David Mcmurdo On February - 13 - 2010

Oh boy, this review has been a long time coming and I have so much to say about this film that I’m not even sure where to begin so get comfortable, close the curtains and get some of your choice tipple because this isn’t going to be brief. I thought of every way I could write this piece, say everything I wanted to say and still have it be coherent and I came to the inevitable conclusion… I’m going to have to go through the entire film and analyse it scene by scene. This will be epic.

Introduction

When I was a kid the only hero I ever wanted to be was Indiana Jones. I still vividly remember a friend and I playing in the garden without our plastic swords and him suddenly saying we needed to go inside because Indiana Jones was on TV. I had never even heard of it before but I sat down and watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and it was quite literally a life changing experience. I had never seen anything like it. It was so atmospheric and action-packed and the character of Indiana Jones was so appealing to me that I just couldn’t take my eyes from the screen, that was the very first time my mum let me eat my dinner in front of the TV. She didn’t have a choice. I was completely immersed.

IndyTemple Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

The imagery of my childhood.

I don’t have time in this review to explain how my interest in Indiana Jones led me to some of the most important people and places in my life but suffice to say that even when I grew up I had more than a love for the Indiana Jones films, they were fundamental in making me who I am and I always acknowledged that. I had a respect for them.

For some reason as a kid watching the Indiana Jones trilogy I never even thought about a sequel probably because I loved the series so much I didn’t feel I needed anymore. But of course as I grew so did the rumours of a fourth film and when it began to seem like it could really happen I was delighted and I think I actually thought to myself that I’d be happy as long as I lived long enough to see it. Of course this was during the late nineties. By the time it got to 2005 I began to wonder if it was a good idea to be making another Indiana Jones film at all because I was older and wiser and no longer desperate for any old tat starring Harrison Ford in a fedora. The original trilogy were all eighties films and I knew that they could never possibly recapture their essence.

Certain rumours that had surfaced also had me rather concerned. There were stories floating around that Kevin Costner would play Indy’s evil brother in a plot revolving around Noah’s Ark an idea which I hated but which thankfully was apparently never even considered. The most ridiculous sounding of all the rumours though was that the film was to be called Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars and feature aliens. I remember holding my head in my hands over a pint detailing what I knew of this idea to the very same friend who had made me watch Indiana Jones as a kid. He assured me that since Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were still at the helm, they wouldn’t do something so stupid and so we both dismissed it as a joke.

Well I can’t remember if we were laughing then but I can tell you I’m sure not laughing now and it’s time to let it all out and say what I’ve wanted to say since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released. It goes without saying that the following essay (and it is an essay) will contain every spoiler imaginable so be warned.

Genesis

The fans now know that Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men was a title that Lucas thought up very early on and that he had always wanted the fourth Indiana Jones film to feature aliens. The release of Independence Day was the only thing that stopped him from going ahead with a plot involving an alien invasion. I never thought I’d say this but… God bless you Roland Emmerich you beautiful CGI whore.

IndySaucer Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

"Aliens? Oh sure I always intended to confirm everyone's worst fears."

Spielberg meanwhile didn’t want to make another Indiana Jones film at all. As far as he was concerned the series ended when Indy rode off into the sunset with Marcus Brody, Sallah and his father in the conclusion of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Lucas persisted with his alien idea later cynically changing the aliens to “inter-dimensional beings” just to make it seem a little different. This didn’t fool Spielberg at all of course but he gave in and agreed to go ahead with the project anyway probably because Ford was also eager to star in a new instalment of Indiana Jones.

Now I’ve made much of the extraterrestrial, oh sorry… “inter-dimensional”, element of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull so far in this review but to be perfectly honest, it’s the least of the films problems. However I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people say something along the lines of “there’s nothing wrong with aliens I mean it’s not as if ghosts coming out of an ark or a cup that makes you live forever is realistic either LOL”. Actually they usually word it far more irritatingly and have really shit spelling but you get the idea. Well since I seem the be the sole person on the planet capable of articulating exactly what is wrong with having aliens in an Indiana Jones film, I will do so now. The problem is that Indiana Jones had already been established as historical fantasy with elements of the supernatural. Extraterrestrials belong to a completely different genre namely science-fiction. Attempting to cross these boundaries is a bad idea at the best of times but when you try and do it in a sequel that fans have been waiting nearly twenty years for and for which the expectations are higher than the moon, you’re pretty much doomed from the start. Yes I understand that the original trilogy was based on the old Saturday morning matinees and that this was to be a shift to the Communist paranoia and UFO craze of the fifties, believe me, I get it. But a lot of Indiana Jones fans were never going to get it and even if you managed to pull it off well which I believe might have been possible, there were always going to be people upset by it. The point is of course that they didn’t pull it off well at all.

The Plot

During the nineties I used to ask myself “why the hell don’t they just make a film based on the Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis graphic novel?” In the present day I ask myself “why the hell didn’t they just make a film based on the Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis graphic novel?” I mean come on what could have been a more perfect finale for the Indiana Jones series than having him discover Atlantis? It’s the perfect Indiana Jones quest and surely the most major find possible in the realm of archaeology.

Instead we get a plot involving the crystal skulls and revolving around a lost city called Akator. It’s almost as if Lucas was trying to piss me off. You see aliens do feature in the real life mythology of the crystal skulls but so does Atlantis. He must have gone out of his way not to go there in the fourth Indiana Jones film, “hmm well even though Atlantis is associated with the crystal skulls I want to make David weep so I’ll come up with a completely fictional lost city called… Akator!” Why? Why not just use Atlantis? You can have almost exactly the same plot the only difference being that you’d be using a legend that people are actually familiar with rather than having to make your own uninteresting nonsense up. Fuck me.

The crystal skulls themselves are a decent enough Macguffin for an Indiana Jones film but when combined with the alien element of the plot they cause some problems. For example the crystal skulls in the film are misshapen alien heads but the real life Mitchell-Hedges Skull (based on a regular human head) is referenced in the film so where does that and every other “normal” crystal skull fit into the story? They don’t. It wasn’t thought through that well.

The Film

In keeping with the tradition of the films Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opens with the Paramount logo fading into something of a similar shape, in this case a mound of sand. If there were any fans relieved that this motif had been retained it would have been a passing feeling as a CGI prairie dog bursts out of the top of the mound and jumps away just as a car runs over the formation.

Now I’ve been quite vocal about CGI in the past causing some irritation is certain quarters so I’d like to clarify my position on the subject right now. I’m not some luddite who objects to any and all digital effects, what I am is someone who knows that no matter how good the CGI in a film is, it never ever looks real. Therefore it should only be used when absolutely necessary and where there is simply no alternative. I’m not going to let anyone even attempt to tell me that including stupid looking CGI prairie dogs throughout the opening sequence of the film was in any way, shape or form necessary.

IndyPrairie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

Silly CGI animals were a requirement of Indiana Jones 4.

We’re first introduced to Indiana Jones being unloaded from the boot of a car outside Area 51 and I have to say I really did like the way we first see his shadow picking up the iconic fedora before the man himself turns into view of the camera. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is set in the fifties which in uninspired minds can only mean that Communists have to be the badguys. Don’t get me wrong there’s nothing exceptionally terrible with that, I think the problem lies more with how unremarkable the villains are within the film itself.

On that note, enter Dr Irina Spalko played by Cate Blanchett serving as the main badguy. Badgirl actually. Remember how sly Beloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark was in being able to outwit Indy time and time again? Remember how evil the heart ripping Mola Ram was in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Remember the treacherous Donovan from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Well Spalko doesn’t quite leave as much of an impression as those characters to put it generously. In fact far from being perceivable as any kind of threat at all she actually comes across as somewhat foolish and misguided.

Her first fiendish act is attempting to read Indy’s mind… and failing. Here’s a free tip for half competent character development, if you want your head villain to be taken seriously, don’t undermine their supposed powers and poke fun at them right from the start. That is the first and last time that Spalko’s supposed psychic powers are even mentioned in the film. Someone didn’t keep an eye on their threads of plot.

IndySpalko Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

I will delve into your mind and glean the information I need... or not.

The excellent Ray Winstone plays as “Mac”, an old friend of Indy who throughout the film switches allegiances between Indiana and company and the Communists though who at this point in the film is standing with Indy. At first I thought the ambiguity of his loyalty and the way he turns traitor apparently at random during the film was silly. Upon further reflection though I think he might actually be the most complex character in the film. I think that he is conflicted between his friendship with Indy and the fact that he is basically hopelessly greedy and just cannot resist the prospect of vast wealth and it’s this conflict that leads him to act as he does. I’m probably giving the writers far too much credit though.

The following sequence involves Indy trying to lead the Soviets to a container within Area 51 the contents of which are highly magnetic. Of course the magnetism of the crystal skull they’re looking for comes and goes as the plot requires throughout the film. After being betrayed by Mac, Indy manages to escape from the Communists and this is where the film seems like it might be a return to form as Indiana climbs, whips and fights his way to freedom finally ending up fighting the obligatory tough henchman destined to meet a horrible death played by Igor Jijikine who does a great job as Dovchenko but really doesn’t have much to work with. The filmmakers made him as uninteresting as everything else in the film and he doesn’t come within a hundred miles of being as memorable as the guy who got diced by the airplane in Raiders or the big Thugee guard in Temple which is pretty sad considering we never even knew their names. Indy and Dovchenko end up on a rocket-sled going at God knows how many miles per hour. It was truly thrilling to see Indiana Jones in action again even if the experience was somewhat tainted by more ridiculous appearances from the prairie dogs.

IndyRocket Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

CGI prairie dogs... Lucas' new secret franchise blighter.

Indy eventually stumbles upon a nuclear testing town only realising it when the warning siren sounds forcing him to improvise in order to escape thus leading to the most infamous scene in the entire Indiana Jones series and one that started an internet meme. I’m sure you’re all well aware that he survives the atomic blast by hiding in a lead lined refrigerator and for those of you still wondering, no that would never happen in real life.

But this brings us to another point of debate similar to the one about the validity of including aliens in an Indiana Jones film with people arguing that surviving a nuclear explosion while by hiding in a fridge is no more far fetched than certain sequences in the original trilogy. Well these people are wrong. There were certain scenes in the original trilogy that were highly unrealistic but one of the reason those films worked so well is that they stretched believability enough to make a sequence thrilling but not so much that you dismissed it as completely impossible. The “nuking the fridge” scene however, positively takes all believability, chews it up and spits it out and is in no way shape or form comparable to the scene in Temple of Doom where Indy and co escape a torrent of water, an example that people often cite.

Jim Broadbent plays as Dean Charles Stanforth in an effort to waste acting talent. He has so obviously only been written into the film as a replacement for Marcus Brody, the actor who played Brody (Denholm Elliott) having since passed away. Even if it had been possible to replace Brody (which it wouldn’t), it certainly couldn’t have been done in the few minutes in which Stanforth appears at the films beginning and end.

Indy having returned to Marshall College gets fired because of FBI suspicions about his involvement with the Communists. Stanforth says that he resigned over Indy’s sacking and this is meant to be a touching moment but it isn’t because we’ve only just been introduced to the character and have no reason to care. The following scene has the two of them in Indy’s home which is just laden with references to the past films including two that are so unbelievable it blows my mind.

Sitting on Indy’s desk are pictures of both Marcus Brody and Henry Jones Senior but they’re both stills from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Try and wrap your head around that. What are we meant to make of this exactly? That someone was onboard the Nazi Zeppelin in Last Crusade secretly taking photographs of Henry Jones Senior and in the streets of Iskenderun secretly taking photographs of Marcus Brody? You could take crystal clear pictures with a Kodak in the 1930s you know. This makes no sense at all within the context of the film and is the absolute height of either laziness or foolishness on behalf of whoever is responsible. To top it off they have the Grail theme accompanying the moment. Do we really need to be reminded of these characters in such a ham-fisted way? Did we need to learn where Marcus was in Temple of Doom or find out what happened to Short Round in Last Crusade? No we didn’t because each film despite telling stories about the same character was a standalone adventure. Then again those films were masterpieces and I can understand Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull trying to leech off past glories because it needs all the help it can get.

IndyPictures Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

This makes complete sense.

Screenplay Writer David Koepp had wanted to title the film Indiana Jones and the Son of Indiana Jones and this fact would have seen him fired in a sane world. Actually I think any notion of Indiana Jones having a son or daughter is folly for reasons I’ll explain later on. As it is we got a son named Mutt portrayed by Shia LeBeouf. On the run-up to the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull some people were bemoaning the fact that LeBeouf had been cast in the film something which I never understood and now having seen the film I still don’t understand. On the contrary I think he did an excellent job considering how intimidating it must have been to star alongside Harrison Ford in an Indiana Jones film.

IndySon Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

Get. Out.

Indiana meets up with Mutt, both of them unaware that they are father and son. Mutt explains that Oxley (an old colleague of Indy) and his mother have been taken captive (although doesn’t mention or know by whom) and held until they obtain the crystal skull that Oxley had previously discovered. Mutt’s mother told him to seek Indy out believing that if anyone could recover the skull it was him. Mutt and Indy are intercepted by Soviet agents and a motorbike chase ensues that contains some really impressive stunt work and was well done altogether. It seems as if someone was determined to spoil even the good sequences of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull however and at the conclusion of the chase Indy and Mutt crash into Marshall College library and skid across the floor to stop just in front of a student (Tom Hanks’ son in a cameo) who nonchalantly asks Dr Jones a question about his coursework. Yeah that’s exactly what I’d do to if my mild-mannered Professor had just bust into the college library on a motorcycle and wrecked the place.

IndyHanks Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

This is a completely believable reaction to your professor destroying the college library with a motorbike.

There is also an event prior to that during the chase in which a Communist car crashes into the base of a statue of Marcus Brody causing the head to fall through the windshield. I’ve always been very uncomfortable with this. I understand that it was supposed to be humorous having Marcus stop the badguys posthumously but wasn’t it enough that they crashed into the statue? Was it really necessary for the head to fall off? At least Indy reacts appropriately with a look of disgust which suggests that the actor and the director had two different ideas about the kind of moment it was supposed to be.

Indy and Mutt travel to Peru in which happenings are largely uninteresting except for a really excellent fight sequence in a graveyard which was superbly choreographed and tremendously performed by the stuntmen. There was apparently a moment cut where Mutt uses his knife and Indiana uses his whip which is a pity since it would have only improved an already great scene. Indy actually doesn’t fire his gun once throughout the entire film but that should come as no surprise to anyone, Spielberg is after all the same man who had the guns in ET digitally removed in order to make it more family friendly.

IndyGun Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

Don't worry kiddies, Indy won't ever be using that nasty gun.

They recover the Crystal Skull shortly before being captured by the Communists and taken to a camp in the Amazon Rainforest. Spalko forces Indy to look into the eyes of the Crystal Skull which is what made Oxley go mad but Indy it seems is made of sterner stuff and comes through mentally unscathed. During his trance however, Spalko lays out her whole agenda which is a pretty typical “obtain the relics and rule the world” affair which is fine but she does nothing of note throughout the entire film and the audience is never given a single reason to think that she is any kind of match for Indiana Jones. I actually thought that some kind of romance might develop between the two of them while watching and in hindsight that would’ve been a good idea. If you have to include that character in the film at all I mean.

Veteran actor John Hurt goes completely to waste in an almost entirely needless role as Indy’s old colleague Harold Oxley who spends the vast majority of his screen time acting completely insane. This part could have been played by absolutely anyone. Why they felt the need to rope in an actor like John Hurt I can’t even imagine but at least he has been vocally cynical of the film in the time since which at least shows he knew exactly the kind of nonsense he was participating in. He is also introduced at camp spouting gibberish which of course turns out to be a series of riddles that can lead the seekers to the location of Akator.

IndyMad Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

BAFTA and Golden Globe Award winning actor John Hurt in what is surely the defining role of his distinguished career.

Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark and this is another bad move that was taken out of a misguided notion of fan service and because Spielberg wanted to work with her again. I have no idea what Karen Allen has done in her career since Raiders but she was clearly delighted to be cast in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and this fact comes through in her performance no matter how inappropriate it is given the circumstances Marion finds herself in. But again, more on that later.

Marion and Indy are reunited at camp and the moment they are the film descends into slapstick comedy with the two bickering like some clichéd married couple from any sitcom ever despite being in mortal danger. Honestly Karen Allen’s appearance causes an almost palpable deterioration in the quality of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Indy, Marion, Oxley and Mutt escape only for the former two to end up getting stuck in quicksand together and naturally this entire scene is blighted with more “hilarious” arguing between the two of them. While Mutt leaves to look for something to pull them free with and the insane Oxley is wisely chosen to seek help in the middle of the fucking Amazon Rainforest, Marion reveals to Indy that Mutt is his son. Upon hearing this life changing revelation whilst being nearly entirely submerged in quicksand Indy of course complains that Marion didn’t make him finish school because what the tense moments of the Indiana Jones series always needed was this kind of easy, predictable, bullshit comedy.

IndyMarion Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

Doesn't she look like a woman who is facing death itself?

Eventually Mutt returns with the only rope-like object he could find, a snake, and this is actually the only time I chuckled during the film as the reptile is thrown unceremoniously for Indy to catch. The daring adventurer has to close his eyes and have Mutt and Marion tell him to “grab the rope” before he can bring himself to take hold of the snake and be pulled free of the sand. Obviously Indy’s fear of snakes is well documented but if he had a choice between touching one and dying I like to think he’d do so without requiring anyone around to help him pretend it wasn’t a snake. Oxley returns with help in the from of the Soviets and once again our heroes are taken prisoner. One more thing I’d like to point out about this quicksand scene is that it is very obviously shot on a soundstage because of how the actor’s voices reverb and how fake the surrounding trees look. I guess great art really does require limitations because Spielberg had all the money and resources on Earth at his disposal and yet failed spectacularly at creating the illusion that the characters were stuck somewhere in the Amazon. The ambient sound of wildlife would’ve helped.

The following scene opens with a “jungle cutter” leading a convoy of trucks through the jungle and you’d think that the machine would surely feature in some epic fight sequence possibly serving as the device to kill Dovchenko but nope it gets blown up almost immediately. Another asset wasted. The family unit are bound and gagged in the back of a truck squabbling amongst themselves, Mutt not being happy to discover who his father is. The three of them escape from captivity once again though and the following truck chase is notable only for the poor green screen effects, a decent swordfight between Spalko and Mutt who straddles between two trucks ruined by more inappropriate comedy as plants hit him in the groin (as puerile as it gets) and a sequence that no-one who has seen the film can possibly forget. Mutt somehow ends up being dragged up into the trees with a bunch of CGI monkeys and then proceeds to successfully swing with them Tarzan style back onto a truck moving at high speed. Of all the silly moments in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this one wins the prize to the extent that I don’t feel the need to comment further on it. I haven’t seen a single human being even try to defend this one.

IndyMonkeys Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

Wow cgI looks so realiztik!!!!11111oneoneone

Eventually the protagonists and the Soviets end up crashing into a giant ants nest causing the critters to swarm out and consume everyone in their path. This is the creepy crawly scene of Indiana Jones 4 and for the first time the creepy crawlies are CGI which is fair enough given what the script required them to do it’s just a shame that the digital effects throughout the film are so poor. This is also where tough henchman Dovchenko meets his maker at the conclusion of a pretty impressive fight with Indy. Someone on an Indiana Jones forum counted how many punches were thrown in the fight and the total was more than in the fight Indy had with the big Thugee guard in Temple of Doom. So there you go. I actually thought that combining the obligatory creepy crawly scene with the obligatory tough henchman horrible death scene was a really interesting idea and it worked pretty well.

Indy, Mutt, Oxley and Mac (having now switched sides again) all end up in a truck with Marion at the wheel and she confidently drives blindly off a cliff landing in a conveniently flexible tree that lowers the vehicle gently into the water. This scene is Karen Allen at her most dire being entirely unbelievable. Someone seriously needed to remind her that she was an actress and meant to convey how her character would feel in such a situation not just be herself, beaming with the fact that she was featuring in another Indiana Jones film.

“Three times it drops” says Oxley ominously as they drift along, his companions having no clue what he is talking about while the audience can see the three waterfalls coming a mile away. They end up in a cove where our heroes discover that the crystal skull belongs to one of many aliens who arrived on Earth thousands of years earlier and taught the primitive Ugah tribe how to work the land. Incase the audience is completely stupid Oxley holds the skull up against a picture of an alien on the wall and the shadow cast fits perfectly with the misshapen head. Yes it’s an alien head, we get it, we understood it from the opening scene in Area 51 and Spalko’s lengthy exposition at the camp.

IndyShadow Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

LOOK! THE SHADOW MATCHES THE ALIEN HEAD ON THE WALL AND THE SHADOW CAST BY OXLEY'S ARM MAKES IT LOOK LIKE IT HAS A THIN NECK LIKE AN ALIEN. DO. YOU. UNDER-STAND?

Our five adventurers get chased by Ugah tribesmen but escape thanks to them being terrified of Oxley wielding the crystal skull in a scene reminiscent of Beloq holding the idol up to the natives in Raiders. They reach the top of a pyramid and manage to activate a staircase descending to its depths which also doubles as a trap since the steps retract as they make their way down. This is actually the perfect Indiana Jones trap but thanks to the editing the scene completely fails to convey any sense of danger or urgency. Watch the boulder chase from Raiders, the spike chamber sequence from Temple or the three trials from Last Crusade and then compare it to this scene.

The final scene takes place in one of the best sets I’ve seen in a film for a long, long time. It’s a chamber decorated with paintings and gold carvings set against a red background circled around which are thirteen giant crystal skeletons, one of which is missing its head. Mac, who has secretly been dropping devices for the Soviets to follow, turns a gun on his companions and Spalko arrives accompanied by Russian soldiers and promptly places Oxley’s skull in the obvious location. This causes the pyramid to begin shaking to pieces and while Indy and companions run to escape the chaos, Spalko remains and gets disintegrated by an alien which was formed by the crystal skeletons merging. This alien by the way is the worst example of CGI in the entire film and just looks silly.

IndyAlien Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

Generic Alien #39425435

Mac’s greed ends up getting him killed as he lingers around to stuff as much treasure into his pockets as possible but the rest of them escape to safety and watch a flying saucer (why would inter-dimensional beings require a flying saucer George?) break free from the pyramid before disappearing in a scene which contains some truly “amazing” dialogue:

Indy: Where did they go? Space?

Oxley (with sanity restored): Not into space, into the space between spaces.

It’s funny, my DVD actually skipped at this line while I was watching the film for review as if even my PC knew how awful the writing is. I’d also swear I saw Hurt’s soul shrivel up and die while talking such nonsense. The film isn’t finished with us yet though:

Indy: The Ugah word for gold translates as “treasure”, but their treasure wasn’t gold it was knowledge. Knowledge was their treasure.

A treasure apparently so awesome that it’ll disintegrate any motherfucker who tries to obtain it but still…

The Grail theme once again plays throughout this scene testament to the filmmakers insistence on evoking emotion from past successes. Not that it matters since John Williams delivered a pretty poor score for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull which might not necessarily be his fault since he scores a film as he sees it and since he was seeing absolute drivel in comparison to the classics, the results were appropriate.

Indywater Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

Obviously because the lost city in the plot is sunk in the films finale, calling it "Atlantis" would have been entirely inappropriate.

The film should have ended right there but Spielberg felt that instead he should continue with his soap opera and tack on a scene where Indy gets married to Marion despite the fact that there has been no resolution to the conflict between them or between Indy and Mutt. Every previous Indiana Jones film had Indy pursuing a different love interest so this woeful attempt by Spielberg to make fans happy by having Indy marry the perceived favourite is ironically at odds with what I would think, fans expected from an Indiana Jones adventure.

Conclusion

This has been without a doubt the most cathartic review I have ever written. I actually went to the cinema to watch Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and I can actually count on one hand the number of times I as an adult have gone to the cinema because sitting with a bunch of noisy, grazing people isn’t my idea of a good time no matter how big the screen. Not only did I go to the cinema but I went with my mum because this was Indiana Jones 4 and as I stated, Indiana Jones was a fundamental part of my childhood that was as important to my mum as to me for that reason. This was a truly special event in my life.

When we left the cinema, my mum turned to me and asked if I liked the film and I couldn’t bear to say anything but “yes” because she would have been disappointed for me. The truth was though, I didn’t know what to make of it. I knew there was something wrong with Indiana Jones 4 but it took a long time and many more viewings of both the film itself and the original trilogy before I felt I could articulate it like I’m doing here. So if anyone reading this has the idea that I set out to hate this film you’re wrong, quite the contrary, I’ve tried very hard to love it.

The biggest problem with the film is the fact that it was taken far too lightly by the cast and crew. Instead of trying to deliver a good, solid film they instead treated the whole thing like some happy reunion of old favourite characters in the same manner that the cast and crew were clearly happy to have been reunited. Because of this atmosphere and the lack of any attempt whatsoever to take the events of the film seriously, there is absolutely no sense of threat throughout the entire two hours. Make no mistake, this film is a family comedy with one or two “icky” bits.

Spielberg and the Director of Photography Janusz Kaminski agreed that they should attempt to emulate the work of Douglas Slocombe who worked on the original trilogy to give the fourth film the same look. Well I don’t know what happened but again they failed. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has a glossy look completely at odds with the grittiness of the original films. The editing is also poor removing the tension from every scene that might otherwise have had it. The one area where the film was a success was in terms of casting with the exception of Karen Allen who was just atrocious. I thought Harrison Ford did a tremendous job considering his age and I didn’t think it hampered him at all.

George Lucas seems to get all the flak for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and while he richly deserves it, Spielberg should also be held accountable. Remember than any atrocity that Lucas wrought upon the film had to have been okayed by Spielberg too. He didn’t even want to make the film and even after he agreed to do it he didn’t want to leave the US because he wanted to be close to his family. You know what, if you don’t want to make the film and you can’t commit properly to the project then just forget it. This was a film too important to mess up and yet that is exactly what happened.

Spielberg was also responsible for the whole “family dynamic” of the story which again was completely at odds with the approach of the original trilogy. Giving Indy a son and having him marry a past love interest is just not the kind of thing most fans of the series wanted to see and especially not in such a rushed, clumsy way. It reeks of Spielberg trying to tie-up all the loose ends and finish Indy permanently to discourage Lucas from convincing him to make a fifth instalment. Incidentally, his plan failed.

IndySpielberg Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review & Analysis

Spielberg trying to justify his involvement in ruining a classic trilogy.

As an Indiana Jones fan I want to give the film one star but as a reviewer who tries to be professional and objective I know it deserves at least three for being at least a decent enough action-adventure. The truth is though that the only thing that separates Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull from films like The Mummy or National Treasure or any other half-decent adventure flick is the fact that it features the character of Indiana Jones and for one of the most anticipated follow-ups of all time to a legendary trilogy of films that is tragic.

Apparently Spielberg and Lucas are seriously gearing up for a fifth instalment in the Indiana Jones series and you know what? I really don’t give a damn. Go ahead and make fifty further mediocre sequels if that’s what you want to do, I really have no interest in the future of the Indiana Jones franchise and that too for me, is tragic. I’m not alone though. I saw a press conference with Spielberg after the films release and when asked if there would be a fifth film he said “if people want more sure we’ll make more”. He may as well have said “if people seriously liked Crystal Skull despite how inferior to the originals it is, then yeah sure we can churn out more”. Its like he has given up. I feel your pain Steven, the difference being that you’re one of the people responsible for it.

David Mcmurdo

Categories: Feature

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  1. I didn’t see the need for a fourth Indy film, given the way the third ended. Regardless, I was excited in anticipation of “the kingdom of the crystal skull”. While watching it I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, however it was filled with so many stupid decisions.

    I consider myself a computer geek, but CGI should be hard to detect, or it should not be there at all. Indy and Marion both looked fat and unlike being old, this did not seem quite right for the characters. The snake in the quicksand issue instantly bothered me; FFS what the hell is the tensile strength of a snake? While I am not superstitious and don’t believe in magic, gods etc, in the context of the mythology of the original trilogy I could suspend disbelief. Aliens, as you said, do not fit into that genre, especially when the style is the typical crap from Roswell. As for swinging with monkeys and the nuclear explosion, the fail is self explanatory. I don’t have much trouble with the casting (except for the insufferable Ray Winstone), more so the poor script and directing.

    Great review as always.

    BTW you made a typo of lead as led and you missed a have in the sentence “agreed that they should attempted”.

  2. I read this in it’s entirety.

    You said in the opening statement that this read would be epic, and it delivered. Great read.

    I actually liked Crystal Skull, but this is probably because my experience with the Indiana Jones series is so limited. I’m not going to try and justify it though, because quite frankly, I can’t and am in no position to do so. I won’t even attempt to argue that it’s better than the original trilogy, because that is a downright lie.

    Either way though, good review.

  3. Kyllelarsen says:

    Excellent review. I just read it after hving watched the movie for a second time, and I agree with you on a lot of your points. This movie is by far the worst in the quadrology (word?) and it’s due to poor writing and a poor plot IMHO. It feels like Lucas and SPielberg went on and became grave robbers themselves.

  4. Unknownkadath says:

    Great review. I had to do an in-depth viewing of this film for a research project, and I couldn’t believe how a movie coming from such a pedigree and with such ambitions could fail so badly. This review hit home even harder how much of the film a) doesn’t make sense on either a narrative or realistic level and b) doesn’t feel like an Indiana Jones film.
    Incidentally, the scene where Mutt tosses Indy the snake (though clever) suffers from an unfortunate flaw: he needs a rope and he’s in the jungle, surrounded by vines, with a knife. I think there was an easier way.

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