With this review, I’ve pretty much reviewed the entirety of Summer 2008 with the exception of “Hancock” and all the films I didn’t see. With that completely pointless sentence, it’s time to review “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
I know I normally say how much I looked forward to a film prior to its release, but I can honestly say that I wasn’t looking forward to “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (hereby referred to as “KOTCS”). To me, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is as close to perfection as a film can get, “Temple of Doom” is O.K. but nothing special and “Last Crusade” pulled the series back with the duo of Indy and his father. It seemed like “KOTCS” was simply a cash-in and would do nothing to further the story of Henry Jones Jr. (or Indiana to you and me) I think it was morbid curiosity that finally got me to go and see the film in the end. Anyway…
“You know, for an old man you ain’t bad in a fight. What are you, like 80?”
The plot follows a much older Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) as he is captured and taken to Area 51 with his accomplice Mac (Ray Winstone). It is here that Dr. Jones meets severely-fringed Communist Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) who forces Indy to find a certain artefact captured from Roswell, New Mexico. As the story progresses, Indy also comes into contact with Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a greaser who needs his help to find his kidnapped mother. As plots go, it’s not the best. For example, the MacGuffin in this film, the titular crystal skull, is a bit rubbish- not to mention massive. I know the size of an object seems like an odd thing to complain about, but it’s a constant distraction to have one of the characters on-screen hulking this huge crystal lump about. Imagine if the MacGuffin was a plot-important wardrobe or oven that the characters have to carry everywhere and you’ll get my meaning. Harrison Ford is still good as Indy. Like everyone, I had concerns that he was too old for the role- but I think he answered his critics by showing them that even though he’s in his mid-sixties, he can still whip-crack with the best of ’em. I quite liked Shia LaBeouf too. He’s a great actor and holds his own in scenes with veteran actors like Ford and John Hurt. The only person who annoyed me a bit was Karen Allen’s return as Marion Ravenwood from “Raiders…” However, I think this is due to sloppy writing rather than bad acting on her part.
The one thing that was ringing in my ears throughout the film was Spielberg’s promise that he was taking it “back to basics” and limiting computer generated effects in favour of old-school practical stunts. My heart sank literally two minutes in when the Paramount logo dissolved into a dirtmound and a shitty CGI prairie dog. I swear that this film was preoccupied with CGI beasties. We have poorly rendered versions of prairie dogs, scorpions, ants and monkeys throughout the film. I don’t know whether Lucas and Spielberg were just joking about or not but it’s fucking stupid. I can understand the use of CGI for explosions or to augment stunts, but to waste it on superfluous crap like unimportant prairie dogs is silly and a waste of money. I also have a problem with the title itself. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is way too long and unmemorable. What annoys me is that in the build up to this film being made, far superior titles like “Indiana Jones and the City of Gods” and “Indiana Jones and the Destroyer of Worlds” were considered and registered to throw the ravenous Internet fanboys off the scent. Why this film isn’t “…City of Gods” I’ll never know.
In terms of scenes, let’s get the bad out of the way first. The infamous “nuking the fridge” scene was a bit too silly for my liking, but not as bad as the Internet would have you believe. When Mutt swings on vines surrounded by CGI monkeys, I had a horrible feeling that as bad as that was, the worst was yet to come. As usual, I was proved right when that ending reared it’s ugly head. I’m sure you’ve heard about it but just in case, I’ll Invisotext the next bit (highlight to read)
I’m not against the idea of aliens in an Indiana Jones film. Funnily enough, if you think about it, “KOTCS” is probably the most realistic of the Indy films, considering “Raiders” and “Last Crusade” are all about the infinite power of God and “Temple of Doom” is about magic stones or some shit. I think the whole “B” movie feel suited the film well, considering it’s set in the late Fifties. However, I do have a problem with how sloppily the alien thing was handled. At no point in an Indiana Jones film do I want to see a fully-fledged CGI alien that looks like something from “South Park”.
The main thing that bugged me was driven home when Mac says the line “This is very dangerous” mid-car chase. That’s the thing though. It isn’t. There is no peril whatsoever in this film. I don’t know whether it’s the overuse of CGI or what, but I never believed for a second that our hero and his cohorts were in any danger at all. This is a massive failing as an Indy film without peril is like an Adam Sandler film without long stretches of tedium-unthinkable.
“What exactly am I being accused of, other than surviving a nuclear explosion?”
Having said all that I still enjoyed “KOTCS”. It’s fun and there are some great scenes such as the opening warehouse chase and the Peruvian graveyard sequence that kept me entertained. I didn’t want to be merely entertained, though- I wanted to be thrilled by my first experience of seeing Indiana Jones on the big screen. Now the disappointment has died down and I’ve watched it on a considerably smaller screen I can confidently say this film deserves three stars.