May 27 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullAfter much personal debate, I made it out to the theater to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The debate was based on the fact I loved the first three movies, and I really didn’t want to see a stinker of a film taint my love of the series as a whole. I finally knew if I didn’t go, I would regret it down the line, so I headed out on Memorial Day to take it in,

In short: it could have been a lot better, but it wasn’t horrible.

(Spoilers intermixed from here on out) It’s 1957 and we learn Dr. Jones had fought in World War II, been a spy, earned the rank of Colonel, won multiple medals and somehow been involved in the 1947 clean-up of the Roswell, NM UFO crash site. He’s been a busy boy.

As the movie opens, we’re at Area 51 (though you don’t know this for a bit) and Russians have kidnapped Indy and a friend of his to locate a container Indy had helped with at the Roswell crash site. Normal Indiana Jones craziness takes off from there, leading to a nice cameo shot of something every fan of the series will instantly recognize,

It’s difficult to review this movie without going through it blow-by-blow, which would take forever, but I think this movie suffered greatly from the addition of too much CGI and a loss of the idea of what made the previous three films so great.

While Indiana Jones has always had his insane stunts (under the truck comes to mind from Raiders of the Lost Ark), they were always at least slightly believable, and just over-the-top-enough to be believable. The stunts here just go too far, or seem totally disconnected from the narrative.

Take the “Doom Town” sequence for instance. The scene of Indiana getting trapped in one of the towns the United States built to test nukes on has circulated for years now, passing through who knows how many script revisions. While it was entertaining, it was pointless, and the idea that Indy could survive being thrown several miles inside of a refrigerator was ludicrous to the extreme. Near as I could figure, the point of the scene, when he turns to stare at the cloud, was supposed to be some sort of commentary on the “brave, new world” Indy now inhabits, as opposed to the 1930’s world we had previously seen him in.

However, this whole sequence just felt “wrong” somehow. Yes, it led to him being questioned by the FBI, but couldn’t that have been handled by him simply being picked up by some military guards after the jet car test? It felt tacked on, out of place and ludicrous in the extreme.

The second scene that made me hold my head in my hands, literally, was the Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), Jungle Boy sequence. The vine swinging with the monkeys was just… silly. All we were missing was him calling out the quintessential Tarzan yell, and the whole sequence would have been one for the record books.

The third thing, and I promise it is the last I will go into grand details on, that was the “aliens” being some sort of “inter-dimensional species”. What was the point to this? They couldn’t have just been extra terrestrials? They had to be “inter-dimensional”, and not only do we hear about this from Professor Oxley (John Hurt) once, but twice. How did he know the difference? Why did he know the difference? (I assume the skull told him from their psychic link, but it doesn’t make it any less pointless)

Alas, there was more that seemed pointless, but I won’t bore you with anything more than bullet points:

Then there was one thing about the entire arc of the story that just annoyed the heck out of me. What happened to Indy? This wasn’t the same Indiana Jones as the previous films, and I don’t feel it was an age aspect, it was the idea that he was merely following the clues Oxley had left, and not doing any true “archeology” of his own. When Indy and Mutt enter the tomb of the Conquistadors, Mutt mentions the two sets of foot prints in the dust, and that he thinks it means one person has been here twice, to which Indy agrees. I don’t know how to explain it, but this actually made me a bit sad.

In the first three films, Indy was the ground breaker. Think about when he entered the Well of Souls in the first movie as an example. He was the first person to enter that chamber in thousands of years, and he found it through his own trials, he had earned this moment through sweat and hard work. In the fourth film, he’s following a paint-by-numbers quest someone had laid out for him. It was almost like he was playing a video game, I kept expecting messages to pop-up on screen: “Congratulations! You located the Crystal Skull and unlocked stage 3!” Oxley had already found the skull, been to the city, gotten past the native Indians, touched the obelisk, and he was the one who figured out how to activate the gate. It was like Indy was just along for the ride, and that really disappointed me.

The thing is, even with all of these quibbles, it was still fun to watch. The motorcycle chase, minus the silliness in the library, was vintage Indy. The warehouse chase was a good time since it was such a confined area. The jungle chase was good, also minus some silliness. There was just an overwhelming sense I was watching a very watered down version of Indiana Jones, an “Indiana Jones Lite” if you will.

There have been rumors of a fifth film already with a higher focus on Mutt, and Indiana playing more of the Sean Connery role from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the father trying to impart wisdom to his son feeling. My hope is this will not come to be, but considering the box office receipts for this film already, we might as well start expecting it.

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  • You make some great points about the flaws of the movie — because get too deep and it collapses on itself. Here’s another interesting thing about Indy — he’s a misogynist. The evidence is there is all the movies — if one cares to look. Here’s the evidence and the argument:

  • Contrary Jack

    One of the great things about Raiders is that this was a 20th-century world where (we discover) the Old Testament was true in all the scariest particulars. God in Raiders is the nasty, jealous YHWH who stomped cities flat for pissing him off.

    One reason the sequels from the 1980s didn’t work very well is that they lost the grandeur of this idea, and in fact they diluted it by getting all multicultural (i.e., apparently Kali is real, too) and trying to add in the New Testament (i.e., Jesus doesn’t like Nazis). The first managed to be about the dangers of seeking divinity, but the other two seemed to be more about how to touch divinity and be OK. (Faith was key in both cases, although it took very different forms in each.)

    In this new thing, all the Chariots of the Gods crap seems to invite us to reconsider and reinterpret everything in the first three movies, esp. the first. There are a LOT of visual resonances between the big climaxes in the fourth and first movies–the bad guy’s head catches fire–the portal opens in the air above the arena of the final conflict–and I couldn’t help thinking that the movie wanted me to wonder, was this what was happening when they opened the Ark? Does this mean that nasty old YHWH just another bighead grey alien critter living in the space between spaces?

    This, to my way of thinking, sucks. I’m an agnostic, but part of my agnosticism is an attempt to appreciate the scale of the unknown in the universe. It’s big, it’s ineffable, it’s damn scary; any time you look too far into that abyss you start to feel the abyss looking back at you (as Nietzche had it). That’s the sense of divinity Raiders caught, and each successive movie has shrunk it down and labeled it and explained it until it’s just one of the lamer episodes of the X Files.

    That’s just my opinion, of course.


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