Sunday, June 15, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Disappointing Cracked Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - Steven Spielberg - 2008 - 4/10

I cant quite figure out if writing this review is really even close to worth it. I had enough Indiana Jones type hurdles of my own that stood in the way of me finally posting this: writing SaltyStix articles, studying for a test, general laziness…lots of things. But I decided that per Spielberg and Lucas’ dues ex machina of Indy, I had to find some unnatural power to finish the review.

The first thing that comes to mind is that the film was soo disappointing it was almost sad. I felt like crying. Sure I knew what Lucas does to sacred trilogies (defiles them) but I thought Spielberg’s directing and another writer would balance old George out. FALSE. Instead the movie is full of Lucas’ overindulgence – unnecessary special effects. While this movie just has monkeys to compare to Jar Jar, it still makes me wince – especially because the first movies did not seem to be cluttered with Lucas’ ILM crap. Jar Jar was annoying but by the end of the trilogy you saw the point of him – what was the need to swing from the vines? Or survive a nuclear blast?

Perhaps the movie was doomed from the start with the absence of Denholm Elliot (who unfortunately passed away in 1992) and Sean Connery (who stubbornly maintained he was ‘retired’). To fill the gaping hole of Elliot’s Dr. Marcus Brody the film inserts another character designed for comic relief: Ray Winstone. Winstone’s character is supposed to have this deep relationship with Indy which is supposed to yield deep humor as well as clever plot twists but fails in both because he is just too brand spanking new to the franchise. To make up for the comedy of Connery-Ford they try for Ford-LeBeuf and almost succeed but LeBeuf’s character is just so ridiculous.

The largest problem for me is more conceptual in that the movie moved away from the religious occult (the arch, pagan religions, and the grail) and into well, something else. Maybe they needed a new frontier and I understand that what they chose was based on 50’s era pulp-themed movies that they loved. I get that. It still sucked. The religious occult had a different feel to it as well as more history and more lore that gives an ephemeral feel. What we’re left with here seems forced and feels like you’re watching bad Sci-Fi reruns again. Chalk up that the “puzzles” and “clues” as well as the “answers” are dangerously close to modern pretenders like National Treasure and the like, and Indy quickly loses his mystique.

What helped saved the movie was Karen Allen’s character. I hope that isn’t really a spoiler because she IS in the movie. Once she hit the screen the Indy charm and humor seemed to replace the old-tired-act Harrison was sleepwalking through. Combined with the action in the last hour, the last half really shapes up to be pretty good. I will say that the story timeline liberties Spielberg and Lucas pulled a long time ago damaged the franchise here. Not many know that Temple of Doom was made as a prequel to Raiders which was then followed by Last Crusade. So events that happened in Raiders, say, socially, are not that far removed from Crystal Skull.

The best thing Spielberg and Lucas did was pay homage to the first part of the series with references to Raiders in the opening scene and good throwbacks to the value of Indy’s hat from nuclear explosions to chapels including some scenes that might have people thinking if “Mutt Williams” is going to take over the franchise.

I’ll close with the three things this movie needed to be really good – to give Last Crusade a run for it’s money. First, a younger Harrison Ford – which was quite possible if it hadn’t been for Lucas’ constant screen revisions and stubborn refusal to accept earlier story send ups – we’re talking a good seven to ten years here – Air Force One Harrison Ford instead of, well, Crystal Skull Harrison Ford. Second, the appearance of Sean Connery – which again, was possible if the film had been made earlier. It is curious that Connery’s part – supposedly a small cameo is SO small that Connery must have really thought the script was crap. Third, no CGI bullshit – this would probably have changed the whole opening scene and made the film a hell of a lot better. Maybe given us a classic intro where Indy is in the field looking for some treasure and bam! Cate Blanchett swoops in. But alas, no such luck.

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