Why Did It Have to Be Aliens? (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,2008)

Indiana_Jones_Crystal_Skull_PosterOr…Indy Gets Old. Lucas envisioned a new Indiana Jones trilogy, with one change.  Where the first three films focused on religious and supernatural artifacts, the new films would focus on science fiction themed artifacts.  Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is set in the 1950’s for this reason, and instead of Nazis, the villains are Russians.

The film opens with Indy and his friend Mac as prisoners of the Russians.  They are taken to Area 51 to locate a potential weapon.  Jones mounts an escape that leads to one of those narrow escapes that got a lot of ridicule…hiding in a fridge to avoid a nuclear explosion.  I am not sure this is really any more outrageous than his other exploits in other films.  Is it crazier than jumping from a plane in an inflatable raft?  Indy returns to his college job, only to find himself pursued by the CIA and the Russians.

He runs into a kid named Mutt…Mutt wants his help to save his mom…Marion Ravenwood.  What follows is an adventure involving the Crystal Skull.  The real Crystal Skulls are carved human skulls.  People believed they were ancient creations, but all the skulls studied have revealed to have been made in the 19th century and there does not seem to be any mythology that corroborates the claims of being Mesoamerican or even Native American.

The film ignores this and posits that there is a hidden city in the Amazon jungles.  And the skull is not human, but rather an elongated alien skull.  The film indulges aliens and psychic powers.  But a lot of the action harkens back to the earlier films.

At the same time, there is little room for anything resembling an emotional resonance…this is because the film relies heavily on goofy moments.  The action is full of it.  During an overly long chase (where the Crystal Skull keeps leaping between Indy’s crew and the Russians) Mutt gets caught in a tree.  He ends up swinging Tarzan style through the trees surrounded by monkeys.

The film also never really surprises.  From the moment Mutt appears, you can see where his storyline is leading.  Mutt is also kind of annoying.  I mean, he is less annoying than Sam Witwicky in the Transformer films…but he gets irritating none the less.

On the other hand, it is really great to see Marion back on the screen.  And she gets some real good moments within the action scenes.  She is not just there to be saved, but does the saving.  And the cast is a high point.  You have Cate Blanchett as the lead Russian, John Hurt as an old mentor of Indiana Jones, and Jim Broadbent in a small role as Indy’s boss.

And John Williams provides the score.  John Williams has created many iconic themes from Star Wars to Superman.  And his soundtrack in all the Indiana Jones films is top notch.  As the main Indy theme plays in every movie, it makes you anticipate excitement.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a disappointing return for a cinematic hero.

Choose Your Adventure Wisely (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989)

Indiana_Jones_Crusade_PosterAfter the criticism of Temple of Doom, Lucas and Spielberg opted to return to Judeo Christian artifacts.  This time was far more myth, in that they search for the Holy Grail, the cup Christ used at the Last Supper and gifted with the power of eternal life.  They brought in Jeffrey Boam, writer of two Lethal Weapon films and the Lost Boys, to provide the Screenplay.

The film opens in Indiana Jones’ teen years.  While out with his scout troop, he stumbles across treasure hunters.  He grabs an artifact and they start to chase him.  While the sequence is fun and generally exciting, it also suffers from a ridiculous amount of fan service.  For reasons I cannot fathom, they decided they needed to explain…well, everything.  Indy’s fear of snakes, how he got the scar on his chin, how he got his whip, how he got his hat.  It is just absurd.  Who really wanted to know how or when he got that scar?  He is an adventurer…he got it on an adventure. They also establish where the name “Indiana” comes from.  It is not great.

The film then jumps to 1938, where Indy has found that same artifact.  He reclaims it and returns to the college where he is employed as a Professor.  There, he is introduced to Walter Donovan, who was working with Indiana Jones’ father, a noted Grail expert.  His father has disappeared, so Jones flies to Venice with Marcus Brody and they meet up with Elsa, who was also working Indy’s father (also named Henry, so his dad keeps referring to Indy as Jr.).  They discover he is being held by Nazis…

Everyone gets divided up, Indy and his father escaping the Nazis, Marcus and a returning Sallah heading for the location of the Grail.  They do eventually meet up in an action packed finale.

And the film does entertain, but then also tries to over compensate with background…wholly unnecessary background.  Sean Connery as Indy’s dad is certainly a fun casting choice.  He is not impressed at all with Indiana’s exploits.  In one scene, they are riding a motor cycle.  After he dispatches Nazis, he looks to his father with a big smile…and his dad is just indifferent.  The look on Ford’s face as his ego is deflated is amusing.

The film really ramps up the jokes.  Where humor complimented the prior films, this one seems almost more of a comedy.  Marcus Brody and Sallah, two fairly dramatic and competent characters in the first film are played for laughs as bumbling fools.

The film does have some nice character moments for Ford and Connery where they try and reconnect after years of a strained relationship.  The twists and reveals, on the other hand, feel heavily telegraphed.

The Last Crusade is often treated as a strong return to form, but I cannot say it is any better than the Temple of Doom.  It is certainly tonally different (and admittedly, a lot of the jokes actually work, especially between Indy and Henry).  But it has its weaknesses.

The Adventure Continues (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1984)

Indiana_Jones_Temple_PosterOf course, Indy had to return.  And Spielberg and Lucas have returned, with longtime Lucas collaborator Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz providing the script.

The film opens with a musical number and Indy meeting with Chinese Gangster Lao Che.  After a double cross, Jones makes a dramatic (and entertaining) escape with singer Willie Scott.   A plane crash detours Indy and Scott, along with sidekick Short Round (one of the weirdest choices is a kid of about thirteen or fourteen) in India.  A village reaches out for Indy’s help.  Their children and sacred stones were taken by a cult.  Indy agrees and they venture forth.  They arrive at Pankot Palace.

They discover the Thuggee Cult is alive and well, worshiping Kali in caverns below the palace.  They are using the children as slave labor and consolidating power through human sacrifice.  Probably the most infamous moment from this outing is the removal of a victim’s still beating heart before he is lowered into lava.

Temple of Doom is often seen as a darker affair.  And truthfully it is.  In part, this is due to the focus on a death cult.  The Thugees were a very real community, though they were more known to befriend travelers and kill them for their possessions.  It is debated just how much a role their religious beliefs played in their actions.  The supernatural flourishes in the film are entirely fabricated.

While the tone is darker this time around, the film also has the exciting narrow escapes and death traps that made the first film enjoyable.  In spite of a new writing team, the character of Indy is true to form.  The humor is still there, much of it derived from Indiana Jones own over confidence.  Though the inclusion of Short Round makes Indy look a tad bit too irresponsible.  Willie Scott is set up as the direct opposite of Marion Ravenwood.  Scott is kind of clueless and wants only a comfortable life.  She does not like getting her hands dirty and seems scared of everything.  Sadly, this leads to the character becoming extremely annoying at times.

The villains are not explored much at all.  Most of the bad guys are in a possessed trance and do not seem to have a lot of personality (as opposed to Belloq and Toht in Raiders).

The film is really no more gruesome than the first film (which had peoples’ faces melt off!).  And the ILM effects are still largely able to stand the test of time.  Really, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is not quite Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it is fun and exciting enough to entertain.

One last note…in Raiders, Indy is pretty skeptical about the supernatural powers of the Ark.  And yet, in Temple of Doom, set two years before Raiders, he witnesses some major supernatural activity.  What brought him back to skepticism?

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑