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Havasupai in Next

What do Nicolas Cage, foreign terrorists, and Havasupai Indians have in common? They all appear in the 2007 thriller Next.

Next stars Cage as a man who can see two minutes into the future. What's interesting here isn't the whole movie but rather a key scene featuring the Havasupai.

Amazingly, this is one of the few major motion pictures to get today's Indians right. We haven't seen Hollywood portray 21st century Indians accurately since, I dunno, maybe Graham Greene's turn in Transamerica (2005).

What happens in Next
Here's the basic plot:

DVD Reviews

Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) earns his living with a seedy Las Vegas magic act, but his ability to see a few minutes into the future is authentic. Government agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) knows this, and relentlessly recruits him to help thwart a terrorist group from detonating a nuclear bomb in the heart of Los Angles. Torn between protecting the woman he loves and his resistance to being exploited by the FBI, will the reluctant hero join the desperate race against the clock daring to see what's Next?

Cris flees Las Vegas with Liz (Jessica Biel) with the FBI and the terrorists in pursuit. She stops at the Grand Canyon to visit the Havasupai reservation, where she teaches one day a week they pass by a ramshackle stable and corral where Indians offer trail rides, walk down a trail overlooking a pool and waterfall, and emerge at the bottom. The following dialogue ensues:

LIZ:  Havasupai Reservation. I teach here once a week. The conditions are pretty lousy.

CRIS:  But it's in the Canyon, one of the eight wonders of the world.

LIZ [to an Indian]:  Hi, Sam.

INDIAN:  Hi, Liz.

LIZ:  Well, a couple hundred years ago, this tribe was booming. Plenty of food and a thriving culture. They should be better off. But I guess this was just their destiny.

CRIS:  I'd like to meet their shaman. I read once that in many North American tribes, their shaman's purpose wasn't only healing, but they also claim to have power over the atmosphere. To bring on or stop rain. Even know future events. Do you think that's possible?

LIZ:  Well, I believe anything is possible.

CRIS:  Me, too.

At the bottom, we see people cavorting in the blue-green waters, low buildings (perhaps a school and a store), and a group of teens. Eight or nine kids gather around Liz to welcome her. She's there to give one of the boys a birthday present.

They teach her a few words of their language. A girl remarks that Cris is looking at Liz like her sister's boyfriend looks at her sister. Liz becomes aware of the growing attraction between them.

What a concept: showing Indians when you pass by an Indian reservation. Weaving Indians into the fabric of mainstream America. Other than a National Geographic special, this is the first time the Havasupai have appeared in a major motion picture, and it's about time.

Short as it is, the scene does an excellent job of encapsulating the Indian experience. Indian cultures were vibrant, but they suffered with the white man's arrival, and they're still suffering. But rather than wallow in poverty, the scene shows the natural beauty the Havasupai possess. More important, it portrays the Havasupai children as bright-eyed and inquisitive. If they're mired in poverty, they don't seem to know it. They seem about as lively and hopeful as children everywhere.

Behind the scene
A featurette on the DVD titled "The Next 'Grand Idea'" explains how this scene came about. Producer Arne Schmidt (no relation) thought the movie was too action-heavy and needed more romance. Cage suggested the Havasupai reservation. He had been there three times before and had taken his wife there on their first date. "And I met all these wonderful Indians and it was the most beautiful place on earth I'd ever been," he said in the featurette.

Like most people, Schmidt had never heard of it, but he agreed to give it a try. The producers flew the entire crew in by helicopter and spent a day or two filming there.

Schmidt gives some insight into how Next isn't a character-driven film—how the characters were fleshed out at the last minute—as he describes how Liz became a Havasupai teacher:

We were wondering what kind of, you know, woman she was, what she did for a living. It evolved through many different permutations, from, you know, working in a bar, or a strip club and all kinds of things. But it didn't seem appropriate for Jessica, so we went with this instead.

You gotta love that Hollywood mentality. What else would a sexy young actress who functions as a damsel in distress be except a bar girl or a stripper? Schmidt continues:

We felt like we needed something, you know, kind of magical that they could experience together in order to really develop the romance of it. And it's one of the most beautiful places I'd ever seen. This waterfall, you know...never even knew it existed. It's beautiful, you know, green water from the limestone that's leached out into the water from these cliffs.

Schmidt talks further about his experiences with the Havasupai:

It's very remote, it's off the rim of the Grand Canyon. It's so remote that this Havasupai Reservation has been kind of isolated from the world in some ways. They're all inexperienced in terms of working around a movie set.

You know, even though it's remote, the satellite TV works. And in fact, when we were there last time, they said that they knew that he [Cage] had just bought an island in the Bahamas. Well, news travels fast, because that had only happened, you know, like a week prior to.

But they do know him. And, you know, one of the ladies there named her newborn son after him. And, you know, they like him very much.

Cage also talks about the Havasupai:

I had a nice relationship with these people. And I thought no one's ever really seen this area, this gorgeous waterfall and these fantastic rocks. And so the place itself has a personal importance to me, but it's also something I wanted to share with audiences to see how beautiful this place is, when you consider it's right in our own backyard and most people don't know about it.

Well, there's a reason most people don't know the Havasupai. It's not necessarily because they prefer to remain ignorant about Indians. More likely, it's because hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon takes several hours, not the few minutes shown in the movie. It's unlikely Liz would stop to deliver something if it meant a minimum of an eight- or ten-hour delay.

Alas, even movie featurettes distort reality. In reality, you tramp eight miles (2.5 hours) down a trail to a village with a general store. It's another two-mile slog along a sandy path (1.5 hours) to the campsite where Havasu Falls is. Returning uphill obviously takes more time—perhaps six hours. You'll feel very tired and sore if you try to hike in and out in a single day.

Perhaps wisely, the Havasupai have avoided "going Hollywood." They gave permission for Next to film on their rez only because of Cage's clout. If you're not Nicolas Cage with a fleet of helicopters at your disposal, don't plan on shooting your film there.

The featurette concludes with Cage dancing in a circle with Miss Havasupai and Lil Miss Havasupai, then posing for a picture with them.

The rest of the movie
The first third of Next is promising. Unfortunately, the movie starts going downhill soon after the Havasupai scene. As the review put it:

[I]t's when screenwriter Goldman ups the ante of Cris seeing into the future in more complex ways that things get hard to swallow. This was too much for me; it seemed to abuse the premise and his delicate gift. Near the end, Cris stakes out an area set with bombs and ... well, that would be a spoiler. Let's just say that the climax seems a little cartoonish.

The film bulldozes toward an outrageous ending, but admittedly is still interesting. I'm a bit of a sucker for great action sequences, gunfire and awesome explosions; they were very enjoyable. A little seeing-two-minutes-into-the-future can go a long way if it remained that simple, but the film goes a bit crazy with this notion and deflated my willing suspension of disbelief.

"Things get hard to swallow" because the creators can't quite decide how Cris's power works. He can "see" what a sniper 500 yards away is doing, but not a woman in the next room. He can see only two minutes ahead except where Liz is involved, in which case he can see hours or days ahead. This loophole lets the creators "cheat" for the rest of the movie.

Perhaps Next's biggest problem is that the FBI and the terrorists have no reason to chase Cris. They barely understand how his power works, but they know it's limited to two minutes. Suppose the FBI puts him in the danger zone and asks him to foresee a nuclear explosion. What are they going to do with a two-minute warning: say their prayers? It would take them an hour to get anywhere in Los Angeles and another hour to find and deactivate the bomb. In the meantime, kaboom!

Clearly, Next exists primarily for its action sequences. But these sequences are only good, not great. They feel a little forced and look a little artificial, as CGI often does. (You can pretty much see them all in the trailer.)

Worse, the ending is contrived and unsatisfying. All in all, it's a typical Nicolas Cage action flick. Rob's rating: 7.0 of 10.

P.S. To view some Havasupai scenery, go to Havasu Falls Pictures. For more of Cage talking about the Havasupai, see Nicolas Cage Convinces Indian Tribe to Shoot Next.

More on Next
Havasupai tourist spot closed
How Cris's power works:  "He can apparently flash-forward for two whole minutes in an instant."

Related links
The best Indian movies

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2008 by Robert Schmidt.

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