I've always been a die-hard Indy fan since the age of six and I frequently bring Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade into movie discussions as two of my all-time favourite films. Everything about them were perfect, so I tried not to put any undue pressure on this latest addition to the series, lest I end up miserable at what unfolds on the screen.
When I heard that the script that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas ultimately settled on dealt with the Mayan legend of the crystal skulls I made sure to watch the History Channel documentary dealing with the real historical artifacts. Through the programme I learned that some researchers believe there is paranormal activity and supernatural powers involved in the crystal skulls, and it became obvious to me why sci-fi fanboys, Spielberg and Lucas, chose to this script over all the others.
I'm placing my full review under the cut because it's both long and will contain spoilers. I look forward to discussing the film with the rest of you who head out to see it at some point this weekend. I'm warning you now, behind the cut you will find the lengthy discussions of an Indy fan. It may be borderline tedious to a lot of you, so proceed with caution. lol.
All I have to say is that, when I heard the first strain of John Williams' Indiana Jones theme, I got chills.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen and Shia LaBeouf
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
The film opens in Nevada, 1957. In the midst of the Cold War, Russians occupy areas throughout the United States in search of military quarters that house powerful historical and religious artifacts. Led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), the Russians use Indy (Harrison Ford) and his British partner Mac (Ray Winstone) to locate a mysterious, metallic coffin and mummified remains hidden within the Nevada military base. From there, Indy gets caught up in an adventure that includes his teaming up with young Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), the son of his former lover, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), in order to discover the Mayan crystal skull that holds power beyond human comprehension.
More than anything, I was hoping that the film would refer to many inside jokes and references from either Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Last Crusade in order to satisfy all diehard fans. Well, I got plenty to keep me satisfied...
To start off, the opening scene on the Nevada military base was revealed to be the final resting place of the Lost Ark of the Covenant from the first Indy film. I love how John Williams score from Raiders came on just as the camera panned back from the enterance of the storage area. It allowed Spielberg to indulge his original fans by bringing back fond memories of the first film. It even included a brief shot of the Ark inside a broken crate.
To acknowledge the passing of actor Denholm Elliot (who so wonderfully portrayed the university dean Marcus Brody in both Raiders and Crusade), there is an oil painting of Brody which adorns the hallway outside Indy's classroom. More obvious than the painting is the stone statue of Brody that is erected on the campus square. Finally, Indy actually addresses the passing of his friend and keeps his memory alive with a photo of the late dean on his desk, alongside one of his father, Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery from The Last Crusade). It made me very happy to at least see both characters properly acknowledged in some form. To cap of the little tribute, when the camera focuses on the photo of Jones Sr. the Williams score from The Last Crusade joins the soundtrack. The only thing I was a little disappointed with was the lack of any mention of Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), Indy's Egyptian friend who appeared in both Raiders and The Last Crusade.
There was a great little scene which involved Indy having to not only come face to face with a giant snake, but to hold on to it as well. "Snakes...why did it have to be snakes?" This film wouldn't have felt like a part of the series had it not involved at least one reference to his deathly fear of the creatures.
And, finally, there is the perfect casting choice of Karen Allen, reprising her role as the tough-as-nails Marion Ravenwood; daughter of noted archaeologist and Indy's mentor, Abner Ravenwood. It was wonderful seeing her alongside Ford again. The two had such wonderful chemistry, despite the passage of time.
Well, enough of discussing all the inside references to the other films.
It took a little while for me to adjust to the fact that the series was set in 1957. I'd grown so accustomed to watching Indy fight off the Nazis during the 1930's, that seeing America tremble in fear over the Cold War was very different. However, Spielberg did a great job of creating situations that Indy ackwardly tried to fit into. Harrison Ford is clearly older, but none the wiser, when it comes to adapting to major changes in society.
Within the first hour of the film we witness his near-death experience with an atomic bomb detonated in the Nevada desert and his struggle to relate to the young, hip and cool Mutt Williams, whom he's just met. Watching Indy hang on for dear life while Mutt speedily evades the Russians while on his motorcycle made me think back on The Last Crusade, when Indy was the young one in charge and was speeding down a dusty road, with Nazis on his tail, while his father sat in the box car. Somewhere between The Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy has become the exact replica of his father.
I, surprisingly, enjoyed all of Indy's scenes which involved his evolving relationship with Mutt. Going into the film I was a little annoyed at the idea that Indy would, yet again, have a young sidekick. But Mutt is no Short Round, and I was very happy that the script called for him to act like a rebellious adult, instead of a whiny teenager. Mutt is a young man and watching him interact with Indy was reminiscent of the great scenes in The Last Crusade between Indy and Henry Sr. I thought some of the films strongest moments involved their interaction with one another.
Harrison Ford is still in fine form. At the age of sixty-five he can still work that fedora and whip just as he had back in the 1980's. Watching him back in action was a real treat and he's just as dryly sarcastic and bull-headed as before. Although he doesn't crack his whip as often as he used too, it's still his weapon of choice, even in the atomic age. Cate Blanchett, the great master of disguises and accents, does a great job as Irina Spalko, although I found her very underused, overall. She didn't get as much memorable screentime as Rene Belloq from Raiders, for example. Karen Allen was a welcome familiar face in a sea of new cast members and, as I mentioned earlier, her banter with Indy picks up right where it left off. Older and a little more cynical, Marion Ravenwood proves to the audience why Indy thinks she's worth everything. Shia LaBeouf was, shockingly, one of the standouts for me. He was perfectly suited to match Harrison Ford for every comic quip and action sequence. Their scenes together are the moments I took away with me when I left the theatre. There have been some rumours, fuelled by George Lucas, that the Indy franchise may continue with Indy's son and I, naturally, had reservations. Now that I think about it, having a film that focused just on Indy and Mutt wouldn't be such a terrible idea after all. As for Ray Winstone as Mac and John Hurt as Ox, both were poorly underused but both are great British actors so they made due with what they were given.
The action sequences were, for the most part, all old school stunts and camera tricks. I was very happy that Spielberg stayed away from the overuse of CGI (*cough* George Lucas *cough*) so that the film felt and looked like it belonged with the rest of the series.
All the above comments were my positive remarks. Now, for a couple of negatives. Mainly, the appearance of an alien. I figured this was inevitable as soon as I learned about the Mayan storyline, however, a small part of me hoped that no E.T.'s would pop up. Luckily, it was only one and it was at the very end. Considering I'm not big on sci-fi, I was a little irritated that Spielberg and Lucas chose to go this route. I mean, archaeology and science fiction rarely, if ever, meet. The only reason it can be forgiven is because supernatural elements actually (supposedly) are related to the real crystal skulls, so it wasn't like it was made up simply for the script. The final twenty minutes or so of the film were quite uneven. Even Indy's wedding to Marion felt a little out of place. I think another reason I wasn't completely satisfied with how the film concluded is because there wasn't a set of tasks Indy had to endure. In Raiders, he and Marion had to shut their eyes against the death pouring from the Ark. In The Last Crusade, Indy had to get through the three tasks set out before him in order to reach the Cup of Christ ("It is only the penitent man who shall pass").
Overall, it was a welcome summer diversion. Although there were a few disappointing factors I'm quite pleased that it didn't suck like Temple of Doom. The Last Crusade and Raiders are still a lot better than Skulls, but considering this film came out NINETEEN YEARS after the last film in 1989, I thought Spielberg and Co. did a great, solid job. For diehard Indy fans: if you go into it with an open mind and don't give it unrealistically high expectations, you will be pleased, I think.
Did I love it as much as I could have? No. Was I still happy? Yes.
FINAL GRADE: Three stars and a half (out of five)