Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review
Back in the Eighties Spielberg, Lucas, Williams and Ford took us back to the cinema and television serials of the old and the adventures of Indiana Jones. These were, rightly, well received, enjoyable romps through the jungles, temples and canyons, introducing the type of hero not seen on screen for many a long decade. The whole mix used to fit perfectly, the stories by Lucas matched perfectly by the sweet, almost innocent, direction by Spielberg. Production values were of the highest order, the flowing themed score by Williams providing the icing on the cake to Ford's simple character whose by day teacher miraculously morphed into all round archaeologist and hero Indiana Jones.
In hushed tones a few years ago the rumours started again; another Indiana adventure was being pencilled by the old guard and readied for the big screen once again. Unlike most other rumours though this one proved to be true; say it proudly... Indiana Jones was about to enter our lives once again.
It's the usual affair for Jones, he's kidnapped, subjected to the full force of the nuclear tests in Nevada, discovers an age old mystery and embarks upon yet another journey to try and resolve the mystery of the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. On the way he's reintroduced to the some old characters and and introduced to some new; the best loved of Jones' girlfriends, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), his son, Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf), the detestable bad guys headed by Col. Dr. Irina Spalko, old friends George McHale (Ray Winston), Professor Harold Oxley (John Hurt), Dean Charles Stanforth (Jim Broadbent), his hat and his whip.
Ultimately Jones 'discovers' that a rare form of the Mitchell-Hedges skull exists, a crystal skull more elongated than the human variety, something perhaps not of this world and something perhaps which rumours indicate may give power to all who hold it before them. It becomes a race against time to ensure that this power is discovered by the West before the heinous Ruskies capture it for their own nefarious purposes.
This is the usual plot for any Indiana movie and they worked in the Eighties, movie making has moved on somewhat though, the whole industry rebooting characters left right and centre and unfortunately in the process missing out one of cinema's most iconic characters. As the industry has moved on so has the viewing public and this I feel is the main reason why this particular instalment of Indiana Jones' adventures just doesn't quite work. In the Eighties people wanted, almost needed, a return to family values, to the serials of old, to action, adventure with a cracking whip to save the day. Now though people require more depth to their characters, characters who have detailed history, valid reasons for their actions and darker sides to their characters. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is somewhat set in the time warp it created for itself some 27 years ago.
The story is no different to that which we have seen before in both Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade, find the artefact which will give ultimate power, avoid and defeat the bad guys on the way, the bad guys in this instance though brought up to date in the 1950s with Commies not the Nazis of old. There is a nice head nod to the troubles which America went through during that period, being almost their own worst enemy and suspecting all before them of having Reds under their beds, including Dr. Jones, but interludes like these are sparse indeed in this feature. It's more of the same from Lucas' word processor. Lucas of course destroyed his own Golden Goose by penning and directing all of the prequels to his excellent Star Wars trilogy; his Golden Goose now of course still producing golden eggs in the form of issues, re-issues, re-releases and re-masters of that once loved work. Although he has some of the ideas to produce these stories he should know by now that his writing is not the best it could be and hand these reigns over to people far more talented than himself. Spielberg of course does what he does best, make a story come to life on our screens, employing the best team available and implementing the best possible production techniques. This has not changed at all and although he still brings Indiana to the screen with love and joy, with a hint of sarcastic comedy, a nod to its previous incarnations (and Jones' age), and whilst we are now aware that Spielberg can direct on a much more serious level this is really what he revels at, the sheer enjoyment of putting good characters on screen; it's just a pity then that these characters were let down on the drawing board before they even got to him.
Those production values are yet again of the highest order, you wouldn't expect anything less from this team though and we're not let down. There's some stunning sets and set pieces, from Area 51, the jungle chase, the ants, the final Peruvian mountains, and of course that continuing score by John Williams. Williams was as much responsible for the atmosphere and enjoyment of Star Wars and the original Indiana Jones' films as Spielberg, Lucas and the actors involved. His score has always been front centre stage, in your face, bold and vibrant implementing themes for individual characters or organisations so a continuity is introduced throughout a series of films in so far that even without looking at the screen at any one point in time the 'viewer' should be able to almost recognise the characters involved or a situation playing just by listening to the background score. It's always been enjoyable listening to any score by Williams and this is no different.
The actors play their parts well enough, given the material they had to work with, especially Harrison Ford as the decrepit archaeologist Indiana Jones. There's some good nods to his age and how he and his comrades were not as young as they used to be and in all honesty this was a welcome addition as we all know that at 66 Harrison Ford shouldn't really be fighting the good fight but already enjoying his depleted, credit crunched affected pension. There's a good introduction to his unknown son, Mutt, superbly played by LeBeouf and an indication that the franchise might just continue with young Shia at the helm. If it does then they have to get some better writers in and perhaps add an edge to his character, although portrayed as The Wild One he was far from it. Jim Broadbent takes over Denholm Elliot's role (Elliot having passed away some 16 years ago), and rather than Broadbent taking over the character they acknowledge Marcus' death, Broadbent being the new Dean of the college where Indy teaches. Cate Blanchett has taken some stick for her rendering of the devious Russian Dr. Spalko, but I think she takes the part on particularly well, hamming it up as any good comic villain should. Yes her accent is strained and yes her performance is way over the top, but the part in these movies demand it somewhat and as such I have nothing but praise for her portrayal of the icy communist hell bent on finding the power for her own ends. Of course Karen Allen, returning as Marion Ravenwood, must be mentioned. Of all the woman in the previous Indy movies Marion was the most liked; stern and determined almost a match for Indy himself, certainly the only one who would match his ballsy attitude. All of that is gone in the character we have in this incarnation. Her determination has ebbed away, the fire in her belly has been somewhat extinguished, what remains is purely a shadow of her former self to the degree that we might really be looking at a new character altogether. This was the biggest let down of the film for me, she's weak, almost subservient and not the character she once was.
A film so looked forward and yet again Lucas pulls the rug from under our feet and gives us something we weren't really expecting or wanting; sounds familiar? The base ingredients are there they're just not well baked. Completists will obviously have this in their collection, even those who are perhaps not quite as obsessive as some collectors will still probably buy this just for its namesake and wait until the original trilogy is released. I perhaps fall into that second category, I'm glad I have it in preparation to put the earlier box set at its side, but only for that reason. As a movie and particularly as an Indy movie it's somewhat of a let down. As someone said...”would it have mattered if Indiana Jones was in that movie or not?” and the answer is a resounding no it wouldn't. It's a simple action adventure film with non of the panache of earlier versions. Enjoyable to a degree but could have been so much better.