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Friday, May 23, 2008

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008) - Steven Spielberg

In the history of cinema, there are few film characters as iconic as Indiana Jones. His hat and whip alone are enough for most people to instantly recognise the character in question. He is the genius creation of George Lucas, directed brilliantly by Steven Spielberg and brought to life by Harrison Ford. Like many of my friends, I’ve grown up with the character and he’ll always be the quintessential hero to me and my friends. And after nineteen years of anticipation, we are given one more (and possibly not the last, never say never) adventure featuring the brilliant archaeologist. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

It’s 1957. Nineteen years since Indiana Jones and his father rode out of the desert after defeating the Nazis’ attempt to get their mitts on the Holy Grail. A group of Russian soldiers break into a secret American military storage facility and force Indy to find the location of a box containing a mummy. Indy manages to escape but not without stopping the Russians who are under the command of a Russian military scientist with a penchant for the paranormal. Later on, Indy is contacted by a young man named Mutt Williams. Mutt needs Indy’s help to rescue his friend, an old colleague of Indy’s named Professor Oxley. It is Williams’ mother, Marian who suggested he seek out Indiana Jones. So Indy and Williams head for Peru to find out what happened to Oxley.



So, almost two decades after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we’ve finally been given the sequel many of us thought we’d never see. Harrison Ford’s in his sixties, something that could present a bit of a problem considering the Indiana Jones films are action films. However, Lucas, Spielberg and Ford decided to use this as an advantage rather than a hindrance. So we have old Indy. In a play on the line from Raiders of the Lost Ark, ‘it’s the years, not the mileage.’ But is the film a success? With a franchise this beloved, there was a real fear that after so long, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull might be to Indiana Jones what The Phantom Menace is to Star Wars. The good news is, it’s no Phantom Menace. The bad news is, it’s no Raiders. Or Crusade. Or even Temple Of Doom.

The first thing I thought as the credits rolled on The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull was how much of a mixed bag it is. There are some moments in the film that are absolutely akin to what we know and love of the other three films. The opening salvo, the inevitable action sequence that draws you into an Indiana Jones film is as good as the previous films. While Ford definitely looks older, and moves a little bit slower, the action sequence in the military base is brilliant. It really recaptures the feeling of the previous films. After this sequence, I found myself grinning immensely at what I was watching. As the action was moved to Indy’s Marshall College, I felt the old pang of nostalgia for the old movies. Yet as the film progressed from here, the smile began to wane a bit. When the action moves to Peru, it’s here that the film’s major weaknesses takes hold.



The first major weakness of the film is David Koepp’s script. Koepp stated that he wanted to create an Indiana Jones script that wasn’t filled with obvious references. A film that was a mix of the comedy/adventure from Raiders, less dark than Temple Of Doom and less jokey than The Last Crusade. Setting the film in the 1950’s would move the film away from the 1940’s serials-influenced style of the previous films and more into the red-scare sci-fi adventures of the 1950’s. Unfortunately, by doing this, Koepp has fooled around with Indiana Jones too much. As a sequel to The Last Crusade, some of the story elements (without going into too much spoiler detail) are quite logical and don’t seem out of place. But by striving to make the film some-what of an homage to the 1950’s films, this is where it falls flat. It’s almost legend at this stage that George Lucas rejected Frank Darabont’s Indiana Jones script. I really hope we get to read that script someday. Because I’d bet quite a lot that it’s far superior to Koepp’s script.

The MacGuffin, the artefact that Indy is striving to get his hands on just doesn’t hold up to the previous films. There’s no sense of urgency about the crystal skulls. In one way, I thought it might have been due to the fact that the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail are biblical artefacts. However, even the Sankara Stones (and essentially, it’s the village children who are the MacGuffin in The Temple of Doom) have more of an impact. The Crystal Skull just doesn’t seem to be exciting enough of an artefact. And by losing this sense of urgency, the excitement is somewhat killed in The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. By the time the climax of the film comes about, there’s little to the proceedings that really excites. It all just seems a little TOO far-fetched. I know that sounds like a ridiculous complaint considering the subject matter, but there was just something a little more grounded in reality about the previous artefacts. The Crystal Skull requires a leap of faith that’s just too much.



The other major problem with the film is that there is way too much of a George Lucas influence on the film. Far be it from me to criticise the man. He’s an incredibly successful business man. Without him, there would be no Indiana Jones at all. But as we have seen in the Star Wars prequels, some of his decisions when it comes to his films leave a lot to be desired. And unfortunately for Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, there are moments that have his fingerprints all over them. There are some completely unnecessary cutesy animal moments that had me shaking my head in disbelief. These stood out like a sore thumb and did not belong in an Indiana Jones film.

The action sequences are staged very impressively. As I’ve mentioned, the sequence in the storage facility is particularly impressive. The chase in Marshall College is very entertaining. But the main showcase of the film, the chase in the rainforest, while impressive, again, doesn’t feel like it belongs in an Indiana Jones film. It attempts to replicate some of the great chase sequences from the previous films, but ups the ante too much. Everyone seems to be a superhero in it. And amazingly, after a short burst of action at the beginning, Indy takes a back seat for the rest of the sequence. The focus shifts to Mutt Williams as he swash-buckles, and leaps between the chasing vehicles. And in one stunningly ill-conceived moment, swings from the trees like Tarzan. It’s this one moment that really took me out of the illusion that I was watching an Indiana Jones film. I understand the purpose of that sequence was to hark back to the Tarzan films of the 50’s, but it’s such a bad idea, it’s so out of place that I’m still astonished it was put into the film. The climax of the film, the inevitable moment where the villain succumbs to their greed is also quite disappointing. It’s a CGI-fest and a little over the top. I’m all for progressing the technology of film, but at this moment, I really missed the stop-motion moments from Raiders and Crusade. Don’t get me wrong, Steven Spielberg is the greatest of all popcorn directors. But there’s just something lacking here.



Harrison Ford steps back into role of Indiana Jones and is quite successful, at moments. While he’s older and a little bit slower, there’s still a sparkle in the eye, and a wry grin at the appropriate moments. But then, there are problems with the script that affect the character too. For some reason in the film, Indiana Jones is rarely referred to as Indiana Jones. He seems to insist (as does everyone else) on calling himself Henry. I seem to recall a line in The Last Crusade that went ‘I like Indiana.’ And so do I. Yet he’s rarely referred to as such, and it’s quite unsettling. Another thing missing from the film is the sexual tension between Indy and his leading lady. Cate Blanchett plays Irina Spalko, the Russian agent. But the opportunity to have something between herself and Indy is missed. And it’s a wasted opportunity considering Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood turns up. There could have been a great competitive subplot going on between the two women, but again, a lost opportunity.

Many balked at the fact that Shia LaBeouf was cast in the film. But I have to say, he’s one of the stronger elements of the film. He fits in quite well within the canon of Indiana Jones, and the way they’ve switched the relationship elements that existed between Ford and Connery in The Last Crusade works very well. It’s quite obvious that Lucas and Spielberg are setting Mutt Williams up as a new adventurer. And while that’s perfectly fine, it does distract attention away from Indy, which is a damn shame.

It saddens me to be disappointed in an Indiana Jones film. But as the credits rolled, I found myself willing the disappointment out of me. But it remains. There are some brilliant moments in Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Some quite authentic Indiana Jones moments. But they’re not moments that will stand out compared to the previous films. There’s no shooting the swordsman moment. There’s no melting faces and exploding heads. There’s no rope-bridge stand-off. There’s no brilliantly played out father-son one-upmanship. And there’s no rapid aging showdown. There is some very sweet action sequences, and Ford does have flashes of the old Indy. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is a decent action film. But it’s not a very good Indiana Jones film. And that’s the real disappointment.


6/10

14 comments:

Bla said...

In my opinion the movie is worthy & enjoyable; it deserves at least 7.5/10 and comes on third place in my personal "Indy Movies" chart. :)

Darren said...

A good review. I'd agree with pretty much all of it. The Lucas influenced CG in the forest chase scene was truly awful, and I don't think the film ever really recovered after that.

teehanwolf said...

pete, i'm sure we'll talk about this between ourselves for a while now, but having spent a day thinking about it, the film fails for the same reasons that die hard 4 fails. indy is no longer the ordinary man making things up as he goes, he's now a superhero and the script wasnt strong enough.

Peter Slattery said...

Teehan, I'd agree with you that he is a 'superman' apart from one major factor. Apart from the initial sequence in the facility, Indy does nothing. He rides as a passanger on a motorcycle. He drives a car-boat. And he fights a Russian. Apart from that, the action is left to LeBoeuf. I'm telling you, this film was less an Indy film as it was a 'let's set up Shia as the next Indy' film.

Marin Mandir said...

Amazing, epic review. I haven't seen the film yet, but intend to do soon. They way you put it, I already now see it will have problems. I just hope it's fun and ironic enough to support some of it's over-the-top moments.

J Luis Rivera said...

I agree with the "too much Shia, not enough Indy" idea, that thing, while not really bad, brought the film down for me.

But I guess I liked it a bit (just a bit) more than you did

Moondog said...

Alright Pete!
Excellent, thorough and balanced review. I find myself in agreement with you at almost every turn. Must disagree on one or two points though.-Spoilers Below-
I thought the chase scene in the jungle was excellent, Indiana Jones through and through. Putting the annoying mutt-swing aside, it once again demonstrated to me how much of an old-skool master Spielberg is of this kind of sequence, ramping the tension(certainly a little diminished from previous Jones outings it has to be said) and action up scene by scene, with nary a jump-cut or shaky-cam shot in sight. Its certainly no truck chase from raiders, or even a tank chase from crusade, but it DID feel like Indiana Jones to me. No, Indy didn't feature quite enough in this piece, but it still throughly entertained in my opinion, ESPECIALLY the ants.
My absolute favourite element of the movie: Harrison Ford showed up. I thought he was excellent throughout, albeit definitely not given enough to do at times. He didn't miss a beat for me, and that was my major fear stepping into the theatre. I admit there may be a real element of rose-tinted glasses as a result of this for me, in that I'm loathe to over-criticise the film purely because it really had Indiana Jones in it.
You say you have a problem with the use of the name 'Henry Jones Jr' being used throughout as opposed to 'Indiana Jones'. There's definitely an element of truth to this, but I can't actually think of Indy referring to HIMSELF as Henry at all, only the other characters. The characters who insist on calling him 'Henry' are predominently archaeological peers, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent etc. Blanchett's character refres to him always as Dr. Jones, I've certainly no problem with this. Mac calls him 'Jonesy' throughout, again, fine by me. Marion ALWAYS refers to him as Indy, or Indiana. And mutt just calls him 'Old Man' or some such. I thought the 'What kind of name is Mutt? It's the one I chose' interplay beautifully echoed the 'I like Indiana' piece from Crusade. So this criticism falls somewhat flat for me.
I agree that Karen Allen recedes performance and usefulness-wise as the movie goes on, but I'm still delighted she's here.
Shia LeBeouf was outstanding I thought, I've loved him in everything I've seen him in, and my favourite parts of the movie were the banter and interplay between he and Ford. Brilliant, worthy material. Unfortunately, as you've pointed out, the script was the biggest letdown in the movie, moreso in plot than dialougue though I'd have to say. There were definitely plenty of great lines in there, - 'they all had the same problem... they weren't you honey'.
My personal biggest problem with the movie was the whole last third. The ending was a tad boring, with no immediecy or danger levels. It just all got resolved. Nowhere near enough Indy. They went too far with introducing an actual alien when they could've left the macguffin at the 'are these ACTUAL alien skulls?' stage and it would've been so much more effective.
That said, I loved the very last scene of the movie. I'm a total sucker for all of the father/son stuff, and as I said before, these elements made the movie for me. All of the standout moments for me revolved around these elements, besides the warehouse scene, and I guess that this shows why I could never rank this movie up there with the original trilogy. Was I disappointed? At times. Those fucking groundhogs totally took me out of it and made me want to shoot Lucas. Were there parts I loved?
Absolutely. I can thing of about five times I had that silly big grin on my face. Indy was back. He just wasn't quite as cool as before.
Seven out of Ten in my book.

Moondog said...

One other point Peter:
You say "Apart from the initial sequence in the facility, Indy does nothing. He rides as a passanger on a motorcycle. He drives a car-boat. And he fights a Russian. Apart from that, the action is left to LeBoeuf"
I certainly disagree here. During the motorcycle chase, Mutt is simply the driver. Indy takes out the chasing car full of thugs(LOVE where he leaves the bike, gets pulled into the car, deals with the bad guys and then gets back on the bike through the opposite window of the car-pure indy). I love the 'mutt grins and looks to indy for approval, only to be met by a disapproving father' piece they cloned from Last Crusade. Again, pure Indy.
Again, in the jungle chase Indy fights the duck full of soldiers before he gets to drive it, but I do agree he takes a bit too much of a back seat during this set-piece. Didn't diminish my enjoyment of it though.
I loved the awe in Mutts eyes after Indy takes out the blowpipe wielding native at the graveyard and saves him. It was pure total respect for his father.
And I loved the fight between Indy and the big russian dude amongst the ants. Again, didn't reach the heights of the Pat Roach fistfights from Raiders and Doom, but it was definitely Indiana Jones.
Again, the biggest problem for me with the movie was that while it had plenty of monents that definitely qualified as real Indiana Jones worthy material, none of them ever reached the heights of the previous movies.
Am I happy with what I got though? Hell yeah.
I can't stand the naysayer moany-hole feckers who need to bitch about every little thing that wasn't note-perfect. Would they rather have never seen Indy on screen again? The answer for me is a resounding no. Its the first time in so many years(besides maybe during The Incredibles) that the boyish wonder was back in my heart that little bit in a movie theatre. And I know when I show my own li'l Henry Jones Jr. these movies when he's old enough that there'll be four chapters on the shelf, not three.
Indy's back goddamnit, and I'm absolutely delighted.

Peter Slattery said...

You make some very valid points, Steve. It's a very difficult film to review, to be honest. I mean, first and foremost, it is an Indiana Jones film. Whatever criticisms I've made of the film, it's still got the elements that make it Indiana Jones, and for that, it will always be streets ahead of every other adventure film. There are some plot points that are logical next steps after Crusade, and these things I can forgive. Some people criticised the Mutt Williams being Indy's son aspect of the film, but I have no problem with that, and I thought Shia (while no River Phoenix, who's small part in Crusade was so close to Harrison Ford that it saddens me to think how much of a loss to the saga Phoenix is) was excellent as Mutt Williams (possibly Mutt Jones next?!)
I do think the film stopped being Indiana Jones for me after the flight to Peru sequence. The sequence in the facility and the bike chase were excellent (I think I was a little hasty saying Jones did nothing in the later) and real Jones fare. Indy made mistakes (Damn, I thought that was closer) and was human. Yet once in Peru, everybody becomes superhuman. There's just no consequence to what's going on. In Raiders, Indy was really suffering by the time they got to Katenga's ship. In Doom, look at Indy's face when he pulls himself up onto the cliff after defeating Mola Ram. In Crusade he's exhausted and dishevelled after the tank chase. Yet in Kingdom, we have the chase, the ants (which I did like, even if they were CGI... you just cant replace the discomfort you feel when you see Indy surrounded by real snakes, bugs and rats) and then the three waterfall bit. Is anyone killed, injured, or even out of breath after all this? Not a bit. And that's why that all fails for me. Watch Indy get punched in his shot arm when he's trying to take the truck carrying the Ark in Raiders. He's in a LOT of pain. He's human. We suffer with him.

But at the end of the day, the 6 I gave it was a 6 compared to the other Indy films. Compared to the likes of Die Hard 4 or the likes, it's still streets ahead and would get maybe an 8 or even a 9. But it's impossible to judge it as a stand-alone film. The Indy saga's just too big to remove Kingdom from the other films. And that's why I gave it a six.

Moondog said...

Fair enough Pete, I certainly have no argument against the 'superhuman' factor. I went again with Jackie last night and indeed I did find myself wishing that there was some REAL peril somewhere, maybe kill one of the secondary characters(make INDY have to figure out the last riddle without Ox for example) during the '3 times it drops' sequence. For a frail old man, Ox sure is a survivor. Although that said, he did great work with the crappy little role he got. You're right when you say the film was seriously lacking in human consequence, everybody was far too energetic all the way through.
That said, I can now say I love the first half of the film, all the way up til the third act. Then it steeply drops off. But again, if its this or nothing, by jaysis I'll take it.

Peter Slattery said...

Cant argue with this or nothing. I'd never erase it from my memory or anything. And it will find a comfortable place alongside Raiders, Temple, Crusade and Young on my DVD shelf.

galvinator said...

I agree with Pete, get the DeLorean out, go back a couple of years, burst Lucas and lets just go with the Darabont script, because how often does a guy NOT have to fuck up a film to get Lucas's approval (Okay maybe The Majestic didn't rake in the cash, but that was only because Carrey was miscast by studio execs, I still think it's a quality Capra-esque movie, just the audience didn't buy it). Only thing I'll say in Lucas's defence is I really liked the gophers! Absolute comedy farking gold. If I could change a couple of things about the movie I would have swapped Blanchett and Winstone. Winstone would have been a better out and out villain, and Indy could have played a bit of sidekick-shag-antics with Blanchett until the old hag showed back up... I heard someone say she hadn't aged a day..... wanker! I'll say no more (Should've gotten Joan Allen, remember leavin the last two Bourne movies and thinkin about that scenario ... oh yeah!) Another thing I'd change is that thing Lucas said a couple of years ago, that if it went beyond 2008 he wouldn't go near another Indiana Jones Film, they should have made that 2007/6/5/4/ look any earlier they should just have left it. Good news is the Batman movie is only on it's second Christopher Nolan outing, so he has another great one to go even after this. I just hope they don't do anything more with Bourne.
I'll finish with a rhyme;
"Leave a trilogy be,
It was only meant for three (Lucas - destroyer hopes and everything's your fault - especially the middle east, Iraq, the oil crisis, I hear the millenium Falcon couldn't be introduced in the prequels showing it doing the kessel run in less than twelve parsecs because lucas had put the price of oil barrels up to make more Jar -Jar toys )"
I can talk seriously about this too, but that'd be ridiculous. Roll on Batman!
Mooney the only thing you should've been worried about was walkin into the theatre dressed like an eejit! At least buy a plastic cap gun to throw into the holster man!

Moondog said...

Galvin, if I had to worry about lookin like an eejit every time I walked into a place then I could never leave the goddamn house.

Fran Johnston said...

listen lads, it was the phantom menace of the indy universe. lucas' chunky fingers were obviusly shoved right up speilberg's ass in a bosco-esque fashion on this one. I'm surprised the aliens weren't jar jar binks lookalikes! bottom line,
IT WAS SHIT! GET OVER IT!