LucasFilm/Paramount Pictures (May 22 2008), Paramount Home Entertainment (October 14 2008), 2 discs, 122 mins plus supplements, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1, Rated PG-13, Retail: $39.99
The world’s favorite archaeologist is back after a 19 year break in an adventure that feels as old as he is now.
The Sweatbox Review:
Fasten your seatbelts…we’re in for a bumpy ride! Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, and The Last Crusade: drawing on the collaborators and filmmaking prowess that they had gathered during their careers, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg returned us to the movie serial format of our youths, producing three phenomenally successful B-Pictures in the modern blockbuster style they had forged most notably with Jaws and Star Wars respectively. Combining Spielberg’s strong cinematic ability with Lucas’ Industrial Light And Magic visual effects, each one offered more than the previous instalment: Raiders a breakneck shooting schedule that saw a grand return to the down and dirty adventures of old, Doom a stunning thrill-ride that arguably contains the purest elements of the Saturday morning “Cliffhanger Serials”, and Crusade returning to the fun of Indy’s first outing while adding a new dimension in the form of family squabbles with Dr Jones Senior.
These films genuinely need no introduction, though it’s fair to say that the final outing contained the word “Last” in the title for good reason: Lucas and Spielberg had shared a gentleman’s agreement to make three films featuring their danger-prone grave digger, and the deal had been done, Indy literally riding off into the sunset being the perfect capper to a series that neatly book-ended 1980s action filmmaking. But Hollywood loves a franchise that keeps going and, though Spielberg and Ford announced that they had hung up Indiana Jones’ hat and whip, Lucas ploughed on to mine the character a little more. Spielberg himself had attempted to start a series of Young Sherlock Holmes movies (directed by Chris Columbus before he set off to adapt another young literary hero, Harry Potter, the film was even given an Indy-esque subtitle internationally: Young Sherlock Holmes And The Pyramid Of Fear), but despite some impressive and pioneering CGI from ILM, the concept didn’t stick with audiences.
But if it was good enough for Conan Doyle, it was good enough for Indy, and Lucas – padding out an essentially one-joke idea from the Boy Scout opening of The Last Crusade – turned his attention to developing visual effects through storytelling, producing a series of Young Indiana Jones adventures and making television budgets look like mini-blockbusters. With the demise of that project, due to falling audience ratings as much as a general lack of excitement and humor in the shows themselves, almost ten years passed before Lucas sparked rumors of a return of the original adventurer to the big screen. Ford, who had suffered a string of so-so returns on outings including Robert Zemeckis’ homage to Alfred Hitchcock, What Lies Beneath, saw a chance to reclaim some box office clout, but Spielberg was still adamant he’d bid Indy farewell for good…unless the script was right. With the Studios now run by executives who had seen the original movies as kids, Paramount – always on the look out for a brand-based hit – took the bait, though it was almost another ten years before the three main players of Spielberg, Lucas and Ford, could agree on that script. Rumors persisted that Indiana would be discovering the lost city of Atlantis, that Sandra Bullock was going to be his new companion, or even perhaps his daughter!
Another early, and much more perfectly toned by all accounts, attempt by Frank Darabont didn’t make the cut: Lucas had become overly wrapped up in finding the right “MacGuffin”. A term coined by Alfred Hitchcock, the MacGuffin is the apparently important device around which the plot revolves but which is actually of little consequence to the proceedings; indeed in many Hitchcock films the need to find it has dissolved by the time the leading man and lady make their way towards the nearest exit as the credits roll. However, in the Indy films, the MacGuffin is all about what the stories are about, belying an understanding of their use, on Lucas’ part. The Ark Of The Covenant, the Ankara Stones, the Holy Grail…these are not props that have little bearing on the characters’ motivations: they are the very items that the powers of good and evil conspire against to take into custody by the final reel and make some use of. This misunderstanding of how MacGuffins – if they can even rightfully be called that – work in the Indy pictures is what has led us to experience the ultimately disappointing quest featured in this latest adventure.
Nailing something down early on is simple: Indiana Jones is essentially a Golden Age creation; he can truly ever exist genuinely in the 1930s or early 40s. This is the character’s natural environment. But within that, he also operates in a slightly mystical version of that time: a chaotic period in history that’s often now only remembered in newsreels and films of the era: the adventure pictures and movie serials that inspired his birth. During this time, audiences were thrilled with explorations of new cultures, the supernatural and the occult. These are the elements in which Indy thrives as a character: to discard them is to strip away parts of Indy himself. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull pretty much shreds all that has come before, placing Indy in 1957 and having him run about searching for objects that ultimately turn out to be not only non-supernatural, but downright out of Indy’s world. Not for the first and last time in the film, Lucas and Spielberg have gotten their franchises mixed up!
Spielberg has certainly made some eclectic choices since the double-whammy success of 1993, when Jurassic Park made tons and Schindler’s List ended his “drought” of awards recognition. Where do you go from the top like that? It’s been a little harder to pin-point “a Spielberg picture” since then, the sci-fi of AI and Minority Report and a mixture of personal topics (Amistad, Munich) and comic dramas (Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal) failing to reach the kinds of event audiences his films had expected to reach. He suggested in interviews that Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull was a reply to those films, “I’m making this one for the audience”, he exclaimed, and herein lies the problem. Perhaps there was a total lack of personal interest in the film on his part, perhaps after the years of Lucas wanting to make the film but continually changing his mind Spielberg just wanted to get the whole thing over with. Certainly, and unfortunately, if this film was “for the audience”, he’s never treated that audience with so much disdain.
The film is a major disappointment. I had not been a supporter of the project when it was finally announced and never believed it could live up to what was now a classic trilogy of movie adventures. I had little faith, but was encouraged by reports that the film would be made “old-style”, with a lack of CG effects where miniatures would be used as before (though this was practically made redundant when producer Frank Marshall let slip that they were “just adding the whip and the Fedora” to Indy’s digital double). The casting was interesting, as was the suggestion that Ford would be “playing to age” and making jokes in the film about undertaking his daring exploits with a few extra years on him. “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage” he famously quipped in Raiders, a perfect line to resurrect and pay homage to here. That it’s not evoked anywhere in the film, despite having the same to characters from that scene on screen again here, is one of the many instances of dropping the boulder that Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is guilty of.
Then there’s that clunky title. Lucas loves his B-Movie allusions, but Indy’s titles have always been much more to the point. As with most of this film, the title seems to be playing to what the filmmakers think that audience wants. In the supplements there are a few better titles mentioned, before Lucas apparently insisted on having “Kingdom” in the name. Ultimately, that’s what makes it so unwieldy: Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull is arguably stronger and works within the scanning of the previous films. How about Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull Kingdom, if the word really needed to be in there? It’s the extra “Of The” that kills it dead, and as we shall see, there’s not much of a “kingdom” in play in the film anyway, the word evoking all sorts of hidden cities and inhabitants, none of which we really see in the film, and then only for a brief couple of minutes, certainly not as featured as the theatrical posters, stills and trailers would have us believe.
Spielberg famously won’t commit to providing commentary on his films – a real shame because after hearing his words once in an interview about the disappointments in Hook, he obviously understands where he has failed himself and is intelligently vivid about where the issues lie. I would especially like to hear his take on some of his lesser successful or intimate work, but as he refuses, let’s take our own run through Indy’s fourth screen outing. Set your DVDs or Blu-ray Discs, keep your eye on the counter, and we’re off…
0:00:00 = Spielberg maintained that he wanted this Indy adventure to match the original trilogy, banning CGI from the production and insisting as much of it be made from “practical elements” as possible. How does he do this? After the logos (which really have no reason to use the old Paramount mountain), the very first shot features a CGI gopher, supposedly for a completely failed “comedy gold” moment.
0:00:23 = Instead of John Williams’ lush orchestral music, we’re hammered with Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog blaring from some teenagers’ car (it’s the 1950s, right!?) as it races alongside some serious-looking military trucks. Harrison Ford seems to have been renamed “Harrison Ford In”…oops, nope: they just didn’t include the “starring” words in a smaller text as in the previous outings.
0:02:12 = Where exactly is this sequence heading, and what has it got to do with the movie? Oh, wait…here we are; the military trucks are turning into a side road. Finally something’s about to happen, even if I’m not really finding myself that interested…
0:04:21 = As a car that delivers Indy and Mac to a warehouse in the middle of nowhere throws them out on the concrete, The Hat lands perfectly in frame. I’m still not excited, but that’s Indy’s hat! Spielberg shows off one of his only directorial trademark moments in the entire film by having Indy don the hat in silhouette – an unmistakable outline accompanied by the soft playing of the Raiders March in the score. Indiana Jones has returned…it’s all down hill from here.
0:04:37 = “Russians…” moans Indy, about his new foes. Well, we couldn’t exactly still have the Nazis to battle against, so in comes the Cold War and a bunch of rogue Russians that may as well be Nazis anyway.
0:04:40 = “This ain’t gonna be easy” says Indy’s pal Mac. “Not as easy as it used to be”, Indy replies, delivering the movie’s sole recognition of Indy’s passing years. The lack of Ford’s arms moving during this whole shot is unnerving.
0:05:01 = The Russian colonel who was in the truck right behind Indy’s car seems to have taken a few minutes driving around in circles, as he then appears driving up to Indy and Mac to interrogate them. We find we are at the warehouse that houses “all of America’s secrets”, last seen at the end of Raiders.
0:05:45 = Cate Blanchett appears as the “beautiful Russian” agent Irina Spalko, who seems to be a Nazi’s idea of a Russian. She appears to have popped out of a 1930s German expressionism film. Indeed, we’re suddenly in what seems a Humphrey Bogart movie, as Indy makes a remark about Spalko’s accent in an unmistakable Bogie impersonation. Just what is going on and when can we get on with it? This is really the beginning of the first Indiana Jones adventure in nearly 20 years!?
0:06:25 = Spalko seems to be intended to be a comedy figure, going by her next line, in which she says “know” a lot in a failed bid to come over as intelligent or powerful.
0:07:27 = The warehouse doors open to reveal a big “51” on the doors. Ho-ho, very clever, or very dumb: not only is this unimpressive but spoils the whole Area 51 concept for any future Indy films in which it might be better thought out! Trying to keep the atmosphere authentic, John Williams makes the connection between the end of Raiders and this hangar by sneaking in the Ark Of The Covenant theme into the score.
0:08:05 = Spalko asks for Indy’s assistance in tracking down some “mummified remains” that he was responsible for examining ten years ago. Now that’s the movie I wanna see! Ford has never played Indiana Jones to his real age, so why start now? With a little more peppered hair, Ford could easily pass for a late 40s or early 50s Jones…why not set the movie in the mid-1940s and have things feel a little more Indiana Jonesey?
0:09:19 = The remains appear to be magnetic, so Indy sprays some CGI gunpowder into the air, which should be drawn to the magnetic field. If so, how come none of the other metal in the warehouse has been affected?
0:10:00 = Just a time check. We’re ten minutes in to an Indiana Jones movie and nothing has happened yet. By this time in Temple Of Doom, Indy had watched a song and dance number, been poisoned by the gangster Lao Che, found an antidote amongst a club brawl, dived out the window of the club, had a car chase through the streets of Shanghai and boarded an airplane that was supposedly his ticket out of danger!
0:10:40 = It’s really, really clear where the gunpowder is leading, but Spielberg and Indy insist on drawing this out as much as possible. Finally, everyone else catches up to the fact that these remains must be in one of the three or four cases that all the powder has been leading to.
0:10:55 = For all the powder thrown about, it’s really odd that there’s only a faint trace of it sticking to the box they finally pull out.
0:11:06 = As the box is opened and the Russians’ crow bars are instantly pulled to the magnetic case inside, it’s strange that none of the other metal in the area still refuses to react, including the guns they’re carrying on their backs just a few feet away.
0:11:18 = Finally the overhead lights react to the metal case and swing towards where it is being carried away. Indy slightly spoils the effect by looking up before the lights have actually moved though. The metal on the floor starts following the case, seemingly only because it looks cool on camera, as it didn’t bother doing it while the case was literally walked over it beforehand.
0:12:06 = The metal case is opened, revealing some stamped on “Roswell, New Mexico, 1947” text. The whole thing seems to worryingly be pointing toward some spacemen claptrap, but despite a whole lot of lighting, lamps and torches, everything is still so dark because people keep getting in the way that we can’t quite make it out.
0:13:04 = Spielberg seems to have thrown out his own first rule of not showing “the creature” in a movie until half way through, building up the audiences’ interest. By this point, an alien hand confirms Indiana Jones is about to take on saucer men from Mars, or something. Okay, while out of bounds for a usual Indy romp, this could still be some fun, but we’re heading to the fifteen minute mark and still nothing has happened. This is boring…
0:13:17 = Yay! Indy’s thrown a punch and in one hit has just about saved the entire opening of the movie. Phew, I was about to nod off!
0:13:34 = Unfortunately, the excitement is short lived. After Indy insists on the Russians lowering their weapons, the Russian colonel once again, after a brief pause, raises his. The Russian army men behind him look perplexed as they slowly follow his lead, but why would they be if they can see what he sees? Which is Indy’s pal Mac holding a gun to Indy’s head, but it’s done in a wide shot that doesn’t show Mac’s gun off to a very visually helpful angle. Luckily, someone at Skywalker Sound noticed a little clarity was needed and have obligingly inserted a cocking sound effect.
0:14:01 = Mac’s had a “run of bad luck with the cards lately”, necessitating his switch to the Reds’ side. Why wait until now? With Indy captured, why did the Russians shove them both in the car trunk together? How exactly was Indy captured? Wouldn’t that have been a much more exiting opening to this film? It’s an empty plot point anyway: this is the first of many redundant side switches Ray Winstone’s character will go through in the film, inbetween shouting “Jonesey!” a lot.
0:14:25 = Indy throws down the gun and, as it blasts a hole in Mac’s foot (not that it’s ever referenced to again) makes a run for it. Unfortunately what follows is a terribly edited escape attempt, where Indy actually stands around for a few seconds as the Russians shout the equivalent of “get him”! Jumping up and around the storage crates in plain sight, the Russian gunmen inexplicably not only fail to shoot Indy, but actually don’t even try, waiting until he seems on safer ground before firing their weapons!
0:14:46 = Indy lashes his whip to a light and swings for Spalko’s truck. It outruns him and he swings back, sounding like Kermit The Frog. Seriously.
0:14:52 = Indy lands in the windshield of a pursuing truck by way of obvious visual effects. In close up, instead of immediately trying to wrestle him back into capture, the Russian soldiers – one of which looks confusingly like Shia LaBeouf, who will pop up in just a few minutes – just stare at Indy in order to let him reel off a truly contrived one-liner.
0:15:00 = Almost as bad as the awful cut between Jeff Goldblum in the back of the Jeep and…Jeff Goldblum in the back of the Jeep in Jurassic Park, Spielberg’s crossing “the line” between shots has the chase here going right to left, and then left to right.
0:15:13 = Indy leaps onto Spalko’s truck, shoves her aside and drives straight into a very serious heap of storage crates. Goodness knows what’s inside, but they disintegrate in a huge explosion as Indy emerges on the other side, without any damage to the front of the truck. I guess they must have been those special Acme explosive movie crates…
0:15:19 = Spalko races after Indy, passing one of the broken crates. Whaddayaknow – it’s the Ark Of The Covenant from Raiders, but she doesn’t seem interested. Poor old John Williams only gets around three seconds to admirably try and squeeze in the appropriate Ark theme, but it hardly registers.
0:15:21 = Some sloppy editing places a truck behind Indy, but we can’t see clearly that’s there’s another one in front. A close-up reveals Mac and generic Ruskie #38 (named Boris, of course) heading straight for Indy, who jumps out of the truck he’s driving. The truck behind Indy smashes into both trucks, and it is clear that Mac should – by all accounts of the truck writing off the front of his vehicle – be dead. However, by a few seconds’ time he’s out of the truck and okay, simply nursing a sore head.
0:16:55 = Indy is chased into what looks like a test facility by the Russian colonel, but oddly the numerous army personnel behind them don’t follow him up for backup. They smash about a bit and one hit sets off a mysterious countdown timer, which launches some kind of prototype rocketship with Indy and the Russian stuck to it. Now, this being Indiana Jones, and therefore within the realms of “plausible fantasy reality”, you’d expect some highly exciting, super-speed-hindering fisticuffs to take place between the Russian and Indy, whom one would assume eventually triumphs by either knocking the Russian off the rocket as it races along the test track, or by using the powerful speed to Indy’s advantage to throw him through the rocket’s turbine engine. Turning his attention back to the rocket, Indy might find that the brakes don’t kick in or that the Russian’s body has created a further spurt of power, flying the rocket off the track and into some other immediate peril. Nope! None of that here in this boring Indy movie: both men simply sit the ride out until the rocket comes to a natural stop, the one gag being Indy’s hat pushed back against the grill due to the wind pressure. “Comically”, the CGI gopher things watch the rocket flash past in the night sky. Indy shoves the unconscious Russian aside, finds his hat, and walks away. Yes, just like that.
0:18:33 = Obviously having walked for miles, Indy spots a far off and remote town in the dawn’s sun. Despite being at least half a day’s walk, he manages to make it there in a few minutes, if the light is anything to go by. Indy’s found himself in a mocked-up nuclear testing site, which becomes clear to him when he finds a family of mannequins in the living room, watching television. Um…wait, rewind. There’s a nuclear testing site made up to look like small town USA, and they’re actually pumping Howdy Doody into the houses for the mannequins to watch?
0:19:33 = Indy rushes outside to better take stock of the location. As the siren begins to warn of an impending test, someone plainly walks by across the street, as reflected in the window behind Indy. It’s not clear where the test is being carried out from, but it can’t be tied to the top-secret warehouse area because surely they would be dealing with the aftermath of the Russians’ breaking in? But it can’t be automatic either, because there’s a voice suggesting that any leftover personnel get the heck outta there because it’s going to blow! “Put on goggles or turn away” the voice says, as if that’s going to help. As such, why is the voice offering this advice to a bunch of mannequins? The Russians are also in town, looking for Jones, but when he tries to give himself up to them they suddenly don’t seem interested, racing off in their car.
0:20:26 = “Nuke the fridge”. With ten seconds to go, Indy pulls the trays out of a lead-lined refrigerator, which not only survives the blast but throws itself several hundred feet up in the air and several miles away from the blast zone, meaning that when it crashes open on impact to the ground, Indy can emerge totally unscathed and helpfully unharmed by any radiation in the immediate area. The guy isn’t even hot or burst out burning up, something that might have been played for laughs and provided the wink the audience so desperately needs right about now. Instead, we get another CG gopher…great. Such is the nonsensical, flat out baloney reasoning behind something like this even in the sometimes implausible Indiana Jones movies, that “nuke the fridge” has quickly become the feature film equivalent of how “jump the shark” applies to television shows that reach the point of throwing out the very elements that made them work and enter the realms of absurdity. Ironically, that term came into being from Happy Days, a nostalgic show born from the success of American Graffiti, directed by…George Lucas. If you weren’t having a good time with Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull so far, don’t expect it to get any better after this…
0:21:55 = Despite still being stuck in the middle of nowhere, Indy seems to have found himself back at another military warehouse, this time surrounded by allies, in particular the Vice President from an earlier season of 24, also known as Ugly Betty’s Bradford Meade. Actually, I’m a bit of a fan of actor Alan Dale’s work and am continually impressed at how this Australian soap star has forged a career for himself in high-powered American roles. But as one of those faces who pops up here and there from time to time, he’s an odd choice here, pulling quite a few people out of the movie. Dale’s character and Indy sprout on about the good old World War II days, again filling in a lot of backstory that sounds much more fun than this uninspired dullness. Seriously, Ford has always played Indy as fairly younger than his own age, and he could have gotten away easily with having the character be at least ten years younger than he is here, allowing for much better situations and more of a genuine Indiana Jones feel. Indeed, the pre-production artwork for this film couldn’t decide how old to make him, and in most of those images he looks the spit of his old self, not a day older than The Last Crusade. Bearing in mind that Ford had aged four years between Raiders and Temple Of Doom, but that Doom was a prequel set three years earlier, there’s no doubt that Ford, in the great shape that he’s in, could have pulled off a much more fitting Indy here.
0:23:43 = Dale’s character attempts to tie in some suggestions of the “supernatural” to the film by explaining Spalko’s “psychic research” aims. “She’s leading teams from the Kremlin all over the world scooping up artefacts she thinks might have paranormal military applications”, he says. Remind us of anyone from two of the previous movies?
0:24:35 = Although so far we haven’t had much evidence of actually being involved in watching an Indiana Jones movie, the proud shot of Marshall College (named for Spielberg’s long-time producing partner Frank) confirms that, yes, surprisingly this really is all happening. With Denholm Elliott moved to the great dig in the sky, Obvious Casting Associates have bundled in Jim Broadbent to fill in as the Dean, who not only looks younger than Jones but begs the question – since he’s treated as such a dear old friend – of where the heck did he come from? One wonders why, after all these years, a certain Dr Henry Jones Jr isn’t actually in the job himself!? A portrait of Elliott’s character Marcus Brody hanging on the wall should come over as a warm tribute to the earlier films…instead it feels like a shoved in reference attempting to tie this half-baked idea to them.
0:27:08 = “Brutal couple of years, huh Charley?” Indy says to Broadbent as he gazes at LucasFilm sanctioned publicity shots of Elliott and Sean Connery as his Dad from The Last Crusade (who declined to return here, perhaps in the Broadbent role or the one we shall soon meet John Hurt in, probably after reading the script). Appropriately here, although it will be used oddly later in the film, the Grail theme that doubled as a musical motif for Connery’s father figure in The Last Crusade plays touchingly.
0:28:00 = With all the subtle force of a sledgehammer, a young lad on a motorbike, dressed in riding leathers and a lopsided peak cap, breaks through the billowing steam of a ready to depart railway train. This is “the Mutt”, and the echoes of Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones ring deafeningly loud and clear. We get it! What I don’t get is how he knows to look for Indiana Jones here at the train station? Nonetheless, he finds him, but quite how Indy gets off the now-moving train is sadly non-explored…we cut straight to the pair in a café.
0:29:01 = “The name’s Mutt…Mutt Williams”. While it is painfully clear to us that we’re looking at father and son (hey, look at how they both leave their hats on the table!), the characters have yet to work this out. However, the name should be a giveaway: Indiana, as we know, isn’t his real name (step forward Henry Jones Jr), it was the name of the Jones’ dog, taken, of course, from Lucas’ own pet’s name. So the canine theme continues, the Williams perhaps a nod to Lucas and Spielberg’s long-time composer John. What a shame he couldn’t get a better filmic acknowledgement than this.
0:29:21 = After getting the names out of the way, Mutt eventually swings the plot into play, announcing that “forces” are out to kill his adopted father Harold Oxley, or “The Ox” as he pointlessly calls him, engaging Indy in a long conversation full of the two basically asking each other questions. Indy then reels off the expected archaeological legend, but it’s so long-winded, softly spoken and badly recorded that it’s hard to make it all out, or really care, in spite of this being the quietest café I think I’ve ever come across. There’s a bit of talk about Mutt’s mother, resulting in one of Indy’s only great lines (“There have been a lot of Marys, kid”) in the movie, but Mutt’s over the top reaction to this kills the moment dead. LaBeouf comes over as someone who has been very lucky to win a contest role in an Indiana Jones movie.
0:34:11 = Yay! One true moment of genuine Indiana Jones brilliance as, during an escaping chase from the Russians, Indy is pulled off the back of Mutt’s motorbike and dragged into the Russians’ car. Thumping and kicking his way through the back seat, Indy emerges from the other side of the car’s window and back onto Mutt’s bike (albeit with the help of digitally removed safety wires). Sadly, the chase doesn’t really add any spark…it’s lacklustre and eventually just peters out instead of having any real point, even Williams’ playful music sounding a half-hearted repeat of the usual spirited hijinks score he can wheel out for these kinds of sequences.
0:36:57 = We’re back at Indy’s house, where you’d think the Russians would either be waiting or come looking for him, as Indy reels of even more spiel about the mythical Crystal Skulls of the title. Indy works out that the clues are not what they seem, being a hidden riddle that will take them to the next step. Annoyingly, while the revealing that one clue wasn’t what it seemed in The Last Crusade, here it seems to be something catching, since practically all the clues Indy comes across later turn out to be something else. All this isn’t really backed up by anything other than a lot of talk, however, and it’s all so convoluted that it doesn’t really matter what they’re saying, you just want them to get on with it. “Oxley’s telling us that the skull is in Nazca, Peru”, Indy states, apparently for no other reason other than to provide an excuse to don his old leather jacket and jump on an airplane.
0:39:15 = Indy and Mutt are in Peru – with Mutt’s Harley for some reason – and while Indy asks around, Mutt shows off his dexterity with a blade. The camera pans up and we see he’s so cool he’s doesn’t even need to look at what he’s doing. Probably why he actually catches the knife in his hand instead of the handle. Twice.
0:39:35 = With Indy sourcing the info he needs – more talk, in the quietest street market in Peru I think I’ve ever come across – he and Mutt head off, inexplicably leaving Mutt’s bike in the middle of the market. Quite why they bothered to bring it doesn’t make sense: it is spotted briefly but once more, buried in some bushes, and then never seen or referred to again.
0:39:47 = Indy reveals he was once kidnapped by Pancho Villa’s gang. This is a reference to an episode of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles named Spring Break Adventure, a case of Lucas shoehorning in a bit of company synergy (hey, they can always shift a few more of those overpriced Young Indy box sets, right?). Perhaps echoing the audience’s thoughts, Mutt lets the BS word slip, also ensuring the film makes its PG-13 rating.
0:41:30 = More talking, as Indy deciphers more of Oxley’s letters. Again, what the words say are not what they mean, and in the space of two minutes, Indy reverses his thinking. I suppose we’re all meant to think that it’s all very clever and Da Vinci Code complex. But it’s just over complicated and ridiculous to try following. Forget the entertainment value and just soak up how deeply plotted and intricate it all is: so much so that it eventually disappears up its own ruckkehr, a word that looks dangerously close to being something else when Indy and son find it etched upon a wall.
0:44:06 = Seriously one of the worst and amateur miniature sets I have ever encountered in a big budget, mainstream Hollywood blockbuster.
0:44:28 = It’s taken nearly three quarters of an hour before we’ve gotten to anything remotely resembling an Indiana Jones set, and what do we get? Leftovers from The Temple Of Doom. In fact, if there’s anything this movie lacks, it’s imagination, packing in all the elements they think makes up an Indy adventure (crumbled temples, cobwebs, skeletons, revolving stones, ancient warriors, etc) but not providing any real reason for them to be there. Here a couple of voodoo-like figures pop up with some poisoned darts to seemingly stop Indy and Mutt from entering an abandoned chamber, but there’s never an explanation as to who they are, what they’re doing there, how they survive… The sequence does offer Indy one other classic Jones moment (you’ll know which), but otherwise there’s little point and it all feels a little embarrassingly small scale.
0:47:55 = Gone are the (mostly) real bugs from the previous films, replaced with CGI scorpions: as Indy and Mutt enter the Temple Of…oops, sorry, the chamber of secrets, Mutt is bitten, again pointlessly, by one of the nasty arachnids. But he’s safe, “the bigger the better” reassures Indy, as if this info might come in handy later on. Sadly, we’re not operating in that kind of set up and pay off storyline today. Episodic just isn’t a strong enough word.
0:50:26 = “Footprints. Somebody’s been here, recently”, says Indy as they find seven mummified remains (why seven? I must have missed that). It’s not clear what the previous raiders had been looking for, but one of the mummies has been opened. Quite how Indy’s predecessors managed to miss the gold coin-attracting, magnetic, electronic-humming, and quite sizable crystal skull headpiece hidden inside is a bigger mystery than even how this script managed to be the one that reunited everyone to make another of these movies.
0:54:00 – 1:12:04 = A marathon 18 minutes of chatter and lack of action, in which Indy and Mutt are recaptured by the Russians, shipped up the Amazon, Indy meets Spalko again, is reunited with the now crazed and Ben Gunn-inspired Oxley (and his exotic sounding whirly pipe thing), looks into the eye of the crystal skull, comes face to face with old love Marion Ravenswood, works out what Oxley’s yammering on about, then again changes his mind and says it means something else. After a ham-fisted escape attempt, in which Indy and Marion end up sinking into a quicksand pit and have to be rescued by grabbing on to – ho ho! – a giant snake, Marion reveals the elephant in the room clunker that Mutt is in fact Henry Jones III, Indiana’s son. What should be a momentous occasion is played flat as a pancake; in fact all of what has just happened sounds rather exciting on paper, especially Indy’s experiencing the power of the skull, but in reality these crawling minutes bring the film down with a crushingly dull thud, especially making the mistake not to share with us just what Indy sees when sits one on one with the skull. Marion’s return is played for comedy, with Mutt’s exclamation of “Mom!” a surprise to Indy that spins the film off in a bizarre tit for tat direction in which Jones and Ravenswood bicker and bite at each other about how to best raise the boy, though neither of them sound too concerned about making the acting seem emotional enough to feel real. Once more, even with Indy sinking into the pit, there’s no excitement (how about one of them going under for a second, perhaps Marion herself just as she drops the “Son Of Indy” bombshell?) and the attempt at laughs are weak. “Grab the rope!” Marion and Mutt shout at Indy, as if they’re in a student production of an amateur Indiana Jones play. Before long they’re all re-captured…what was the point of all that again?
1:12:11 = The onslaught of CG begins with a crazy tree cutting vehicle that chops its way through the Amazon rain jungle. In the back of another truck, Indy and Marion finally generate some chemistry sparks in their argument over Mutt. As their words become more and more heated, they manage to knock out the lone Russian guard (the colonel from before) and make an escape. Now all in agreement with each other, there’s some odd googly eyes made between Indy and Marion, as Indy redundantly recaps the plot and explains what they need to do, just in case those waking up for the second half don’t know what’s going on. One hour and fifteen minutes into an Indiana Jones movie, things are at last about to kick off…
1:15:33 = Indy emerges from the back of the truck – which conveniently happens to be riding right at the back of a convoy so no-one will witness the events to follow – with a bazooka-like device. So, having tied up their captors, the Russians left them in the back of a truck with one guard and a bazooka? Indy fires the big gun, which again crosses the cinematic line in direction.
1:16:12 = John Hurt was one of the few people who reportedly only signed up having read the script. Frankly, it must have been the allure of working with Steven Spielberg as they’re otherwise no accounting for his decision to say yes. In a constant daze for most of the film, his lines are basically to repeat variants on “Henry Jones Jr” in many different mystical ways. Ray Winstone gets to say “Jonesey!” a bit more in front of a blue/green screen, while Cate Blanchett screams out “Jones!” for no apparent reason.
1:16:41 = A chase begins as Indy attempts to rescue Oxley and grab the skull, but inexplicably, our trio of heroes didn’t kick the Russian colonel out of the back of the truck, so he’s able to regain consciousness. We think he’s about to cause Marion and Mutt some real trouble, but Indy flashes past with another car and they jump clear. Another missed opportunity.
1:17:13 = Despite her apparent intense fascination for the skull, Spalko puzzlingly gives it to Oxley to keep hold of. At least that makes it easier for Indy to grab the two things he’s after in one hit.
1:17:36 = Ahh, knew those fencing lessons Mutt mentioned would come in handy!
1:18:59 = I was a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, but agree with the rest of the world that, although it was a neat idea and the creatures looked delightfully old-school, the dinosaur chase looked as fake as anything, mainly due to the actors not running “for real” and being filmed on a treadmill in a green screen. With the jungle surroundings and a similar color scheme, we have the same problem here: a high-speed fencing scene played out atop two cars that lifts the characters out of the jungle and inserts them back in via visual effects. At an Industrial Light And Magic panel at this year’s Comic-Con, I was interested to hear what the team had to say about this, given the claims that the film would be shot old-school, so was dismayed when they tried to explain that the chase’s fencing scene was shot “for real” and they augmented by visual effects. What this transpired to be was that they shot the cars on a dirt track, not in a jungle and certainly not on the side of a cliff. They extracted the cars from the scene and then essentially built all the other elements in around them, removing the actors’ and stunt crew’s safety wires in the process. All of the shrubbery and plants that whack the characters as they race through the “jungle” were added in. Okay, so the cars weren’t shot on a green stage per se, but that’s certainly not shooting the scene “for real” either, and the results look predictably fake, arguably even more so than the exemplary matte paintings used in the first three films, with some truly shocking back-projection. Marion is momentarily knocked out, for no apparent reason, while the skull seems to become lighter and heavier as the situation demands, being tossed around without much sweat in some shots, though heavy enough to knock someone out in another. What gives?
1:22:00 = Mutt Jones of the apes. ’Nuff said.
1:22:43 = In a few seconds of CGI monkeying around, vine swinger Mutt appears to have covered three or four miles of rainforest! He’s next seen clearly looking out on the cars having come out in front of them, and manages to swing out to an area that has no vines to jump onto Spalko’s car, grabbing the skull back. “MacGuffin”? Seems this little object is still pretty inherent to the “plot”, if you ask me. Spalko shouts out “Jones!” again. Or maybe it’s just a reuse of her earlier line.
1:23:42 = Having nuked the fridge long ago, the movie does it again, having Spalko’s car zoom out from the bushes and skim across the top of Indy’s. Since Indy’s vehicle has no top, and the wheels of Spalko’s car are clearly seen riding the edge of Indy’s, despite them all trying to duck, they should all, by rights, be dead without question.
1:24:00 = A “big damn ant” bites into Spalko’s hand as a swarm of them rise out of a hole in the ground, under the cars. Spielberg doesn’t play this with his usual sense of heightened tension, it just happens. Soon the ants are everywhere; yeah, I liked the scarabs in The Mummy too! From nowhere, another truckload of Russians turns up. The colonel leaps for Indy, engages him in a fist fight. Rather than just shoot Indy dead, all the other Russians continue to drive on and take aim for his pals. Marion drives up in a “duck”, the land/water vehicle, and they all have time to get in while the Russians’ bullets all miss them. The duck is still in pretty good shape too, given that it was just squashed by Spalko’s car, and wouldn’t Marion’s running back to get it necessitated wading back through the mounds of killer ants? Probably best not to ask, as it’s all happening fast enough to gloss over. Hey, wait a minute! Where’s Oxley?
1:25:17 = Ahh, here he is, taking a lie down as Indy partakes in his green screen fight. With the ants marching on towards Oxley, he opens up the sack containing the skull and eerily all the ants halt their onslaught and manoeuvre around him. Ooh, the skull really does have mystical powers, but how can it affect the ants? Is it going to be explained? No, it may just as well be another case of midichlorians.
1:26:35 = The ants suddenly look a bit stop-motion animated, which apparently gives them the need to build themselves up to reach a dangling Spalko. As one ant manages to run up her leg, she squishes it between her knees, the remains of the ant spurting out and sticking to the camera. Because they’re really there right?
1:27:25 = The Russian colonel “gets it” in the worst CGI moment in the film. You’ll know when you see it. Apparently now happy having had a run about, the ants all scoot off, leaving Indy with his hat, Oxley and the skull. Goodness knows what Marion, Mac and Mutt have been getting up to with the other truckload of Russians, but none of them seem to have driven very far in the past couple of minutes as they all seem to find themselves further back from Indy than when they started!
1:28:23 = We nuke the fridge again as Marion decides to drive the duck off the edge of a cliff. In the previous films, Indy has never invited danger – indeed he’s actually against it! – but here everyone seems to throw caution to the wind. Despite not wanting to find himself in tricky situations, it’s how Indy manages to scrape out of them that we find entertaining and endearing about the character. Marion throwing them all over the edge of a cliff with intention destroys the vulnerability of the characters, making them superheroes without having to worry about any consequences. Marion’s plan is to crash into a tree branch and hope that the weight of the duck will gently swing the branch over, dropping them nicely into the river below, and then swinging back to smash a few Russians (but not Spalko, naturally as we still need her around) coming down the cliff behind them. This all happens, but it’s really pushing things to suggest this was all part of a plan: how the heck could she ever anticipate the reaction of the tree? They could have just as well been stuck up there in the branches. What transpires here are the kind of results that might have happened as accidents in the previous films…her actually throwing the duck over the edge hoping for a good outcome suggests a recklessness – placing her son in mortal peril – that the characters have never before displayed.
1:29:10 = “Three times it drops”, Oxley proclaims, just before the duck falls over not one, not two, but – count ’em – three excessively huge waterfalls. Again, there’s nothing exciting about these longer and longer drops: no perceived danger, no build up to the first edge to imply they might not make it. Part of the problem is once more the green screen nature of proceedings (in fact, once in the jungle, nothing feels even remotely “real”), part of it is the lack of suspense or Indiana Jones plausible fantasy: after the bone crunching crash into the water below, the characters just climb back onto the duck, never more than a few feet away. Spielberg doesn’t even seem that interested in the second drop, choosing to frame it in a far away wide shot, as if embarrassed to be putting his characters through this; certainly as Mutt again climbs aboard the duck I the sequence is already starting to feel old, and there’s a third drop to come. While all this is going on, there’s so much time to think that I started to wonder…what if they’d joined the river downstream, cutting out one or two of the falls? “Three times it drops” wouldn’t have made such sense then, would it? Finally the third drop comes, and most insultingly of all, we’re asked to believe that everyone – and the duck – can survive a fall into what must only be a few feet of water…yet they all walk away without a scratch. I remember when Indy took a hit – and felt it!
1:31:21 = Indy suddenly starts sprouting stuff about having to return the skull to where it came from and that only he alone can do it, “because it told me too”, he says gravely. This seems to be intended as some kind of important event, but the lack of sharing any of Indy’s skull experience from earlier kinds of makes it all moot, though for some reason, Mutt breaks out smiling!?
1:33:33 = Oh good, we’re back in a cave. Our band of explorers (hang on…how come they all came along when Indy just said it was to be him alone?) come across some paintings on the wall that suggest they’re near their quest’s end. Oxley holds up the skull so that the shadow falls into place on the cave painting, which reveals which planet the spacemen come from: they’re all Coneheads!
1:34:27 = As Indy and company leave a vast chamber, more warrior like folk descend from the cracks in the walls. Who are these people? How do they survive out there? What tribe are they? Are they even real? What are they doing there? As they run, Indy, Mutt, Marion, Mac and Oxley find themselves coming out to what looks like a desolate Incan kingdom, where they are chased down a temple’s stairs before being captured. Mac shouts out “Jonesey!” again, in a Cockney accent like it’s supposed to endear us to him. We still don’t know who these warriors are, but it doesn’t matter because they all back off (and end up simply getting wiped out by the Ruskies) when Oxley shows them the crystal skull.
1.36:02 = In the film’s big reveal, we learn Mac can’t be trusted (like there was any doubt given the two double-crosses he’s already pulled) when Spalko picks up one of the tracking devices he’s been leaving along the way. Although, the device is a good few yards away from the cave, Spalko seems to know the direction her prey went in, even if there is nothing to suggest this.
1:36:26 = Mac, after being dragged through the rainforest, running from man-eating ants, tumbling over waterfalls and escaping redundant warriors, suddenly claims that enough is enough. “What a waste of my time” he moans, just as the team have actually reached their goal. Quite why he should start complaining now is a mystery. Maybe he should shout “Jonesey!” one more time?
1:37:36 = Since we haven’t yet had any bone crushing ceilings or spikes through walls, the filmmakers throw in a couple of standard Indiana Jonesisms: a massive sand-powered trapdoor and a descending stairwell that inexplicably starts to slide into the wall just as anyone trying to get down would need to use it. This is either bad planning on the aliens’ part, or just a lame attempt to get something Indiana Jonesey into the film that can be played ad infinitum in the trailers and make the film look like the old-time adventure it’s not. We’re shown some sharp looking rocks below, but it doesn’t mean anything: as the stairs disappear everyone just falls into some more water (Mac naturally shouting “Jonesey!” again), the big result being that Oxley has…lost the skull! Oh, no…wait, he just dropped it and Mutt has found it in the water within seconds. Phew, talk about tension.
1:40:42 = As they make their way through another dimly lit old stone cave, Mac drops another tracking device. Despite the cave being quiet as anything, his dropping the tracker makes no initial clank on the ground, and no-one else seems to hear the beep-beep-beep sound it emits.
1:41:20 = Indy and pals enter a “collector’s” room of early historical artefacts. “They were archaeologists”, says Indy importantly. See, there is a connection between Indiana Jones and the aliens, right? Right?
1:43:16 = Indy makes it through a Diagon Alley-styled wall and into another chamber, where he finds the well-preserved remains of several aliens sitting in what can only be called a throne room. Yes folks, everything pointing to Indy’s latest adventure actually being about saucer men, spacemen, aliens, whatever you want to call them has come true. Just how many times can one film nuke the fridge?
1:43:55 = One of the alien skeletons doesn’t have a head. Gee, d’ya think the one they’ve been carrying around with them would fit? Before Oxley has the chance to find out, Mac turns on them again as Spalko arrives in the chamber. On getting a really good look at the aliens, we find that they’re either cousins of the futuristic mecha in A.I. or the Clone Army making species found by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Attack Of The Clones. Despite there being a lack of reasoning for anyone to really be doing anything about the missing head, Spalko suddenly becomes an alien expert, telling everyone about the aliens’ background like she knows what she’s talking about. Although no-one knows what will happen when the head is replaced, Indy starts backing away. It’s clear he knows something we don’t…something that might have been more fun to be in the know on so we could share his trepidation.
1:46:29 = “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”. You and me both, pal. This is a classic Lucas line, spoken by Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, Anakin in Attack Of The Clones, Obi-Wan again in Revenge Of The Sith, Luke in Star Wars: A New Hope, Leia in The Empire Strikes Back and practically the whole gang in Return Of The Jedi. Notice the connection? Ahh, they’re all Star Wars films! So why is Indy saying it in an entirely different franchise!? Must be that it’s all so long ago since the last one they they’ve gotten their characters mixed up: this was a memorable Han Solo line, but Ford isn’t playing Han Solo, he’s playing Indiana Jones. All the inclusion does here is rip us out of the film and remind us not only that it comes from another series and character, but that there are three previous, much better Indiana Jones films. I defy anyone to be sitting through Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and not wish it were even half as good as any in the original trilogy.
1:46:37 = Even though Indy and company have been through hell and high water to return the skull to its rightful owner, the aliens don’t seem to be too grateful, and the next few minutes just don’t make any sense. Head restored, the aliens basically begin to whirr up their spaceship to leave, causing the temple to crumble. Sensing it’s time to leave, Mac runs off, leaving everyone else behind to enjoy the Close Encounters Of The Third Kind spectacle unfolding. Lucas had insisted on aliens in the story, reasoning that Indiana Jones and aliens would make a ton of cash, though you get the feeling that Spielberg didn’t want to repeat himself. So these aren’t aliens, right? They’re “inter-dimensional beings in point of fact”, as Oxley interjects, purely it seems to divert attention away from the fact that these are…aliens, let’s face it.
1:48:11 = As everything starts getting overly CG again, Indy finally twigs that sticking around might not be such a great idea, shoving Oxley out of a side wall and diving out of another with Mutt. Marion seems to have been left to finding her own way out: we don’t see how she escapes and Indy certainly doesn’t help her! Spalko stays put, wanting “to know” something or other. The aliens start beaming information into her head, at which point she becomes a pre-cog from Minority Report, repeating “I can see! I can see!”
1:49:11 = Mac, for some reason, still hasn’t made it out of the “collector’s” chamber, filling his pockets with gold. He’s so weighed down that he can’t fight the magnetic pull of all the crystal skulls. Taking longer than he would do if he just went down the few stairs to help pull him up, Indy unties his whip and lashes it out to Mac, who grabs on. Though he doesn’t actually appear to be carrying that much gold, Mac still can’t move…something he seems inexplicably resigned to. “Jonesey”, he says, “I’m gonna be alright”, puzzlingly. Maybe he sees it as his only way out of another one of these terrible sequels?
1:49:32 = Back in the alien chamber, Spalko’s had enough. Enough of what? As with Indy’s melding of minds earlier on, we’re sadly not privy to any wondrous sights: we can only hear her muttering “cover it, cover it”…whatever that means. The twelve skeletal beings converge, becoming one fully realised alien. He looks pretty peeved for whatever reason, and doesn’t appreciate that Spalko is succumbing to sensory overload. Just because it wouldn’t seem right not to, Spalko burns up, though not as spectacularly as the villains from Raiders and Crusade.
1:50:12 = More CG shenanigans as Indy, Marion, Oxley and Mutt make their way out of the temple. Some giant cogs make their way towards them, which makes Indy say “go, go” a bit, but they all just seem to jog their way limply up the stairs without really being bothered about the huge wheels about to crush them. Out in front, you’d think Mutt would get a bit more of a move on.
1:50:43 = Once again showing just how a reactionary character he is in this movie, Indy does very little as a gush of water comes right for them. The matted in water actually doesn’t even look as good as the same shot from Temple Of Doom.
1:51:21 = Brought up to the top of the temple by the water swell, Indy looks on redundantly as the alien craft appears in the ground below. It’s true that Indy and Marion did little at the end of Raiders too, but at least in that case there had been a whole heap of action instigated by Indy that granted him something of a reprieve and, besides, he still used his brain to get them both through the climatic ordeal. Here, he’s just a bystander to a whole heap of green screened CGI mumbo jumbo as the flying saucer takes off; not that we actually see it fly away – just where is Spielberg’s visual acumen?
1:52:39 = Indy looks as perplexed and dumbfounded as we all are at what just happened. “Where did they go, space?” he asks a now apparently back to normal Harold Oxley. “Not into space”, Oxley replies, “Into the space between spaces”, essentially winking at the audience and confirming that is two hours of their life they will never get back. So, if the aliens were not aliens and were “inter-dimensional beings”, and did not travel into space but into another dimension…why did they need a spaceship?
1:52:59 = Mutt Jones speaks for all of us when he exclaims “I don’t understand”. For some reason, the Grail theme from The Last Crusade plays as Indy tries to explain but starts sounding like another Lucas character from the Star Wars films: “Their treasure wasn’t gold. It was knowledge. Knowledge was their treasure”. Can you guess which one…?
1:53:44 = “Why don’t you stick around, Junior?” calls out Indy as Mutt tries to head off. The use of the Grail theme makes a little more sense now, seeing as it’s all about fathers and sons, but still that music was written for a specific reason in a previous film, and it just doesn’t fit here. “Why didn’t you stick around, Dad?”, shouts back Mutt, LaBeouf finally sounding like a proper actor. Too bad we’re in the closing minutes of the movie.
1:54:13 = Somehow, back at Marshall College, Jim Broadbent has mastered the art of slow motion running.
1:54:42 = Ahh, both the perfect end and something that feels so wrong: Indy and Marion become husband and wife.
1:55:14 = Yeugh! (Maybe Indy should have responded?)
1:55:50 = At last something slightly spooky happens as a gust of wind blows open the church doors. In a rare – for this movie – perception of what the audience is thinking, Spielberg pulls the wool over our eyes in arguably the film’s most fun moment: Indy’s hat, blown to Mutt’s feet, is picked up by the young man. The Raiders March cheekily begins to play as Mutt regards the Fedora, tempted to put it on. It’s clear Spielberg is toying with us as to an inevitable Mutt Jones spin-off, but just as the hat reaches his head, a familiar hand reaches out and grabs the hat back. Indiana Jones walks out of the church with his new bride – and trusty hat perfectly in place. It’s actually a great, genuinely Indiana Jones capper: just a shame that it happens to be the last shot of the movie.
2:01:20 = After a somewhat disjointed suite of musical cues from his score, John Williams tries to spice up the Raiders March with what must be assumed to be a little “Mutt Jones interplay”, but it feels more like over egging. Still, at least we’re nearing the final end of this major disappointment!
2:02:22 = The end at last…we’ve survived something even Indy would have found tough to slog through!
Well, that’s it. That’s the once-great Indiana Jones’ return to the silver screen. There are no iconic moments, no grand set pieces. Where is Indy being chased by a boulder? Being dragged behind and under a truck? Falling from a plane with only a life raft as a parachute? About to be squished by spikes from a slowly dropping stone ceiling? How about a truly scary villain who might have taken control of Indy’s mind? Or something as exciting as a mine cart ride? Dangling from a perilous rope bridge? Coming dangerously close to being chopped up by a ship’s engine rotors? Breaking into the enemy’s camp, being caught and having to escape again? Having to navigate treacherous terrain and confusing clues that lead to the crucial goal? Where is Indy using his smarts to get out of a tight situation!? There’s none of that here, just a lot of Indy bumbling around and falling into various situations. He never once actually instigates a scene…he’s either dragged or pushed into what happens next, like a supporting actor in his own movie. And a bad movie at that, being more B-Picture than Cliffhanger serial – apparently an actual aim considering the period setting, but not observing that the earlier Indy films were 1980s blockbuster equivalents of those serials, not as restricted in scope as the serials themselves. Here, homage to 1950s B-Movies actually just turns out to be as bad as some of those movies originally were.
Lucas and Spielberg have said they wanted to make a film that felt like it came directly after the last instalment. But then why set it 19 years later? And surely having the film try to come across as old-school when it features tons of new filmmaking devices is something akin to being on a trip to nowhere? The Indiana Jones’ used to be the groundbreaking action-packed films that other series aspired to be. The very character came into being when Spielberg wanted to direct a James Bond movie but the producers declined, Lucas saying he had “something better”. And Indy was better – the best in fact – but it’s no good making a film in 2008 that isn’t a product of 2008. Since the original Indy films we’ve had countless other series trying to ape the Cliffhanger style, not least Stephen Somers’ The Mummy franchise and the modern equivalent in the National Treasure pictures: all of them facsimile copies of the Indy template. When Indy first came out he did indeed beat 007, going through a rough patch at the time, but since then Bond has burst back, first with Pierce Brosnan and now with Daniel Craig, in films that haven’t stuck to coming from the 1960s and as a result have kept up with modern audiences’ tastes. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull should have been leading this pack again, instead of feeling like a tired also ran. Heck, it doesn’t even come over as good as 1981, 1984 or 1989!
Ultimately, what’s most disappointing about Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is that it seems to represent four obviously talented men just going through the motions. As our titular hero, Harrison Ford just about pulls Indy out of retirement for a few moments – indeed, without him the film wouldn’t be enjoyable on any level – but overall he seems bored, barely bothering to stand up straight (or is that “age acting”?) and mumbling his lines without any of the confidence or swagger that made Indiana Jones a different character to Han Solo. We’ve mentioned Spielberg’s lack of directorial dexterity here: a shockingly sad display that painfully asks the question of if any third-rate hack could have helmed the film, would it have made any real difference? Lucas seems to have been so intent on providing a story packed with twists and turns that he probably sent himself to sleep and forgot to put any in, such is the blandness to the plot, in which nothing of sense actually happens. Finally, a slightly lacklustre cheer for composer John Williams, who can usually do no wrong, but here provides a routine score. You can’t actually blame him: not only is this gifted man about to turn 77 years of age, but he hasn’t exactly been given a lot to work with. In effect, Williams has probably delivered just the right thing: hum-drum music for a hum-drum film.
Is This Thing Loaded?
As with last year’s Spielberg/Paramount borefest Transformers, Paramount have again supplied us with an outstanding bonus package that is easily better than the movie it supports, lifting the lid on production and revealing an unprecedented amount from behind the scenes that is usually kept well hidden. The main menus are great, better than those for the original trilogy DVDs even if it shares their globetrotting theme, with each option setting a plane off around the globe to reach that “destination”. Thankfully, the disc skips any product placement for other Lucas/Paramount titles, and another point to note is that all extras are in 16:9, with the majority of them in high-definition on the Blu-ray Disc edition. As the movie plays, we’re treated to THX’s latest promo, the official name for which I don’t have, but might hazard a guess at “Flower Power”.
Although the film runs over two hours, there’s still room for an extra or two, and The Return Of A Legend (17:33) provides a quick series recap and the publicity reasons behind why everyone felt it was time to make another Indiana Jones and how Crystal Skull became the script they went for. This is an alternate cut-down version of a half-hour documentary that played on TV in the run up to the film’s theatrical release. As such, it’s nice to have that special preserved, even in a shorter form, and it does a great deal of revealing, confirming that Spielberg possibly never had the project close to his heart. There’s talk about Ford being the center of the piece, something that obviously went AWOL in David Koepp’s scripting (he shows he clearly didn’t understand the characters), and more evidence that all the bad elements here were down to Lucas, including the 50s setting and aliens, which Spielberg admits he was dead against. The “inter-dimensional beings” is also confirmed as being the term used so that Spielberg would agree to them not being aliens. C’mon…the things are aliens! Gee, sounds like they were all so in tune! Best things are the alternate titles, and though Indiana Jones And The Saucer Mengives things away, it might have set up expectations a little more appropriately. “I wasn’t trying to make this movie bigger or better” says Spielberg. He’s right on the money, though it’s clear from how everybody speaks that more are in the works.
The rest of the bonuses run like a chronological fly on the set view of the production, starting naturally with Pre-Production, an 11:43 look at how the film started to come together. From pre-viz sessions in May 2007 (just a year before the movie opens) to on-set rehearsals, this is great, fascinating and in-depth documentary material, as one would expect from Laurent Bouzereau, showing what a master Spielberg can be and usually is. He clearly had a better vision for the film as shown in the extensively animated pre-viz shots glimpsed at here (Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull may as well have been an animated picture, such was the amount of pre-viz created; perhaps Spielberg then got bored on set, basically having to “re-film” the movie to re-make it in live-action?). Some screen test footage is mentioned, which would have been interesting to see, but its omission is not heavily felt.
Disc Two continues the flow with a Production Diary: Making Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, a twelve-part series of featurettes that cover every aspect of production. Utilising some of the footage that was “leaked” to the official website, this is so much more than just those tid bits, making up a feature-length documentary which follows the cast and crew from the first day of shooting in New Mexico, to New Haven, Connecticut, for the Marshall College sequences, on to Hawaii for the jungle scenes and the safer, warmer confines of the sound stages, including the Akator scenes, and the production’s wrap. My few words here won’t do it justice, but there’s a good amount of enjoyment to be had in stepping into the world of the filmmakers and examining in detail the work that goes into their details. Good supplemental material should bring about a new appreciation of the final result, I’d while these featurettes, which run for 80 minutes in a Play All option, are far from being as exhaustive and intimate as other such extras (most notably the King Kong diaries), they do offer a fair look at Indy’s movie magic, how quickly production moved, and that Shia LeBeouf seems to be a pretty decent kid.
As if that wasn’t enough, there are a number of additional individual featurettes that play as companion pieces to the main documentary. Warrior Makeup (5:30) naturally focuses on the extraordinary work that went into the body decoration of these underused characters, and The Crystal Skulls (10:05) delves into both the background to these mysterious objects and how they were created for the movie by the Stan Winston Studio (the featurette being dedicated to him). Iconic Props (9:55) continues a similar discussion, but it’s the set’s one yawn inducing addition, basically being a long list of the items used in the film, but not much more than that.
Ahh, this is more like it, The Effects Of Indy spends a healthy 22:35 putting the spotlight on Crystal Skull’s visual effects unit at ILM, speaking to digital artist Paul Huston who reveals the changes between the “practical” effects of the previous films and the all-computer approach that the new movie plumped for. While some miniatures and practicals were called into play, it’s again clear that much of Indy’s magic has been sapped by the extensive use of CGI which, in trying to compliment the “real” elements, have undoubtedly taken much of the perceived old-school realism away. Adventures In Post-Production (12:40) meets with Ben Burtt, who came back to Skywalker Sound to orchestrate the sound design for the film, and shows just why he remains one of the best in the business. The second half moves the attention to another legend, composer John Williams, who speaks about his score and the intentions he had for the music.
Closing Team Indy (3:40) is a bit of an oddity, being ostensibly a reflection on the “family collaboration” of the Indiana Jones pictures, but ending up merely throwing up on-set footage of the cast and crew. It’s a nice idea, but none too clear who it’s really aimed at. This is not the end of the supplements, however, as next up we’re offered three Pre-Visualisation Sequences: for the Area 51 Escape, Jungle Chase and Ants Attack. There’s no Play All, but together the clips run around 14 minutes, revealing Spielberg’s “first-run” intentions for the scenes as well as pointing up several editorial and directorial changes he instigated on set in the live shoot environment, not all of them for the better, it seems, as there are a few more refined ideas here that didn’t make it into the movie. Since pre-viz sequences are naturally mute, the scenes have been scored with Williams’ music very appropriately.
The comprehensive Crystal Skull Galleries feature a wealth of concept, production and photographic art, from The Art Department, the Stan Winston Studio, Production Photographs, Portraits and Behind The Scenes, each with their own sub-sections that cover everything from locations, props and characters, to weapons, sculptures and the skulls themselves. One thing’s for sure: in the hundreds of images here, you’ll see a lot of gorgeous art created by some obviously very excited artists, and a tremendous amount of detail in every item. It’s interesting to see that Indy appears to be of that eternal age as seen in the previous films – if only they’d taken the bold decision to play him a bit younger. The photography is just as sharp: some of the publicity shots could well have been posters in their own right.
Coming towards the end, the generous package rounds out with a selection of Theatrical Trailers and Promos. Quite why the initial teaser is missing is a mystery greater than the crystal skull, but my money would be because of the light controversy that rippled online after it was claimed the guns pointing at Indy and Mac had been painted out to secure a G-rating for the preview. In all other respects, these trailers were the same anyway, so it’s no great loss, and I’ve a feeling this could even have been mislabelled, since it resembles the first trailer more than anything. A second trailer was a cut-down of the eventual third one released, which is also included here. So, in effect I believe we have the first and third trailers on the disc, at least going by the official website’s listing. A one minute montage for the recentIndiana Jones Special Edition DVDs (which packs in more action and laughs than the entire Crystal Skull movie) and a X-BOX 360 videogame demo for Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures completes our own explorations.
Long-time Spielberg documentarian Laurent Bouzereau has presented a brilliant peek onto the set and comes away with being able to get closer than any usual EPK crew, thanks to his trusted relationships with those in the frame, most notably his previous collaborations on Spielberg projects going back as far as the excellent supplements for the Jaws and E.T. LaserDisc box sets. It’s clear that, whatever the many shortcomings of the final result, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull was an extremely happy reunion for all on set, and a tremendous amount of fun to shoot. It’s still a privilege to be able to “visit” a Spielberg production – even a disappointing one – and Bouzereau captures every fascinating detail, the intricate facets and genial mood on set perfectly.
A golden-hued embossed and glossy slipcover reproduces the sleeve art in the keepcase underneath, using the Temple Of Doom-like theatrical teaser poster, which can’t quite decide on how old Indy is supposed to look, as a basis, showing Indy sans leather jacket, which he is in fact never without in the film. On the back, another Drew Struzan poster is evoked: one of Indy being chased by the Incan warriors. On seeing a poster like this for a film called Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, one might expect a heap of adventure and thrills reminiscent of Raiders Of The Lost Ark’s opening scenes. That this sequence lasts only a matter of seconds in the film itself – and remembering that Indy is never alone as the image suggests – just shows how unconnected the film’s marketing was with the product being delivered.
The same packaging has been used on the Blu-ray edition, but there’s also a single disc, which uses the theatrical montage poster on the front. Of course, as if cashing in on the theatrical release of Kingdom by reissuing the original trilogy as The Adventure Collection earlier this year wasn’t enough, real fans who need these films multiple times can also buy them all over again with Crystal Skull now part of the pack in a new The Complete Adventure Collection. Just how complete do you need to get? And it won’t be for long either, since Indy 5 and 6 have already been mooted. The Ultimate Completely Really Adventurous Collection, anyone?
Ink And Paint:
One area in which Spielberg did manage to hold out on was to shoot Indy on good old-fashioned film as opposed to Lucas’ fancy hi-def video formats. Even so, and with post extensively carried out in the computer realm, the image was captured digitally early on and naturally looks stunning. The director’s cinematographer of choice since 1993, Janusz Kaminski, replicates original Indy director of photography Doug Slocombe’s warm, golden tones perfectly, and one area of great praise for the film is in its match for what came before. If anything, the transfer to video has shown up the digital effects work even more clearly, the
softness of the lensing perhaps proving a little tricky for the blue/green screen mattes, which have a feathered look to the treated shots that’s a tad all-too obvious. However, as a record of the film’s good and not so good points, this is a faithful visual account.
A big budget Lucas movie mixed at his own Skywalker Ranch, designed by Ben Burtt and given THX certified branding? How could it sound anything less than stellar? Luckily, one of the more enjoyable aspects of the film is its fun and involving soundtrack, even if it doesn’t beat the awesome innovation of Raiders or heightened atmospheric design of Temple Of Doom. In fact, while Crystal Skull is accomplished, it’s never anything more than just what it should be, forgoing many bells and whistles to just get on with the job at hand, the THX mastering ensuring that we’re hearing just what the filmmakers intended. English, French and Spanish subs and dubs are all offered.
“We’re making The Phantom Menace of Indiana Jones movies” George Lucas joked. If only he was right! Not only far from fulfilling any expectations (I didn’t have any to be fulfilled), Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is just bad motion picture making, period. Mummies and aliens do not Indiana Jones make, and the father/son dynamic has been done in two of the previous movies, Indy playing father figure to Short Round in Temple Of Doom. It’s especially disappointing to find such weak storytelling and brazen lack of appreciation for the audience in a film that’s been produced by some of what used to be the most creative and technical talents in Hollywood. Keeping up with the Joneses? Long from leading the pack, the forces in command of Indy IV have here proven they’re playing catch up to those that have risen up behind them, though brand recognition and the Lucas hype machine still managed to turn Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull into a sizable hit. So, inevitably, there’s at least one more on the way. Let’s just hope it’s a darn sight better than this pale imitation of a once unparalleled trilogy.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?