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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

May 23, 2008

Settling into my seat to watch IJ&tKotCS (what a mouthful) I told myself that writing up a review later would be a mixture of a doddle and somewhat pointless. You know what you’re getting, right? It’s an Indiana Jones movie, yeah?

Well, sure, it is and it isn’t, but – sheesh – that doesn’t really make sense. So, let’s just start at the beginning.

When the movie opens, it is the mid 1950s and there’s an immediate sensation that this is a paranoid period of time, that there are reds under the bed and everyone is suspicious of everyone else. Not helping this charged atmosphere is Cate Blanchett, sporting a terrific Louise Brookes bob, as a member of the Russian military eager to get into Area 51 to steal the prized mummified remains of something secret. The warehouse where this is being housed is none other than the same place where the Ark from movie number one was so famously and cleverly ‘lost’, and I imagine it may be a more than just a humourous aside that this is so heavily referenced. The distraction that we may see the Ark, and have a cosy reminiscent glow about how great that first film was, cannot alter the fact that we all know what you go into Area 51 to find. And when you get that, you get the story, all there on a plate for you.

And what does that leave? Noise and movement, of course. This is provided via a series of deafening and startling set-pieces, a couple of which are as good as anything – rolling boulders aside – from the entire series. The first, in the warehouse, takes up the opening sequence baton with considerable aplomb. Another, a chase through Indy’s University campus, is just wonderful and packed with humour and thrills to the very brim. It also introduces the Shia LaBeouf character, Mutt, who is like a grown up and significantly less irritating Short Round and does very well in fleshing out a role that could easily have remained two-dimensional and unmemorable.

However, you’re expecting a but.

And butts don’t get much bigger than George Lucas, who wrote the thing. The story is easily, and overwhelmingly, the least satisfying element in the whole enterprise; dumb and simple and insultingly linear, it’s pretty obvious from the first ten minutes where all this is leading, so to liven things up we have to put up with a few needless double-crosses, a whiff of xenophobia and an ending that may test some viewers to the limit. One of the things that Raiders did so well was hit you between the eyes with a supernatural ending that, despite the gear change, fitted beautifully and smoothly into the whole. The same trick didn’t work nearly so well in Temple, and was just plain silly in Crusade, but here it ruins the good-will built up with the audience along the way. As I said earlier, you expect certain nonsenses and incredulities from an Indy flick, but part of the pay-off with that must be that you expect not to be treated to any old tut, and that’s precisely what you get here. George has clearly read some von Däniken, or had a minion read it for him, and the finale to Skull is not only plain stupid and tortuously loooooong, but more importantly it’s eye-rollingly bland for anyone with even the most nodding of acquaintances with conspiracy theories. Apparently, Spielberg and Ford initially disagreed over Lucas’s choice of the skull as the plot device, and would that they had dug their heels in. Ho hum hokum.

I feel churlish even criticising it this much, for it is filled with fun and excitement, and even has a touching sequence of reverential nods towards the great Denholm Elliott’s Marcus Brody character…I feel like someone finding fault with a child’s finger painting, but if you’re paying over your hard-earned you want something a little more considered than this.

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