director: Steven Spielberg
starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent
I’m not sure where to begin with this review. My mind was all over the place during the movie, and it’s still going in a million different directions now, as I write this, struggling to reconcile the power of nostalgia with what might’ve been a much less than perfect fourth entry into the Indiana Jones franchise…an entry almost twenty years in the making. It’s strangely affecting on an emotional level to walk into a movie theater and see Indiana Jones posters on the walls; it’s like walking into my childhood. And I think that resonance the first three Indy films have, two decades prior, largely informs my approach to this review.
This review is going to contain some mild spoilers, so if you want to go in with a completely unbiased viewpoint, stop back after you see it once–and you should definitely see it at least once. I don’t spoil any big plot points, so if you must know more, continue onward.
So it’s been 20 years since that PERFECT ending of riding off into the sunset in Last Crusade, and you start the movie with a freaking CG groundhog? Uhhh, whoops? I know Spielberg is the director, but that had to be a George Lucas idea, right? George Lucas, please retire from anything related to filmmaking. You’ve already destroyed the Star Wars film franchise with the three turds you laid in theaters in the last ten years, so please refrain from besmirching anything else. Speaking of CG, there is some spectacular stuff done by Industrial Light & Magic, but it felt like way too much for an Indiana Jones movie. I miss the days of matte paintings and rotoscoping. Instead we have unnecessary CG animals, actors and backgrounds. With audiences being so saavy these days, the difference between a CG background that was projected onto a green screen and a real live location is plainly evident and off-putting. Again, I hate you, George Lucas.
Other than the horrific groundhog moments, the beginning was actually pretty good, and clearly informed by George Lucas’ American Graffiti-style idealization of the 50’s era. It’s not at all how you might expect the film to start, and it works very well to establish that nostalgia and mood I referred to earlier.
I hate the idea of Indy having a son more than the actual execution of it in Crystal Skull. As much as I want to dislike Shia LaBOOOOF, he does a pretty decent job here, and makes a worthy Henry Jones III. While the rest of the cast is made up of great actors, the script fails them repeatedly, making them one-dimensional shadows of some of the great characters in Indy movies past. Cate Blanchett’s the most interesting of the lot, to her credit, but she never seems to be on the level of a Belloq or Nazi general from movies past. Harrison Ford even suffers a bit because of the script, sounding like he’s reading his lines on more than one occasion. On the whole, though, Ford plays Indy beautifully; he doesn’t try to be the younger, fitter version of himself from twenty years ago. He plays it as a a 60-year old, albeit one that’s kept in excellent shape and is still good with his fists and a whip.
Sudden Interruption for Random Questions:
- What was with the ninja Mayans at the graveyard? They just lie in wait in their cubby holes for unsuspecting grave robbers to show up every couple years, and then disappear after the faintest hints of resistance?
- I want one of those crystal skulls for my desk. Some great design work there.
It’s sad not to see Brody, Sallah and Henry Jones, Sr.; though two of the three are nicely referenced on more than one occasion in the film. I think the presence of so many secondary characters this time around is an effort on the filmmakers’ part to fill the void left by Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies and Sean Connery, an effort that makes more of a plot mess than it needs to.
And speaking of plot, don’t go in expecting too much. It’s moderately interesting, but never enough to fully engage the audience in a lasting way. Going back to the cinematic terror that George Lucas has become, it should be noted that it took so long to get a fourth Indy film made because he kept rejecting the scripts being turned in by various screenwriters (Frank Darabont, Jeffrey Boam, Jeff Nathanson, etc.). There’ve been scripts that both Ford and Spielberg have liked, but Lucas said no. Since he’s the character’s creator, I suppose he has final say, which is a scary thought in light of the Star Wars prequel debacle. It’s a shame, because everything I’ve heard about the previous drafts of a fourth film had been positive. Alas.
Some of the action sequences felt like square peg in round hole moments–almost as if they weren’t sure what to do next so they just shoehorned an extended swordfight or car chase in to kill some time. It never feels like we’re going anywhere during those handful of scenes; we’re just running in place. It’s a rare case where an action sequence actually slows down a movie. The epic monkey migration through the jungle led by Shia LaBeouf was quite a sight, however. Be on the lookout for that. (Yes, really.) There’s no stand-out sequence, though. Raiders of the Lost Ark had the escape from the giant boulder and the opening of the Ark; Temple of Doom had the mine car chase and rope-bridge battle; and Last Crusade had the zeppelin escape/plane chase and the tank sequence. All of those stand out in my memories vividly; nothing from Crystal Skull is really in that league.
Other than the iconic main theme, John Williams’ score was solid but unremarkable. I have specific themes I remember from the first three films that still stand out to me, and it’s a shame no one piece of music truly stands out in the same way here. The new crystal skull theme is nice, but not something you’ll find yourself humming aloud to.
Throughout, the film and actors seem too self-aware at times, but I can’t really blame them. It’s nearly impossible to make something as big as an INDIANA JONES MOVIE and not kind of be excited and wholly aware of what they’re making. Because of that, however, it almost felt like talented filmmakers and actors that were fans of the original three movies made Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, rather than the original crew itself.
At the end of the day, I liked the movie a lot, even with all the criticisms I have. But I’m not sure if I liked it because I wanted to like it, rather than liking it based on its own merits as an individual film. It’s the nostalgia of my youth that allows me to forgive the glaring shortcomings of Crystal Skull and appreciate it for what it is: another Indiana Jones movie. I’m conflicted about my feelings, though, and thus find it almost impossible to give Crystal Skull a grade. I can’t objectively do it. If nothing else, it’s a nice piece of nostalgia that we rarely get a chance to partake of in these cynical times. I’m glad the man in the hat’s back on the big screen, and I think everyone that’s been an Indy fan–young and old alike–will be, too.
A few notes on the shiny, new Regal multiplex at the Walden Galleria mall (all non-WNY readers can ignore this and move on to their daily visit to www.zombo.com). It’s aesthetically pleasing in terms of architecture, very similar to the ArcLight in Hollywood, believe it or not. The seats in the theaters are pretty great as well. There’s no gum or other foreign substances on the floor yet; there’s a plus. Notice I haven’t said anything about the actual film-watching portion going to the movies. The screen in the theater I was in was on the smallish side. Certainly not a problem seeing the movie, but too small for my tastes. They should’ve gone with 14 screens instead of 16 and added some screen space. And the sound, well, it was high on volume and so-so on fidelity. Alas, theater corporations still have yet to figure out sound is fifty percent of the experience. I’ll at least give them credit for making the sound louder.