Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had an almost impossible task. I’m certainly not alone in my fanatical devotion and genuine love of every aspect of the original Indiana Jones films. The world is now a very different place. Spielberg in particular has changed. He spent the last decade making a fascinating mixture of films, often dark, challenging, and all very ambitious. The goal here was to regress, to somehow replicate that magical spark, and sense of naive childhood wonder. In many ways that’s the biggest challenge he has ever faced.

As a fan it can be very hard to instantly love and accept a new entry in a legendary and beloved series, even though you really want to. Both The Matrix and Star Was sequels polarised hardcore fan opinion. Anyway, back to Indy. To give you an idea of how much it matters to me (and many others) I had butterflies in my stomach as the Lucasfilm logo flickered onto the screen. It’s the little touches that sent shivers down my spine. The retro 80’s Paramount logo is used! Then just like every previous Indy film, the mountain fades into the first shot. So far so good! But then something happens, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does separate this film from the original trilogy. A CGI gopher (a fairly well rendered one, but CGI none the less) pokes it head out of the ground. Ignore what Spielberg has been saying throughout production. The film is full of CGI. It’s not always the quality of the visual effects which is a problem, but the enhanced scale does create a different feel. There are moments that sail perilously close to the world to The Mummy Returns (the finale alone is incredibly similar!) There is also another tough pill to swallow; this is a cheesy sci-fi B movie, appropriate considering the 1950s setting. The religious artefacts, Nazis, tanks, mine cars and dusty daring-do of original trilogy have been replaced with alien mind control, Russians, cartoon physics and giant insects! Once you accept these radical differences, you can have fun, a lot of fun! There is quite simply no other director capable of shooting action scenes of this quality. It’s great to actually see what is going on (pay attention Jason Bourne!) I loved everything about the area 51 scenes. There are so many beautiful iconic images. Indy climbing out of a fridge to witness the awesome power of a glowing atomic mushroom cloud instantly ranks as a defining moment is Spielberg’s career. It is also an appropriate metaphor for the film. Indy watches as his world is blown away by technology and there’s nothing he can do but carry on regardless. Shia LaBeouf has real chemistry with Harrison Ford. The brawl in the campus diner and subsequent motorbike chase is stunning. I loved the giant jungle ants, the quicksand, the snake, and the crystal skull itself.


But there are flaws, and although I’d love to say this film is perfect, it isn’t. The plot is needlessly convoluted, alienating (how ironic) the audience so we don’t fully understand or care enough about the reasons behind the quest. This was also a symptom of the third Pirates film. Maybe I just need to pay more attention next time? Still, the plot of Temple of Doom (possibly my favourite Indy film) also was essentially just a wonderful excuse for similar outrageous silliness. The supporting cast don’t get enough time to shine, and this is an incredible cast to waste. Marion’s return also feels overly convenient no matter how good it is to see her again. The romantic finale is sweet but can’t quite tug at your heart strings like the end of Last Crusade. Most surprisingly John Williams struggles to contribute any new memorable music! He is a true genius and scores the action scenes perfectly. However, each previous Indy film has a defining musical theme that can be hummed, Crystal Skull does not. Instead Williams has inserted endless variations of the original Raiders march. It’s always good to hear that iconic tune, but the lack of originality is quite tragic. Finally, even though it is entertaining, seeing Shia swing like Tarzan with CGI mokeys is a step too far into madness. Regardless of these problems (just leave the CGI out!) there are enough moments of genius to ensure Kingdom of the Crystal Skull sits comfortably with the rest of the series.


~ by thewholebuffalo on July 9, 2009.

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