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  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Starring: Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Produced by: Frank Marshall
Written by: David Koepp (screenplay), George Lucas & Jeff Nathanson (story)
Distributor: Paramount Pictures


“Because something is happening here,
But you don't know what it is,
Do you, Mister Jones?”

--Bob Dylan, not originally referring to Indiana in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but perhaps looking into the future and prophesizing the potential double-meaning of what would become a popular lyric.

     To be fair, the original Indiana Jones trilogy was really never that good. Sure, the movies represented groundbreaking exercises in visual-effects for their respective times and still remain quite remarkable filmic-artifacts in that they never relied on CGI to attain striking aesthetics. Regardless, it would be difficult to claim that any of the three films offered compelling narratives. Like producer George Lucas’ counterpart-franchise, Star Wars, the Indiana Jones pictures were presumably made with the sole goal of showing the audiences of yesteryear a good time and, for the most part, they have not aged well from an artistic standpoint due to their lack of true substance. Yes, the movies remain cinematic landmarks for what they were able to accomplish on such stretched resources and limited technology, but they frankly don’t hold a candle to many of today’s action-filled opuses. Much of the reason why Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade remain so beloved is only because older folks, blinded by the new territory that the pictures forged when experiencing them for the first time, remember them as being better than they actually were.

     I know, I know – I have angered and scared off a whole slew of readers through the above paragraph. As you’re reading on, they’re writing me letters packed with passionate defenses of the trilogy such as: “Blasphemy! Blasphemy! Dr. Indiana Jones’ adventures have always offered viewers plenty of substance!” Regardless of one’s opinion of the original Indiana Jones films, however, one must recognize that the series’ new fourth installment, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, offered director Steven Spielberg and his cast-members an incredibly unique opportunity. Nineteen years after the release of The Last Crusade, they were provided the chance to bring the series back to life with the ability to blend the ease of modern technology seamlessly with more detailed and complex storytelling techniques. Other than by its own ambition—namely, allowing Harrison Ford back into swashbuckling protagonist Indy’s saddle at the ripe age of sixty-six—The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull should not have had a means of failing. There were so many routes Spielberg and writer David Koepp could’ve taken, so many angles of the famed character they could’ve explored, so many historical-connections that the material could’ve lent itself to.

     As it would turn out, however, Spielberg and Koepp apparently decided that they’d turn The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull into a mere opportunity to cash-in on a popular franchise. The picture represents the essence of “filmmaking-on-autopilot.” None of the aforementioned creativity is on display in the final product; the story moves in every direction that one would expect it to and never strays by a single centimeter from the formulaic path already forged by its predecessors. For the most part, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull unfolds in the ways that it finds most convenient, allowing a slew of obvious plot-points to culminate into a whole that seems forgettable and—at its worst—unnecessary. It clearly didn’t matter to anyone onboard the project that Indy’s new sidekick, Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), came off as an off-putting mix of James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and actor LaBeouf’s character in last year’s Transformers. Nor did it seem to faze them that Mutt’s ultimate place in the franchise would end up being as predictable as supermarket-bought cherry pie. And apparently no one spoke up when they realized that the film’s third-act seemed a lot like another (and very different) Spielberg picture called Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Nor was there any transparent acknowledgement of the fact that Cate Blanchett’s tremendously weak villain represented an adapted-version of her femme fatale in Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German. It seems that the minds behind The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull merely bargained on their audiences leaving the picture unsatisfied but tolerant, conceding something along the lines of: “I didn’t much like the movie, but it was sure worth ten bucks to see ‘ol Indiana Jones back in action!” The sad truth of the matter is that they’ve delivered a product that will provoke precisely that reaction.

     Then again, perhaps I’m overreacting about the picture’s shortcomings. Incredible potential aside, the mediocre finished product admittedly functions as an acceptable Summer Blockbuster. There are impressive visuals galore—as unfortunate as it is to see the series taking to a new CGI-addled look—and audiences should find their eyes transfixed by nearly every one of the film’s 124-minutes-worth of frames. Two sequences, one involving Indy narrowly escaping a nuclear bomb test and the other a vehicle-staged sword-fight, are particularly striking both in terms of staging and overall texture. Additionally, there are plenty of cues for audience-applause and gleeful-participation, obvious as they may be. And, yes, it is good to see Indy back and in fine form in the later years of his life, even if you’re like me and didn’t really like him in the first place. But where are the surprises? Where is the unexpected sense of triumph? Where is the distinct sign that Koepp and Spielberg had a non-finance-based reason to reintroduce Dr. Jones to audiences? These are all unfortunately nowhere to be found within The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This fact may sting for Indy-diehards, too, because it’s nearly impossible to separate this film from the original trilogy, as Star Wars buffs could do with the recent disappointing prequels to that series. As one who has never belonged to Jones’ fan-base, the let-down provoked by The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hurts me a little less than it will others. Still, I nevertheless feel a bit empty inside over the fact that I can’t claim that the film has made me an official convert to the series. Whatever airy entertainment it may be able to offer, this Indiana Jones adventure is best left forgotten.

     And, seriously, did anyone really think they could pull the “nineteen-years-later” thing off without bringing Sean Connery out of retirement to reprise his role as Indy’s father, or at least allowing a now-thirty-seven-year-old Jonathan “Short Round” Ke Quan to lend a helping hand to Indy and Company for a few scenes? Talk about being hopelessly optimistic, Mr. Spielberg!

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 5.22.2008

Screened on: The eve of 5.22.2008 at Midnight at the Edwards San Marcos 18 in San Marcos, CA.


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is rated PG-13 and runs 124 minutes.

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