Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review

I must admit to the fact that I have never seen Indiana Jones on the big screen until now. Born in 1984, the year that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released, the only opportunity I would have had would have been The Last Crusade five years later. And it wasn't exactly my parent's predilection at the time to take a 5 year old to a PG-13 movie.

Yet, that's not to say that I wasn't fond of Indy growing up. In fact, I was a HUGE fan of Temple of Doom, since it was on all the time when I was younger. Strangely, I didn't even end up seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark until my teen years because I was biased against the movie. First, there was the fact that it didn't have "Indiana Jones and the" in front of it. Secondly, I thought they were talking about Noah's Ark. And I didn't want to see a movie about Noah's Ark. (I ended up seeing one years later called "Evan Almighty." And it was crap.)

But throughout the years, I have become a bigger and bigger fan of Indiana Jones. Because really, what creature with a Y chromosome wouldn't want to be him? I certainly can't think of any.

Which is what makes this review so difficult to write. There is so much great about "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" but at the same time there is also so much that takes away from it.

Make no mistake about it, Indiana Jones is back. His wit, his abilities, his tenacity are all on full display for the world to see and being given the opportunity to experience this character on a 100 foot screen was rather thrilling.

The problems exist mainly regarding the plot. So many points in the movie, the momentum would stop dead in its tracks in order to explain what was happening and why. This overly complicated plot regarding what may or may not be aliens was distracting and didn't serve the movie very well. Maybe I'm misremembering, but the previous movies didn't have such convoluted plots. Although, I suppose the familiarity with the previous plots could have to do with the numerous times I've seen the movies throughout the years. Or at least when it was exposition time in the earlier films, it didn't feel so forced and unnatural.

Especially with the introduction of Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf). While I understand the reasons for Mutt's presence, the fact he is even there seems rather strange. He only serves to reintroduce Marion to the story who, while great to see return, seems like she was shoehorned into the story for little reason other than to see Marion back and to provide Indy with a sidekick. I don't have any issue with Shia LaBeouf on the whole, and have enjoyed him in other movies like "Disturbia", but here he feels out of place. Also a scene with him in the jungle with some monkeys is literally laugh-out-loud ludicrous. I mean, I know this is Indiana Jones and all, but that's just another moment when I'm immediately drawn out of the movie. And I'm not even going to get started with how dumb the monkey-men or spider-men were and what the hell they were even doing in this movie.

And as a last negative, the big finale and the events leading up to it do not fully seem to make much sense. The events that take place at the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are ambiguous at best and nonsensical at worst. Maybe the whys and hows of it all will be better explained upon future viewings, but the results of the actions of the characters seem to be at odds with what the Crystal Skulls were apparently supposed to stand for.

If it seems I'm being overly negative, I'm not. The action is very cool and, with signature Spielberg style, is thoroughly entertaining and never boring. There were moments in this film that despite knowing that Indiana is going to survive, I felt real dread over what could potentially happen to him. The opening scene in Area 51 especially really felt like a return to form for the old archeologist. When the "Raider's March" kicks into high gear as Indy is doing his thing, you can't help but be filled with a childlike glee at the entire experience on screen. Even just that would have been enough to justify going to see this movie, but fortunately there was much more.

The character moments, when they weren't sitting around being conduits for exposition, were great. In fact, a huge complaint I have is that there was too much time explaining the plot and not enough time for character. More bickering between Marion and Indy would have been great, as would more reactions to various plot twists that exist throughout the movie. Certain moments seem to be accepted far too easily and there's no real struggle in that acceptance when one might expect there would be.

Ben Burtt's sound design is once again on full display with the over the top punches and whipcracks that seem to be unique to Indiana Jones. The sound effects are especially great and draw you in even more. But John Williams' new score seems to be a bit of a mixed bag. Much like the movie, it is sufficient but nowhere near the greatness of either the Raiders score or my personal favorite, The Last Crusade. I enjoy the new themes that were written but none seem to lend themselves to the emotional gravitas that existed in prior incarnations. The old themes were great as ever, especially the little nods here and there to the previous films, and I could certainly listen to those over and over again.

Make no mistake about it: this is a fun movie that's worth seeing more than once, if just to see Indiana Jones back in action one more time. The problem is that while it is in the same vein as its predecessors, the script is along a different track that prevents it from achieving true greatness. And if the rumors are true that they're setting up Shia LaBeouf for his own series, then I'll be incredibly annoyed by this. I can't say that I wouldn't see it (I see pretty much everything), but I think Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones, and to attempt to replace him would be a tragedy.

Some people might be making the case that in today's movie-going environment, Indiana Jones has no place. But I would certainly argue with that. Indiana Jones is the everyman. You feel like you could put on that fedora and whip and become him, exploring the outer reaches of the world and getting into all sorts of adventures. Despite a few small missteps, Indy has most certainly returned and I have to say that I'm rather happy about it.


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