Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I used to think that The Temple of Doom was the weak link in the Indiana Jones series – it just couldn’t hold a candle to Raiders and Last Crusade. But despite this, I still enjoyed Temple of Doom a lot. But now an Indy film has come along that steals Temple of Doom’s crown as the worst in the series. However, this time the film is terrible.

My hopes for The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull were never set exceptionally high – a lot of time had passed since the last film, Ford is getting very old and there had been a lot of farting around trying to find the ‘right’ script. But despite that, I was still eager to see the latest instalment. But now I wish no one involved had bothered. This is the story that everyone had been waiting so long for? This is the great script that finally got the next Indy film made? It’s fucking awful. It’s bland, by the numbers bullshit. It has no heart, no wit and the plot makes absolutely no sense. Half the time I had no idea what was going on, which is an absolute travesty, as Indiana Jones films should be simplicity to watch – the exposition was always expertly handled in previous films.

But no, in this film it’s never really clear what’s happening. Okay, there’s a crystal skull, some tombs and a lost city? And some Soviet woman wants knowledge or something? Alright. But the dots are never clearly joined up, the motivations make little sense and you never really get the feeling that anything is at stake.

Maybe this would be okay if you could immerse yourself in the action, or if the script was funny or if you cared about the secondary characters, but the people in this film feel like a bunch of waxworks and the action is a CGI blur.

Before the film came out, Spielberg and Lucas said they’d rely on old-fashioned movie techniques for the action. They lied. They lied big. The action here rarely feels authentic. Instead it has the dull, hazy sheen of pixels. One of the worst offenders is the sword fight between LaBeouf and Blanchett. Its computer game stuff – the characters jousting on the back of a couple of military vehicles as a CGI jungle whizzes past. It’s further proof that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Part of the joy of the previous films is that the filmmakers knew exactly where to draw the line. A five-minute dust-up by a plane that’s going to explode because it’s leaking fuel? Great. A fight on the back of a tank? Excellent. And even when the films went completely over the top – jumping from a plane on a dinghy – it at least looked real; physical effects and physical stunts were used. But the chase in the jungle just looks fake, as does the lost city and everything in the appalling final sequence.

But it’s worth noting that the sequences that work best are the ones that try and make things as real as possible. For instance, there’s an excellent motorcycle chase – it has a couple of great stunts. The opening piece of action also has a couple of enjoyable moments. But contrast this with the stupid CGI ants and the ridiculous river escape – if it’s not bad enough that a tree catches a vehicle that flies off the edge of a cliff, you have to swallow the fact that a group of people survive three massive waterfall drops; this film takes the worst excesses of the previous films and builds upon them to a ridiculous extreme.

But the film gets stupider than this. In one scene Shia LaBeouf swings through trees with monkeys. What the fuck? And earlier Indy escapes an atomic explosion by hiding himself in a lead-lined fridge. You keep on asking yourself what’s going on. Have Spielberg and Lucas forgotten what makes an Indiana Jones film? Oh, and what the hell was up with all the gophers? The little bastards should have fucked off back to Caddyshack.

Another big disappointment in this film was Karen Allen. She was wonderful in Raiders, but here she isn’t given a chance to shine. Sure she gets a couple of amusing moments, but there’s no depth to the relationship between the characters – in Last Crusade, the relationship between father and son was marvellous; it was funny, it was awkward and it oozed warmth. But here there’s nothing.

The same can be said for the relationship between Mutt (LaBeouff) and Indy. We find out that they’re father and son. But aside from a couple of amusing quips about school – Indy couldn’t give a shit about Mutt’s education when he was someone else’s kid, but once Indy finds out he’s his son he keeps telling him he’s going back to college – there’s nothing to it.

However, one of the funniest scenes in the film revolves around this strange family. There’s a scene where Indy and Marion (Allen) get stuck in quick sand. Mutt pulls out his mother and then tosses what looks like a rope to Indy. Only it’s a snake. It’s one of the few scenes in the film that is laugh out loud funny.

Back to the disappointments, though.

Cate Blanchett is wasted in this film. She’s meant to be the main villain and yet she does very little that is despicable. This means that you’re indifferent to her. Ray Winstone is also given very little to play with. His character keeps changing sides, meaning that his presence comes over as something of an annoyance. But worst of all, John Hurt is made to just roll his eyes and shamble along. You wonder why an actor of his stature is playing such a miserable part.

But the worst thing about the film is the nonsensical ending. Okay, a crystal skull is plonked on the head of some alien skeleton (sorry, 'inter-dimensional being' - just have the guts to call it an alien, Lucas and Spielberg) and then it comes to life and melts Cate Blanchett, and then we see a flying saucer spinning. It’s atrocious. Again, the joy of the previous films is that the supernatural element is delicately handled. Here it just slaps you around the head with a beefy fist. Plus all the previous films had a religious, philosophical bend to them. This is just standard, sci-fi bullshit, stuff that feels completely out of place in the world of Indiana Jones.

Other stuff that pissed me off: where the hell did those two ghostly guys at the tomb appear from? Were they there for a reason or were they just there to provide a bit more action? And also what were the protectors of the lost kingdom up to hiding in stone? Is that how they spend their days? Have they been waiting for years in there for someone to turn up? Do they keep Nutri-Grain bars in there for sustenance? And lastly, how did Indy survive a barrage of machine gun fire when the Soviets were shooting at him in the jungle? Is shrubbery bullet proof? Oh, but that leads me to something else. How do a bunch of godless, atheistic commie scumbags waltz around 1950s America? How did they get into the country and how did they manage to operate so easily? Sigh.

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