Friday, May 23, 2008

Blue Sky Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull...


Before I begin this review let me set the table. I know if many of you are regular readers of Blue Sky Disney then you know I have a special love of Indiana Jones. It starts with the fact that "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is my favorite film.

But the story behind that is a little deeper as well...

As a child I can remember watching the local PBS affiliate on weekends, sundays actually. There was a show on there called "Super Serial Showcase" and it introduced me to the world of low budget serials from the 30's and 40's... it offered an action-packed world populated by the innocent view of good versus evil. A universe where you could clearly see where each side stood. A place where you always knew who to root for. No matter if it was my favorite "Spy Smasher" or something like "Zorro's Fighting Brigade" or "The Phantom Empire"... I loved these shorts for the innocence they provided and action that they threw at me. I kept asking the question: "Why doesn't someone make a movie like this?".

On a quite night in my local theater I attended an advance screening of a new film called "Raiders of the Lost Ark"... I knew nothing about it from the commercials I had seen. I only knew it was from the guy that did "Star Wars" and the other guy that did "Jaws". And so I set down with a friend in the theater and waited to see what this new film was about. As the movie began and the plot unwound I sat with my mouth agape...

"Oh, my god! It's as if they went into my head and pulled out these ideas and my thoughts from earlier!" I had an out of body experience... the only one I've ever had watching a film. Not even "Star Wars" did that for me. When the film ended I sat in my seat and watched all the credits(The first time I had ever done that). It took the employees asking me to leave for me to realize the lights had came up. I went home that night giddy...

You see, I was in love.

Indiana Jones was my idol. My hero. He was a man's man, yet he was vulnerable unlike a suave character like James Bond. Indy was approachable and he was more important for me, authentic. I've seen every film since and although they are nowhere near as good as the original, I love them. I love Harrison Ford for the portrayal of this character, I love Spielberg for directing this homage to those old serials I had become familiar with and I love George Lucas for the creation of this wondrous adventurer.

While I didn't care much for the "Young Indiana Jones Chronicles", I've always been on the lookout for another film. Hoping over these nineteen years that somehow Lucas, Spielberg and Ford could somehow find a way to reach back and pull Indy into my world again. And now, it's here... after all those years the Man with the Hat is back.

What did I think of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"?

Sigh...

I Didn't love it... I didn't hate it as well. But after nineteen years I was expecting that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg would have come up with something a little more. Now, there are those that had unrealistic expectations of this film. I don't think I was one of them. All I was hoping was that it would be as good as "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", which was the weakest in the series to me. If it had been that good I would have been content, I would have been happy. But as I sat there watching the film I had an eerie feeling...

I wasn't watching an Indiana Jones film. I was watching a film that had been inspired by an Indiana Jones film. It kind of felt like "The Mummy". Although I liked that film better than this one. It seemed like one of many films I've seen people try to make over the last two decades that had been influenced by "Raiders of the Lost Ark".

Harrison Ford is back and there are shades of Indy in his performance, but it just didn't feel right. I know they were trying to portray him as being older, it was the 50's after all. It was supposed to be like he was becoming his own father where he was a little more hesitant at doing things, a little more timid... but it didn't work. For me at least.

I know Spielberg said that Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Irina Spalko was his favorite of all the villains in the series, but every time she was on the screen I just kept seeing a live-action version of Natasha from "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle".

The Script by David Koepp seemed like something I'd see in a more feeble attempt at mimicking this series story, not the Indy of old. I tend to look at this film as separate and apart from the series. Kind of like what would happen if we looked into the future and imagined what Indy would be... I don't think of this as a part of that series. I don't really look at this as part four in the line of films.

There was plenty of action, but unlike the rest of the Indy films("Raiders" in particular), I never felt for a moment that Indiana Jones was in any real peril. I felt like it was a pedestrian story that went from A to B to C... and so on. I know that Indy would survive in the others, but there was a palpable sense that he might not make it.

I'm not going to tell anyone to not go see this film. Everyone will go see this no matter what anyone tells you. It's essentially critic-proof. At least for a week or so... But don't go in expecting to see the Indiana Jones that you remember from the 80's... this film feels like they could have just changed Indiana Jones to some other name and changed Marion's character to some other heroine and given the film a new title. It would have been another attempt by a film maker to capture the spirit of Indiana Jones. It may have succeeded in doing that, but it failed to also capture his soul. That's a big problem I have with it...

It's soulless.

There are a lot of action scenes that have the Spielberg touch, but most of it feels like another action director could have done this. And that shouldn't be happening in a Steven Spielberg film. He's been on his "A-Game" for over a decade now. The last real misfire he had was "Hook".

Now I don't hate it as I said. My best friend HATES it. He feels that Lucas and Spielberg(especially him) have destroyed a character he loved in just over two hours. THX-1388, remember him and his "Star Wars Must Die" guest column on Blue Sky Disney? Well he hated it. I expected him to hate it, but not anyone else. Almost all my friends feel this way.

When the lights came up I walked out the theater and realized that Indiana Jones was over for me. That maybe, they had tried to make this film a decade too late with the wrong writer and wrong perspective and maybe I've seen the last film to feature the Man in the Hat. There won't be anymore Indy films because there just shouldn't be anymore... anymore. I closed the door on a piece of my childhood after that screening. I didn't want to, but I did.

Perhaps it was inevitable. Perhaps it was to be expected...

I didn't want to feel this way. Most of you have known I was waiting for this more than any other film. I still don't feel my expectations were that high. But I did expect to see an "Indiana Jones film"...

I wound up watching a pale reflection of that movie, a nod to a series of films. But the character I saw wasn't what I was expecting or wanting. It may be appropriate that the film takes place in the late 50's which also happens to be the time when serials started to disappear because the new medium of television was taking it's place and competing with films at the theaters. To end a series that was influenced by those serials around the same time they ended may provide a little melancholy to the situation...

It wasn't the experience I wanted, but it was the feeling I got. Maybe, unbeknownst to myself... it was the feeling I needed.

25 comments:

zach said...

Thanks for the review, Honor. I completely agree with you on every point. I don't feel that I had expectations that were too high, but I did expect an Indiana Jones film. That wasn't what this was. If anything, they should have titled it "Mutt Williams and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." I think that it is telling that Indy actually went by Henry for most of the film. Henry?! Henry's his father, he is Indiana. Except that he acted more like his father than himself.

Anyway, don't want ramble on your site, but I appreciate that someone shares the sentiment. I wasn't expecting to feel so disappointed, but, like you, I realize that I'll never get to see a new Indy film again, which is very sad.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was better than all of them. Plus it was set in the fifties which is way cooler than the boring thiries and forties.

You guys are a bunch of haters! Deal with it. Times change and you haven't.

Honor Hunter said...

Surprisingly, Shia didn't bother me as I thought he would...

He wasn't the problem with the film... the script was the main problem with IJATKOTCS. Lucas deciding to go with this script over several others is a concern for me. Then there was Spielberg choosing to accept this as a worthy script to film after nineteen years and then there is Ford for choosing to accept to film this script.

I am now actively trying to get a copy of the Frank Darabont version so that I can determine just how off the mark Lucas went...

Tom Morrow said...

You wrote here a very sincere and poignant review. I think I perfectly understand the expectations and the deep sadness you've had with that fourth episode.
I haven't seen the movie yet, but the more I keep reading reviews on the internet the more I think I'm going to be, also, really disappointed. More than I really want to acknowledge, even to myself.

I'm much younger but, just like you, Indiana Jones means a LOT to me, it's a part of my childhood, just like Disney and the works of the imagineers which have always fuelled my imagination. Indy was one of my hero, I grew up dreaming of these far away and exotic lands and no doubt he gave me, among others, that tremendous curiosity for other countries and cultures…
.
I don't want to have any harsh judgements until I finally see it (because I will, for sure), but I cannot help but think that the minute I'll get out of the theatre I'm going to think "This is a nice film [I do HOPE it’s at least NICE], but this is not the Indiana Jones I know".
I think 19 years after the Last Crusade it couldn't have been otherwise anyway but I hoped so, really. Perhaps, just as you said, a trilogy was fine, enough. No need to do more if it means worst. It’s just like when I’m hearing about an upcoming 4th Back to the Future, I just hope it will never see the light of day.

Anyway.

Thumbs up for your blog, I come here almost once a day, at least you know how to maintain a website daily (not like me ! :D), and this is always a pleasure to read your columns.

A bientôt !
Tom from http://webcot.free.fr

Anonymous said...

you obviously didn't get the point of the film. but your review of it felt quite amateurish... you said they tried to portray indy as an older man- well guess what, he is older! and i thought the sci-fi elements were perfect for the time period. the creators of the film stated that they wanted to reflect that era, just as the earlier indy films reflected the serials of the 30's. no harm done. this film didn't kill or destroy the indy franchise. get real.

solomon Bundy said...

Whoa! Better than all of them? You think this was better than Raiders? Someone call a doctor, this man is serious need of attention. He's obviously delusional.

CheriBibi said...

can't wait to join in as soon as i've seen it... but for now... i don't evend dare reading.

Anonymous said...

They love serials but they won't just make movie year after year. With Speilberg it makes sense because he's a real director but Lucas doesnt do anything else.

Anonymous said...

I throughly enjoyed the new Indy film. Shia wasn't the obnoxious Shia I was used to seeing. It was an Indy film with a much grander scale. I liked it.

Anonymous said...

solomon bundy is delusional.

Anonymous said...

i feel sorry for any indy fan if they cannot enjoy this film. I think its a strong 2nd for me after raiders and thats after 2 viewings. maybe its a fact ive always dreamed they would do the story line they did. i didnt get the same "soul" reading as the rest.. i just know i really liked it. and im not alone.

Anonymous said...

Sorry but I loved it, much better than Doom and just a bit better than Crusade for me. Loved it!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you. I left actually somewhat depressed.

George said...

I just read "It's Only a Movie", the Alfred Hitchcock biography. I think there's a Hitch quote that basically sums up why so many people feel let down by this film:

"The worst thing, you know, is when you cannot go back to a place where you have always been happy. Not because the place has changed, but because you have changed."

Anonymous said...

I agree with your review completely. As you said, the real problem is that the film has no soul, and the script was to blame. I've heard a lot of people complain about the overuse of CGI and the craziness of the ending, but all of that would not have mattered if the film had a purpose or soul. I didn't feel like the crystal skull was explained well enough for me to care about it. Oxley and Mac were too one dimensional, yet most of the adventure unfolded because of the Oxley character. I heard that it was originally supposed to be Indy's father in this part, but when Connery declined to be in the film, they had to write him out. If that's true, that would explain a lot.
Overall, I would say I liked the first part, especially the stuff at the college. However, the entire second half just kept getting worse to the point where I could no longer say I liked the movie. Once I reached that point, my mind went back and picked away at the entire film. Perhaps this will change upon a second viewing, but I really don't want to give Spielberg and Lucas any more of my money.
I will end this by saying that some of us were truly hurt by this film. It seems like Honor is a bigger Indy fan than me, and I was pretty depressed afterward. If you enjoyed the film, that's fine, but why do you have to be so rude with comments like "deal with it" and "you guys are a bunch of haters"? All of us who didn't care for it have given examples and reasons for our views, so I doubt we are just throwing a fuss for no reason. All of us wanted to like this film. Some of us did, but others couldn't overlook the problems. I don't see this as our fault, just a personal difference. As I said, I tried my hardest to concentrate on the good, but by the end I couldn't take it anymore.

bsmith13 said...

I disagree with your review, but I think it is mainly due to the following points:

1. I had absolutely no expectations for this film. I've seen GL destroy Star Wars, and I was sure that IJ would be destroyed as well. While, not my favorite of the four, I felt it was on par with Last Crusade by virtue of the chemistry between Shia and Harrison, and the plot was stronger. It was, in my eyes, better than Temple of Doom.

2. While I love IJ movies, I am certain that they didn't mean as much to me as they did to you.

BTW, I think that my family and I were the only ones in the theater who laughed when Indy said "I have a bad feeling about this." We got some dirty looks from people who didn't understand the connection.

darkroom said...

I'm sorry you were disappointed, I was too. As one commenter said on one of the AICN links you posted, it looked like Lucas and Spielberg were fighting through this movie. Theres a pretty good Indy movie in there, you just have to get past the irritating, unneccesary, lucas-y bits. The dialog was abysmal, it was loaded up with too many CGI effects, and the whole aliens, area 51, roswell thing was played out back in the 90s. what interests George Lucas hasn't made for a good movie in a loooong time.

That being said, it wasn't bad, just not that great.

scissorhands said...

Oh my god!!!
That's a disaster!!!
I'm sorry for the OT, but I'm reading the box office estimates and I need to scream.

Indiana did very good but far from great (exact numbers of Iron Man) and Prince Caspian fell almost 60% from the past week end. And this happens during memorial day.
I dont' think we will ever see Narnia 4. At Least from Disney.
Sob...sign....

burke said...

Disney is at fault for deciding to release Narnia the weekend before Indiana Jones. It's obvious that a week after Caspian's premiere, Indiana Jones would be released and more people would go see that instead because of all of the hype surrounding the Indy release.

Indiana Jones had a weak script and was soulless, at least Narnia, even though it was a tad worse than the first film, had emotion and soul. I actually liked Prince Caspian a tad bit more than I did Crystal Skull.

It would be a mistake not to release Narnia-Voyage of Dawn Treader, best book in the series.

scissorhands said...

You are right, maybe the release date was a bad choice, but one year ago shrek 3 and pirates 3 did both great business in the same week end, and maybe PC3 had more hype!!!

I think that for PC there was something wrong in its target audience.
For children is too scary and dark. Teenager didn't come back after Narnia 1 because they considered it too childish.
That's a shame....
PC cost 200 million...
It will be very hard for it to reach at least 150 million, HALF of what the first Narnia did.
I'm very sad

1983horizons1 said...

After seeing the film, I felt like it was missing something and I think your article helped me discover what it was. It was just trying to mimic the plot structure of Raiders. It was almost the exact same concept, but with a different supernatural object. I wish they had taken this new Indy movie in a completely new direction such as when they made Temple of Doom much different from Raiders. Even the Last Crusade, although an obvious attempt to re-produce Raiders had more of a soul than this with its sentimental opening sequence and the addition of Indy's father. This new movie was fun to watch, but is easily forgotten. There was nothing wrong with it, but there was nothing extraordinary. I think it will always be the lone Indy movie.

Alain Littaye said...

Hello Honor, Alain Littaye, here. I quite agree with you on many points, although i enjoyed some parts of the movie. Cate Blanchett did her best, but the problem is that she is not enough "evil" - as Hitchcock always said "better is the villain, better is the movie" and the villain here is not enough frightening...
Also, me, too, i will be very curious to see the Frank Darabont script, as i am pretty sure that the weakness in the "crystal skull" story is coming from Lucas...more than Spielberg who probably did his best with the (Lucas approved) script he had...
And, yes, Shia LaBeouf was a good surprise, he was much better than i thought and had the right 'energy' for his character.
Anyway, there is definitely something that is missing , and you are right, it is a problem of "soul'...but all is not that bad so those of you who didn t saw it yet, go ahead and see it, and enjoy the good parts of this "crystal skull" !

Grundel said...

From the moment I first heard the title of this movie I knew it was going to suck. Like everything Lucas does now, it had to be over the top. "A New Hope", "Return of the Jedi", simple titles, gave way to "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones".

It wasn't enough to make it like the other Indiana Jones movies, it had to be ultra-hip with Shia LaDouche, and giant nuclear explosions. Raiders started with a whip, a pistol, and blow darts. What is so wrong with being subtle??? I can just picture the director at the start of each scene: "everyone act super-excited!"

I think the ultimate problem with Lucas and Spielburg is they have decided we are all so stupid that we have to be beaten over the head with every scene or we just won't get it. Bah, I say. Bah.

kevinwillis.net said...

Crystal Skull was easily on par with The Last Crusade. Raiders and Temple of Doom are still better films than Crystal Skull or Crusade, but Crusade is tied . . . more because Crusade included Marcus and Sallah.

But Crystal Skull was good fun, and easily as much an Indy film as Last Crusade was. Give it some time . . . frankly, I find Crusade better now than I did when I first saw, when I was greatly disappointed.

wheredidthefranchisego said...

I agree with your review. It seemed that George and Steven were most interested in indulging themselves - too many tributes to things from their past and reminding of those things over, and over, and over...

A huge problem for me though was the people sitting around me. I figured it would be better to sit in front of an older couple - quieter. The guy talked, literally through the whole movie, making comments, grunting, chuckling (whether it was a funny part or not)... and drove me crazy. I should have gotten up and moved.

I went to see it again, with my family, after telling them how disappointed I was. I went back with lower expectations (as most reviews, sadly, said to do). I actually enjoyed it more, as just a fun movie. It should have been MUCH more than that, with all of these people involved in it, and their track records - of course I expected more. It seems they are tiring in their old age, more than Indy himself, or resting too much on their laurels.

So, go again, with lower expectations, and enjoy it for what it is. Maybe it won't seem quite so bad, even though it should have been vastly better.