Archive for June 4th, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

June 4, 2008


You have to wonder just how much influence Tom Cruise has in the world these days, or at least how much influence he has over Steven Spielberg.

The first three Indy movies were heavily based in Christian mythology, then there was this 19 year break during which the cult membered egotist made a few films with everyone’s favourite family flick helmer, and then Indy returns and discovers that the world is pretty much like Scientology have claimed all along. And they said War of the Worlds was just a popcorn movie…

So Indy is back after nearly two decades, and boy is he old. Old, old, old. He’s so old that he keeps pointing out how old he is – he’s so old that even his immortal Dad has died, and he’s so old that it’s now the 1950s and it’s the Russians who need thwarting. For a guy who was last seen drinking the fountain of youth, he sure is old.

The movie is old too. Not old in that kind of timeless way, but old in that kind of ‘we’ve seen it all before’ way. It’s a bit sad to see him trying to recreate his youth, slapping on that weary grimace and plodding through the motions again – and the thing is, he’s still good at it and he’s still enjoyable to watch, but truthfully he’s never going to be as good as he once was. He’s fun to be around because he’ll never lose his magic – but like the later albums by Stevie Wonder proved, he should have just quit when he was ahead.

The plot is utter bollocks – something about a magnetic quartz skull which might have belonged to a conquistador, but turns out to be from one of the aliens who engineered civilization. At the point where a CGI Lawnmower Man alien stares into the camera and a flying saucer decimates a Mayan temple you realise that this is a Thetan history lesson; the Christian undertones of the previous three films having been undermined and replaced with a B-movie hokiness.

Since Sean Connery wouldn’t come out of retirement and Denholm Elliot was actually dead, they cast familiar actors to fill their void – Ray Winstone is in it for no good reason, playing a character with little or no purpose; John Hurt crops up as deranged exposition spouter, a sort of savant version of his Da Vinci Code role and Spielberg’s current hard-on for Shia LaBoeuf continues with his role as hetero-gay biker sidekick Mutt.

LaBoeuf is ok, clearly being primed for another appearance, and Hurt is suitably camp but annoyingly predictable – it’s only Winstone who stands out as terrible – an empty shell of a clichéd stereotype. He’s been more convincing selling us Holsten Pils.

The movie is much like that moment in Terminator 3 where Arnie puts the comedy shades on at the beginning; it’s knowingly self referential, and kind of makes sense given the characters position in popular culture – but at the same time it robs him of the genuine charm that made you love him in the first place. The whole film is one big wink to the camera, as if George Lucas were stood in the corner of the screen pointing to all the in-jokes – “look, it’s the Ark of the Covenant, do you remember that? Wow, Raiders was a good film wasn’t it?”

Crystal Skull’s opening sequence is a fun set piece set in a huge warehouse, before it moves to a highly misjudged nuclear bomb sequence in the Arizona desert. We’re then treated to a medley of jet powered train rides, flying fridge escapes and CGI gophers. It’s all a little too silly and a little too convenient. It undermines Indiana Jones as a character and instead makes him a beneficiary of continued good luck.

That’s not to say that it’s not an entertaining film, because it is. Overall it’s very enjoyable and there are some good sequences, not to mention the very welcome return of Karen Allen who genuinely lights up the screen when she’s around. There’re bike chases, ESP, nuclear bombs and killer ants and huge waterfalls and all manner of really cool moments – but none of them really work like they used to.

It’s too knowing, too openly funny, too much of a movie to ever let you forget it’s a movie… you don’t get sucked in, you groan and sigh and wish it wasn’t quite as lame as you begin to realise it is.

Seeing Indy staggering around this new 1950’s time period is like watching fat Elvis in Vegas; he’s great to see because you love him, but he looks out of place in time. By moving forward Indy has become outdated, his jacket and fedora now look like a costume, his style of adventuring having ended in the previous decade.

It doesn’t really matter, of course – it’s just a film and an ok one at that. It’s not a meditative reflection of the soul, it’s a popcorn flick and isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. At the same time, though, you just wish that they’d had the sense to leave it where it was before – as a great trilogy of films. Seeing Indy now just reminds you that your heroes get old – that they’ll get worse over time and their legend will fade.

It’s not quite the childhood rape that the new Star Wars films were, but it’s gets dangerously close at times. It’s a savage irony of life that George Lucas has the ability to create incredible and hugely popular characters and then totally fuck them up with bad decisions. Spielberg is as much to blame her as well, though – by listening to the bearded money-eater he’s forgotten that films are meant to have good stories, not just iconic lead characters and in-jokes.

It’s still good to be in Indy’s company again, though – he’s been missed and although he’s not as good as he once was, it’s nice to have him back.