Stories Of Nerdy Adventures (Now With 100% More Cetaceans)
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
Our favourite archaeologist-adventurer is back for an unnecessary sequel! I caught the movie 3 days after the world premiere, and I was pretty relieved it wasn't as bad as the Star Wars prequels. It wasn't great, but it was a pretty enjoyable film.
Major spoilers lie ahead, so stop reading now if you don't want to be spoiled.
The action takes place in 1957 with a rather old Indiana Jones. Many folks were concerned that Harrison Ford was too old to play a convincing action hero, but rest assured this isn't a problem at all in this movie. Indiana Jones is still the good old hero we remember, albeit older and wiser.
The film's cold open takes place in the giant warehouse (yes, the one at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark) where the film's antagonists, a bunch of one-dimensional Russian villains led by a thin woman named Irina Spalko (played by Cate Blanchett with a very fake accent), have kidnapped Professor Jones and his sidekick, a pudgy man named Mac (played by Ray Winstone). They are looking for the remains of the alien body found in Roswell, and they get what they are looking for when Mac double-crosses Indy. Our hero makes an improbable escape of course (this time, it involves hiding in a fridge during a nuclear explosion; yes, it's very improbable).
After the opening sequence, Indy walks away from a nuclear mushroom cloud to be interrogated by government goons, and then be fired (sort of) from his job at the university for his ties with Mac who is a traitor. The tone of the movie did not sit well with me at this point. The Mccarthyism combined with Indy's dismissal (and the rather gloomy image of the nuclear explosion just moments before) made it feel depressing. In the previous movies, no matter how much Indy bungled up, the opening action sequence always ended on a high note with Indiana Jones escaping with the triumphant Raiders March playing in the background. This is not the case now. Indy's been dismissed, and he's catching a train to nowhere.
At the station, a young greaser named Mutt Williams (played by Shia Labeouf) recruits him to find his mother and missing father-figure and who happens to be Indy's friend and colleague, named Harold Oxley (played by John Hurt). Oxley was in search of a crystal skull. The skull is an artifact of ancient South American people, but the Soviets believe it's the skull of an extraterrestrial being and legend has it that whomever finds the skull and returns it to a mythical lost city will get the secret of ultimate power. Every movie villain loves that, so it's up to Indy and Mutt to race against the villains to find the skull, rescue Oxley and Mutt's mom and save the day. Mutt's mother turns out to be none other than Marion Ravenwood (reprised by Karen Allen), and Marion drops the bombshell on them both by revealing that Mutt is Indy's son. Mutt's real name is Henry (aww, just like dad), and Mutt is a nickname, which incidentally means 'dog' (aww, kinda like dad too).
The rest of the movie is fun and fast-paced, just like the previous installments of the series. There's a cool car chase and sword-fight, and lots of exploring of ruins. Just like old times. However the plot takes a turn towards the realm of science fiction rather than fantasy-adventure when the mystery of the artifact is revealed to be dimension-hopping aliens. This was kind of a let-down for me as it jarringly sets the movie apart from the other three. Also, the opening sequence pretty much gives the ending away. It's as if Spielberg wanted to revisit his Close Encounters movie with CGI.
Throughout the movie, there were numerous continuity nods to the other films. The lost ark from the first film makes an appearance, and Henry Sr. and Marcus are mentioned in passing. If you listen carefully, you can hear familiar musical themes from the previous movies subtly interwoven into the score. Also, Indy's adventure with Pancho Villa is also mentioned, as was seen in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
I enjoyed all the little nice touches, and yet there wasn't really any defining moment in the film, nor any memorable dialogue. The problem with making an Indiana Jones movie after so many imitations have been made is that there is no longer any new ground to cover. The previous film had Indiana Jones, his father and their two best friends riding off into the sunset. It was the perfect ending. This film felt like an overly long coda to a memorable trilogy, rather than as a film on its own. It was fun, it's worth watching once, but in the end it remains to be seen whether the movie will be remembered as fondly by the fans as the other three.