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Non-Review Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Why?

That’s my only question after seeing the film: why was it necessary? It’s not entirely a bad film – indeed, without the baggage coming with the franchise it might have been a perfectly average film. Unfortunately it is a terrible Indiana Jones film that is packed to the brim with elements that just don’t work and only one that does. Harrison Ford is one hell of a fantastic performer, but even he can’t save this film.

Jonesing for some Jones?

Jonesing for some Jones?

To be fair, I get what the film is trying to do. The original trilogy was a homage to those classic Republic film serials, with occult magic and biblical themes. Here the film has aged twenty years and is supposed to be a fond pastiche of the cheesy sci-fi B-movie. But it just doesn’t work. There are many reasons the film itself doesn’t work (we’ll get into them in a minute), but the reason that the concept doesn’t work is because Indy himself is a Republic film hero, not a sci-fi movie hero. Sci-fi serial heroes aren’t explorers or archologists, they’re scientists. Maybe if Indy were painted at all as a ‘fish out of water’ it might work, but this guy who has embraced the concept of both Christian and Jewish mythology is suddenly so easily accepting of extraterrestrial beings (okay, extra dimensional, as if we actually care at that point)? It doesn’t work. Placing a hero out of context can work – look at Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court for a relatively early example – and might have helped develop the theme that Spielberg obviously wants to bring out: Indy is getting old and the world is changing. Instead of a plot constructed around that, we get this mess.

It’s a huge mass of wasted potential. The notion is set up quite well early in the film (I still had hope at that point, despite a relatively lacklustre action scene) between Indy and the new dean of the university (played by Jim Broadbent). There are photos of Indy’s father and his best friend, Marcus, and hints that Indy is getting old. Unfortunately that’s about all we get of that. Instead Spielberg decides that giving Indy an ‘real’ family (as opposed to the surrogates that normally accompany him and do a damn good job) will fill in the blanks.

It doesn’t, for one reason above all: Shia LaBeouf as Mutt, Indy’s almost-but-not-quite-surrogate son (as if we don’t see that twist coming). Mutt is a terrible character, a two-dimensional hackneyed cliche. He’s a reflection of the horribly shallow character Indy could have been in the wrong hands. Fortunately Indy had a strong script and a superb actor. Mutt has neither. LaBeouf can’t outact a Transformer, so putting him on screen with real and talented actors is always a mistake. In fairness, the character is so poorly written that its doubtful even a fabulous actor could have saved the role. Karen Allen still has it though. No offense to Kate Capshaw, but bringing her back was a smart move on Spielberg’s part. She and Ford still have the chemistry that they had in Raiders and they work well together. John Hurt and Ray Winstone are wasted, and Cate Blanchet seems a little off in a thankless role.

Up until this point the series had defined itself by its fantastic and well-staged stunt work. Any given action sequence in the original trilogy is jaw dropping. Here, instead, we use CGI. And not necessarily good CGI. The opening warehouse chase and the combat sequence in the Amazon Jungle could have been so much better had they seemed more natural and realistical. Instead, they look like a videogame. Even Harrison Ford’s wit can’t make us believe. The man-eating ants should give us a setpiece to match some of the earlier sequences in the franchise’s history. Instead they look silly. And what is with all the stupid cute animals? There are a whole heap of unnecessary monkeys and gophers. What’s the point?

And don’t get me started on the fridge. It isn’t the film’s worst offence.

It isn’t a terrible film of its own right. My brother likes the none-too-subtle metaphor that South Park used in dealing with the movie. It isn’t that simple. Take out Indy himself and you’d have a perfectly forgettable, possibly even average action adventure film. This is Spielberg on autopilot. Maybe he can’t do ridiculous, over-the-top, fun action in the way he used to before Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List. Or maybe he doesn’t care.

And Indiana Jones deserves a lot better than that.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is directed by Steven Spielberg (Minority Report, War of the Worlds) and stars Harrison Ford (What Lies Beneath, Apocalypse Now), Shia LaBeouf (Transformers, Disturbia), Jim Broadbent (Iris, Gangs of New York), Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, The Aviator), John Hurt (Alien, All The Little Animals), Ray Winstone (The Departed, Beowolf) and Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Malcolm X). It was released world wide on 22nd May 2008.

7 Responses

  1. […] a prequel, but that doesn’t matter. It has a bit of an odd child of the franchise (even after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), in that it’s the only film that doesn’t follow Indy’s quest for a mysterious […]

  2. […] Don’t get me wrong – aliens continued to be a staple of science fiction on the big and small screens. Alien-creatures-on-Earth narratives were quite common in any number of genres, from comedy (My Stepmother’s an Alien) to horror (The Astronaut’s Wife) to touching drama (K-Pax) to conspiracy-driven prime time TV shows (The X-Files) to tween drama (Roswell). There was also the ‘alien invasion’ subgenre (home to summer blockbusters like Independence Day and – arguably – Transformers). Hell, ‘extra-dimensional beings’ showed up at the climax of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. […]

  3. […] just don’t dig science fiction settings. The most often-cited complaint about the disappointing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was the substitution of hokey fifties aliens ‘extra-dimensional beings’ for hokey thirties […]

  4. […] been swept up off my feet and – say – flown to meet Stephen Spielberg on the set of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Not that I really have a problem with bloggers doing stuff like that (print film journalists visit […]

  5. This is one of the most upsetting films I have ever seen. It’s so bad I try to pretend I didn’t see it at all. I was so convinced the film would be great (why wouldn’t it be?) that I bought tickets for one screening after the other on the opening night. The first viewing left me cold but convinced I was blinded by the expectation of it all. Surely it wasn’t THAT bad was it? The second viewing confirmed that I was right. It was worse than anything terrible in the history of the world.

    George Lucas can burn in hell for this 😦

  6. Robert saw this movie when Robert was living in Japan.

    Convenience stores in Japan sell movie tickets three hundred yen / three dollars cheaper than movie theatres.

    In Japan Robert always had double viewings of movies.

    What is great about this is Robert would bring four 500ml cans of YEBISU beer.

    Robert imbibed two 500ml cans of YEBISU beer per viewing.

    By the end of the second viewing of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” Robert was inebriated.

    The inebriation assisted in trying to accept “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”.

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