Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

    It’s hard to imagine two more influential figures in movie history than George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. These are the guys who invented the summer blockbusters that so shape the current economic model in Hollywood. Before them, big budget films were rare. Studios made small films that made a little money. After them it was big budgets and big profits. This is turn led to the rise of the American independents who made all the small films that the studios couldn’t be bothered with anymore.
    Ironically enough, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lucas and Spielberg’s first collaboration was a pretty low budget film. After busting the bank with Jaws and 1941, Spielberg was determined to make one on time and budget. He was successful. Raiders took off and made that much more money than an expensive film would have. In a way, it is a testament to the power of these two men that we don’t have 15 crappy Indiana Jones movies. I’m sure that Universal would have loved that, but Lucas and Spielberg were in a position to say no and to make them only when they felt they had a good idea.
    Of course, they weren’t always right about the quality of their ideas. Temple of Doom ranks among Spielberg’s worst films. Still, when these two get together to make an Indiana Jones movie, it’s an event.
    In Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Dr. Jones is 20 years older and still after treasure. This time the maguffin is a crystal skull which actually are sometimes found in digs, especially in South America. Chasing him are the Soviets, namely Irina Spalko, played by Kate Blanchett.  She’s smart, beautiful and determined as well as ruthless. Blanchett is obviously having a ball bringing the character to life.
    Most of the elements for a great Indiana Jones movie are here, starting with Harrison Ford’s wisecracking performance. The dialog is up to the witty standards of the first three films, even if the story isn’t. Karen Allen returns as Marian Ravenwood, now Williams, missing since Raiders. She holds her own with Ford in the wisecracking department. Newcomer to the series, Shia LeBeouf plays Mutt Williams, Marian’s son. If he is being groomed as Ford’s eventual replacement, he’s worthy.
    Stunts and visuals are why you want to see this film. From almost the first frame, Indy is in trouble and is getting himself out of it by the most improbable methods imaginable. Nobody strings together these set pieces like Spielberg. We’re watching a master at work here. The sets of ancients tombs and ruins covered in vines and cobwebs and dark caves with musty skeletons, and exotic, colorful locales, are all detailed and breathtakingly done.
    It’s odd to say it, but the one cavil I have is the plot, which seems to have been borrowed from some mediocre Stargate episode. Lucas came up with the story and really someone should make him stop. Happily though, he handed the scriptwriting off to David Koepp, so we don’t have to listen to any of Lucas’s tin-eared dialog.
    In this case, the plot is a small thing. Stunts and visuals are the order of the day. I don’t know how many more of these we’re going to have but Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a worthy addition, though not anywhere near the best.


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May 2008
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