Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

SPOILER WARNING! Don't read if you haven't already seen the movie!

By popular demand, I'll now do a quick review of the latest installment of the Indiana Jones saga. This movie has received mixed reviews. The general film-going public and critics received it fairly positively, and its box office performance was more than respectable, but the internet community has been pretty hard on the further adventure of the rawest archaelogist ever.

I enjoyed the movie for what it was, but I see some validity in the gripes, if not in the ferocity in which they're voiced.

Many complaints started a few seconds into the movie when the CGI prairie dog emerged from the Paramount-logo-faded molehill. Is this a complaint against the concept or the use of CGI? I'm not sure, but I understood that the scene was a pre-emptive in-joke against many of the very fanboy types who now slag the film. As someone who eagerly awaited the film enough to follow the internet banter leading up to it, I know that the old logo-fades-into-a-mountain was one of the overly quoted must-haves for the movie, as if the film-makers didn't understand their own tradition.

Next, the setting: The 50's replace the 30's, and this is emphasized over and over again in the first part of the movie in ways that are much less subtle than in the previous films. Perhaps this was a little gratuitous, and in some ways detracts from the timelessness of the series, but at the same time, it serves the story in an important way.

As the climax of the introductory event displays very clearly, this is truly a new era. The supernatural powers of the Ark, the Shankara Stones, and the Grail are no longer relevant in a world where man has attained greater power through science in the form of a nuclear bomb. As Indy's unlikely escape from a test blast proves, this type of adventurer is out of place in this setting, and when he emerges from the lead lined fridge, he steps foot into a very unfamiliar territory.

The unfamiliar realm opens up even more when the finale leads Indy and his crew to come face to face with a very different kind of otherworldly power than he had faced before. The inclusion of an alien-based artifact was in many ways the logical next step for the film, from a thematic standpoint (escalation of technological power) and the mood of the movie (50's extraterrestrial fascination). Ultimately, I would have liked to see a little bit less of the alien, to leave a little more mystery, and the UFO could have looked a bit more organic, but otherwise I could handle the change in direction.

The often maligned Shia LeBoeuf performed well, with a great reaction line ("Oh, it's just a...thing) although his Tarzan scene is the only other place I wish the film-makers would have used a bit more discretion. However, Desiree's observation that since Mutt was Indy's son, swinging was in his blood, was enough for me to give the sequence a pass.

Yes, there were a few other instances of oversights in plot construction, but truly there were as many in the original trilogy as well. I won't list them here, but they are real. We accepted them then as a younger, less skeptical film audience, and there is no reason we can't accept them now in the name of harmless entertainment.

That being said, I rate this film about on par with Temple of Doom (they are the most similar in pacing and characterization) and therefore at the lower end of the Indiana Jones spectrum. However, still worthy to bear the name, and a lot of fun to watch if the audience takes themselves no more seriously than did the film-makers.


Los said...

I haven't seen this yet ... or really, any summer movies ... I'm a slacker.

Steve and Des said...

So you can accept glitches in Indiana Jones in the name of harmless entertainment but you can't realize that The Girls Next Door is just harmless entertainment?

Penny said...

It's about time you posted a review!
I mostly agree. I liked the movie for the pure entertainment that it was. And Indy still looked fairly good although he is starting to show his age.