golden Cobra, in 1982, and following up with some of the same grizzled cast members the following year. Margheriti (aka Anthony M Dawson) was no stranger to rip-off cinema, having churned out Bondalikes, spaghetti-westerns, sci-fi epics, and even post Piranha Killer-Fish cash-ins. He'd triple-dip in the Raiders-rip genre a couple of years down the line.


Not just an Indy imitation but a Mad Max Road Warrior rip-off to boot! Set in the far distant future of 1994, Christopher Connelly starred as a grizzled, gun-toting mercenary in a film jam-packed with crystal skulls.


Everyone else seemed to forget the luverly romantic banter between Harrison Ford and Karen Black in Raiders, except Cannon - who released the 1930s set wannabe epic which gave the viewer
soppy romance in droves, plus Brooke Shield and sack loads of sand - all to little avail... (It did have John Rhys Davis though, which is more than can be said for 50% of the Indiana Jones films).


Everyone was going whoop-de-do over 3D back in the early 80s (Jaws 3D, anyone?) so a 3D Indy rip seemed an obvious route, and sure enough he came in the guise of J.T. Striker - grizzled, flip-flopping soldier of fortune. I haven't seen this for years, but apart from some nifty booby traps and an impressive poster I remember it being fairly incomprehensible. On top of that, stuff being repeatably thrown at you in 2D gets pretty tired pretty quickly...


Kinky French adventure from the director of Emmanuelle, based very loosely on a S&M comic book. Twany Kitaen is the innocent abroad in this period set romp which finds her searching for a rare butterfly whilst loosing her garments in the jungle, the desert and finally the "Kingdom of Women" (where chariots are pulled by babes in bondage gear). Grizzled hunk Brent Huff looks on in lust and eventually does the deed in a surprising scenario...


The grizzled dynamic duo of independent Indy rippers Antonio Margheriti and Christopher Connelly combined is this fine, tongue-in-cheek adventure tale, with Lee Van Cleef as the Connelly's rival on the hunt for a legendary jewel.


By this point it wasn't just Italy who wanted a piece of the Indy action. Cannon commissioned a well-timed remake of H.R. Haggard's colonial rip-roarer to riff off The Temple of Doom, and cannily shot it's sequel - Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold - at the same time. That they both turned out to be distinct embarrassments came as no surprise, even though John Rhys Davis was still consolidating his Raiders notoriety with a villainous role in this one. The decidedly non-grizzled Richard Camberlain starred, alongside a pre-pantyless flashing Sharon Stone.


Hong Kong has knocked out a few Indy-style epics, such as Jet Li's Dr Wai and the Scripture With No Words, and Yuen Biao's A Kid From Tibet, but by far and away the best (and incidentally the finest film in this list) is Jackie Chan's Armour of God. A rollicking epic, that nearly cost Chan his life when a stunt gone wrong left him with quite literally a hole in the head. Although the film gets flabby in the middle, getting bogged down in Bond-style chases, the opening and closing set pieces are outstanding eye-poppers. A sequel followed with Operation Condor in 1991, and a final chapter is rumored to be in the offing...


Naughty, spoofy nonsense by and starring the grizzled David Keith, battling cannibals, chasing women and trekking through the jungle. Features some particularly bad taste moments which I won't go into here...


A last ditch Indy effort from Italy threw in the kitchen sink, along with grizzled Franco Nero. The poster promised Aztec treasures, buried spaceships, Nazis, the CIA, the KGB, and alien terrorists - shockingly, the film delivered them all!


Yep, Duck Tales.

Carl Barks' epic Donald Duck adventures were a prime influence on Raiders (don't believe me? Look see...), so it should come as no surprise that Disney sent grizzled, filthy-rich, money-grabbing millionaire Scrooge McDuck on a variety of globe trotting adventures with his identikit nephews Huey, Duey and flippin' Louie in tow.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Filipino Fun, Fantasy and Fakery!

Due to the Internet, one day soon I'm sure information on all of the cinematic obscurities of the world will be available to us, but at the moment it's still wonderful to uncover a country's hidden pop culture hitherto unnoticed by the rest of the planet.

Take Video48, a mind-shattering trip into the uncharted realms of Filipino cinema, featuring a menagerie of stills, posters and articles from films I never even dared to dream existed! I stumbled across home-grown super-heroes such as Mars Revelo's Darna a few years back, and Eric Cueto's fansite provided a wealth of information on her cinematic adventures, (whilst also revealing tantalising glimpses of her on-screen contemporaries), but I certainly hadn't realised the extent to which comic book characters pervaded the Philippine big-screen.

Chances are the country was second only to Turkey when it came to cinematic Super-heroes - Darna herself has starred in 14 films and two TV series, which certainly puts Wonder Woman to shame.

Here's the most popular Darna of them all, screen legend Vilma Santos, discussing the role:

Sadly most of these fantasy films are unlikely to have survived - the condition of the Vilma Santos' early Darna movies is supposedly so wretched that a DVD release has been permanently canned, and ancient VHS copies of Darna & the Giants and Darna & the Planet Women are jealously guarded by the few collectors who salvaged them from rental shops.

Just as in Turkey, these films were probably considered to be as disposable as the comic books on which they were based - but I for one would go ga-ga for a double bill of this years The Dark Knight with 1973's Fight Batman Fight (fair enough, my brain might melt out of my ears afterwards, but what a way to go...)