By Jim Hill
May 21, 2008 09:59 AM EST

Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull Theatrical Review

Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull Theatrical Review
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As the lights went down at the theater where Paramount Pictures was holding the press screening of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," I have to admit that I was filled with an equal amount of anticipation & dread.

Why For? Well, to be blunt, I had seen the "Star Wars" prequels. And I had caught a number of Steve Spielberg's most recent movies. More importantly, I had suffered through Harrison Ford's performance in "Hollywood Homicide." So – to my way of thinking, anyway -- it had been quite a while since these three have been on their "A" game.

So when it was announced last year that Lucas, Spielberg and Ford would be reuniting to make a fourth Indiana Jones film, I was among that very small contingent that said: "Really? Do you have to?"

Because – for all intents and purpose – this franchise had been affectionately & effectively capped off with "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." When Indy, his father, Sallah and Marcus Brody rode off into the sunset at the end of that film … Well, that had erased a lot of the bad taste which had been left behind by the overly-dark and over-the-top "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom."
So to return to this franchise 19 years after the last installment … That just seemed extremely risky to me. I mean, Hollywood has changed significantly since Dr. Jones last doffed his fedora. People's tastes in film have shifted. So would a riff on those old adventure serials from the 1930s & 1940s still seem as appealing as it did back in 1981, when "Raiders of the Lost Ark" first hit the screen?

That explains my anticipation & dread yesterday morning. That this was the unnecessary Indiana Jones sequel. The one that would screw things up forever. That  – like the "Star Wars" prequels – sully the memories of the fun films that had come before it.

But then the Paramount logo came up. Not that new CG version, where the stars swoop down from the sky and then flies around that mountaintop. But – rather – the late 1970s / early 1980s version of the Paramount logo.

And when I saw that … I just smiled and settled back in my seat. That's when I knew Lucas, Spielberg and Ford actually got it. That they knew that Indiana Jones was a character who was anchored in a certain time in Hollywood history. Which is why they were going to do their damnest to recreate a summer blockbuster from that era.

And for the most part, they succeeded. Oh, sure. David Koepp's screenplay for "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is something of a Frankenstein's monster. Given that it's been built out of the best bits of botched Indiana Jones scripts that have come before it.
Take – for example – the amphibious-vehicle-versus-Jungle-cutter sequence. That was more-or-less inspired by a similar action sequence that Chris Columbus wrote for "Indiana Jones and the Monkey God." Or – for that matter – "Crystal Skull" ‘s Doomtown sequence and this film's extraterrestrial leanings? Those are direct lifts from Jeb Stuart's abandoned screenplay for "Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars."

Though – to be fair here – it should be noted that two of "Temple of Doom" ‘s most memorable action scenes (i.e. Indy and Willie Scott fleeing Club Obi Wan behind that giant gong and that film's runaway-mine-car set piece) were actually sequences that were cut out of Lawrence Kasdan's original screenplay for "Raiders of the Lost Ark." So long before it was fashionable, Lucas & Spielberg were into recycling.

Anyway … As for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" … It's now 1957. America's in the middle of the Cold War. And after Dr. Jones has a near-fatal run-in with some Soviet spies in the Arizona desert (Who need Indy's help to find a certain object in a very familiar-looking warehouse) … This world-weary archaeology professor returns to Marshall University to find that his career – and, indeed, his life –  now appears to be in shambles.

Because of his dealings with those Russians, the FBI has come sniffing around the college. Which has resulted in Marshall College putting Indy on paid-leave-of-absence. Unable to teach stateside now, Dr. Jones returns to his apartment and packs for a trip to Europe.

As he sits drinking with his friend, dean Charles Stanforth (played in a neat little cameo by Jim Broadbent), Indy remarks that – what with the recent deaths of his father as well as his longtime mentor, Marcus -- it's been a brutal couple of years. Which leads Stanforth to comment that " … you reach a point in life where life stop giving you things and starts taking them away."

And indeed, as a depressed Dr. Jones sits on the train that's headed out of town, that's life seems to have become for him. A time of less, not more. Where more doors are closing than are opening.

But then – out of that steam cloud at the end of the train platform – comes Mutt Williams riding on a motorcycle. I don't know if it was actually all that smart of Spielberg & Lucas to dress Shia LaBoeuf like Marlon Brando from "The Wild Ones." But the audience immediately got what they were going for here: Rebellious teen from the 1950s.

Mutt's come looking for Dr. Jones because his mother's in trouble in South America. She's gotten mixed up with an old colleague of Indiana's – one Professor Oxley (played winningly by John Hurt) – who's been off searching for a crystal skull. And following a memorable run-in with some Soviet goons which ends with a motorcycle skidding to a stop inside of the Marshall University library … Indy agrees to help Mutt.

And from there … I don't really want to spoil the fun of the film that follows by getting into too many specifics here. Suffice it to say that "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" delivers the goods. This is a 1980s-era summer blockbuster that confidently mixes character-driven laughs ("Why didn't you make him finish school?") with the "Oooh ! Gross !" moments (Two words. Army ants). As you sit there in the dark chomping your popcorn and sipping your soda, you'll be swept away by John Williams' pounding score. Not to mention by all of those action set pieces and neat special effects.

Does this picture include some odd performances? Off-scenes? Plot holes that you could drive a troop transport through? Sure. But let's remember that "Raiders of the Lost Ark" wasn't exactly a perfect film either. I mean, Indy lashes himself to the periscope of a submarine  … But then that sub crosses hundreds of miles of ocean without ever going below periscope depth. How realistic is that?

But back in 1981, that didn't matter. You wanna know why? Because at that point in "Raiders," you had actualy given yourself over to that movie. You were so enjoying the time that you were spending with these characters that the plot holes didn't matter anymore.

And – in the end – you're going to have the exact same sort of experience with "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." This film's virtues (including that delicious almost-but-not-quite-baton-pass at the very end of the picture) far outweigh its flaws.

As Professor Oxley says in "Crystal Skull" ‘s very satisfying final scene, "How much of life is lost in waiting." So do yourself a favorite. Don't wait to see this new Indiana Jones movie. Start your summer off right by catching a screening this coming weekend with a theater full of Indy fans.

And then remember again what it was like to see a blockbuster back in the summer of 1981.
-- Jim Hill
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MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 124 minutes
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures

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