Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Review

indy seeks the bling

Somewhat inevitably, it would seem that many critics are lining up to pour scorn on this movie.

Imagine if you will, when you were at school, there was the one older kid who you idolised – they drank, they smoke, they had the sort of crazy haircut that your parents would never allow you to sport, they listened to “dangerous” music with swear words and loud guitars: in effect they were the Fonz.

Jump forward twenty years to find yourself at a school reunion.. You’re older, wiser, more cynical, more jaded. Perhaps you have a partner and a family now; you worry about Grown Up Stuff like mortgages, Carbon footprints, and congestion charges. You’re stood at the hastily set-up trestle table, waiting in line to spoon yourself a plastic cup of punch and get a plate full of cucumber sandwiches (for two), when suddenly the crowd parts, and there stands your childhood idol. After all these years, this guy, the Fonz, the Leader of the Pack, he hasn’t changed one iota – admittedly his stubble is greying, and he’s got a slightly different leather jacket, but you can still see the playful, deranged magic dancing in his eyes. He’s still carefree, and if anything he looks younger than ever because you yourself have got so much older. You hate him, you resent him, and most importantly, you envy him.

This, my friend, is the embodiment of Indiana Jones, and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

19 years is a long time to wait for a sequel, and the world has changed significantly since the last Indy outing “… the Last Crusade” came out in 1989, not least of all in the oeuvre of cinema. That was the year that Tim Burton’s Batman ruled the roost, and the Ghostbusters had returned to the screens. It was also the year that James Cameron made his first significant step into pioneering onscreen computer graphics with The Abyss.

Aah, halcyon days, when CGI was a mere pixel in the pipeline, and practical effects such as animatronics, stop motion animation, and men in rubber suits were still being used by Hollywood. Of course, nowadays, the world is one giant iPod accessory, and you can nary turn on the daily news without an avid fart blipvert whooshing around the screen and hypnotising you into a placid and suggestible, trance like state.

This of course, brings me somewhat circuitously to the crux of the “problem” (such as it is) with Indy 4, (or in our Mac-loving age, perhaps that should be iNdy 4). Hollywood’s diumvirate of Spielberg and Lucas have always been at the cutting edge of onscreen special effects and between them have been responsible for cinema’s greatest and most celebrated forays into fantasy – Jaws, Star Wars, ET, Jurassic Park, Howard the Duck, and so on. However, as the years have gone on and audiences have become harder to surprise, CGI has taken a gradually more significant and central role in the film-making process, not least of all leaping and bounding ahead at Lucas’ ILM empire. The beauty of CG is that it is a lot easier to make the unreal seem real, the pitfall is that no matter how hard they try, film makers still struggle to make the computer graphics seem any more than that – they often have no weight to them, and the film’s protagonists appear to be jumping around in the middle of a console game.

From the instant the first teaser trailer for “Kingdom of Skulls” appeared online, the resounding reaction appeared to be a unanimous “Oh No!” Tragic Fanboy Geeks the world over spluttered into their family-sized bags of Doritos as they saw glimpses of what could only be described as Indiana Jones and the Computer Generated Backdrop of Gloom.

We’ve been burnt like this in the past when Lucas saw fit to reinvigorate his Star Wars franchise by filling 6 hours of screentime with irritating, cute aliens; portentous and pretentious political debate; and endless cartoon battles that might have had some interest if the audience had remotely cared about the individuals fighting in them. Spielberg has always appeared to be a lot more even handed than Lucas, and his more recent output has borne enough gravitas to cement his reputation not only as a great showman, but an excellent film maker too – Schindler’s List was pretty light on benevolent extra-terrestrials for example. Despite that, he has failed to resist the urge to tinker with his past in a Lucas-ian style, and E.T. found evil government operatives impotently waving mobile phones around where they once had guns. Ultimately, a lot of people have been suitably concerned that Indy, much like the Fonz, might have finally Jumped The Shark, and landed in a wrong-footed mess of cgi beasties.

Well, there’s good news and bad news I’m afraid… the bad is this – would you beleive it, some of the moments in this film look unrealistic and even implausible. I never like to give away too many details, but a chase and fight sequence through the jungle is particularly jarring and you can practically see the chroma key halo shimmering around the combatants.

You know what though, and here’s the good good good news, for all the fears and anxiety, I don’t think any of this matters one bit. Unlike Lucas, Spielberg is able to make us care for the characters like theyre our own childhood friends (and indeed, to many people, they already are) – it doesnt matter one mote if Indy tumbles out of the debris of an explosion with only his hat slightly askew – this film is an exaggerated version of reality. It never once attempts to convince you that these events are happening in the “Real” world, and ultimately you either buy into the inherent excessive-ness and seeming immortality of the hero and have a riotous two hours of fun, or you gripe that certain scenes would defy the laws of physics, are therefore Fake and Flawed, and will sit in your seat grumbling at how silly the whole endeavour is.

Normally i visit Harry Knowles’ Aintitcool site for movie news, and i have to applaud him for a succinct and passionate put-down on the sorts of people who love to hate..

Taking a moment to bother to be slightly more specific, the look of the film from the opening shot is absolute dynamite, and a lot of effort has clearly gone into painting from the same visual palette as the previous three films, even down to the opening titles’ fades and font. There’s also a slightly day-glo pastel, hyperreal 50’s hue to the first act of the film that instantly recalled to mind Lucas’ American Graffiti, and it really has to be seen on the big screen to be truly enjoyed, not least of all when Indy is seen jumping over garden fences in a provincial town.

The sound is also worthy of a mention, purely because every thump, punch, gunshot, explosion, and whip crack is incredibly sharp to the ear, yet packs such a meaty wallop that you feel it every time Indy gets another knock around the head. I wouldn’t say this is traditionally the sort of thing I would pick up on, but it is unavoidable in this instance.

There have been gripes that I’ve read elsewhere – that there is no discernible plot, and the screen is too crowded with hangers-on and family members for a lot of the time. I must concede that this certainly feels to be the case – it is clearly obvious that this is an “Indiana Jones Story” thought up around those characters, and not a story that Needed To Be Told. I’m of the mind myself that as a third sequel, this can’t really come as any great surprise to the viewing audience.. In fact, you might argue that by being so simplistic and yet convoluted it is actually a lot closer to the trashy Saturday Matinees of the 50’s and 60’s which were famously the inspiration for the character back when Raiders was made. If you’re looking for plot twists, i’d advise you just watch The Apprentice at home instead.

Other things worthy of a mention – some genuine scares and surprisingly horrible deaths, a beautifully rendered finale sequence, John Hurt in “worst character on screen” shocker, lots of nostalgic nods to the history of the character and his life through the early 20th Century, and most significantly of all, an extremely comedic edge to all of the proceedings – much more humorous than any of the others I’d say.

So – I’ve banged on far too long by now, and you may have even just scrolled down to the final paragraph to sidestep all my tedious mumblings. Indiana Jones is undoubtedly back – I caught myself grinning from ear to ear whilst watching a lot of it, and the whole film is a relentless rollercoaster of shocks, scares, fights, maguffins, motorbikes, car chases, sword play, unpleasant monsters, labyrinthine tombs of yesteryear, and hourglass-timed death traps. Hand on my heart, I’m looking forward to the return of the Dark Knight as my potentially favourite film of this Summer, but i suspect Indiana Jones will end up being the most successful, and i’m glad he’s back to show the young pretenders how its done. I can only hope we don’t have to wait 19 more years until Spielberg and Ford find the time to make another ripping yarn.

That cool kid from school sure as hell still knows how to move.

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One thought on “Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Review

  1. Pingback: The Machine Girl - Review « Clockwork Shorts

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