Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull review by Rosie

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

A few weeks ago I took some time off from my new life as a real person to make a belated pilgrimage back to the site of my undergraduate alma mater for an overdue reunion with my three longtime college housemates. Over the years weve kept in touch in various ways (e-mail, phone, fantasy football league, etc.), as well as getting together in various combinations of two and three for different reasons now and then, but in all the time since we graduated this was the first time that all four of us were together again at the same time. Now, it hasnt been forever. But it has been longer than we would have ever expected it to be when we graduated. Lets just say its been long enough that those three were all just a little balder, fatter, or otherwise older looking than I remember, but its been short enough that Im still as young and spry looking as ever. Funny how that works. The interesting thing about it, though, was that once we were all together again same guys, back in the same surroundings it felt almost as if we had never left. And so it was that, without anyone else there to remind us that we werent nineteen anymore, we all fell easily into that trap of believing we were still as young as we ever were before. And, like so many other creepy, old guys at the club before us, we all had to be taught the hard way that we werent.

For the ones who had married, settled down, maybe even had a kid or two in the years since we last drizzled hell on the bar staff, noise ordinances, and property values of that town the lesson came in the form of an early morning, throbbing cranial reminder that their bodies were no longer equipped to process mixed gallons of liquor and beer on just a few hours of sleep and be ready to go again for kegs and eggs by nine. For me, the lesson came in the form of a dislocated shoulder on the very first play of a long anticipated, two-on-two, (deep sigh) touch football game.


Let me just let that sink in for a moment.

Now, in my own defense, I had separated that shoulder pretty bad several years ago (no, not in a pillow fight) and it has since become kind of a trick shoulder, prone to this sort of thing. But still in this situation, on that field, where the four of us used to play much rougher games on a daily basis it served as a jarring reminder that just bringing us all back together in the same place again didnt mean we were really still in college again.

So why do I mention all this? Because before I sound too critical of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford for thinking it would be a great idea to get the whole Indiana Jones gang back together for old times sake, I want them to know this I understand. I understand how exciting it can be when the idea first occurs as a possibility. I understand what its like as plans start falling into place and how easy it can be to get swept up in the memory of good times and stories you hadnt thought about for years. I understand how the anticipation of it all can begin to stir up things inside you, the remainders of a person you used to be and hadnt even noticed was gone until now. And I understand what its like to finally get there again, in that familiar old place with those familiar old faces, where if you all agree to let the world go you can almost actually believe that not a thing has changed. But what I also understand is that outside of that little group no one - and I mean no one - else sees you the way you feel. So I hope theyll understand that it is with great empathy that I must now explain how Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull looked to everyone else, from the outside looking in.

*****Warning Real, Actual Movie Talk/Possible Spoiler Alert*****

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull picks up sometime in the late 1950s, where we find the worlds most dangerous university professor once again caught in a bit of a pickle. Having been kidnapped by the Russians and smuggled deep into the heart of a restricted American military base in the Nevada desert, Dr. Jones (Harrison Ford) is forced to help the nefarious Colonel/Doctor Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) break into a top secret warehouse on the base known as Hangar 51 (clever, right) and uncover the hidden remains from an unexplained U.F.O. crash in the area several years earlier. Despite his best efforts to foil their plans, it ends up being all Jones can do to just escape with his life and, of course, his hat (which is pretty good considering he had to hang on to them both through a rocket sled ride across the desert and a 50 megaton nuclear explosion that incinerates half the western United States to do so).

Upon his return to academia, Jones finds himself having to face accusations and interrogations from his own government, as well as suspicion from his own university, regarding his relationship with Spalko and the Russians. In a world where the trumped up paranoia of an imminent Communist invasion has allowed rational thought to give way to the political expediency of scapegoating, anyone associated with the Russians in any way is considered guilty until proven innocent even the great Dr. Henry Jones. Under pressure to take leave from the university, Jones decides to just leave them all behind for good and is on his way to try to find work across the country when his plans are interrupted by a message about an old friend of his in trouble. The message, delivered by a young, motorcycle greaser named Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf), sets Indy and Mutt off to Peru to try to help retrieve both their mutual friend and the legendary crystal skull that he may have disappeared with.

Once in Peru, the surprises for Indy and Mutt continue to unfold. Reunions (both welcome and unwelcome), discoveries, double-crosses, triple-crosses, and the answers to some of lifes greatest mysteries all come fast and furious in the precious few moments between extended jungle car chase scenes and furious insect swarms. Perhaps most surprising of all is the discovery that the famed crystal skull is nothing more than a Spencers Gifts dorm room table decoration. (Which would be awesome, in any dorm, by the way.) But, since they already came all that way to get it, they decided to keep fighting it out for it anyway. Whhhhiipp-sshhhh!

*****End of Real, Actual Movie Talk/Spoiler Alert*****

Sounds great, right? Im sure the script looked great to them on paper, too. But thats because you, like them, are probably picturing all of this in your mind right now with the Indiana Jones of your youth, running through the scenes. Unfortunately that Harrison Ford was no longer available for this film. So now reimagine everything I just described before, but this time with Harrison Fords grandfather playing the Indy role instead. Not quite as enticing as before, now is it? (And keep in mind, that is one of the promotional photos from this movie that they released meaning there are plenty of other screen caps of a far older and more shrunken-looking Harrison Ford from this movie that I could have used to illustrate this point, but didnt even have to. That, right there, is one of the best promotional shots their own marketing department could find.) So you can see my dilemma. Wanting, like they and you, to be returned to my youth while enjoying this movie, I just couldnt stop noticing how old Indy looked and how embarrassed I kind of felt for him. Im not sure if, twenty-seven years ago when they were filming the first Raiders of the Lost Ark, they gave him that trademark fedora because they realized how handy it would be when Ford was in his mid-sixties as a way to cast shadow over the face of the twenty year-old stuntman filling in for Ford in simple running scenes but the more little lighting and angle tricks like that that they tried to distract from Fords age with, the more they just ended up drawing attention to it. Again, I love Harrison Ford and I dont mean to pile on just him here. And in his defense, there were actually a number of non-action scenes in which his smooth delivery, sarcasm, and self-deprecating humor about his own age evoked flashes of the impudent, intergalactic spice smuggler who helped his career make the jump to light speed. But not enough of them to erase the other images of a slump-chested man in ill-fitting pants, fighting off armies of men half his age with all the realism of a Vince McMahon moon landing.

And equally responsible for those scenes, as well as a number of other disappointing miscues in the eyes of an outsider looking in, are the men who should be the real stewards of this once proud franchise, Lucas and Spielberg. As far as Lucas goes, its hard to gauge whether his reach has finally exceeded his grasp or whether our grasp has finally caught up with his reach. What is certain is that, one way or the other, the man we all once hailed as a visionary storyteller has lost a lot of his luster in the last decade or so, as a new generation of talent has passed him by and his own efforts to recapture the glory of his once great tales continue to fall well short of the mark. If anything, these efforts have exposed him even further as a 2-trick pony who cant quite do either of his tricks anymore.

(Speaking of which, do you know how many Writer credits Lucas has listed on his IMDB page over the last 31 years since Star Wars came out? Fifty. Do you know how many of those credits are not Star Wars or Indiana Jones related projects? THREE. When you put together all of his Writer, Producer and Director credits over that same 31 year period one hundred twelve projects under his belt altogether. The number not related to the same two franchises FIFTEEN, including a sequel to American Graffiti (More American Graffiti), a re-release of his USC student film counted as a Director credit, and eleven Producer credits on movies he didnt write. That means that since the release of the first Star Wars, Americas greatest storyteller has delivered directly from his own imagination one hundred and one different stories, exactly FOUR of which are not just a repackaging of the same characters from one of his two wells.) Before stepping back and considering this, I was a little upset with Lucas for unnecessarily muddying this latest Indiana Jones script with his awkwardly forced social commentary and labored attempts to force feed the audience an unremarkable message about the parallels between Cold War and post-September 11th paranoia. But now, I guess I just have to blame myself for expecting something more from him.

Spielberg, however, is a whole different animal. With a resume as long as it is varied, hes clearly the one who could have done the most to make this whole thing work. He didnt, but I suppose Id be hard-pressed to find too much terribly wrong with his effort to do so. If anything, I was just really puzzled by how uneven the visuals were. Its almost as if he had to save every penny of his budget for the (admittedly) magnificent effects in the climactic scene, at the expense of the first three quarters of the movie. There was one jungle quicksand scene earlier in the movie that I would have bet anything while watching that it had been filmed in a Chuck E. Cheese ball pit with a few leaves tossed over it. But then, to his credit, the knockout punch at the end did deliver. At worst, I can only be mad at Spielberg for not trying to talk some more sense into the other two before this whole idea got out of control.

But in the end, all I can really do is be disappointed for my own selfish reasons. I cant blame them for wanting to get together and try to recapture a little piece of their youth. Ive done it. I get it. Hell, as soon as I get out of this sling, Ill probably do it again. I told you, I understand. And so do a lot of people. When we were heading out a few weeks ago to do the same thing, we all had girlfriends, wives, family members, and friends who were probably concerned and upset about it for their own reasons. Im sure they worried about who might end up in what hospital or which jail and why, as a result of four domesticated men trying to dive head-first back into the deep end of college life for one more lap. But they understood, and they couldnt blame us for wanting to go. And we thanked them the only way we knew how by not taking pictures.

Do you see what Im saying here, George? Harrison? Steven? Do you understand what Im trying to tell you? No one is saying you have to let go. Do whatever you need to do wear the clothes, crack the whip, clap the clapboard, blow up the sets, talk through the bullhorn, shoot the extras, see if you can still outrun the giant boulder, sit around in the personalized directors chairs, bitch about Scientology, prank call Sean Connery, whatever. More power to you. But just remember that there are people back home who care about these characters and want to remember them the way they were.

So please, next time, whatever you do all we ask is to not have to see the pictures.

6 out of 10 Jackasses
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