Thursday, May 22, 2008

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

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: The man with the hat is back!

Plot: Famed archaeologist/adventurer Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones is called back into action when he becomes entangled in a Soviet plot to uncover the secret behind mysterious artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls.

My Rating: 3/10
UPDATE 8/12/16: My rating: 6/10

Would I watch it again? ONLY with lots of friends and a well-stocked liquor cabinet

WOW! I waited 19 years for this? I caught this last night at the opening midnight show. I had ZERO expectations. Before I get started, here's how the other 3 films stack up:

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - My favorite movie of all time. It is pure escapist fun that has no equal (well, along with Star Wars and ESB)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) - LOVE it. It's different and dark. They strayed from the first movie giving us a completely different adventure; unlike some series that stay with the same ole same ole.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) - Like it but it's an obvious attempt to apologize to the fans for giving us Temple of Doom and it tries too much to give us the feeling of Raiders. That and they made buffoons out of Sallah and Marcus which is utterly uncalled for - taking two intelligent characters and making them into bumbling idiots. Like most things in life, I blame George Luca$.

Indiana Jones and the Barrage of Spoilers:

WTF did I just see? I go in with no expectations thinking that, at the very least, I'll be entertained. I don't feel that I can view this movie without the previous films in mind. Indiana Jones (and pals) is an established character. We KNOW who he is. Judging by what I just witnessed I'm not sure the creators of this series know anymore.

This is likely to be a shitty review because I'm so pissed right now. I'm just going to go with a check list of what I like and dislike.

- Bad? There's way too much CGI. One of the great things about the other films is that they were filled with so many fantastic, practical effects. They worked then. I don't see why they can't work now. Bigger effects in no way means better.

- Good? The film looks like it was made 30 years ago but the film does look a bit too soft (bad). Having a shiny new IJ movie just wouldn't cut it for me. But then again this one didn't cut it for me either.

- Bad? You know you're in trouble when, in the opening seconds of the film as the mountainous Paramount logo dissipates into a mound of dirt, we get a CGI prairie dog. I honestly half-expected the damn thing to start grooving to the Kenny Loggins song, "I'm Alright" from Caddyshack. Thank you George Luca$.

- Good? Can't think of anything at the moment. Back in a second...

- Bad? Remember that prairie dog at the beginning of the film? We get to see them, for comic relief, in two more scenes.

- Good? Shia LaBeouf (as Mutt, Indy's son) does a pretty good job; much better than I had expected. He kind of reminded me of Freddie Rodriguez's character from Planet Terror. I think he did fine and, for the most part, didn't do anything that was groan-inducing.

- Bad? Shia's groan-inducing moment...swinging through the jungle on vines with a shitload of monkeys ala Tarzan. I'm STUNNED that Luca$ didn't insist on a Tarzan yell. Hey, he did it in TWO Star Wars movies! I'm willing to bet that Luca$ fought with Spielberg to put that scene in the movie with the Tarzan yell and, to comprise, Spielberg, not wanting the scene at all, allowed the scene but he wouldn't do the yell.

- Good? There's a wonderful moment when the bad guys after Indy and Mutt slam into a statue of Marcus Brody and the head falls off into the driver's lap. That part was bad but then Mutt looks over and chuckles and at the same time Indy's face is very sad and reverent. Mutt glances back at Indy and, seeing that Indy's upset, he stops the laugh and moves on. THAT was a touching moment.

- Bad? Indy survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator? W...T...F? And the refrigerator is the only thing thrown from the mock-town? Then he WALKS out of it like it's nothing? I don't fucking think so.

- Good? There's a nice reference to the TV show, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, where Indy tells Mutt he learned Mayan (or something) when he was kidnapped by Poncho Villa.

- Bad? Karen Allen & Ray Winstone are VERY WELCOME additions to the cast but are, in large part, wasted. Growing up as a kid I had two MAJOR movie star crushes: Madeline Kahn & Karen Allen. I'll take what I can get i suppose.

- Good? Only a few of the ENDLESS pop culture & movie references like Mutt's entrance on a motorcycle appearing through the steam looking exactly like Brando from The Wild One. The brawl scene in the soda shop just like the brawl scene in one of my favorite Spielberg films, 1941.

- Bad? Cate Blanchet's character, Spalko, a Russian bad person, is a waste. She brought nothing to it and for someone who's supposed to be psychic (HA!) she uses it once in the beginning and that's it for the rest of the film. At one point when Indy & pals escape into the jungle I thought for sure she was going to say in her thick Russian accent, "Moost find Moose and Squirrel."

- Bad? WTF is so evil about the Russians in this movie? They kill the guards in the opening sequence and the natives near the end but that's it. Spalko says she's a badass but you'd never know it by her or any of her Rooskie buddies' actions. Lame Lame Lame. There's nothing ruthless about her.

- Bad? Ray Winstone's character leaves small electronic sensors (about the size of a half-roll of nickels - with a glowing red light at the tip) from time to time to give Spalko & pals a trail to follow them. Like ET and the hi-tech Reeces Pieces. They don't even have an electronic scanner to find these things. She just finds them on the ground. It's flimsy at best. So he's got a pocket full of these beeping, glowing sensors? I don't think so.

- Bad? We get non-speaking, fighting supposed bad guys TWICE. Once when Indy & Mutt check out an old-ass cemetery where they're attacked by what looks like a band of escaped circus freaks that fight them FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER. They were simply there to give our two heroes some danger. Weak. Then it happens again near the end when Indy & pals are walking through a tomb of sorts and OUT OF THE DIRT WALLS come a shitload of natives with bolos and chase them down. WTF? Where did they come from (Besides the walls)? Who are they? Why are they there? How long had they been there? It was such an obvious attempt at A) giving us an image similar to the one in Raiders where Indy is being chased by a shitload of natives and B) creating a weak action sequence where they felt like they should have one. So so so weak. Like so many things in the film it felt forced.

- Good? We get a small taste of what Indy's been up to in the last 19 years like his service in the army, as a spy and whatnot. It's only briefly mentioned but for a moment it smelled of...oh I don't know...character development. I couldn't help but think that I would rather be watching ANY of those stories than the one I'm there for.

- Bad? Indy is accused of being a commie/traitor to the US near the beginning and he's fired from his position at the college. We never hear about that for the rest of the film. It's especially curious because he's back at the college at the end of the film.

- Good? Dean Stanforth (played with class by Jim Broadbent) tells Indy that he's been fired (with pay) by the board at the college due to his traitor accusations. Indy, naturally, is pissed and feels Stanforth didn't put up much of a fight. When he confronts Stanforth with this as to how hard he fought for him (very sarcastically), Stanforth says, "I resigned". THAT was a nice moment with an awful lot of weight.

- Bad? Indy is sitting at his desk at home with the, now former, Dean Stanforth, and Indy, seeing the two framed photos on his desk - one of his father (Connery) and one of Marcus (Elliot), remarks how sad it was to lose both of them in the same year!!! It was completely unnecessary and could have been handled with class by a simple, extended reverent glance by Indy and a nice little snippet of music. That still brings home the point without having to say, "Gee, it's awfully bad breaks to lose Dad and Marcus, ain't it?"

- Good? Look quick as Dean Stanforth enters Indy's classroom for there's a portrait of Marcus on the wall outside his door. It's gone in a flash but it's another nice touch.

- Bad? The whole plot is about aliens who came to South America and taught the natives how to build an advanced civilization? WTF? Oh, yeah, I'm on board for that. AND that there are 12 crystal skeletons of these aliens in a tomb waiting for the return of the 13th skull so they can then combine into one and create a living, breathing alien that will hop in his flying saucer and grab that one-way ticket to splitsville, physically destroying everything they had built in the first place? Woof.

- Good? The relationship between Indy and Mutt was handled very well. I was actually stunned to see it play out so well. It's usually a real groaner when you introduce a child or a parent to an established character like this. Indy's relationship with his father in Crusade was handled nicely as well. It worked there and it works here.

- Bad? At no point do the chase/fight scenes really grab me. The closest it came was with the army of ants. That wasn't too bad of a set piece but it's not without flaws. The deaths by ants were cool; especially with the one soldier who got a little carried away. Bwahahaha. It turns out, too, that the ants are afraid of the crystal skull. Too bad the writers weren't.

- Bad? Indy and Marion getting hitched at the end? WTF? I think it was pretty well established that they love each other tremendously, that Indy wasn't going to make the same mistake again and they would be together after their adventure was over.

- Good? at the end of the wedding scene (bad) the wind blows the doors open (really bad) and Indy's Fedora rolls up to the feet of Mutt (embarrassingly bad). Mutt picks up the hat and starts to put it on only to have Indy slyly take it from his hand and puts it on his own head. Very nice!

- Bad? Sad? John Williams' score, and I'm a HUGE fan of his going wayyyyy back, did very little but give us an older theme or two. I was actually listening for a new theme and couldn't find anything that felt like a well-thought-out theme. It's sad because he gave the Star Wars prequels some amazing music, otherwise elevating the films (the first two at least) higher than they deserved. Here there was nothing, absolutely nothing.

I could go on but this aggravates me to no end. To really sum this up, the film felt like a string of missed opportunities - one right after another. It pains me that Luca$ doesn't respect the audience enough to not hold our hands through his movies. We don't need to be telegraphed plot lines and devices that you just know are going to show up later on. It's insulting as a movie goer to be treated this way. I'm not asking for a Ingmar Bergman picture but for fuck's sake do you have to treat it like we're all four-year-olds and can't think for ourselves? Luca$ recently said in an interview that Indy fans should lower their expectations going into this film. He couldn't have been more right.

UPDATE 8/12/16:  I just watched it for the first time since opening night 8 years ago.  It's not as bad as I initially thought.  It still has a lot of problems but my overall sense of hating the film has passed to just not liking it all that much.  Indy having a discussion about quicksand (or whatever he and Marion were sinking in) is just ludicrous as is Mutt's swordfight and so many other things are just awful and shouldn't have made it to the final cut.  It's still just an OK movie and sub par entry in the Indiana Jones franchise.  There's recent talk of making another one.  One thing that gives me hope is that everyone involved in SKULL has learned from their mistakes and get back to the root of the character.  RAIDERS is an amazing film.  It was the first of the series so it didn't have the obligation to reference a previous film.  Let's hope the new one adheres to that and blazes it's own trail as if it has a history without the need to remind us of it.