Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull


If you've yet to see this film and wouldn't like to know the particulars, then don't read on.

Wednesday May 21st I and a group of friends decided to bring in Indiana Jones Day (the 22nd, technically) the proper way: we sat down and watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade back to back and in that order (Temple of Doom first, we said, so that it wouldn't matter if you were late). These movies, well the latter two at least, are simply phenomenal, and they do not get old. This was a good decision and made for a wonderful day.

Indiana Jones Day arrived at midnight as all days do, except for the accompanying midnight movie premiere. This was a bad decision.
Not on my part, entirely: it makes perfect sense to close out an Indiana Jones movie marathon with the last Indiana Jones movie. It was more a bad decision on the parts of the trinity of all things Jones-related, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford. It was a dark, sad, two-hour bad decision.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull begins with an action sequence that does a marvelous job of destroying all of that unique, mysterious aura with which Raiders ended 28 years ago--the ending that secured so many fans for the franchise. We find ourselves beginning the new installment in the very warehouse where the Ark had been stowed (though we are looking for a different piece this time). The Ark, of course, makes an appearance, because George Lucas simply cannot restrain himself from  such 'allusions'--like the Millennium Falcon's cameo in Star Wars Episode III, except this is more obvious and correlatively less tasteful, especially when compared to the witty remarks about the Ark made in Last Crusade. This sequence, when it slows down a bit, seems to introduce extra-terrestrials to the plot, and after 'exciting' action ends with Indiana Jones surviving a nuclear explosion.

Does this beginning seem... forboding? It should. This is the appropriate start to what is one of the worst sequels ever made, and written by the writer of what I consider the best film sequel ever made: The Empire Strikes Back.

What went wrong?
Many, many things.

On a large scale, the filmmakers refuse to commit themselves to a genre with this movie. It's been suggested they were trying to reflect the popular science fiction stories of the 1950s with Crystal Skull, whereas the previous three films reflect the 1930s popular adventure-serial format. Even if this were the intention, there's no definite genre here. There's plenty of science fiction, but the movie's still proliferated with the adventure elements of the original trilogy, and what we're left with is not a very good sci-fi story and not a very good adventure tale. 
In fact, what we're left with is two hours of mindless action, as if some child wanted to play with his Lego Pirates, Knights, City folks, and Space Police all at the same time. A long, boring to the modern audience car chase ends and is immediately followed with an insect chase a la The Mummy which is followed immediately by a waterfall sequence which is followed immediately by a natives-with-primitive-weapons chase which is followed immediately by... you get the picture. And all of this, far from exciting, is simply tiring.

What exactly is this mindless action replacing that the original films had? A good story. You lose the sense that you're in an a quest that has occupied man for thousands of years, a quest that is worth that kind of effort. You lose the slow moments when the film is carried by Harrison Ford and John Williams alone. You also lose, as one commentator noted, the wonder. There's a sense of awe when you see the Ark of the Covenant first rise onto the scene. There's wonder when the camera first holds for that brief second on the 'cup of a carpenter'. There's nothing awe-striking about a room full of silly looking alien skeletons. Where there could have been wonder, when the flying saucer rises into the sky from beneath the ancient temple in the film's end, we're distracted by flying rubble and the roar of water rushing into the area--mindless action. This is what we were given in place of all that made Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade so powerful, so memorable. 

There's also an abundance of weak CG effects throughout the film. Lucas, based on interviews some months back, seemed disappointed with the lack of effects in the film, but I can't see why. Even Indy's whip is computerized at times, and not very well. Why? I really don't know. I suppose George Lucas just has more faith in pixels and lights than in reality. He needs to be tied to a chair and forced to watch movies like Braveheart or Gettysburg, so that he can recall what real people, props, and locations look like on film. 

There was only one scene in the whole film that I honestly, without reservation, liked: the first conversation between Indy and Mutt (Shia LaBeouf). I have to admit also that Mutt's character did not bother me at all; LaBeouf adds here to the list of movies that I was afraid he would ruin but did not. Thank you.

On the whole, this is the most disappointing movie that I've seen since Spider-Man 3 and one of the most disappointing films that I've ever seen. 
If I'm going to watch a movie about robots that turn into cars, based on an 80s toy line, then I'm perfectly content with the tried and true summer movie formula--that's what so much of modern Tinseltown is. But when I watch a movie with the name Indiana Jones in the title, from the creator of E. T., Saving Private Ryan, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and on down the list, I expect something a Hell of a lot better than this.

If only Revenge of the Sith had been as weak as its two predecessors, then perhaps I could have avoided this movie altogether. Instead I trusted Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Lucas, and of course I trusted Harrison Ford, and that trust was very poorly placed. I honestly think that GL and company did more with this one film to hurt the Indiana Jones franchise than he has done in the last decade, with three films and endless tinkering with the originals, to hurt the Star Wars saga. More than I'm annoyed by all of this, I'm really just saddened. Indiana Jones should have retired after his last crusade.


E. B. said...

I think you hit the nail on the head, my friend. (You write fantastic reviews, by the way - ever thought about doing it for a living?)

JWD said...

(Applause) My sentiment exactly. You managed to encapsulate the ridiculousness of the film without even having to mention the brief "LaBeouf: God of Monkeys" scene.

Nance said...

SO, even though I was afraid of what I might find, I checked last week--and again today--to see what kind of rating this thing was getting on the Internet Movie Database. Last week It was somewhere around an 8.0 and the #175 best movie of all time. We're not talking about American films, but just films in general. #175 is today occupied by Errol Flynn's The Adventures of Robin Hood, I'm happy to say. It's a classic and infinitely more deserving of such a spot.

Indy's rating today is 7.3 (no longer placing it in the top 250 of all time on the site). Where did all the high numbers come from? Males 18 and under (imdb breaks down the statistics for you). They're given this an 8.3. If they had their way it would currently be in the top 100, and above movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Wizard of Oz (both probably far under-rated), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Graduate, Platoon, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade... I could go on. Very sad.

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