Joe’s Blog

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

May 28, 2008 1:09 am

Until the untimely death of Heath ledger, Indy IV was probably the most anticipated film of the year. The release two weeks ago of the well recieved Iron Man has also taken some edge of the release.

But let there be no doubt, this is still a film that the world has been waiting for. And whilst it is thoroughly entertaining, it falls way short of its predecessors, and even some of the more modern variants/imitators/usurpers.

The plot is convolution defined: Indy hooks up with a young kid to first rescue one of Indy’s old colleagues, and the boy’s mother with the suspiciously similar christian name of Marion (… hmmm). This then leads into an adventure to first find a crystal skull, and then return it to its rightful resting place, deep in a secret Incan temple. Throughout all this they are persued by evil Nazis… sorry… Russians who are hell bent on stopping them. They are led by a rather sexy looking Cate Blancett, a psychic who wants to harness the power of the skull for nefarious means.

If this all sounds a little familiar, that’s because that’s EXACTLY what it is. In fact at times, Indy IV resembles little more than a Greatest Hits package of Indy movies past. Some of these references work: the opening twenty minutes take place in a familiar looking warehouse, and is easily the best sequence in the movie, leading to an incredibly tense encounter on a nuclear testing site.

From here, the movie jumps from one action set piece to the next with little regard for logic, and even less regard for letting the audience know what’s going on.

The action is, in the main, well handled. An early motorbike chase is a good showcase for Harrison Ford’s stunt double (though unfortunately this timeĀ  it’s not the legendary Vic Armstrong, who was otherwise engaged on The Mummy 3), but an over long truck chase is too closely linked to its illustrious Raiders predecessor to be wholly effective. For a start it packs in too many elements, and too many characters in peril, to keep your attention focussed for its duration. Like so many modern action sequences, it flies by in a blur, whereas Indy’s more famous truck chase kept you on the edge of your seat the whole way through.

But the least said about the waterfall the better (it’s even more ridiculous than the waterfall scene in Temple of Doom… see? It’s just doing what was done before, but bigger).

On the subject of action sequences, it’s worth mentioning the modern movies greatest asset, and worst enemy: CGI.

In the build up to the film’s release, Lucas and Spielberg both portrayed themselves as martyrs to the cause of reclaiming movie making from the computers. Spielberg nixed digital film for old fashioned 70mm. The DP studied previous cinematographer Douglas Slocombe’s style to retain continuity, and it was announced that the effects work would be done using traditional methods (matte painting, wires, rear projection) and CGI would only be used where these methods were not possible… I’ll tell you now, that’s utter arse.

CGI gophers? CGI bats? Both used superfluously (with the exception of the hilarious first shot of the movie).

CGI lens flare???? Thirty years ago, lens flare would have been removed from a film. Now they are adding it in!!!!!

In the truck chase, most of the foilage was added in digitally, because it was too dangerous to shoot the chase in such a heavily overgrown area. Fair enough. But don’t then insert CGI foilage for the purposes of cheap gags!

The one exception I can buy, is a large scale giant ant attack, but it’s not very well done.

I’m not adverse to CGI when it’s used well (can you spot the CGI in Casino Royale for instance? And no it’s not the sinking house: that’s a model), it’s just don’t make a big deal about the fact that you’re not using it, and then use it extensively.

One thing the film does have going for it is a superb cast… who are thoroughly wasted. This is Harrison’s show, and no one is going to steal it from him, though Blancett gives it a fair go, hamming it up like Brian Blessed.

Shia LeBeof, playing the same character as Justin Long in Die Hard 4 but in a leather jacket, is enteratining enough. John Hurt getsĀ  athankless role as a professor driven nuts by the power of the crystal skull, and Ray Winstone has fun as Indy’s sidekick, no wait he’s a baddie, no, hang on, he’s Indy’s mate again…

Nice to see Karen Allen back in the fold, giving Indy a love interest that’s believable, and her sassyness is very welcome at a time when the film begins to flag a little, but ultimately she’s there to deliver one line and that’s it.

A bright spot is Jim Broadbent as Denholm Elliot’s replacement. Given little to do, he adds a touch of class to proceedings, just like his predecessor (without the comdey buffoon rewrite).

Overall then, it’s a tad disappointing. It’s entertaining enough, with touches of brilliance, but the whole package feels like just that: a package. A demographically approved pick and mix shovelled into an Indiana Jones bag.

Nothing suprises me about Lucas anymore, but from Spielberg you expect more, considering how much affection he and the audience have for the films.

It’s far better than the Star Wars prequels, not as good as any of the original films, and, I fear, come the end of the summer, it may not be the most fondly remembered blockbuster of the year.

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