Thursday, July 31, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

(Image from IMP Awards)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

The latest, probably last, and mostly unnecessary installment in the Indiana Jones franchise arrived this summer and made more of a whimper than a bang. I'm not going to waste time summarizing the plot on this occasion. Oh hell, scratch that - here goes. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and a young whippersnapper named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) become embroiled in a race with evil commie Russians led by Col. Spalko (Cate Blanchett) to acquire a mysterious crystal skull that will unleash the arcane powers of a mythical ancient civilization. Also entangled in their adventure are old flame and mother of Mutt, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), new Indy ally Mac McHale (Ray Winstone) and nutty Professor Oxley (John Hurt). Sure, there's more to the story than that, but in a nutshell, that's about it.

The biggest question mark regarding this film when it was announced was Harrison Ford's ability to sell the idea of an adventurous archaeologist at his age. And yes, Ford is too old for the role, truth be told, but despite that he manages to hold the film together and even impresses physically. This is his best performance in years and there are moments when that old Indy charm shines through. Not a patch on the Indy from the original trilogy mind you, but still, surprisingly good stuff. As for the rest of the cast, well, this film excels at wasting good actors - Blanchett and Hurt in particular really should have been used better. Blanchett is actually fairly good given the material, grating accent aside. Hurt just dodders throughout the film. The increasingly ubiquitous Ray Winstone just blurts out some lines every once in a while like some sort of video game sidekick. The surprise package is the promising Shia LaBeouf, who is actually pretty great as an up and coming adventurer. As for Karen Allen... she just seems happy to have been invited to the party, if her eternally giddy expression is anything to go by (or is it botox?)!

The basic premise of the film is sound, and could have been quite interesting. The plot is of course nonsense, but that is a given with this type of film. The problem is that the overall narrative suffers from modern action movie-itis: an indestructible hero who seems to know that he's indestructible (refer Die Hard 4.0); an excess of characters, none of whom have enough screen time or memorable moments; a dearth of quiet character moments; and an overly complicated narrative with too much dull incident and exposition.

To add insult to injury, the film violates established character continuity - for instance, Indy actually helps the Russians along the way, something the Indy of old would never have done, and for the most part he just seems to be getting dragged along during the adventure in a film in which he is purportedly the protagonist! Despite its failings, the film is still above average for the genre, and the fact that it features an established - and quite iconic - hero in a new adventure gives it some cachet.

Despite all of the original bigwigs behind the original films being involved, this one feels strangely incongruous. It feels inconsistent with the original films; even the look is weirdly different! The action is fairly typical for modern adventure films - it never feels like anything is at stake, with the heroes just going through the motions. There's a nonchalant feel to the whole film. And worst of all, some sequences are ridiculously over the top and way beyond anything featured in the original films (except perhaps Temple of Doom's plane crash) - witness the nuclear explosion at the start of the film, or the scene that features a car jumping off a cliff and onto a tree branch. Even the music - which is occasionally rousing - doesn't jump out and grab a hold of you like it did in the original trilogy. It's just there and it sounds familiar, as if it expects to simply coast on the reserves of good will we have towards its predecessors.

I've seen the movie twice now, and I have to admit that I liked it better the second time round - lowered expectations and all that! As an Indy movie it's well below par, but as a modern adventure film, it's actually fairly decent. The production values, action, drama, and comedy, are wrapped together nicely by Spielberg's natural storytelling abilities; his touch makes this better than most summer fare. Having said that, perhaps there's just a little too much George Lucas in there as well! At the end of the day 'Crystal Skull' is entertaining enough to be worth the price of admission, but it is also fairly forgettable. Ah well, they can pry my original trilogy boxset from my cold, dead hands!


CyberKitten said...

A truly terrible movie.....

The first one was great... the third one was good... we won't talk about the middle one.... As far as I'm concerned they only ever made three.... [laughs]

Antimatter said...

Heh, well I actually think Last Crusade is a watered down version of Raiders. Temple is underrated - sure it has some egregious flaws, but it was also edgy and different, and I reckon those last 45 minutes or so are some of the best in the entire series.

miedy said...

Temple of the Doom gave me traumatic experience as a child. I kept having nightmare about eating noodles that turned into snakes. However, when I got a bit older, I watched it again and liked it very much. So, I think that's the best one so far. Haven't watched "Crystal Skull" yet, though.

Antimatter said...

Haha, yeah it was quite a bit darker than the other two! :)

I'd rate Raiders as the best of the bunch by some margin though...