Friday, September 12, 2008


In the time leading up to the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was repeatedly mentioned by the three principal creative forces behind the film that the reason why this sequel was made nearly two decades after The Last Crusade was because fans kept asking for it.
Well, I’m a fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I never really asked for it.
In point of fact, I never really asked for the other Indy films, either.
The thing is, Spielberg, Lucas, and Ford got it dead on the first time out, so much so that any attempt to capture the same sort of lightning once again was doomed from the get-go.

Raiders of the Lost Ark was one of those rare cinematic experiences that was so very particular, it should have been left alone; the pulp magic and cliffhanger nostalgia of the 1940’s serial was captured so brilliantly in Raiders that any subsequent return would invariably pale by comparison.
Thus, those two previous return trips—the prequel The Temple of Doom and sequel The Last Crusade—were ultimately wildly uneven adventure yarns trying in vain to top the original.
And Crystal Skull, despite the overt trade-in for a new inspirational template (‘50’s science fiction for ‘40’s serial cliffhanger), is, sadly, more of the same.

Much like the other Indy sequels though, Crystal Skull is also not without its merits.
The casting of the fabulous Jim Broadbent (as Charles Stanforth, Dean at Indy’s old academic stomping grounds) is laudable, despite his painfully brief screen time. The equally fabulous Cate Blanchett is also a hoot as Russian baddy, Col. Dr. Irina Spalko, while Alan Dale’s brief appearance as General Ross is greatly appreciated.
And yes, even Shia LaBeouf as greaser Mutt Williams, brings just the right mixture of youthful bravado and vulnerable emotion to his character, pushing Mutt just north of the caricature line.
The return of Karen Allen is also notable, as nostalgia does have an undeniable potency. (The scene with the framed photos of Marcus Brody and Henry Jones, Sr. was a particularly effective moment.)
And, because I’ve always been big on mythology and the weird sh!t, I love all the Roswell/Nazca lines stuff, which certainly resonates more with me than the Sankara stones of Temple of Doom.

Sadly, there’re also bits in Crystal Skull that are either downright silly (Tarzan Mutt and his horde of greaser monkeys) or painfully incredulous (while I already had difficulty with the mine car sequence in Temple of Doom, the Crystal Skull moment which gave rise to the term “nuke the fridge” certainly takes the cake for worst Indy moment, ever; it’s also rather odd that that mortifying moment leads right into the single most chilling image in any Indiana Jones movie).
As far as the rest of the cast goes, John Hurt is pretty much wasted here, as his Harold Oxley is asked to alternate between being absolutely batsh!t crazy and merely befuddled.
Ray Winstone meanwhile, as George McHale, also turns out to be a narrative distraction.
To be fair though, I don’t really think it’s either actor’s fault, as both are made to suffer because Crystal Skull’s script (by David Koepp, from a story by Lucas and Jeff Nathanson) relegates their characters to those piddling roles.

I think the trouble here is that Indy is made to interact with a surfeit of characters, so much so that by the end of the film, none of the relationships feel properly fleshed-out.
Throughout different sections of Crystal Skull, Indy deals with McHale, Mutt, and Marion, diffusing the focus of the film, when it might have been better served if one (or even two) of these supporting characters had been excised from the narrative, keeping things tight and to the point.
Instead, there’s a vaguely scattershot feel that blankets the audience as Crystal Skull unspools, as if the script were uncertain which side of Indy it wished to explore.
In the end, not only do the relationships feel conveniently rushed and contrived, but Indy also doesn’t feel like the real thing.
Much as the character himself feels suspiciously counterfeit, Crystal Skull also feels like a strained, ill-advised attempt at replicating the Raiders experience.

Now, while it’s true that the raison d’etre of any popcorn movie is to be loads of fun, and that even the most problematic of the previous post-Raiders Indy films still has its fair share of fun, there’s a difference between the kind Raiders of the Lost Ark has in spades, and the kind occasionally found in Crystal Skull, which is the transitory sort common to your average Hollywood popcorn fare.
Much as Lucas’ recent Star Wars efforts have turned out, Crystal Skull feels more like commerce than a genuine attempt at creating popcorn art.
And sadly, if Lucas and company are to be believed, it’s all our fault…

(Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull OS courtesy of [art by Drew Struzan; design by BLT & Associates]; images courtesy of,,,, and

No comments: