May 25, 2008

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

In the days, weeks, and months leading up to the return of Indiana Jones, I did my best to avoid any potential spoilers for this new film. This was hard, especially over the past few days. You see, I had subscribed to a thread related to the film over at the Home Theater Forum where pre-release discussion/speculation was going on. However, no sooner was the film out, the discussion became spoiler filled, and I inadvertently saw a plot point or two before I could hit delete. So, as I went to an early morning screening (so as to avoid the afternoon/evening crowds) and found out just how those spoiler bits fit inside the film's puzzle. Now, does it all work? No, not really, but the movie is still very entertaining, if uneven. Should you see it? If you enjoyed any of the three prior films, you are sure to get some sort of entertainment value out of it.

IJ4_IA_4242_RAfter seeing the film, I did see a review where the movie was likened to seeing a reunion tour of an old band. You sort of hope for something new, but all you really want is a set of the old classics played in their current state. That is, more or less, what you get from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There is some new mythology and plot points to play with, ponder, and argue about, but there are also plenty of cues, bits, and references to the prior three films. The way they these elements are blended offer up enough entertainment that you are never bored, even when the energy seems to lag a bit.

Beyond all of the hype and the excitement surrounding a new Indy adventure, I have to admit it I was stil skeptical of revisiting this old franchise. I guess it is better than a studio mounting a remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it is still an idea that took a little getting used to. I mean it has been awhile since we last saw Harrison Ford brandishing a whip while wearing a leather jacket and fedora, and he is not getting any younger. Now having experienced the film, my worries about Ford have been extinguished, it is like he never took the costume off. His performance is like catching up with an old friend.

IJ4_IA_9150_DJAs the movie opens, a convoy of trucks approaches a secret military base in the middle of the desert. Among those in the trucks is a captive Indiana Jones and his partner, Mac (Ray Winstone). Their captors are Russian military led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), who needs Indy to find a particular artifact in the vast warehouse. Upon locating the right crate, Indy makes a daring escape, and hurries back to teach archaeology without missing a beat. Of course, his latest exploits have gotten the government's attention and Indy is forced into a leave of absence. Before skipping town, Indy meets a young greaser named Mutt who needs help finding Professor Oxley (John Hurt). Before you know it, Indy is off to South America, reunited with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), crossing swords with Irina, and searching for another mythical item.

It is hard to really describe the plot without divulging spoilers, and I know how I can get when friends spoil something for me (trust me, you do not want to be around). The problem is that spoiler-type details will threaten to infect any discussion of where the film succeeds and where it fails. I will try my best to avoid anything that could potentially hurt your enjoyment.

IJ4_IA_3921_CFirst let's talk about the good. The best thing about this movie is Harrison Ford, he is in perfect form as Indiana Jones. It is like returning to an old friend, his timing is perfect, his demeanor is spot on, it is as if the past nineteen years did not happen. Next is Shia LeBeouf as Mutt, he does a fine job and is steadily coming along as a promising young performer. By and large, the supporting cast does a fine job, including Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, and Cate Blanchett. Blanchett, in particular, seemed to enjoy sinking her teeth into the role and taking right to the edge of the absurd.

Also on the good side is the sense of adventure. Granted, it does not feel nearly as epic as the first three, but it still exists. I always marvel when a film makes me wonder just how got from point A to B to C, and this movie does succeed in doing that. It also happens to be a lot of fun. While it I did not love it as I had, for a short time, hoped, I still had a grin plastered on my face for two hours. That fact alone makes the film a success, no matter what its shortcomings may be.

On the other side of the coin there are a few negatives to balance out the enjoyable side. For one, the film did not feel nearly as expansive as the first three. There is a slightly claustrophobic feel to the proceedings. Then there is Karen Allen, she never appeared to be "in the character." She looked like she was acting. Sure, some of the chemistry between her and Ford was there, but they were fleeting moments.

IJ4_IA_1107_DJOne of the bigger problems I had with it is with the look. Everything appears to be a bit blown out and the colors a bit off. Janusz Kaminski served as director of photography and he seems to have combined the look of the original trilogy with his work on films like Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List. It was all a little bit distracting.

When it comes write down to it, the biggest problems lie with the plot and the screenplay. At times, the screenplay just does not seem to know quite what it is doing, especially in the expository sequences, which at times are rather obtuse, never really explaining much. As for the plot itself, I am not going to divulge its secrets, but it does feel like something other than an Indiana Jones adventure. It definitely has throwback elements to the serials of old which served as the initial inspiration for the films, but this went another step. It introduced something that should have felt bigger than it did, and their subsequent reaction to it was underwhelming when it should have been big.

Bottomline. In the end, it is an entertaining film. Not quite the return to form that many had hoped for, but not the trainweck that some want to make it. The direction is fine, the lead performance is spot on, and while the story may not quite work, it is still pretty interesting. All in all, see it, keep your expectations in check and you will enjoy it.



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