Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull C+

In Theatres, 124 minutes, Rated PG-13

Let me say at the outset that I really wanted to like this film. I tried to bare in mind the original notion of the Indy movies: Saturday morning serials from the 30’s and 40’s. But the best of the trilogy (Raiders, Last Crusade) always played much like the recent work of Tarantino in Kill Bill and Death Proof; both an homage to their genre forefathers and a re-imagination of them. So, no matter how much hooey Lucas and Spielberg tossed around about their low-brow intentions, the Indy films never looked too much like their matinee idols. They look like an adult’s memory of them, with the low-budget tricks, bad acting, ludicrous plots, and ridiculous accents smoothed over, leaving the excitement, exotic locales, and momentary beliefs in treasure troves intact. That’s the beauty of the first three films (I’ll turn a kind eye for the moment towards Temple of Doom), but it’s missing in this latest installment. Indeed, it is much closer to the originals that George and Steven were supposedly shooting towards all along. In that way, this feels more like a sequel to King Solomon’s Mines then Indiana, but there’s a reason the name Allan Quatermain isn’t part of our social unconscious.

That said, the acting in this film is first rate. Ford moves a bit more gingerly, but the spirit and that can-do charisma is still there in buckets. Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood, back from the first of the series, brings the same magnetism and perfect fit. Shia LaBouf as her son, channels every 50’s bad boy with slicked back hair and a motorbike in bringing his A-game as well. Jim Broadbent is a nice addition as Dean Stanforth, filling the void left by the death of Denholm Elliot (Brody in the first three). Cate Blanchett, whose accent has already been maligned often enough in print that I’ll save the temptation to pile on, is the surprising fly in this ointment. Perhaps she’s simply too fine an actress to play a caricature such as Irina Spalko is in this film. But her ESP-believing, alien-loving villainess is neither scary nor funny, just odd and vaguely insulting.

What the film has in acting it squanders in plot. Simply stated, from the opening sequence involving sometimes magnetic (to gold) crystal skulls, to the ending sequence involving, well, I’ll let you see that for yourself, the plot is just over the line. Maybe the plots always were, actually, but the Ark of the Covenant and the Cup of Christ are common pursuits in the writings of the West. We are still a culture shaped primarily by the Judeo-Christian story, so if you’re going to serve up some magical hocus-pocus, or if you just need a device to build your action movie around, those work for most of us. Crystal skulls from aliens don’t. What’s more, Lucas just can’t keep his new-age double-talk from creeping in. With lines like “Not outerspace, but the space between space” receiving knowing nods from Indiana, something just seems off. And you’d hope Spielberg would have the good sense (obviously Lucas doesn’t) to know that just because you can do something with CGI doesn’t mean you should. So, the killer ant scene, indubitably meant to be this films icky installment a le the dinner scene in Temple of Doom, the rats in Last Crusade or the snakes in Raider, gives the viewer an opportunity to sit back and thing about the progression of CGI, not squirm in their seats.

Speaking of Spielberg, his flourishes are on display throughout the movie. In particular, the opening shot of a group of kids in a T-Bucket racing an army convey is greatness. The sweeping camera, interesting angles, and undeniable fun are contagious. Enjoy it while you can. It’s the best scene in the film. C+


Lawyer said...

Agreed on most of the review and the grade. Shia was great, I didn't mind Cate, and Harrison was spot on, if too old. One thing that bothered bride and I was that his pants were slacks, not dungaree type pants like the first 3. It looked like he was about to tee off, not fight a Russkie.

I went in knowing your grade, but not reading your review, and for the first 60% thought you were crazy, putting it (at that point) at a solid B. But once Shia's father's name comes out it gets way too clever and schmaltzy. The last 40% of the film also has some of the dumbest film bits ever, with the climactic scene that could've been borrowed from a mockumentary of the Indy movies. There are too many 'leaps of faith' in the last of the film as well, most notably the Shia swinging through the jungle with monkeys and landing on Cate and the landing of the car on the tree off the cliff with the soft landing in the river. I love the impracticality of the Indy series, but give me a break.

A very disappointing film that could've been much better. Yet another Spielberg miss-hit. Snap!

ch said...
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ch said...

Excellent Review and excellent reference to King Solomon's mines.

I had low expectations going in primarily because I thought Shia was miscast...and because George Lucas with CGI is like an ADHD kid let lose in a candy shop.

I've liked Shia since he got me hooked on Even Stevens, and thankfully he proved me wrong...he was excellent. Though the comb through the hair will never replace the shadow of Indy putting on the fedora...I dont' see the adventures of Mutt Williams making it to the big screen soon. Indy on a backdrop of 30's Art Deco has a much better feel than Mutt on backdrop of The Wild One....and besides Mutt Williams doesn't quite have the same ring to it as Indiana Jones.

Marion Ravenwood has always been my favorite of the three female leads, but in this installment I felt she was too often reduced to quick grace and gushing smiles...her important scenes (i.e. "Indy you're my baby's daddy"...and "Indy you left me at the alter") were rushed and felt contrived.

Over all Harrison still has a lot in him for 65 and was up for the part and Shia has a golden career ahead of himself. They did an amazing job with what they had.

I think the plot was hodgepodge and lifted from several movies and I would have been much happier if they would have just alluded to aliens and left it up to me to decide. Oh and don't get me started on the monkeys...George, let me introduce you to your new Jar Jar.

Oh and I think a great alternate ending would be for the skeletons to turn into Chewbacca who tells Indy that there's a mixed up kid on Tatooine who needs his help...Indy says he's too old and then drinks from the Grail...hidden in his satchel...the next thing you see is the Millenium Falcon flying out of the hole with Han Solo at the healm...the Star Wars theme plays ...fade...roll credits...

welcome the genre of the se3prequel.

Priest said...

The movie dropped for me as well from B to B- to, finally C+. i think he was wearing slacks because the pleats help hide the gut. that's my guess anyway. i noticed that as well.

(Spoiler alert) the ending was just way too much for me. i almost mentioned the monkey thing, which was probably the breaking point in a number of ways. and three waterfalls? but the kicker was the skeletons crashing together to form one whole alien. that doesn't even make sense within the framework of the film. and the notion that the real "treasure" is knowledge? who are we? and i really hated the marriage, although it did set-up the nice, shia puts on the hat, no he doesn't scene.

i don't blame spielberg, i blame lucas. it's his stupid idea for the crystal skulls (which i hear he's been lobbing at spielberg for fifteen years, but spielberg, until now, has had the good sense to let it go). I think they all wanted the pay day, and harrison might have missed the limelight a little (although he doesn't seem the type).

Doctor said...

It's unfortunate Lucas was so fixated on crystal skulls, since none have been proven to be older than the mid-1800s. It's even more unfortunate they decided to include the alien aspect (rather than settling on the lost continent of Atlantis or something else).

Despite all the improbabilities of the first 3 films, there was never a moment where you didn't believe it could never happen. Another dimension? Really?

The last 30 minutes were problematic for many reasons, mainly because nobody was using their brains. Indy was only translating John Hurt and Cate was only able to follow by tracking devices.

That said, I liked it more than you guys (B or B-). Spielberg is still a first-rate action director and a master of camera position, framing, and blocking. The movie's message was a little murky, though. It's clearly Anti-McCarthy, but this hurts Indiana by not suspecting Winstone. They weren't really creative with Karen Allen either, who's essentially the same plot point as Connery in Last Crusade - without the humor.

I will watch it again on DVD, but I'll probably refuse to watch Indy (and the film) go over the waterfall again.

BTW Priest, I took the merging skulls as something to do with the collective unconscious that Blanchett was babbling about, but it still doesn't make sense.