Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

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

(2008) dir. Steven Spielberg
viewed: 05/25/08 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

Much like the second coming of the Star Wars franchise, the latest release of a new Indiana Jones film is for many, many people, an opportunity to step back to their excitement and enjoyment of some time ago.  It’s been nearly 20 years since the last film, but much as with Star Wars, the John Williams orchestral soundtrack kicks in and the heart starts a-pitter-patterring…

I have to say, I love Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).  I think it’s a terrifically fun movie that manages to deliver exactly what it intended to: an adventure yarn like something from the early film serials or the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. Rider Haggard.  The stunts, the gags, the invetiveness, Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, great villains.  The car chase.  The fist fight by the airplane propellors…for me, it still works.  It still looks great.  And John Williams score actually does inflect a heightened sense of the popular adventure.  For this film, I am not a cynic.

But for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), which I saw moderately recently, the quality level dipped seriously.  It may have been nearly 20 years since I saw the third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), but I remember it fondly, for Sean Connery’s bantering with Ford.  I haven’t seen it recently.

But now, the new one.

The bottom line is that I did enjoy it.  It was fun.  I’m not so cynical as to not have enjoyed it.  It has its qualities.  Ford has aged, but has aged well.  Karen Allen is back and her lovely smile is as lovely as ever (even though her role is less cleverly written).  Cate Blanchett makes a sultry Russian vixen (even though her accent is not even as good as Natasha Fatale).  There are some great moments, good stunts, clever devices and, heck, I didn’t even dislike Shia LaBeouf.  I liked it.

But the “wow” factor wasn’t there.  There was nothing that was truly exciting, ennervating, thrilling.  The car chase through the jungle was perhaps the best set piece, but it’s nothing compared to the one in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And then there are the weird and bad things.  CGI gophers?  What the hell was that?  Did Spielberg want to tip his hat to Caddyshack (1980)?  I was waiting for Kenny Loggins to come blasting over the soundtrack.  The CGI monkeys were also bizarre but they at least played into the action.  But actually, when they teach LaBeouf to swing like Tarzan through the jungle, the credibility factor was sinking kind of low.

Actually, I think that is true for several of the narrative tropes in the film.  Their believability is a tough thing to swallow.  And then I thought back to the other films, the hearts pulled out of the chest, the spirits from the lost ark, the ancient knight protecting the chalice…  It’s not like they were based in hard science.  But maybe there is something much, much less believable here, like how quickly Indy and Marion reconcile and make up their adventure family.

It’s bizarre.  I was going to take Felix to see this, but when his mom realized that the film was PG-13 and saw the violence and frightening segments, she demurred.  I saw it at the Castro Theatre, which is interesting because I think a lot of more “classic” movie houses got to run this film in its first run, perhaps to add to the mystique, perhaps to open more seats for a big-ass cash weekend.  Still, it was kind of cool.

I feel almost like a bit of a jerk for not liking it more.  But who knows.  There is that cynic again, cringing at some of the film’s more corny moments.

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