Sunday, May 25, 2008


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

I usually despise it when reviewers give their life story or some ridiculous anecdote before diving into a movie review, making it seem like the movie in question is somehow an integral part of their childhood or filling in a missing gap to their adulthood. It’s tedious and annoying and most people just want to know if you liked it or not.

I’m gonna be a little annoying, so stay with me for a sec and I’ll get to the point.

I love the first three Indiana Jones movies and I honestly cannot tell you which one I like best. Like many others who have grown up with the whip-cracking archaeologist, I have come to appreciate the films to a quotable level.

The talk of producing a fourth Indiana Jones movie has been in the pipeline since “Last Crusade” was in theaters and with the internet it has turned into a full on gossip spreading machine. Much like Star Wars Episode One, with so much time between films and so many fans salivating over reliving their childhood memories, the gap in time leaves a lot to be desired.

As the guys that will ultimately make the film kick around ideas, the fans are left to their own devices, each with their own interpretation and vision of what the movie should be. This leads to a sense of ownership, the most annoying new trend in sequels and franchises. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t have an opinion. They should and are entitled to it.

However, unless they’re willing to brush up on their writing, producing, and directing skills and throw their name in the hat, then perhaps it’s time to sit back and let the filmmakers work.

Most recently, with the announcement of Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) directing TWO films based on “The Hobbit,” carrying on the Lord of the Rings franchise with an earlier story, the fans have already begun their incessant ramblings and nit picking about every little detail.

Does nobody want to be surprised anymore?

And I’m one of the worst. Before you can say hypocrite, I am definitely guilty of the greatest fanboy sin of all time, which is spoilers. I have spoiled nearly every movie for the last five or six years thanks to the internet, but, in the last few, have stopped, letting the movie work its magic (or lack thereof) and enjoyed my experiences at the theater much more.

Having said all that, I was very excited and interested to see the new Dr. Jones movie. My hopes and expectations were simply for more of the same, but with obviously more advanced filmmaking technique, given that it’s been nineteen years since “Last Crusade.”

I actually saw “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” twice this weekend, which gave me time to reflect on the good and the bad in more detail.

Ultimately though, I thought it was great. Yup, you heard me right. It felt like Indiana Jones, it moved like Indiana Jones, and it sounded like Indiana Jones. Does it have its flaws? Absolutely.

The film opens with Indiana kidnapped and being taken to area 51 in the Nevada desert. His captors, a sect of the Russian military, are led by Irina, a psychic-powered, sword-wielding villainess, played by Cate Blanchett. Irina is searching for the remains of something or someone and needs Indy to help locate them inside a massive government storehouse, filled with wooden boxes (a la “Raiders”).

Irina, much like the Nazis in the previous films, is after the power which resides in such objects, furthering her country's (then) goal of world domination.

After finding the box and Indy’s inevitable escape, the film kicks off on a journey to find a legendary Crystal Skull and return it to its rightful place (much like the magic stones in “Temple”). Indy is investigated by the FBI after his escape (and notable betrayal by his partner, played by Ray Winstone) and accused of being a Russian spy. We are given a snippet of Indy’s war hero persona (Colonel Jones) which I thought was an interesting touch.

The FBI investigation forces Indy to be fired from his professor job, which propels him to head to New York, but not before being intercepted by Mutt, a motorcycle riding “greaser” played by Shia Lebouf.

Here, we have a bit of role reversal along the lines of “Last Crusade,” with the young and old, father/son dynamic taking place. Shia is his usual charming and convincing self, which is just fine for this. Since his breakout in “Disturbia” he has become an actor that has been fun and interesting to watch.

Mutt has a map and a kidnapped mom and a mission to get her back. Indy just got fired and is being chased by Russian spies. No reason not to help the kid out.

And so begins their adventure. A fun little motorcycle chase through academe, some grave digging, corpse robbing, and the usual map overlay flight sequences lead Indy and Mutt to the Amazon, where the skull is to be taken.

Here we see Indy’s old flame (and Mutt’s mom) Marion, played once again by Karen Allen. She comes in a little late in the movie and I understand why they did it, but it does feel awkward. However, I was able to get over it easily.

What follows is a crazy chase through the jungle, with a battle royale from truck to truck, featuring shoot-outs, sword fights, fist fights, and…jungle vine swinging?

It’s a Saturday Morning Serial like you’ve never seen and keeps with the tradition of wacky action sequences from the other films. I think what some of the more stern critics of the movie may disagree with is the use of CGI which was still in its pupa stage when “Last Crusade” was made.

Either way, I enjoyed the hell out of the sequence, right up to the ant hills and Indy’s brawl with the Russian Colonel. It was cool to see Indiana Jones duke it out and beat some ass with nothing more than his fists. No matter how old he gets, Jones has still got it, a theme which sticks to the end credits.

The grand finale is a little weak for me, but still interesting. I don’t have a problem with the alien aspect of the film. The truth is aliens or otherworldly beings are plastered throughout history so it makes sense that an archaeologist would investigate or get wrapped up in such a thing, especially Indiana Jones.

The last scene of the film, which I won’t give away, is a perfect fit for the film and by no means closes the door on Dr. Jones and his adventures. If anything it opens them back up, letting us know that he’s back and isn’t quite ready to pass the torch completely.

Now, what seems to be happening in most of the reviews I read is nit-picking. As I explained earlier, I think that nineteen years has created an Indiana Jones movie in most die-hard fan’s minds that could never be achieved to their standards in any way.

However, I will chime in with my two cents on a few things I felt were lacking. The most notable thing that bothered me was the feeling that there wasn’t the usual sense of dread and urgency to the mission at hand. The stakes didn’t seem high enough for Indiana Jones on this one.

Thus far, two of the Indiana Jones films have covered Religious artifacts and one of them some magic stones. Now, we have a magical crystal skull. In each of those, a sense of urgency to stop someone evil from taking control of said item and beating them to the punch or simply getting the item for himself, was most prevalent.

The nerve-racking tension built throughout as you pulled for Indy to get there first, to save the day, and quite simply, for him to win. In Crystal Skull, Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones again and it’s great to have him back, however the usual shock and surprise at every turn doesn’t seem to be as prevalent as before.

Perhaps it’s the age issue, as we all know he’s been there and seen this shit again and again. This doesn’t stop the movie from being fun and adventurous or even suspenseful, I just didn’t get the feeling that if Indy didn’t save the day then the world would be screwed. It seemed more along the lines of Indy doing this one for charity. He’s just using his mighty skills to help out on this one.

I think, for me personally, I would’ve liked to have seen that one scene with the slow push in to Indy’s face to reveal that sadistic smile and obsessed eyes look as he comes to a revelation or holds an artifact in his hands. But, that’s just me being nit-picky.

I won’t rip on characters either, because the ones that needed fleshing out were good enough. I mean, c’mon, how much did we learn about Short Round or Willie Scott or even Sallah? The characters in these films are traditionally defined by their actions and that’s just fine for this type of film.

There seems to be an almost “presidential nominee” divide amongst people on this one…You love it or hate it. I know many fans and even friends whose opinions I trust and value who did not enjoy this film at all. For me, “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” embodied the original intent from George Lucas when the series was started, which was a throwback to the Saturday morning adventure serials shown in theaters long before my time.

It seems, for me, that it’s a pretty good start to the summer movie season and I hope it continues. Possibly a contributing factor is that last year I was watching second string bootlegs of summer movies in the worst possible quality under the worst possible conditions…

My biggest problem with the franchise at this point is that they won’t wait another nineteen years to make another one. I’m ready for more.

Movie Grade: A-


Zaki said...

As always, great review, though our thoughts didn't entire synch up:

agent y said...

It was better than I was anticipating. The ant scene...friggin sweet! I came home and told my ant farm about it and they are ANTicipating the DVD release:)