May 26, 2008

Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Sometimes, it's helpful to take note of the mood of the reviewer when considering the review. For what it's worth, I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with sharp abdominal pain left over from what I believe to be an attack of food poisoning Saturday evening. (This, by the way, is why I've not been writing too much this weekend.) Our venture out to see the movie was my first prolonged waking activity of pretty much the whole weekend since Saturday; for Saturday, The Wife wanted to watch the other three Indiana Jones movies. My best guess is that I did not fully cook something I ate during the movie marathon and I've been paying the price since then. I'm still not 100% even now, but I'm doing my best to keep solid food down (the catbox in use located a few feet from me is not helping) and to assuage The Wife that I do not have appendicitis. So I went into the movie hoping to be overwhelmed, but not really expecting it to happen.

Story: Professor Jones and his adventures move forward into the 1950's. The Red Scare is in full bloom and for good reason, because the Commies really are everywhere. Fortunately, despite having taken on the years, Indy is still in good shape, still wearing his fedora and still an ace with the bullwhip, so he's ready to follow the trail of a missing colleague to South America to beat the Soviets to the resting place of the eponymous doodad around which the movie revolves. Sadly, the story can't resist going all the way over the top in terms of silliness in its final act, but then again, a silly story with scarcely believable supernatural overtones is part and parcel of the Indiana Jones franchise. There are a few holes in the plot. Big, gaping holes the size of Meteor Crater, but only a few of them.

Script: Having just seen the previous three movies, it seems to me that the script is on par with the other two good ones. (Look, it's not that Temple of Doom completely lacked merit; it just didn't have much of a story and Indy was burdened with an annoying moppet and an even-more annoying producer's girlfriend for sidekicks. The stunts were good. But this movie completely ignored Temple of Doom, as though it never existed, as should all good Indiana Jones fans.) The script gets a little bit talky at points, and the dialogue verges on the precious, especially as Indy interacts with Shia LeBouf's character "Mutt." However, there are some sly comments and wisecracks, even if they are a little bit on the corny side. There is also the sense that history hasn't stopped and that Indy has had a lot of adventures in between the end of Last Crusade and the start of this movie, which is good Indy shouldn't have been sitting on his butt writing books for twenty years.

Cast: Bringing back Karen Allen was a great idea; she was the only one of Indy's girlfriends who could match up with him. Shia LeBouf is okay but ultimately forgettable and lacks gravity. John Hurt is basically wasted. Denholm Elliot is sorely missed. Cate Blanchett was also quite enjoyable as the evil Soviet colonel, and it was easy to tell that she enjoyed being the bad guy. (Soviet Communists make a fine substitute for Nazis, by the way.) I had no use at all for Ray Winstone's character, and he could have been written out, or killed off, without harming the plot. Harrison Ford looks good for his age, although it's hard to believe that a man that age could possibly do the sorts of comic-book acrobatics that are part and parcel of the Indiana Jones. Movie number five is going to have to be Indiana Jones Buys Stock In Ben-Gay if they're going to keep this up.

Cinematography: Setting up the movie visually is solid camera work -- no herky-jerky stuff here; the stuntmen are doing enough moving about for that. The choice of set locations is also good for the narrative -- the prologue contains the mandatory homage to previous Indiana Jones movies. The use of Iguacu Falls for a critical set of shots is candy for the eyes, and so is the mandatory Chased-By-A-Horde shot. Spielberg is direct and on target for his basic, fundamentals-first style of moviemaking. Many movie buffs are impressed that Spielberg chose to shoot on film rather than digitially; I'm not so sure that it makes a huge difference to the average viewer but it probably does contribute to the look and feel of the movie having such a strong continuity with the other three Indiana Jones films.

Costumes: Doctor Jones' choice of apparel hasn't changed at all in the twenty years that have passed; fortunately, the leather jacket, fedora, and tan pants are a timeless enough look that we can let it pass. Other characters look appropriately 1950's-ish, even if in the first act of the movie set in the States, it seems likely that the town-and-gown, men-don't-leave-home-without-a-tie dress code was probably not strictly observed back in real life. The costumes for the Soviet soldiers look appropriately martial and Cate Blanchett's gray Soviet jumpsuit looks appropriate for a true believer in Stalinism.

Effects: It's the stunts. That's really what these movies are about, and this movie delivers. Swordplay, car chases, improbable swinging and vaulting, and good old-fashioned fisticuffs. You'll get your fill of all of the above. It's all very well put-together and engaging. Some of it is quite tense. Somewhat missing from the action sequences is the feel of crazy, episodic dangers; the idea that this is a movie adapted from the old serial films like Flash Gordon is somewhat lost, but there is plenty of danger and plenty of action.

Music: John Williams leaves aside his flirtation with choral scores and works strictly with an orchestra. This is a good move, especially towards the end of the movie. He does his typical good job of setting to score a few themes associated with the characters, in particular the use of the music from Raiders of the Lost Ark associated with Karen Allen. The use of an Elvis song in the opening title shots helps set the movie in the 1950's.

Comments: If the movie intends to "pass the torch" on to Shia LeBouf, it equivocates in doing so, and I'm not sure that I'd enjoy that anyway. I don't see why a cameo from Sean Connery couldn't have been arranged, and I missed Jonathan Rhys-Davies (who played Indy's Egyptian friend Sallah in Raiders and Crusade). For the first hour and a half, the movie is pretty much everything you could have hoped for; the last half hour is somewhat disappointing but workable. Certainly worth the price of admission, Crystal Skull is a fine appendix to the Indiana Jones adventures.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

A and I saw this the other evening. I still feel kind of sad about the whole thing. There were definitely some awesome parts.... motorcycle chase etc., but like you said some of it was a bit disjunct feeling, including the ending. I for one was excited to see Indiana's reunion with actress Karen Allen, but felt that ultimately their chemistry was a bit off. Their interaction seemed kind of goofy the whole time. Shia LeBouf........hmmm, I'm not sure how I feel about it.
Over all, it was a fun movie to watch, and that's what ultimately counts, but I'm left with a bittersweet feeling in my stomach. Part of me wonders if it would have been better to end with The Last Crusade.......