Thursday, May 22, 2008

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Saw an early showing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull today. I’m a big Indy fanboy. I own an official Indy fedora and have the theme to Raiders of the Lost Ark as my telephone’s ringtone. Indy is pulp adventure personified on the big screen and Harrison Ford plays the role that is both exciting and iconic.
Five years ago I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and thought, "It's a shame they didn't make any more of these movies."
My prayers were answered with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Unlike the previous trilogy, which were set during the 1930s, Indy 4 is set in 1957. The main antagonists aren’t the Nazis but the Soviets led by a scientist Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), a telepath who wants to exploit the power of a mysterious crystal skull to read minds and influence thoughts. Indy finds himself sparring with the Russians at Area 51, a secret government warehouse we last saw at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Joining Indy on this clusterfuck through the Amazon are Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), Marian Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Mac (Ray Winstone) and Harold Oxley (John Hurt).
When I walked out of the theater, I thought, “Wow! A film that made Temple of Doom seem great.” Indy geeks hate Temple of Doom, but I think that film captures more of the spirit of old Republic serials than KOTCS, which is more like a B-movie and harmless popcorn flick.
Here's what I liked about it: the scenes of Area 51 (and the brief shot of the Ark), Doomtown with Indy climbing inside a lead-lined refrigerator to survive an atomic blast, the motorcycle chase scene through the college campus, the airplane soaring over the Nazca Lines, the scene in the graveyard where Indy finds the alien crystal skull and having Indy climb out of quicksand by using a snake and his comical and horrified reaction, Blanchett's character was a great villain, and LaBeouf's portrayal of a tough but intelligent loner is the worthy heir to Indiana Jones.
Some critical nitpicking shit: Allen and Hurt were underutilized in the film. I expected Marian to be feisty like she was in Raiders, but she just stared vacantly into space. She should have had more screen time. Why was Winstone in the film? His character turned on Indy multiple times and he was a total profiteer, but other than that, he was useless. The scene where Shia swung from the vines with the monkeys just made a long car chase scene even longer and ruined the pacing.
Regarding the science fiction elements of the film, which many people online have had trouble with: There's a theory out there that extraterrestrials had contact with Pre-Columbian peoples like in Erich Von Daniken book “Chariots of the Gods?”. Knowing this, it makes finding alien influence in the primitive culture somewhat plausible.
The whole alien angle dovetails nicely into the explanation of a UFO crash in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico and extraterrestrial contact with a primitive tribe.
I remember reading somewhere George Lucas had an idea for a film called “Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men From Mars”. This current Indy film takes the alien thing to the fullest.
I just think Lucas must be like Howard Hughes, once brilliant and now on the verge of madness. His ideas now are over the top and insane. Remember those awful Star Wars prequels? I think the problem with it is he’s lost how to tell a competant and entertaining story and it’s all about how to make a movie into a themepark and milk it for a summer.
But the movies that claim to be for the fans are really made for mass consumption. Is KOTCS the next big film, a masterpiece like Citizen Kane? No, it's not. What it is is a celebration of action-filled American cinema, a two-fisted, white-knuckled joyride where good triumphs over evil. People could pick the film apart and compare it to its predecessors, but it doesn't do it justice. KOTCS is what it is: an Indiana Jones film. He may be a little grayer and older, but he's still got it - fedora, bullwhip and moxie.
This time, like in all the other movies, Indiana Jones doesn't wind up with the treasure in the end, but a special relationship with people close to him. That might be the greatest treasure of all: not mystical religious or alien relics - but the treasure of love and friendship.

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