'Indy' raises sun on dark Cannes fest

Among frazzled festgoers you can feel the need for fun

CANNES -- The myriad makeshift signs people waved outside the Palais Sunday said it all: "Me, Indi Jones tickets, please" as hundreds of fans and moviegoers started amassing in hopes of securing passage to the world premiere of the fourth installment of the Steven Spielberg franchise.

And if not to the movie, then at least a glimpse of Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf and practically the entire (human) cast as they made their way to the chock-a-block press conference after the screening.

The film played to a packed house made up mostly of press at 1 p.m. There was the energy of anticipation in the room beforehand, and the applause at the end was polite, but then that's all the emotion journos tend to display no matter the movie.

Early word from exiting journalists was a general thumbs-up, though with a few strongly expressed cavils and qualifiers: "too long," "too many stunts," "too wooden," not enough time for any of the characters to catch their breath or interact. But such objections, however valid, will probably hardly matter in box office terms, judging from the general public enthusiasm that seemed to transform the mood of the Croisette.

Even among frazzled sleep-deprived festgoers, one could feel the shift: Enough of politically challenging, socially relevant Competition pics -- a la "Blindness," "Gomorra," " Linha de Passe" -- let's have some brightly lit fun to match the returning blue skies over the Mediterranean.

Spielberg, who hasn't been to the fest since he brought "ET" in 1982, put it best. He was the last among the creators to be convinced that Indy deserved to be brought back, and it took 17 years to free himself up enough from DreamWorks and his self-described "dark period" movies to tackle it.

"We did it as a celebration of the movies," he told the throngs of journos at the post-screening presser. "We wanted to reacquaint people with the pure joy of seeing something with others in a darkened room."

Interestingly, Spielberg also said that, yes, another Indiana Jones sequel was a possibility: "Only if you (the public) want it. We'll have our ear to the ground," meaning, presumably, attuned to the global wickets.

With a budget of $185 million and a marketing spend of some $150 million worldwide, the enthusiasm on the Croisette will have to translate onto main streets around the globe if the producers expect to make their nut. If the movie grosses less than $500 million worldwide, it will likely be termed a disappointment.

"People do consistently ask me if there'll be another 'ET' or 'Indiana Jones' ... No one ever asks about bringing back 'Artificial Intelligence,' '1941' or 'Hook,' " he mused self-deprecatingly.

Spielberg and Lucas went on at the presser to talk about their belief in the relevance of more traditional forms of action-adventure moviemaking, in which real stunts are performed rather than relying so heavily on special effects.

"Obviously, when you get new technology, you get sound or you get color, you get special effects, they get misused," Lucas told the gathering.

There's no inspiration, Spielberg added, "when a cast and a director walk onto a screen that is blue. We wanted to do as little of that as possible. I was intent and George was intent on making this practical magic and not digital magic." (The director does think the F/X-heavy "Bourne" franchise is first-rate.)

"We didn't set out to 'one-up' the imitators of the original Indiana Jones adventure model," Lucas added, suggesting that it's only human nature to overdo any new technology that comes along and that he wanted to resist the F/X siren when possible and preserve the feel of the original.

Looking fit and tanned, Ford chimed in with his comments about performing his own stunts. "I think of it as physical acting, in that way it's invested with emotion," he said. "Otherwise, it's just watching kinetics."

Unlike, no doubt, the many executives from Paramount in town for the onslaught of Indy enthusiasm, Ford said he wasn't worried, nor did he find it unusual for "something popular to be disdained by segments of the press," apparently girding himself for tough questions or harsh reviews.

"I work for the people who pay to get in," Ford added.

Not that the queries from journalists in the hour-long encounter were antagonistic; they were always respectful, a few betraying their personal excitement. A Russian journalist bubbled over with praise for the film, sparking Cate Blanchett to apologize to the entire Russian populace for her accent and her role as a communist nasty. (The actress went on to thank Spielberg for being able to play "a fantastic villain with an extraordinary haircut.")

Asked about the baddies in the movie, Spielberg explained to the largely non-American press corp that he grew up "under the threat of nuclear annihilation," doing his share of ducking under school desks during air-raid practices in the '50s and '60s. "Those were the geo-politics of the time," he said of the 1957 setting of the sequel. "We couldn't ignore the atomic era or the conflict between the two superpowers."

There is, in fact, an iconic moment in the film that features Ford against the backdrop of a mushroom cloud. It comes on the heels of one of the best sequences in the movie: a nuclear test that takes out an entire artificially constructed town, with Indy saving himself by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator.