Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I may get some flack for this review, but I'm prepared to back up everything I say. First, I must make a few things clear. I am a tremendous Indiana Jones fan. Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade are two of my favorite movies. I'll even watch Temple of Doom from time to time- and enjoy it. Crystal Skull was better then Temple. but it was still a pretty severe disappointment. Now you will find people both loving this movie, and hating it. I didn't quite hate it, but it was indeed a major let-down.

This time out, an aged Indiana Jones faces a Soviet plot to obtain a new mysterious artifact- South American crystal skulls. Joining him is a greaser with ties to one of Indy's colleagues. The aptly named Mutt Williams is played by rising leading man Shia LaBeouf. I don't want to reveal any more of the plot than this, because it is filled with a series of twists that do indeed keep you entertained.

I'm going to start with what I liked about the movie- because there were things I did like. It was fun. The scene featured prominently in the trailers with Indy fighting off the Communists in a warehouse was enjoyable. Even the absurd jungle surfing on duck boats was fun (for a while at least). Also, Harrison Ford is good as ever. Clearly he wasn't able to do the stunts so much anymore, but he still has the attitude. And I appreciated that they didn't try to conceal his aging. They showed him old, but that he could still kick ass. I'm a big fan of Shia LaBeouf, and even though his character does fall into the annoying side-kick at times, it's not nearly as bad as Shorty in Temple of Doom.

It's clear that I did not hate the movie, but there were several things that prevented me from really liking it. Perhaps the most troubling was the use of CG. In an interview Spielberg said that he was trying to capture the spirit of a less mature director- himself in the 80's when he directed the original films. I think he accomplishes this very well in the look of the movie- except for the heavy use of CG. The gophers were awful and unnecessary (if you see it, you'll know exactly what I mean). As were the atomic blast and the swinging through the jungle. Even the waterfalls were a little much (but forgivable). It's as if he tried to re-invigorate a more raw filming style, but overloaded it with computer graphics. The climax of the movie is the perfect example of this.

The movie had another negative side effect for me. When I was analyzing Crystal Skull I was saying to myself that the movie was just absurd. But then when I thought back objectively on the original trilogy, I realized that those were every bit as absurd. I'd always just loved them without really questioning them. Crystal Skull had the negative influence of causing me to look back at the originals with a more critical eye. T

he thing that keeps my faith in at least two of the originals, is that the artifacts being hunted were legitimately of profound interest. The Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail are fascinating archaeological artifacts of Religious orientation. The Crystal Skulls, on the other hand, though real, are fairly obscure artifacts that have been widely dismissed as having a modern origin. This may seem like a small difference, but I think the historical interest of the actual artifacts plays a tremendous role in the interest of the movie.

The movie wasn't terribly, and most people will probably enjoy it to at least some degree. I did. It's just that I've been watching Indiana Jones my whole life and was expecting something powerful here. Instead, I was met with a fairly disengaging story riddled with too much CG. It's fun, but it was also a let-down.


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