Jack Hunter and the Lost Treasure of Ugarit
Continuing this week’s theme of adventure movies, Jumping Sharks is also proud to bring you the first installment of a semi-regular feature, Miniseries Week. First, let me make it crystal clear – this is a completely original miniseries, in no way stealing anything at all from Indiana Jones. Nope. No siree. Well, maybe just a bit. Okay, maybe a bit more than a bit. Oh, alright – they basically copied Indiana Jones, right down to his trademarked hat. Let’s see how they did.
I can’t tell them apart! Which is which?!?
The first installment in this three-part miniseries starts off with only-in-it-for-the-money archaeologist Jack Hunter (Ivan Sergei, Gravity, Jack & Jill) stealing a tablet, originally from the lost city of Ugarit, with details of a lost treasure. When the tablet leads to the murder of his mentor, Jack heads off to Syria to find the treasure and track down the murderers, teaming up with Syrian archaeologist Nadia Ramadan (Joanne Kelly, Warehouse 13) in a race to beat sinister German archaeologist/treasure-hunter Albert Littmann (Thure Riefenstein, Die Machtergreifung, Schwarz greift ein – seriously, we’re still using Germans as villains?) to the mythical treasure. Naturally, our heroes do all the work while our villain is content to follow after. Zero plot turns (okay, there might be one or two) and at least three obvious Indiana Jones references (not counting the hat) later, we have the villain escaping with a legendary scepter that has supernatural powers, conveniently setting us up for the second part of the series, to be discussed in a future post.
You can tell he’s evil ’cause of the beard.
So, let’s begin with the beginning. Mediocre acting (at best) – check. Poor CGI – check, although there was thankfully little of it. Overly dramatic dialogue – major check. Now, I’d like someone to explain the following to me – in the opening scene, Jack Hunter sneaks into a private museum guarded, as you would expect, by rent-a-cops. Of course he triggers the alarm, causing the guards to come running. But when the first guard to get there doesn’t shoot Jack and instead gets disarmed (because for some reason, he figures that he can’t actually shoot someone unless he’s two feet away from them), all of a sudden our guard is able to throw Jack against the wall and lift him a foot or two off the ground by his neck, but then goes back to being not a terribly good fighter, as one would expect from an average private security guard. So where did that neck thing come from? Can anyone tell me? Is it easier than I’m guessing to lift someone by their neck?
Indiana Jon – I mean, Jack Hunter and the Raiders of the – I mean…
Moreover, when our villain gets introduced, I’m sorry to say that the movie resorts to the unfortunate cliché of having him gun down a bunch of innocent workers excavating a site for him, just to let us know that he’s evil. On top of that, he also spends a certain amount of time breaking antiquities seemingly to accentuate the fact that, yes, he is in fact evil. As if his being German wasn’t enough…
It’s like Satan Himself gave him that beard…
Speaking of movie clichés, there’s a fight scene in an antiquities shop during which it seems like the fighters go out of their way to break as many things as possible. I’m not saying this is unrealistic or anything, but I do have to say it’s an incredibly overdone trope. I also have to wonder about the following little exchange – after returning with the tablet, Jack gets into an argument with his mentor about going after the treasure, wherein Jack says that he doesn’t care about the treasure despite being, according to his mentor, the person with the most knowledge of the Ugaritic language in the world. Now, I’m not a scientist – oh wait; yes I am! As a scientist, I can’t easily imagine a situation wherein someone would study an ancient language, which I can’t easily imagine is easy to understand well enough to read and interpret, without having a keen interest in the culture, on the whole, from which that language originates. That just doesn’t make sense to me, as a scientist, and so it doesn’t make sense that Jack would not want to go after the treasure. But maybe that’s just me.
Devil-beard agrees with me.
Two more points that struck me as odd/unfortunate/bizarre – there’s a car chase scene (because of course there’s a car chase scene), part of which includes a passenger in the attacking car shooting into the air. At first I thought he was intentionally trying to not harm our heroes (instead trying to force them to stop), but later it is revealed that he was, in fact, shooting at them. Which I don’t really see as being possible, given that our heroes’ car was next to the shooter’s, and not above it. The other point that stuck out was that of the obligatory comic-relief sidekick. Clearly the creators of this miniseries didn’t learn anything from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace because the character they created to be comic relief is what I would imagine an Arab version of Jar Jar Binks to be. He has eccentric hand gestures, a very bouncy way of moving, and even refers to himself in the third person way too often. He also bears a striking visual resemblance to the Gungan and has a voice in an eerily similar register. I would have thought they’d have learned, but noooooo, learning would be too easy.
I’m seeing double!
However, there are two things I thought this first part of the miniseries did well. First of all, Jack Hunter actually makes intelligent use of technology – he takes pictures of things and uploads them onto his laptop, instead of relying on the physical copies that always manage to either get stolen or broken. The other thing this episode did that I thought was surprisingly well-done was the music. Very rarely does a movie on SyFy Channel make me remark on how fitting the music is, at it tends to be fairly rote and uninspired. Maybe I’m a sucker for the large, open orchestral style, but I found myself pleasantly surprised, at multiple parts of the episode, by how good the music was. Too bad that doesn’t happen more often…
So where does all that leave us for this, the first part of the legendary tale of Jack Hunter? Well, it leaves us more or less where we’d guess we’d end up just based off the premise – with a predictable Indiana Jones rip-off, right down to the hat. I know it goes without saying, but Harrison Ford did it better.
Finally, on a serious note, given where I went to college I would be betraying my alma mater if I didn’t comment on this point. The below images are clearly remarkably similar, but with one glaring difference – the female co-star has been taken out of the one on the right. I don’t know why that change was made or how extensively each was used to advertise the episode, but it strikes me as a pointless devaluation of the female role in this miniseries, and I can’t imagine a situation where such a change would be desirable. It’s not as though she was cropped out of the image to make it fit a smaller area – I can only guess that she was deliberately taken out of the right-hand poster to help focus more attention on the hero. (We here at Jumping Sharks don’t intend on preaching to our audience too often, but this, to us, seemed too blatant to not at least mention.)