Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
May 2008

'Kingdom' of box-office gold

The trilogy was just fine as it was . . . but another couple of hours with Indy is more than welcome

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Paramount Pictures
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: David Koepp
Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent and Karen Allen
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 4 minutes
Opened May 22, 2008
(out of four)

The rumors were true, and they were also not true.

It's true that Indiana Jones looks way too old to be doing this anymore. That against an army of Soviet mercenaries, he no longer appears all that formidable. That the fantastical ideas which keep getting him into trouble are finally starting to wear a little thin.

What's not true is that, because of all that, he can no longer entertain us. Because in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, he - and his creators, Steven Spielberg and the Artist Formerly Known as George Lucas - does just that.

Perhaps that simply stems from the familiarity we (or most of us, anyway) feel with the character and the mystical-archaeological cinescape he inhabits. I can't begin to guess how Crystal Skull would work for someone completely unfamiliar with Indiana Jones series - but then, is that really someone you want to be associating with?

In this, Indy's fourth big-screen adventure, the John Williams score doesn't have quite the kick it used to, Indy himself is more peripheral than he used to be . . . and the Soviets aren't quite the villains the Nazis were. And yet the deftness with which Spielberg thrusts us back into the silly, gleeful excitement of this world is impressive and no more or less fun than we could reasonably expect after all this time away.

The bottom line is this: Indiana Jones is Shaquille O'Neal circa 2006.

Like Shaq, he had to defer a lot of responsibility - i.e. action and stuntwork - this time around, serving as far more of a spectator than we're used to seeing. Like Shaq, Indy walks with a more pronounced gait these days.

But ultimately, like Shaq, he still delivered, even if the product isn't nearly what it once was.

And to push this analogy one step further (admittedly past its limit), judging from Shaq's 2008 postseason performance, we can agree that Adventure No. 4 should just be the end of it. It's been a great run.

Indy returns this time in 1957, alongside his not-so-trusty sidekick Mac (Ray Winstone), his new, young sidekick, Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) and his old sidekick, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). The Soviets, led by the fiercely authoritarian and absolutely fashionable Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), are after an ancient crystal skull that will supposedly reveal unknown powers to whomever unlocks its secrets.

And so on. You know the drill. This is an Indiana Jones movie. Full of convoluted set-ups for action scenes, getaways and shootouts - and all with that utterly irresistible wink-and-a-smile. For a film with so much hype to build on, respond to and live up to (heaven forbid), Crystal Skull is impressively restrained. This is a film that knows just what it is and is intent on being just that.

Stylistically, this one fits right in with the other three. Spielberg has improved by leaps and bounds as a filmmaker since his last foray into Indiana Jones territory, but doesn't try too hard to outdo himself. That may sound like a backhanded compliment . . . and perhaps it is . . . but at the same time, if this is what worked the first three times, he knows what he's doing. He's not creating something new - he's building on something he created nearly three decades ago. We can't expect the massive leap forward that we saw with Minority Report or Munich.

And despite surprisingly spotty CGI that looks, actually, unfinished, the formula works again. Crystal Skull shows the wit and the understanding of action/comedy mechanics that made the Indiana Jones series so unique in the first place.

There is nothing in this film that raises the pulse quite like the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the mine-shaft/roller-coaster scene from Temple of Doom or the booby traps in the temple from The Last Crusade, but the film's zany action setpieces are wonderful and inventive in their own right.

That we expect more of Spielberg speaks more to Spielberg's strengths - and the strengths of this franchise - than to this movie's weaknesses.

That we expect more of Harrison Ford-as-action hero is, let's face it, just nostalgia talking.

This is no Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it'll do just fine.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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