Thursday, July 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls Review

[trying to be as Spoiler Free as possible]
I remember watching Saturday morning cartoons and one of the School House Rock cartoons talked about how “Three Is A Magic Number”. Some of the examples mentioned in the cartoon include: the past, present and future. The heart, the brain, the body. Three legs to make a table stand, three wheels to make a tricycle. Lastly, a man, a woman and a child, in a family. In some ways, the same applies to movies as well. George Lucas has mentioned in a past interview where the first movie introduces the characters, the second one puts them in some kind of peril with the hero’s outlook being bleak. The last one shows our heroes getting out of their jam and triumphing in the end. Lucas mentioned it as the very definition of drama. We have seen this type of drama in the character arcs of some of our favorite characters in the following trilogies:
  • Star Wars (both originals and prequels)
  • The Godfather
  • Back to the Future
  • The Matrix
  • Terminator
  • Lord of the Rings
But, for whatever reason, a fourth movie materializes out of nowhere, hoping to capture the essence of the originals. But, along the way, it bursts the “Three Is A Magic Number” rule and taints the goodness trilogies hold for people. Some examples of this include, but not limited to:
  • Rambo
  • Die Hard
  • Aliens
So, when I heard that a fourth Indiana Jones movie was going to be produced, I sort of cringed at the thought of it. Last Crusade did a decent job of providing the audience with a different perspective of who Indiana Jones is, especially with the brilliant opening sequence with River Phoenix playing young Indy and the great interplay between Indy and his father, played by Sean Connery. Everyone got to ride off into the sunset and put a close to the 80s with a film trilogy that represented pure, unadulterated action with an iconic movie character that audiences can relate to.
19 years later, we are treated to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It’s certainly an Indiana Jones movie with Indy in pursuit of those rare antiquities (in this case, some football shaped crystal that is coincidentally looks like an alien head), while being pursued by the bad guys. Harrison Fold reprises his role of Indy but seems grumpier and not as invested into the adventure than in past movies. It’s as if Indiana Jones was doing an impersonation of the Harrison Ford of recent years. Marion is back for some of the action as well but isn’t well utilized. There isn’t as much globe-trotting as in the previous movies but there are some elaborate set pieces created that barely holds the action scenes that take place. In fact, the newest Indiana Jones film has enough action for two summer time films. Unfortunately, for all of the action that we get, there are many elements from the previous trilogies that is sorely lacking in the newest film.

  1. Pacing. With all of the action surrounding Indy and his sidekicks, it’s hard to find time to soak up the ambiance of where the action is taking place. The opening scene from Raiders is a perfect example of giving viewers a good idea of idea of what’s in the cave and what things to avoid. The opening sequence in Crystal Skull plops us in a place that some fans may consider as familiar but then jumpstarts the action into overdrive. Had the pacing been a little bit better, it could have built the wonder and excitement of figuring out where our hero is and what he is trying to do.
  2. Sidekicks. We are introduced to two sidekicks. Mac and Mutt. But aside from a line or two from the script, there isn’t much time for us to figure out exactly who these characters are and what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s an Indiana Jones movie so sure, Indy is the star but Short Round was a great sidekick in Temple of Doom. Indy’s father Henry Jones Sr. added some depth to Indy’s character. I’m not particularly sure why both Mac and Mutt are in the movie in the first place. You could probably remove them from the movie and still maintain the same storyline.
  3. Aliens. George Lucas shifted the time frame from the 1930’s to the 1950’s and tried to capture the movie genre of the time, which includes Communism and Aliens. The two don’t really go hand in hand and while the alien premise showed promise, the Crystal Skull turns out to be nothing more than a mere object that Indy is after. The Ark was almost a character in itself in Raiders, causing those mice in the cargo hold to get all loopy and the Holy Grail itself provided a connection between Indy’s dad and Indy, perhaps the only thing other than blood that kept the two together. The Crystal Skull kind of falls into the Shakara Stones with its super powers but weak connection to the main characters.
  4. Bad Guys. I mentioned how Communism and Aliens didn’t go hand in hand. The Russians in the movie serve their purpose as the bad guys but have as much menace as a dead rattlesnake. They look scary with their uniforms and such but don’t do much in the movie besides shoot badly and chase after our heroes.

So, bottom line:
Was it entertaining? Yes, until the end, where viewers will suffer déjà-vu with the X-Files.
Is it worth paying full price to see this movie? Yes. But, only because it retains the basic essence of what was good and holy about the original trilogy. Disclosure: I actually saw Crystal Skull with my co-workers, with the company picking up the tab. But if I had not seen it with my co-workers, I still would have paid full price to see it.
Would you want to see it again? No. But yes when it comes out to DVD to see the supplemental stuff.

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