Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" - movie review (full spoilers)

In case you missed it in the title, this review of the fourth Indiana Jones movie is going to be chock full of spoilers, so if you haven't seen the film yet and don't want spoilers, why are you here?

A fourth Indiana Jones movie was something that I never thought I'd see. They've been talking about one for *years*, but it's never materialized because the script has never been right, a script that had to be approved by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford, with Ford apparently the hardest to sell on the idea. And without him, you have no movie. You can't do an Indiana Jones movie without Indiana Jones, and at this point in time, Indiana Jones can't be anyone other than Harrison Ford - at least not an adult Indiana Jones.

As the persistent rumours of a fourth film finally became reality, I was both excited and concerned. Indiana Jones is one of those iconic characters now - were they going to be able to live up to its history and reputation? The hardest part for me was avoiding as much information about the film as possible, which is seriously difficult given how much press this kind of film would generate. But I wanted to go into the film knowing as little as possible.

The little bits I learned because of casting were ok. Shia LaBeouf was going to play Indy's son. OK, the fact that Indy has a son isn't that big a deal, and I wasn't familiar with Shia at the time the announcement came out, but when I saw him in "Transformers", I really liked him, so I was happy he'd be Indy's son. I was most happy when it was announced that Karen Allen was coming back as Marion. I loved her in the first film, and I was decidedly, seriously, overwhelmingly irritated with Kate Capshaw in the second film (OK, yeah, so Steven married her - maybe she's a good wife and mother, and she might even be a decent actress [I did like her in "Windy City"], but her character was awful in the film - she was a shrill, screaming, helpless bitch, about as much the exact opposite of Marion as you could possibly get.), and I didn't care for Nazi bitch in the third film, so to see Marion back was going to be awesome.

There aren't too many films that we go to see within the first 24 hours of opening. The only films we've done that with lately are the new "Star Wars" films and "Alien vs. Predator" (awesome movie, btw). In most cases, we've gone the night of opening day, but with Indy, I didn't want to wait that long because 1) I was too excited to see this film and didn't want to wait longer than I had to and 2) avoiding spoilers on this kind of movie is extremely difficult, so an extra added few hours of trying to avoid spoilers, especially after it has already been released to the general public, was going to be even more difficult. (The film was shown at Cannes on the Sunday before opening, so all the media movie reviews were out by that night, and I had avoided any newspapers and didn't listen to any radio from Monday through Thursday morning.) By the time we had decided to go and figured that it wouldn't be showing at Mann's Chinese, we decided to go to the Arclight in Hollywood, and the 12:01am screening in the Cinerama Dome was already sold out, so we decided on the 12:30 screening in one of the other theatres. There were a few other showings between midnight and 12:30, but they seemed to be in smaller theatres, so I decided to opt for what appeared to be a bigger theatre. I do miss the experience of seeing an event movie like this at the Chinese, given the Chinese's history, but I do like the trade-off of not having to stand in line for hours and running to find a seat but rather, being able to show up just before the movie starts and have an assigned seat.

We got to the Arclight at about 11:40pm, and the place was packed, from all the people entering the parking structure and looking for a parking space to everyone milling about outside the theatres and in the lobby areas. I know that some people think going to these kinds of screenings is crazy, but part of the appeal of them to me is the event value - these are people so dedicated and interested in the film that they're willing to see it in the middle of the night, and that usually makes for a great crowd to watch a film with because there's so much energy and excitement there. I can't tell you how many people I saw there wearing the signature Indy fedora or even the entire Indy outfit.

OK, so I've talked about everything but the movie itself, so get to it, won't I? Well, I figured that would be plenty of spoiler space there for anyone who accidentally missed the spoiler warning above.

Generally, I liked the film. I had a fun time, there was some really nice dialogue, and the action sequences were kick-ass as you'd expect. Sure, there were things I didn't like as well, but that's true of both "Temple of Doom" and "Last Crusade". (I can't think of anything in "Raiders" that I really didn't like.) I think my perception of the film both suffers and benefits from my historical attachment to the series and the characters. Nostalgia value certainly plays into a lot of the things I liked about the film, but the film also had a hell of a lot to live up to.

Speaking of nostalgia value, I thought it was terrific that they used the old Paramount logo. At first, I thought it looked weird but couldn't pinpoint what was "wrong" until I realized what they'd done. And I absolutely *loved* the traditional morph of the Paramount logo into a mountain in the movie, but this time, it morphed into a prairie dog's mound! That was just too awesome.

I thought the story itself was decent. It was pretty complicated so that you had to pay attention to follow it, but that was true of "Raiders" as well. I think Harrison Ford did a good job of managing to convey the details that you needed to be invested in the finding of the crystal skull without making it tedious.

One thing I really didn't like was that the lost civilization turned out to be aliens, and I *really* didn't care for the spaceship scene (which reminded me of the end of "The Abyss"). I could have lived with the alien story a bit more if they had found some other way for them to leave, maybe just mystically flying away or something, but the regular spaceship shape just seemed too pedestrian for an Indy film, even if they are supposed to be multi-dimensional beings. Oh, and I didn't care for the whole "Tarzan" sequence with Mutt - that was just too weird, even though the monkeys were funny. There were also some fairly preposterous things that happen in the film - like Indy surviving the nuclear blast by hiding in the refrigerator, which gets thrown miles away and bounces around, and he comes out with just a few bruises, but it's not really any more preposterous than a lot of things that have happened in previous Indy films, and there is a certain level of preposterousness and unbelievability that I allow for in these kinds of films.

One problem I think I did have was placing myself in the timezone of the film to be able to understand some of the points being made. It took me a while to realize that they were smack dab in the middle of the worst of McCarthyism, which accounted for the treatment that Indy got from both the FBI and the university. That period was also rife with tales of alien visitation (I was quite proud of myself for noticing the "51" on the inside of the warehouse door since I'm usually oblivious to that kind of thing), not to mention the testing of the nuclear bomb, so it did make sense to some degree to have all those elements in the film.

Once I'd seen the trailer and saw them in the warehouse full of crates, I did expect some kind of mention of the Ark of the Covenant, and I was not disappointed - I loved the shot of the Ark in the partially-destroyed crate. I liked the nod to "Star Wars" with Indy's line of "I've got a bad feeling about this". I didn't expect any reference to Henry, Sr. since Sean Connery could not be convinced to be in the film (I'm curious as to what they were going to have him do. I thought I remembered that he wouldn't have been in the film much anyway, that it was mostly a cameo role, so I'll have to do some research to see if I can find out what that part of the story was supposed to have been.), so I was happy to see his picture on Indy's desk at the office as well as the reference to him near the end of the film. I really didn't expect any reference to Marcus Brody, so it was nice to see his picture on Indy's desk as well as the bronze statue of him on the grounds - I hope they fix his severed head though.

The college where Indy teaches (Marshall) is a nod to long-time friend and fellow producer/director Frank Marshall. I wonder if Mutt's last name is a tribute to Steven's long-time musical collaborator John Williams?

Can I tell you how taken aforward (ok, not really, but I've never finished that particular homework assignment) I was when Indy and Marion were sinking in the not-quicksand (I loved Indy launching into his explanation of that, btw.), and Mutt finds something to help them - by heaving this gigantic snake at them to pull them out. I am TERRIFIED of snakes, and not just by live ones. I'm pretty much terrified of almost every representation of a snake with very, very few exceptions, this being one of them. So when I realized what Mutt had thrown at them, I don't know if Indy was more scared or if I was. Indy didn't have anyone to hide behind, but I did. I only watched that scene peripherally, because what's more scary than just a snake? A HUMONGOID ONE. Hmmm, given the same predicament Indy had - do I grab onto the snake to pull myself out or succumb to certain death by drowning/suffocation? - I'm not sure I could do what he did, and calling it a "rope" wasn't going to make a damn bit of difference to me. Two intellectual brain cells in my head were able to pull themselves away and wonder for a second whether it would actually be possible to use a snake for that purpose or whether the snake would snap first, but then the other billion scared-out-of-their-mind brain cells pulled them back into the fold, and the question wandered off into thin air.

I also wasn't too enamoured of the ant sequences. I didn't watch much of those when someone would fall into the ant pile, and the ants would presumably devour them - I don't know for sure because I wasn't looking. I did see a bit of the final ant sequence when they dragged an entire person into their ant hill. That was both cool and too disgusting to think about too hard.

Harrison Ford was terrific as usual as Indy. There had been a lot of speculation about whether he was too old to be doing that sort of thing, but he showed that he wasn't, doing his own stunts in the film. I did like that they didn't ignore his age and pretend that he was as spry as he used to be (I laughed when Mutt said to him something like "what are you, 80?"), but it's obvious from his actions and the stories he told that he had continued on his global jaunts since the last time we'd seen him and he hadn't just been a classroom professor.

As I mentioned, I was thrilled to see Karen Allen in this film, and I thought she did an awesome job. I *loved*, *loved*, *LOVED* her first line - "Indiana Jones" - done with the same inflection as in "Raiders". And I know I wasn't the only one that thought she was going to hit Indy, just like in "Raiders", when she was actually going to hug Mutt. I loved the back-and-forth between her and Indy and all the sassing she gave back to him when he commented about her getting kidnapped and her retort that he hadn't fared much better. She still had the same spunk as before, and I also loved that she drove off the cliff to get them out of trouble - she's no wilting flower. I did laugh along with everyone else when the camera panned to reveal the silly grin on her face after Indy told her that while there had been other women, none of them were her. I wasn't particularly thrilled about the wedding at the end - it's just not the Indy that I'm used to, and I didn't think they needed to be married to be together, but I suppose that's an acknowledgement of a progression on Indy's part - married man and Associate Dean, but the hat at the end contained at least the hope that he wouldn't just become a boring old guy now.

I thought Shia LaBeouf was pretty good in the film, though he really didn't have that much to do. The whole thing with his hair was pretty funny though. (Incidentally, I was laughing at the early part of the film when Mutt and Indy are in the soda fountain, and that whole scene just made me think that Steven Spielberg got to do his own "American Graffiti" segment.) He was really good during the entire car chase sequence as they're all exchanging possession of the crystal skull, and I loved his sword fight with Cate Blanchett's character. I did keep expecting them to explain his character name. I mean, Marion named him Henry, but instead of that name, he goes by "Mutt". Is this another case where a "Henry" decided to go by the pet's name instead? "We named the *dog* 'Indiana'." - one of the best lines *ever*. It was funny that Indy was referring to him as "Junior". Ummm, not so much since he's not a junior - he's Henry Jones, III, though calling someone "Third" is probably too weird. After the wedding, Mutt picks up the hat that's been blown to him, and he's just about to put it on his head when Indy walks by and snatches it away. You could have speculated that they wanted to continue the series with Indy's son, but I think that particular scene and the fact that Mutt never actually got to wear the hat shows that you can't replace Indy, even with his own son, and the filmmakers are well aware of and acknowledge that.

I thought John Hurt was excellent, as was Ray Winstone as Indy's sidekick/nemesis, I thought Cate Blanchett was ok (I'm not usually a fan of hers, except in "Notes on a Scandal"), and while I liked Jim Broadbent, I didn't know he was only going to be in so little of the film.

Now that the shock value of seeing an Indy film that I'd never seen before has worn off, I want to see it again, where I might be able to appreciate it more for itself. In the grand scheme of things, I'd put this in a tie for second - nothing tops "Raiders", so that's obviously first. Given a choice between this film and "Last Crusade", I can't decide. I like this for Marion being in it and the other things I've mentioned, but having Sean Connery and Harrison Ford play father and son was just too awesome. Pulling up the rear is, of course, "Temple of Doom". I didn't have the problems with the violence in the film that others did, and I would actually like to see the film again, but I'd be happier and more inclined to do so if someone would do me the favor of rotoscoping Willie Scott out of the entire film because I just can't deal with her.

Hmmm, I've read some stuff that there were originally planned to be five films in the series - does that mean there might actually be another one forthcoming?

OK, last bit - apparently, this film has pissed off the communists. OK, whatever.


Sherry said...

I, too, thought of "American Graffiti" throughout the opening sequence, and smiled to myself.

WHY do people think that this movie is based on actual history? Did anyone actually come out of the movie thinking that the Communists were running around with Crystal Skulls in 1957? Do they also think that the Nazis were actually walking around with the Ark of the Covenant? I guess they don't read the end of the credits that state that the events are fictional. Sigh. What good are disclaimers if the people for which they're intended don't actually see them?

JeffG said...

I can't remember where exactly I read it, but I read that the role Jim Broadbent played was the part that was originally written as Henry, Sr. The role was revised and re-written for Broadbent after Connery decided to stay retired.

Cindy said...

Hmmm, that's sounding kind of familiar now. It would have had to be substantially different, though, because of the tone and specifics of the interaction.

I read somewhere else that either Steven or George, I forget which, said it actually turned out for the best that Sean Connery didn't come back. He said the audience would have been upset that it was only a cameo and that he wouldn't be going with Indy on the adventure. Having his character be dead actually did add some poignancy to the story, especially Indy's line at the end to Mutt about his grandfather.