– Summary –
Director : Steven Spielberg
Cast : Harrison Ford, Shia LeBeouf, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Joel Stoffer, Alan Dale.
Year Of Release : 2008
Length : 123 Minutes
Synopsis: Indy returns to action to locate the remains of an ancient artifact, in order to find a missing friend. Along the way, Indy encounters nuclear explosions, Russians, ants that eat anything and everything, and the remains of an ancient civilization.
Review : Not the return to form we were all hoping for, KOTCS is all style over substance, and a lackluster amount of style at that. Harrison Ford looks like he’s sleepwalking through this, and not even Shia LeBeouf can save this film from the murky waters of mediocrity. Which is a shame. Should have been great. Isn’t.
After a 19 years, Indy is back. The man in the hat, Harrison Ford, returns to the screen in this fourth outing as the intrepid explorer. Older, wiser, looking more haggard with every passing year, it took an eternity for Spielberg, Lucas and Ford to agree on the right script to bring the character back with.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the latest Indiana Jones flick was simply another money-making exercise for these guys: this was always going to be a successful film, financially. Yet, it had the fans worried: would the film a) live up to the hype, and b) continue the adventures of our favorite archaeologist in a way that was worthy?
Well, the short answer is, no.
Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull suffers from a few too many Lucas-isms and Spielberg-isms to be a truly great film, although it’s just pulpy enough to fit snugly into the Indy canon. Picking up in the 50’s, Indy is starting look a little tired by this stage, although he’s still employed by the University to go find trinkets and treasures from around the world.
Indy and his “friend” Mac, are made to locate a hidden alien artifact inside Area 51, in the Mojave desert. They are captives of Soviet forces, led by Cate Blanchett’s evil Irina Spalko. With a daring escape, and the realization that Mac is also working for the Soviets, and betraying Indy, Indy embarks on a mission to find the other alien artifacts (which, strangely, are in the shape of crystal-like skulls). He is accompanied on his mission by recalcitrant scallywag Mutt, who happens to be the son of Indy’s former flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) Mutt, current Hollywood superstar Shia LaBeouf, is modeled after what would appear to be a holdover from Danny from Grease, complete with black jacket and slicked back hair. All he needs to do is start warbling Greased Lightning and this would have been a totally different film.
KOTCS suffers from a few problems, which make this film less than perfect. First, the script has little tension or real character development, with Ford simply retreading the role with little-to-no real new material being offered. Mutt, as the child prodigy Indy desperately needed to accompany him on his adventures (not!!) is well played by LaBeouf, although he’s simply an extra name in the opening credits that could have been cut with little fanfare, and little effect on the overall film. Mutt is a waste of time, a character sadly lacking in emotional connection to the audience, and simply a foil for Indy’s “age” quips, which appear to have been forced into the script regardless of intended tone.
The film barrels along at a wild pace, however, unlike previous Indy films, it’s hardly exciting, and degenerates into a “what the…?” story by the time the final reel comes along. The film’s stunningly inadequate conclusion is barely worth watching, it’s as free from excitement as you can get. Allen makes a welcome return as Marion, Indy’s original sidekick-chick, and her rapport with Ford is still evident, even if the years have passed them both by.
Ray Winstone, as Mac, changes sides in this film with an ease that would have him shot on site were he to really behave like this. I’m all for the “friend” betraying the Hero concept, but this plot-line is run so far into the ground it’s like eating rocks and dirt while watching. Awful. Winstone does his best, but he’s hamstrung by a woeful script and a character the audience cannot possibly hope to empathize with.
Blanchett is perhaps given the best part of the film, as the squinting, evil Spalko, her chemistry in front of the camera a real buzz compared to the sleepwalking Ford. She hams it completely, giving the film much needed gravitas and compelling the story forward.
The second thing I found wrong with the film is the overuse of digital effects and green-screen technology. Spielberg told fans that this film would be similar in style to the original trilogy, with minimal use of CGI or effects to tell the story. He also said that the film would have the same visual palette as the originals.
KOTCS relies so heavily on CGI and Green-screen technology it’s hard to see what Spielberg bight consider “real” filming. Waterfalls, jungle pursuits, giant alien ships, atomic detonations: there’s plenty here to give the computer boffins at ILM a workout… Spielberg obviously figured that it would be easier to do in a computer than to try it “for real” like they do the Bond films. Unlike Raiders Of The Lost Ark, which had almost zero CGI effects (save for the last twenty minutes), KOTCS is filled with obvious digital tomfoolery that detracts from even less original cinematography. The film looks digital, lacking the brightness of the original film’s style and the freshness of the classic cinematographer. Janusz Kaminski, who is Spielberg’s current cinematographer, commits the unforgivable sin of shooting KOTCS like he did Saving Private Ryan and AI, with all the washed out lighting effects and pale contrast he’s used previously. Apparently, both Spielberg and Kaminski re-watched the previous films, which were lensed by Douglas Slocombe (who was criminally not brought back for the fourth film….) and attempted to re-work Slocombe’s lighting design. They failed utterly to capture the look of the earlier films.
The amount of CGI that was used was a gross betrayal of Spielberg’s earlier statements of their use/non-use. As production went on, obviously Lucas looked at what needed to be done and convinced Spielberg to do it in the computer rather than on the set, perhaps for cost or practicality reasons. This decision had a decisively negative impact on fan’s appreciation for the film. I think the thrill of the realism in the original films engaged the audience on a level that is removed significantly when digital effects are used ad-nauseum. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a cinema, watching a film, and thinking “how cool are those effects behind that guy” than “wow, he’s really swinging through the air there”. Here, almost every stunt, scene and practical effect has been replaced by what looks like a bodgy Flash Gordon style CGI backdrop or effect.
The third thing I really want to point out about this film, is the absolute lack of emotion, tension or sense of achievement in the film’s conclusion. The film ends in such a way (I won’t spoil it here, for those who haven’t seen the film yet) that it utterly removes Indy from proceedings, and makes him simply a bystander in events, rather than being directly involved in said events as was previously the case. Indy simply steps back, watches what happens, shrugs his shoulders and gets the girl. No tension, no sense of occasion.
This is perhaps my greatest gripe with the film overall. It all feels a little like Spielberg’s simply on cruise control, and both he and Lucas have a lot to answer for for creating this mish-mash of a film. The lack of fun and entertainment that permeates the screen, although present for the first twenty minutes, evaporates completely after an hour and creates a truly ordinary event film.
Yes, it’s good to see Indy back on the big screen, but the legend has worn thin very quickly, and it’s disheartening to see the character continue in this style. Musically, there’s not a lot to like about John Williams’ score. The original theme is back, and this is cool, but the rest of the music smacks of “couldn’t-care-less-itis”, as if Williams’ heart simply wasn’t in it. Unlike the Raiders score, or the Last Crusade score, where there were a whole slew of hummable themes, here, there’s nothing to give the audience that pulp-inspired, matinee film feeling of ye olden days.
Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull feels for all the world like a poor cousin of the original trilogy, and tastes like a Hollywood assembly-line film with everyone involved simply going through the motions. It’s a waste of talent, a waste of time for the audience, and a dirty smudge on the copybook for Indiana Jones.
Perhaps they should have left the character well enough alone. Three’s the charm, fours a curse.