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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ***

A few days ago, I went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and I've been putting off writing a review ever since. I just don't know what I thought of the movie yet. To be sure, I'd have to go back and watch it again, but I have neither the time nor money for that, and I don't think it would be a fair assessment, seeing that my other reviews (and all professional reviews) are written after seeing a film for the first time. So now here I sit, knowing that I should write this thing, but still not knowing exactly what I thought. On one hand, it was a visually-stunning tour de force. Easily the most brilliantly executed of all the Indy flicks, with remarkable special effects that make the original trio seem even more dated than it already is. And yet, I don't know that I can award the film the four stars that I keep wanting it to have. Why? A lot of little things that add up.

First of all, for as good of shape as 65-year-old Harrison Ford is in, he did look visibly tired in a lot of this film. The slack is picked up by Shia LeBouf, but it's just not the same as watching Indy himself leap around and deliver plucky one-liners. Don't get me wrong, Harrison still does plenty of leaping (or his stunt double does, at least), but in his face, the tiredness is evident. Even his lines sound exhausted, and his delivery of them only paints the bags under his eyes darker.

Then there's the script. Indiana Jones is not a realistic, dramatic franchise in the slightest. It is an all-fun, high-speed action flick that doesn't so much border on ridiculousness as it does leap into it face-first. Across the last three films we've seen people have their hearts torn out, faces melted off, and Sean Connery guest star; but when the "reveal" is made in Crystal Skull, I just couldn't buy it. And that was even after figuring out said "reveal" in the first ten minutes of the movie. I think we're supposed to figure out the mystery right away (because there really isn't a mystery at all), so that we can accept what is going on later, but someone should have mentioned to screenwriter David Knoepp that hinting at things early on is no way to sell a crazy idea. I need back-story and historical context (two things that the other Indy films were so good at giving me) to believe in the unbelievable.

The cast of co-stars also got to me. I liked Shia's "Mutt" a lot, but everyone else felt pulled out of a dream. I knew I was supposed to recognize a lot of them, but couldn't through all the years passed. And as fun as Cate Blanchett's razor-sharp Stalinite, "Irina Spalko" was to watch, I just never felt threatened by her in the slightest. Even in the original trilogy, knowing that Indy obviously had to make it through to the next film, I felt more worried about him than I did for any characters in Crystal Skull. There just wasn't a level of consequence developed here, and that led to a minor case of character boredom for me, I will admit.

Wow. So much negativity. And yet, I really did like the film. Nothing is without its flaws--especially not an Indy movie. They're all rife with plot holes and cheesy lines. Hell, that's half the draw--good, honest adventure with a sprinkle of humor and hold the realism. Crystal Skull was ridiculously fun and a great addition to the Indy franchise. I'd like it even more if I knew this represented the crossing of a threshold for the franchise, having Shia LeBouf pick up where Ford will inevitably have to leave off. I'd love to see Speilberg and Lucas give Ford a Connery-esque role in one more film, and then let Shia take the reigns. This series is far too interesting and fun to just end, especially on such a wonderfully open note (when Shia picks up the hat, my heart soared in hopefulness). I am only so critical of this film because it has so much to live up to. It's a great film when I had hoped for an excellent one. Still, great films merit watching, and I'd love to see this one again.

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