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Just saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I liked it. Not in love with it, and I went in to the film knowing it had flaws and moments to make you go “Huh?!” and “Oh, come on!” – I knew it was far from perfect – but a lot of the film made me smile, especially the world-weariness of Harrison Ford (who can still kick ass) as he reckons with red scare-era America along with archaeological riddles. And I remained smiling as I left the theater.

Time for reviewing thoughts:

  • At one point I thought So they gonna use the Repo Man theory of UFOs? No, but wouldn’t it have been a trip if they had? +

  • The film looks great, hands down, full stop, as all of the Indiana Jones films do. I find the look of this series very appealing, almost comforting; it always makes you feel like Indy’s in a real, dusty world. I like that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas eventually steered away from the initial idea Lucas had for Indy IV, which would’ve been called Indiana Jones and the Saucermen from Mars: I agree with Fatboy Roberts, who noted on his show that Indy’s adventures need to be tied in to the earth’s dirt, not to outer space stunts.

  • Shia LeBoeuf is really solid as Mutt Williams, the greaser kid who turns out to be a kindred spirit with Indy, and someone who Indy actually can trust. Finally I see the guy’s appeal, now that he’s not swallowed up by the ridiculousness of Transformers (his only other film I’ve seen). LeBoeuf got guidance from former greaser George Lucas on how to play that sort of guy, and what could’ve been a mannered aping performance stays natural, lived-in, and appealing (including his nervous tics). He’s a good guy. I’m not sure I’d see a film starring adventurer Mutt Williams, as Lucas has suggested they do, but maybe I’d read a book about him…

  • I laughed happily at how they sneaked in the Wilhelm Scream. And at the ants. And at the use of the snake. (Oh, right, I thought, Marion doesn’t know he’s scared of snakes…)

  • I mentioned world-weariness: I’m glad that the film addresses head-on that Indiana Jones has aged, and that he isn’t in love with the way the world’s developed in the 1950s. I contrast it with (of all things) Men In Black II: amidst that film’s silliness is Will Smith’s performance, which deserved a better film than the one he was in. Smith plays J as a man who’s aging faster than he should because of his job, and he knows it; but that film does almost nothing with that bit of characterization, as it basically falls over itself aping the decent original film. It’s a shame, especially since it’s tough for a young man like Smith to pull off that world-weariness and have it not look silly. (Even Orson Welles didn’t completely manage that when he played an old man in Citizen Kane.)

    Crystal Skull does use that, thank goodness. Indy’s had a lot of sadness and disappointment, personally and professionally, in the 19 years between Last Crusade and the events of this film…hell, from the end of Raiders on. Many men in his government don’t trust him, even though he was decorated in World War II. (“How many of those medals did you deserve?” one G-man asks.) He’s upright and trustworthy, but surrounded by turncoats, double agents, people who plum don’t earn trust, and the congenitally distrusting. It’s telling in a thematic way that Indy’s nearly killed by his own country’s weapon, which is why I forgive the silliness of how he survives the freaking nuclear blast: Indy has to stay on his toes around almost everybody, unable to expect that anyone else can rescue him, and that’s aged him.

  • Importantly (I think), the Indiana Jones films avoid the sequel trap of escalating action where everything must be bigger, bigger, bigger. Spielberg, Lucas, and the various writers they hired know that they can just throw Indy at a new situation and see how he reacts: he doesn’t need to be confronted with a BIGGER, MORE DANGEROUS SECOND ARK OF THE COVENANT or anything like that. They evoke the movie serials that inspired this series, but they know it would be a bad idea to have Indy in a scene that could be titled “Indiana Jones Saves The Universe!” like some serials would. Some of Crystal Skull’s later action does succumb to the “bigger than ever before!” mentality – the stunt involving the vehicle and the tree is one moment like that – but the film never goes completely nuts. (But remember that I’m very forgiving of science fictional plot twists. You might find it completely nuts.)

  • But one way this film nicely builds on the earlier films is that when Indy realizes who built the city he finds in the Amazon Basin, he says “They were archaeologists…” He’s found other kindred spirits, even if he’s missed them by thousands of years (or thinks he’s missed them…). And Indy’s also become less likely to automatically say “this belongs in a museum” (as he would have as a young man or in the 1930s) and is more apt to return objects to where they belong. It’s a character arc moment that I can’t imagine the creators of Lara Croft or the recent Mummy films bothering with.

  • I could’ve done without Indy and Marion becoming the Bickersons…

  • …or how “Ox,” John Hurt’s character, shows how he’s gone crazy… (Maybe “quiet crazy” would’ve been a better, less silly choice.)

  • Ah, hot college students are hot in many eras… I must have a thing for those Fifties glasses… ;-)

  • And yep, I’m in love with Cate Blanchett, even when she’s evil. Scorchingly hot. Mike Russell pointed out that though her Soviet scientist character is allegedly psychic, we don’t see her use that power (except slightly in her first scene); however, I think that detail’s mentioned to show that she believes both in psychic power and in its potential as a weapon, and that psychic power augmented by the crystal skulls is an ideal weapon. She wants to destroy the West by destroying our collective mind, and she thinks she’s found the way to do it.

  • I started thinking of this after I learned that Crystal Skull used science fiction plot elements: What would an Indiana Jones time-travel story be like?



    + Footnote: This makes me want to quote Repo Man:

    MILLER: I'll give you another instance. You know the way everybody's into weirdness right now? Books in all the supermarkets about Bermuda Triangles? UFOs? How the Mayans invented television? That kinda thing?

    OTTO: I don't read them books.

    MILLER: Well, the way I see it, it's exactly the same. There ain't no difference between a flying saucer and a time machine. People get so hung up on specifics, they miss seeing the whole thing. Take South America, for example. In South America, thousands of people go missing every year. Nobody knows where they go -- they just, like, disappear. But if you think about it for a minute, you realize something. There had to be a time when there was no people, right?

    OTTO: Yeah. I guess.

    MILLER: Well, where did all these people come from? Hmmm? I'll tell you where. The future. Where did all these people disappear to? Hmmm?

    OTTO: [doubtfully] The past?

    MILLER: That's right! And how did they get there?

    OTTO: [laughs] How the fuck should I know?

    MILLER: Flying saucers. Which are really?... Yeah, you got it. Time machines. I think a lot about this kind of stuff. I do my best thinking on the bus.

    Comments

    ( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
    coyotegoth
    Jun. 1st, 2008 01:18 am (UTC)
    The Battling Bickersons! You win for esoteric reference of the day; also, this is a very well-observed review.
    chris_walsh
    Jun. 1st, 2008 01:33 am (UTC)
    Thank you. And thank my parents, who A) often reference the Bickersons and B) more importantly, never act like them.
    greyaenigma
    Jun. 1st, 2008 03:57 am (UTC)
    I rather liked Marion and Indy bickering, it was good to see them together and in love.

    And I loved where they sneaked in the Wilhelm Scream.

    The scene with the tree and the truck wasn't completely implausible until it was implied that that's what she meant to happen. That being said, it still wasn't as implausible as the high-speed brachiation.
    leonardpart6
    Jun. 1st, 2008 09:48 pm (UTC)
    Glad you liked it.

    The idea of a title like Indy and the Saucermen from Mars (which is far more awesometacular than you admit, good sir) convinces me that Lucas and Spielberg should collaborate on some sort of 50s retro sci-fi project. The 50s elements in Crystal Skull were so dead-on that I'd love to see them expand it somehow. Saucermen from Mars!
    chris_walsh
    Jun. 1st, 2008 11:00 pm (UTC)
    Lucas and Spielberg should collaborate on some sort of 50s retro sci-fi project. The 50s elements in Crystal Skull were so dead-on that I'd love to see them expand it somehow.

    Hmm. I can see that. Lucas has a real affinity for that era (it explains the diner in Attack of the Clones: in cleolinda's parody of the film one of the menu items is "a malted anachronism"), and that shows to good effect in Indy IV.

    I'm perverse enough that I'd kind of like it if Lucas, if he makes more films, makes them weirder and more in the spirit of THX-1138 (I really am fond of that movie), but I can picture your idea, too.
    leonardpart6
    Jun. 2nd, 2008 01:40 pm (UTC)
    Ya know, ever since Revenge of the Sith, Lucas has been saying his next projects would be nutty experimental film-school-hippie weirdo projects that would likely only play in limited runs... only to then turn around and work on Indy and Star Wars stuff. C'mon, George! Make with the weird!
    ( 6 comments — Leave a comment )