‘Indiana Jones 4′ (2008)

aka ‘Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull’

Was this worth my $10?

Is it really necessary to summarize the plot of an Indiana Jones movie? Apparently it is, at least that’s the impression I walked away from ‘Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull’ with: the story turned in David Koepp (script), George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson (story) hits just enough notes to remind you that you’re at an Indiana Jones movie but it hits enough of them sour to make it impossible to miss the fact that this isn’t a movie for movie’s sake but a franchise reboot and a launching platform for the next generation.

Set more than 15 years after ‘Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade’, this film opens as all of these kind films do, in the middle of some adventure.
The communist paranoia of the late-1950s serves as the backdrop for the entirety of this film and that is part of its downfall: our opening adventure is directly related to the sum of the plot. So instead of setting up our hero with a triumph and then presenting him with another challenge we’re thrown right into the mix, denied the pleasure of the establishing adventure and required to keep the details of the first bit of the movie in the forefront of our minds as we wade through the exposition that fills in Indiana’s backstory – his work with the OSS during World War II, his father’s death, the death of his friend Marcus Brody, and the obvious device of introducing Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf) who shows up with the letter that will lead Indy on his next adventure.

What really disconnects ‘Kingdom of The Crystal Skull’ from the rest of the Indiana Jones movies is the central plot device. The other-worldliness of the object sought, and the resources of Indy’s foes, not to mention their sheer number, stretch credulity so thin that it’s see through (seriously, who brings a barber’s chair to the middle of the Amazon jungle? And are we expected to believe that a Harley Davidson fat-body motorcycle circa 1957 could get any traction at all in that same jungle? And what’s with Cate Blanchett’s shifting accent (is she Russian or British)?).

By ignoring its own plot bible – tangentially connected opening adventure successfully resolved + exotic but plausible main adventure – and by introducing so many characters and bits of backstory to set up the next chapter in the franchise Lucas, Spielberg, and company suck most of the life out of what could have been an easy home run. The only things that save this film from being completely tedious are Harrison Ford’s 100% effort and ease in the character – despite his long career Ford has yet to lose his mutability; he’s just as believable as Indiana Jones now as he was in 1981 – and the absolutely spot on performance of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood.

Don’t expect too much from this film. With size of flat-panel televisions these days, if you see it at home with the right equipment you won’t suffer at all.

rating:[2/5]

What’s good about this film

  • Nifty set pieces that echo the tricks and booby traps of the first three films.
  • Karen Allen aging gracefully.
  • The hat. It’s all about the hat.

For Fans Of

  • Steven Spielberg regardless of quality.
  • People who liked Star Wars, episodes I, II, or III
  • The National Treasure series.

The Film School Review

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Lucas and Spielberg play smart, film-school boys with this movie and it’s really too bad. They treat their audience to some fabulous inside jokes – exposure of the Ark of the Covenant in a warehouse for one – but they also treat us as if we’re stupid. OK, yes, we get it: the government has been storing rare artifacts in a warehouse in New Mexico. Was it really necessary to paint a big 51 on in the inside of the warehouse’s doors or were the five previous clues (like the shot of the sign that says “Roswell, NM”) not enough?

They also do a disservice to Indy as a character. After being kidnapped by KGB agents and asked to take an indefinite leave of absence from his teaching position, Indy is ready to turn tail, to move on to another school and another teaching position with no indication that he has any fight left. That this is when the film introduces Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf styled exactly like Marlon Brando in 1953′s ‘The Wild One’) makes it blatantly obvious that this film isn’t about itself but instead about establishing the next chapter in the moneymaking-Indiana Jones machine. During an overly long chase scene in the Amazon sequence of the film we get previews of what will be Mutt’s signature tics – just as Indy has his whip, Mutt will have his blades; just as Indy has his hat, Mutt will have his hair – and that they are so easily spotted speaks to the sloppiness of the craft of this film.

Granted, a lot has happened since ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ namely two other Indiana Jones movies and the ‘National Treasure’ series which utterly rips off the signature pieces of ‘Raiders’ (the twisty, turny puzzles left by a long lost civilization, the hero who seems to have encyclopedic knowledge), but is that really an excuse for straying not only from the concept you chose to ape (the Saturday morning serial) and the formula that worked so well? It’s as if Spielberg and Lucas believed they could slap anything on the screen and we would buy it.

Unfortunately, at $216M+ in box office receipts after just one week in the theaters, we apparently will.

2 Responses to “‘Indiana Jones 4′ (2008)”

  1. Don’t get me wrong, I like Cate Blanchett and all, but I think she’s always been massively over-rated. Not over-rated on the same scale as, say, Keira Knightley, but over-rated nonetheless. And I’m stoked to hear that Karen Allen turns in a good performance cos my dad and I agree on her both her charm and talent.

    And is the answer to “Who brings a barber’s chair to the middle of the Amazon jungle?” Larry Olivier?

  2. Anne –

    Thanks for the Indy review! Most importantly, or most curiously, it seems you’re a stickler for story structure, given that you don’t seem to have liked the way they kicked the thing off and the way that they had to pad the back-story exposition.That’s a bit rarefied for a general audience , but then you are the person who went to film school.

    And fact-checking the wide-bodied Harley? Wow. just wow. (I was mostly trying to forget that Shia was in this movie, much less as the Marion-Indy love-child.) You obviously know your shit.

    (My ‘opinion’ of IJ&TKotCS was nicely summarized by an Alternet reviewer in “ Is Spielberg Too Rich and Famous to Be Good Anymore? ” — Eileen Jones summed it up just right: a promising first half-hour gave way to by-the-numbers nonsense. Ms. Jones’ review is worth reading only because it suggests a better film than the one currently being exhibited. Around the fourth paragraph, she invokes post WWII, atomic-age noir and I found myself daydreaming of some Indy 4/’ Kiss Me Deadly ‘ mash-up, with glowing boxes, better chase scenes, and no contrived happy endings.

    (The end of the crystal skulls struck me as particularly, painfully ‘Close Encounters’-like, but I can let it go. Shia’s Brando pastiche was never meant as anything but junk food, so this was not meant as a serious movie, and therefore it’s disposable. I don’t see Shia being in this for a long run.)

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