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  • Look Into The Crystal Skull

    krystall skull

    Welcome back to the ongoing series of Reviews From Someone With Kids Who Rarely Sees Movies In The Same Year They Are Released or whatever I was calling this movie feature. I feel I don’t have to do any kind of SPOILER! warnings because everyone in every country has usually seen said films before me. Actually I’m kind of catching up, not being as far behind as usual because my kids are becoming easier to babysit, and the reason I hadn’t seen Kingdom of the Crystal Skull yet was my own delaying tactics.

    Simply, Raiders of the Lost Ark was a benchmark for me and the kinds of entertainment I liked growing up. In 1980 I was old enough to go watch movies by myself when dropped off, and I thought my head had exploded, seeing so much of what I’d wanted on a screen all at once. I ran to the lobby and called my mom to tell her to come pick me up later so I could sit through it again ( a kid from my school sat next to me and babbled throughout, I wanted to watch it intently this time). Jump ahead a generation to a big gang of my studiomates going en masse to watch the Fourth Indy Movie, and me later hearing disappointment from trusted fans. So I finally went the other night when it was second-run at one of the McMenamin’s theaters here, which serve beer and food while you watch the movie- I hedged my bets. No, it wouldn’t retroactively ruin my childhood, but it might make me feel bad for everyone involved, admittedly a weird familial thing to attach to a group of entertainers but I suspect many of you can relate to it.

    As often happens when you turn your expectations down way low, I was pleasantly surprised. Not that it couldn’t have been a much better movie, but the fact that I bought it as an Indiana Jones movie was quite an accomplishment. Beforehand, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that a sequel nearly 20 years later could connect enough to convince me that it was part of the world of the first three, but it did. I didn’t have problems with the sci-fi elements like a lot of people did, I always assumed since it would be in the 1950′s that the story would go there- that was the dominant B movie/serial genre of the time. Going the route of burying it in the past was the right way to do it (I also was dropped off to Chariots of The Gods as a kid).

    Of course I am disappointed that Lucas and Spielberg pulled off the revisit- which I think would be the hardest part- and then didn’t get the screenplay to the point it needed to be to make this a Great Indy film. I realize that you’re up against a lot with a movie like this- all the actors and filmmakers have windows of availability to commit to a particular film, and at some point you have to go with what you’ve got that everyone generally agrees to. But the Koepp script feels rewritten and there’s way too much of everyone running through the plot barking exposition that we can’t even follow. It’s at that point you have to streamline and let go of some of what you think has to be in there for this to be an Indiana Jones movie because it’s getting in the way of the story moving up to another level. Sure, throwing John Hurt in does absolve you of any number of sins, but wouldn’t it have been novel to flesh out the villain for once so she’s sympathetic? Or to go a little deeper into Indy himself and walk a bit on the line that Unforgiven did with giving the final word on this kind of escapist protagonist (keep in mind I do not mean with the kind of tone Unforgiven has, but looking back at the body as a whole in that way).

    The refrigerator escape didn’t bother me so much, but that’s more because I wasn’t really engaged in the opening of the movie- just like I didn’t appreciate the winking bit of showing the Arc of the Covenant- Indy referring to it in the tunnel in Venice in Last Crusade did that better. All of that opener could have been more of a build to a bigger reveal of Indy and it would have felt right. The problem with wanting to jump into ‘rollercoaster ride’ mode is that it doesn’t trust the audience, and brings this down to the level of the Mummy series or National Treasure- any of the kinds of movies that usually run in the shadows of the Indiana Jones series. The right way to think is like the Daniel Craig Bond movie- strip out what we assume a James Bond movie has to have and define what makes a James Bond movie. I’m not asking for too much because the director is Spielberg- it’s not like he isn’t capable of that. But again, I suspect it comes down to having to go with the script you’ve got at the right time. I guess I’m thinking of Bond here because after the H-Bomb escape, Indy is subjected to Dr. No shower-scrub that is all you need when exposed to a nuclear blast.

    Now I’ll counter myself some (I love sabotaging my own arguments!)- the father-son moments could have been given more heart by looking back at the ones from Last Crusade. And someone correct me if this was in there and I just never noticed it, but one of my favorite Indy details-again mostly from Last Crusade- is his tendency to throw off a mean smile after a narrow escape that usually dooms his pursuers. That was a characteristic that always added a nice twist to the adventure genre, a hero who doesn’t acknowledge the deadliness with a “whew!” but zings Death each time with a “hah!”.

    So for me, this was still entertaining and a pleasant surprise, but falls into the Temple of Doom range rather than the peaks of Raiders and Crusade. Similarly, I was happy to see that I didn’t mind Shia LeBeouf (still hate that name), though someone more likeable could have filled that role. I don’t think I’m asking too much of an Indiana Jones movie; my nitpicking doesn’t really come from trying to keep the Sanctity of My Childhood. Rather because it was this series along with Jaws and Star Wars that created the paradigm shift in American film, where what used to be B Movies took the role of A Movies, and now we have some of the greatest actors of stage and film filling even minor roles in a Harry Potter entry. I’m not condemning that, far from it- it’s the type of thing I do for a living and I’m all for genre escapism dominating the box office most of the time. But we can also elevate what to expect from a B Movie.

    The look of it was right and it felt appropriately ’50′s to me, but ultimately much of what does work in Crystal Skull is due to Harrison Ford jumping into the role as earnestly as he can. He gave it his best and didn’t cross the line that many actors will of letting us know that they know they’re in a movie, Brendan Fraser. This goes some way to redeeming a string of unmentionable movies in recent years- rock on, Harrison.

    Comments

    Comment from Zack Smith
    Time: September 2, 2008, 7:22 pm

    This one just bugged me because it felt so…automated. I mean, yeah, it’s an amusement park ride, but Shia LaBeouf literally just shows up, Cate Blanchette has psychic powers that go nowhere, there’s some Lovecraftian stuff that doesn’t make a lot of sense and about 50 scenes where the heroes solve some ridiculous puzzle…then the click of a gun indicates the bad guys have shown up.

    It felt more like a “greatest hits” album than something new. And not a really boss remastered “greatest hits” album, I mean those generic ones you see at gas stations. It made me want to turn my back on pulp homage; it feels like it’s all been done, like there’s no new way to look at it. Of course, I mean that as a challenge!

    Comment from Parker
    Time: September 2, 2008, 7:27 pm

    Automated is a fair term.

    Comment from Mike Jozic
    Time: September 3, 2008, 1:21 am

    Jeff, I’m about 85% on board with your review. You just can’t help but feel that when some of the more fantastical elements of the film come into play, treating it like it was the first time we’ve seen this rather than the fourth (for this series, at least) would probably have been the smarter move. As you noted, Harrison had some nice moments. I thought it was interesting that it was usually in the quiet bits that we saw how the character has grown since 1938. It was also nice to see him turning into his father. When he said “This is intolerable” I think I was the only one laughing in the theatre. But, good moments notwithstanding, instead of making it a character piece with spectacle, they went for spectacle first.

    And am I the only one who felt like Karen Allen played Marion like she knew she was in a movie?

    Anyway, I’ve read interviews with George where he said that he and Steven were at odds over the way the story should be told. He said that Steven wanted to do it like the old days while George wanted to push it forward more. I think that may be part of why it feels greatest hitsy and stuck in the middle somewhere.

    All-in-all an entertaining movie, though. I’m going to be hitting the second run theatre in town to get another look at it at the earliest opportunity, see how it feels going down the second time.

    Take care!

    Comment from jason
    Time: September 3, 2008, 3:34 am

    What is it about low expectations? Everyone, including my parents, had gone to see this movie before me. My Dad said it was embarrassing. I hedged my own bets by watching a shaky handycam version, thinking if the movie’s that bad then I might as well really punish myself.

    But I actually enjoyed it! I laughed at the refrigerator. And Ray Winstone was great, which side was he on away? You can’t take this movie seriously: suspension of disbelief is already pretty well established in the franchise. Why is this *central plot device* any less believable than, say, a guy pulling your beating heart of your chest while you’re still alive?

    I think the only letdown for me was the greasy CG effects. I miss the matte explosions and the miniature tank with miniature nazi crashing down the cliff.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: September 3, 2008, 7:31 am

    Mike, yes on Karen Allen. In a way it was kind of cute because she seemed she was having fun in this movie she was in. It also sounds right that they were struggling over the direction- why can’t Lucas just assume the guy who has Oscars and has directed a hundred more movies than him might have a point?

    Comment from Parker
    Time: September 3, 2008, 7:32 am

    Jason, it did look like they did some matte paintings, or am I wrong?

    Comment from Mike Jozic
    Time: September 3, 2008, 10:15 am

    They said they were trying to stay away from digital effects as much as possible to keep with the look of the older films. Or, at least, any that are noticeable. I can’t help but think that the chase on the cliff didn’t have some set extensions and digital trickery.

    Comment from jackmarlowe
    Time: September 3, 2008, 10:25 am

    Hi Jeff:

    I have to do a confession: i see the movie two times! The second time i stayed in “stand by” and analyze all the black holes of film.

    It´s a Indy film without the Indy spirit.

    The first part of film:Area 51, Atomic bomb, son Indy and escape remind the Indy structure.

    Later the film choose the line of confusion: the Et, the bad girl with mental powers (how a episode of unknown dimension), the triple or four Agent ( this can be a opponent for M-11 :) ), the son of Indy is very exaggerated in a lot of moments…

    I pray for future good movie. Please Lucas and Spielberg: work hard.

    PD: Did you receive the mails that i send you?

    Comment from Parker
    Time: September 3, 2008, 10:38 am

    Good points, Felipe. Why did they have to have the alien make a snarl face at the end?

    I think I got email from you recently, sorry I’m behind on that!

    Comment from Patman
    Time: September 3, 2008, 11:57 am

    The biggest problem is that the script is far too cluttered, literally throwing in the kitchen sink and the fridge and praying that people like something out of all the bits tossed in. When a film gives birth to “Nuking the Fridge” as a replacement to the overused “Jumping the Shark” phrase, this is not a good sign that the film was received well by its audience, one that has 3 films’ worth of expectations and hopes for the 4th installment.

    Indiana Jones films should be an on-the-edge-of-your-seat viewing, filled with exhiliarating action escape sequences, but what we got were just over-cooked, bombastic, and dull scenes stitched together rather spastically. Did you ever think Indy should have broken a hip from any of his action stunts, I did, repeatedly. That’s not a good thing.

    Hated the blown out lighting, Janusz didn’t quite get the right look and feel of the previous Indy Jones films’ cinematography for this film.

    Ray Winston’s character was an eye-rolling bore. Marian was too self-conscious, and she and Indy didn’t quite re-capture the magic from their previous pairing 25+ years ago. Cate Blanchette’s character was far too underwritten and too easy to overlook as the villainess in her efforts to use Indy to find the prize. Mutt did little to prove his cinematic mettle as a springboard for future installments of the Adventures of Mutt Jones.

    I give this film 2.5 ughs.

    Comment from jackmarlowe
    Time: September 3, 2008, 12:07 pm

    I think ET read the mind of bad girl, i don´t remind is name, and see the bad vibrations or is a punishment for not accept the knowledge that offered aliens.

    The another answer is that Lucas/Spielberg see that the head of alien are equal that ALIEN and don´t like to have problems with copyright.

    My favorite film of Indy is the last crusade: had nazis, mistery, action, humour, Sean Connery… Had structure and good characters.

    The firts of Ark i like very much but the end is strange but much better than skull.

    The temple of doom is a good movie but strange with the structure of Indiana movies: social themes, a sidekick, valley with death and problems, villains very dangerous and dark…

    I think that in next movie they must return with original spirit but making innovations and new ideas.

    Please, if return Indy Jr: can they evolve the character? In this was very schematic.

    Comment from Eric
    Time: September 3, 2008, 9:12 pm

    How has this page gotten as long as it has without anyone mentioning the f-wording CGI monkeys?

    The point at which I started disliking the movie was when they beheaded the statue of Marcus, and everyone in the movie theater laughed. Everything that followed seemed like more bad decision making on the part of the filmmakers. Even that poster up top kind of stinks.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: September 3, 2008, 9:59 pm

    We were all suppressing the monkeys and prairie dogs- the hell was that anyway?- but yeah, who thought the beheading of Marcus’ statue was something that had to happen? Did Marcus knock the head off a statue in Crusade or anything that made that an in joke?

    Comment from Parker
    Time: September 3, 2008, 10:02 pm

    Pat, I wanted to ugh with you on Ray Winstone’s character, I don’t know what we were supposed to make of him. Besides that I couldn’t understand what he was saying, ever.

    Comment from Mike Jozic
    Time: September 3, 2008, 11:16 pm

    The statue gag was less about beheading Marcus and more about getting Indy to look at Mutt the way Henry looked at him when he stopped the Nazi in Crusade by putting the pole in his spokes and launching the guys bike. That was a bit of a run on sentence, wasn’t it? Mutt looks at him and Indy just sort of scowls with disapproval. Again, as a character building scene for Indy, I liked it. One of the first signs that he’s turning into his father.

    I also agree with the monkeys. I think there’s a mental filter somewhere in my noggin for that scene because out of all the things I remember about the film, good and bad, the Mutt/Tarzan scene does not bubble to the surface unless prompted. Now that I’m thinking about it, there was also the car going down the waterfall, the anti-climatic giant fire ants, and Mutt throwing Indy the snake in the sinkhole. The prairie dogs, I have to admit, I actually liked, so sue me.

    There has been a lot of talk about how much better the ‘leaked’ Frank Darabont script is, but I’ve had a look at it and I wasn’t too impressed. Granted, I didn’t finish it, but just the opening scenes seemed ‘off’ for Indy compared to what they went with, in my opinion. Whether it is real or not, I don’t know, but if I had to choose right now between Koepp’s movie and ‘Darabont’s', I’d go with the one we got.

    Patman, I think Spielberg uses Janusz for a lot of things he may not be appropriate for, but he’s got his crew and he’d rather fit a square peg into a round hole than find a round peg. Apparently he had to give Janusz a crash course on how he wanted the picture to look (like the old movies) and I’m with you on the point that he never quite achieved it.

    I thought Winstone was a decent foil for Indy up until he started bouncing loyalties around so much that you stopped caring whose side he was working for. By the end you don’t even shrug at Mac’s fate.