CANNES, France - Well, it went over better than “The Da Vinci Code.”
Nobody in the Grand Lumiere Theatre, the grandest of the venues in the Palais des Festivals, heckled or chortled or whistled (which is French for booing) during Sunday’s very, very, veryveryvery sold-out Cannes Film Festival world-premiere screening of the fourth Indiana Jones picture, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
When the curtain on the screen parted, slowly, at precisely 1:01 p.m. French time, many in the balcony clapped and hummed John Williams’ rousing da da-da-DA “Indy” theme - the theme so infectious, even the most ardent fans of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” would admit that Indy’s adventures never could measure up to the theme.
“No one was gunning for it,” Variety deputy editor and film expert Anne Thompson told the Associated Press Sunday. “They were excited going in, hooting for it in a positive way.”
Two hours and three minutes later: A smattering of dutiful applause. Some smiles. Many shrugs. Exiting, “Day of the Locust” movie-premiere-riot style, out the side entrance, many in the crowd offered their opinions before international broadcast journalists, each wondering in a different language how “Indy 4” fared. The answers I overheard on the way to the pressroom ranged from: “Well, it’s ... well ...” to “It’s OK!” to “Kind of disappointing.”
There was nothing disappointing, however, about the two-part doozy kicking off the postscreening press conference. Onstage, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf and others put on gamely puzzled faces as the interpreter said: “For those of you who don’t speak French, the first questioner was wondering if there was any sort of communist pressure on Mr. Spielberg to create this movie. And his second question was talking about the difference between good and evil, and if there are new Schindlers in the world today.”
That’s what you get when your “Indy 4” villains are Russkies, and your director made an Oscar-laden Holocaust film.
Later, Ford took on the topic of a potentially chilly “Indy 4” reception, with the confidence of a movie star who knows that the project in question (opening worldwide Thursday) is very likely to turn a nice profit the way “Da Vinci Code” did.
“It’s not unusual for something that is popular to be disdained by some people,” he said in measured tones. “I fully expect it.”
“Indy 4,” he said, is “a celebration of the movies” designed to “reacquaint people with the pure joy” of a collective escapist experience. Blanchett, who plays Indy’s fearsome Russian mind-control adversary (though the script oddly never develops this psychic trait), fielded a question from a Russian television journalist. The Australian actress immediately said she would like to “apologize to the entire Russian populace” for her portrayal, and got a big laugh.
Executive producer George Lucas, who cooked up the Red Menace/aliens/El Dorado story line for “Indy 4,” asserted that he and Spielberg had no interest in “one-upping all the imitators,” such as the “National Treasure” and “Mummy” pictures. Spielberg added that he and his time-honored collaborators strived for “practical magic” as opposed to digital.
Spielberg also acknowledged that there may or may not be an “Indy 5.”
“Indy 4” leaves the door wide open for LaBeouf to rejoin (or take over for) Ford, should the financial and creative interest exist for another franchise installment.
Spielberg hadn’t been to Cannes since the triumphant, famously prolonged ovation that greeted “E.T.” in 1982. The air wasn’t charged quite the same way during and after the “Indy 4” screening.
Then again, nothing’s quite the same in Hollywood these days. “Making a film on celluloid,” he said, is a threatened mode of expression.
“Digital cinema is inevitable. It’s right around the corner. And someday,” said Spielberg, “even I will have to convert.”