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May 23, 2008

Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull *No Spoilers*

Better than Temple of Doom, not as good as Last Crusade. It has the same teeth-grinding attempts at humor as the former, but a better story and better acting...mostly. But the bottom line is: it's Indiana Freakin' Jones, of course you're going to see it and you're going to enjoy it even if for no other reason than you get to see him in action again.

This is a spoiler free review, but I do discuss some weaknesses in the filmmaking below. So, if you're like me and can't help but notice something and let it frustrate you after someone else has pointed it out, you might want to hold off 'til after you've seen the movie.


First, the good: there's so much action your knuckles and knees will ache in sympathy. Most of it is inventive and will keep you amused, even though Spielberg has given in to what must be a new requirement to bankroll a film in Hollywood and made some of the action scenes about twice as long as anyone but fourteen year-old boys will sit through. Kinda like that sentence.

It's nice to see Indy and Marion again, even though Indy seems to have finally outgrown his cocky smile and wry sense of humor (seriously, that rather important part of his character does not appear in this movie) and Marion has lost her accent. Also, Karen Allen must have given up smoking or something 'cause she just doesn't sound anything like she used to. Shia does a good job as "Mutt," and I'm looking forward to seeing him in the role in the future. William John Hurt is absolutely wasted in his role and Ray Winstone shouldn't even have been there. I mean it; you're going to hit the end of the film and ask, "Why was that character even in there?" (I bet you $20 that it was Lucas' idea and he refused to give it up; see my last point, below.)

The film is shot beautifully with amusing period details in the U.S. scenes and gorgeous scenery, except for a few of the wide-angled scenic shots at the very beginning which were inexplicably shaded towards sepia, despite the fact that they weren't doing a flashback and in the very next shots everything is colored normally. I suspect somebody said, "That landscape needs to look a little more desolate, add some brown," without realizing that the sky, which is visibly blue in the preceding and following shots would turn smog-colored in the scenic ones. I was immediately distracted by the thought that perhaps the projector was malfunctioning.

Now the bad: the villain sucks. There's no sense of dread here for the audience to contemplate and almost no fear from the characters about the Soviet goals. They are not portrayed as implacably evil like the Nazis or the Kali death cult, and it makes all the difference when it comes to the pace of movie. Because there's no great villain for the good guys to strive against, the audience never gets a sense of urgency as the climax approaches. I suppose it's possible that Hollywood still has trouble depicting communism as bad.

Spielberg has the CGI bug and it will cause you to have to pretend that the laws of physics don't operate like normal in the Indiana Jones 'verse. Seriously, falls that should have splintered Indy's bones and turned the rest of him into a macabre imitation of jello don't have any effect at all. He just bounds to his feet afterward like nothing happened, perhaps as if the whole time he were simply crouched below the view of the camera and cued by a helpful director at the right moment. Also, thank God for those invisible forcefields, you have no idea how useful they can be in the Amazonian jungle.

Indiana is no longer a fallible, average joe. He's hypercompetent and knows everything about anything related to the plot of the film. They don't waste any time letting the characters (or the audience) "figure it out." Everyone just turns to Indy and he exposits what to do next. Then, off they go.

Finally, there are so many moments in this movie when you will want to turn to the person sitting next to you and say, "Lucas did that." His fingerprints are all over quite a few improbable scenes. I can see him sitting down with Spielberg and the writers and saying, "Wouldn't it be neat if..." Unfortunately, no one else in the room had the guts to tell him, "NO, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard, shut up, and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD stop trying to 'polish up' the dialogue. You couldn't write your way out of a paper bag, so stop trying!"

I give it a 6/10. Yes, I know you're going to see it anyway.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 02:34 AM

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