Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Retro Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

 (editor's note: After last week's Retro Review for The Dark Knight Rises, the Cap'n realized there was a series of Blogorium posts from 2008 that never made the transition from our old stomping grounds to the new one. As a result, it seemed like a good idea to share some other reviews that had been otherwise "lost" over the past four years).

We've gone a long time without Indiana Jones having a new adventure. In the time between Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we've had to make do with imitators like National Treasure, Sahara, and The Mummy. All of them were kind of cute, kind of stupid, but they weren't Indiana Jones movies.

What I'm here to tell you may not make you happy, but Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is also not quite and Indiana Jones movie. It's pretty close, but if you had a problem with the seemingly endless exposition of National Treasure, then this movie isn't going to sit well.

That being said, there's a
LOT about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull I like. I was 100% on board with the movie for the first half of the film, and then something happened. Things shifted gears and it stopped being an Indiana Jones movie; instead, it felt like someone was trying to make an Indiana Jones movie and got about half of it right.

By now, I'm guessing most of you have or are seeing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This is good, because I need to talk *SPOILERS* and they're the kind of spoilers that most of you clearly don't know about.


as I was saying, almost everyone at work and in front of the Grande last night did not know the following:

- The movie takes place in 1957
- Indiana Jones is fighting the Russians
- The Crystal Skull belongs to an alien
- Yes, there are aliens in the movie (plural, although one is a corpse)
- There is a UFO at the end of the movie (really)
- Various other random things like Shia LeBouf IS in fact playing Indiana Jones' son, and Marion IS the mother, and John Hurt is NOT Abner Ravenwood.

I don't like being one of those "laundry list" spoilers because it feels kind of like "ha ha! I've seen it and you haven't!" Early on into the preview screenings of Episode III people were posting bullshit reviews, but as soon as the actual reviews came flooding in, bloggers and internet critics all used the same phrase as "proof" that they actually saw Revenge of the Sith. It was that retarded "code" whatever that Palpatine uses to kill the Jedi. It was stupid then and things like that are stupid now.

BUT, when the nine of us that saw KOTCS last night were trying to explain how we felt about the movie, it was clear just how little everyone knew. I was "shush"'ed for saying the alien and the UFO at the end were stupid, because nobody knew what the movie was actually about. Hell, we didn't actually know, and I think I knew more about the film than anyone else did going in.

So for those of you that didn't leave, yes, the crystal skull belongs to an alien that makes up one of the thirteen aliens in
El Dorado. Yes, the city of gold was created by aliens. This is actually not the stupid part, to be honest. This stuff was different, but far from too weird for Indiana Jones. I know a few people that didn't like the replacement of religious artifacts with sci-fi elements, but Indy does even say in the film "it depends on who your God is."

Just remember we're talking about the same series of films where the Wrath of God causes people to melt, and where Shankara stones can burn the hand of a Kali Priest. It's really not that outlandish.

In fact, as I said, the first part of the film is 100% on the level Indiana Jones adventure. Everything from the opening in Area 51 (that's where the Ark went, if you were wondering) to Jones surviving a nuclear test in a refrigirator and being blacklisted as a communist and having a pretty awesome motorcycle chase with Mutt (Shia) is just fine. I was totally into the movie.

Then they go to
Peru, and there's this shift. First things seem okay, but Jones slowly becomes less and less involved in things. On several occasions he stands next to someone looking at a map or something carved into a wall and says "this means this, which can translate to this word, which can also mean this." then another character will say "just like the blah de blah" and Jones says "Good!"

As the film goes on, this happens more and more, until the heroes are wholly removed from the action. Not like "tied up while the
Ark is opened", but like "stand there while the mystery solves itself and then repeat something they said ten minutes ago".

The second half of the film suffers from a more recent story problem that Steven Spielberg's been having: explain basic concepts over and over again so that even the dumbest person in the audience says "I KNOW ALREADY!". It plagued A.I., Minority Report, The Terminal, and War of the Worlds, and it's so bad in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that I became detached, especially in the second half.

It wasn't the monkeys or the giant ants of the waterfall you could not possibly survive; no, these are all things I expect from an Indiana Jones film. Even the bad cgi couldn't derail me (whoever invented digital motion blur needs to go ahead and try again), because it was inevitable. The jungle chase was still okay with the fakery because just enough of it was still real. The constant referincing of other Indiana Jones movies and the terrible Marcus Brody "blowjob" joke didn't even bother me. The problem was all the damned explanations!

Everything that happens after Indy and Mutt leave the
U.S. is like National Treasure. If they aren't directly involved in an action sequence, we have to listen to people talking about what this clue means or what that riddle means, and then they SAY WHAT THE ANSWER IS INSTEAD OF JUST DOING IT! Do you know when Indy says "The Shield is the second marker" in Last Crusade? Right after they open the Knight's coffin, not while they're in the library or in Elsa's suite. While they're doing what they need to be doing, and then they continue doing things.

National Treasure is so fucking long because every single time Nicholas Cage finds a clue, they spend another ten minutes talking about the clue. It gets so bad that John Voight even makes fun of the repetitiveness of the story in the movie! What makes Indiana Jones all the worse for this is that there are some genuinely great scenes in between all this unnecessary exposition.

When Indy sees
Marion again, I can't even describe how awesome it is. That big grin on her face and the really goofy reaction he gives makes it seem like old times again. Even the bickering, most of which feels like Last Crusade, is honestly pretty amusing. I chuckled anyway. Apparently Raiders screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan had a hand in writing that scene, which may be why it works so well.

The scene in the quicksand with the snake shouldn't work, but Harrison Ford sells it so well that it does. When Indy and Marion and Mutt are in the truck, it feels like Indiana Jones again, and so does the ensuing chase. But all of this is punctuated with unnecessary "what this means" talk.

The alien at the end wouldn't be so fucking stupid if it had anything to do with what Indy and company were doing, but it isn't. They just leave and then hang around while Ray Winstone slowly dies like the henchmen early in The Mummy, and then they kind of mosey out of the flooding temple. Not run, mosey.

Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett is hanging out with the crystals statues that then bond together into this alien that sort of stands there while everything is sucked into "another dimension" (according to the suddenly lucid John Hurt), and then she kind of catches fire and then dissolves in a PG version of what happens to the vampires in Blade. Then the spaceship flies off into the "space between spaces", because apparently Spielberg, Lucas, and screenwriter David Koepp couldn't commit to them actually being from outer space.

I know I'm recapping, but it's leading to the point at which I totally lost hope that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull would ever be a real Indiana Jones movie: the last explanation. Harrison Ford seems to get stuck with most of the "howlers" of bad lines in this movie, but nothing takes the cake like "the Mayan word for gold is actually treasure, so they weren't talking about gold. What it really meant was that the treasure was knowledge."

At this point, David starting laughing so hard that many of us also cracked up. It was too much, even for an Indiana Jones movie. People who tell you that all the movies are this stupid might want to watch them again. As someone who studied the "worst" film in the series
*, The Temple of Doom, I can tell you that the "fortune and glory" talk at the end is nowhere near as bad as what Jones says on that mountain. Not even close.

It probably sounds like I'm bagging on the movie, which makes me feel bad. I honestly enjoyed the movie. I certainly didn't hate it or think of it as a terrible film, just a silly one. It IS a silly movie, one that has some amazing parts and some really stop dead in your tracks awful parts. It sounds terrible to say I don't regret seeing it, because that makes it sound like Star Wars prequel talk, and this is wayyyy better than Episodes 1, 2, or 3. It just could've been better than it is, and that's kind of why I'm bummed.

So should you see it, now that I've told you most of what happens (I haven't actually. I left out some really cool moments in
Peru and other incidental things in the beginning)?

Yeah, I think you'd enjoy it. Understand that this is not Raiders of the Lost Ark, and nothing ever will be again. Know that Harrison Ford brought his a-game and it shows in long stretches. Shia LeBouf? He's actually pretty good as Mutt, and he gets a couple of nice moments in the film. Cate Blanchett is pretty crazy in the movie, and when she has something to do, it's cool. She's awesome in the beginning of the film.
Marion has a handful of great scenes. The action is still great, and Spielberg still knows how to film it in a way today's action directors can't.

Whatever you do, don't go in expecting the movie to suck. There are plenty of goofy, silly, and stupid things that happen that could easily pull you out. Take them in stride, and remember the dinner scene in
Temple of Doom. Remember the seagulls in Last Crusade, or "no ticket!". Let it happen to you, and maybe you'll be all right.

If you want to see it, call me. If I'm not working, I'd be willing to watch it again. Like I said, the first hour is awesome!

* while it's really neither here nor there, Last Crusade is actually my least favorite. I've come to appreciate Temple of Doom for what it is.

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