Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
By Zach Patterson Tuesday, 27 May 2008

This review contains spoilers. Making a new Indiana Jones nearly 20 years after the last one is bound to divide audiences between “YES INDY’S BACK” and “THIS FUCKING SUCKS”, and sure enough, the movie has elicited both responses since its release. I’ve heard glowing reviews and awful reviews, and I fall somewhere in between. The movie has that unmistakable hint of modern era Lucasfilm at points (in other words, an over reliance on computer generated images early in the movie and late in the movie) as well as some questionable script choices (was this really the best script they could have come up with? I mean, really?), but much of the middle part of the movie is just fun, enjoyable action movie.

I will say that this is probably the weakest of the Indiana Jones movies, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad movie. There’s actually a pretty good movie here, it’s just that it would have been a GREAT movie with some small changes. First and foremost, I love Harrison Ford in this role, and he seems to love it too. This is one of those roles he was born to play, and he singlehandedly breathes life into an otherwise just okay script. He makes the gags and dialog funny without seeming contrived. He makes a plot essentially about aliens seem like it’s not too far out. That’s a credit to a great actor. His supporting cast is pretty solid too. I normally hate Cate Blanchett, but here, she is a pretty good, albeit a bit one dimensional, Russian bitch. Karen Allen returns to the series after a long hiatus, and she’s still as charming and lovable as ever. I’m so glad they chose to bring her back. She gave the movie some much needed familiarity and made a nice tie to the old movies. And for all the bitching about casting flavor-of-the month young actor Shia LaBeouf as the sidekick here, he does a serviceable job playing off of Ford and creating a decent rapport. I’m still not quite sure what the animosity is towards LaBeouf (Just a product of being in too many popular movies at once? The theories that they want LaBeouf to take the mantle of Indiana Jones? Who knows), but the movie needed someone like him to complement Ford.

One thing I would have like to seen a lot less of is the computer generated imagery. For all the praise that ILM gets, between this film and the recent Star Wars films, I haven’t been incredibly impressed with their ability to mesh live action with CG. There’s too many parts where the CG takes you out of the film. Random CG animals, creatures, and explosions look kind of impressive, but also a bit out of place. Not only that, but some of the stuff seems like it could have been filmed with some creative stuntmen, but it was decided to just do it in post-production instead (and some scenes, like the LaBeouf Tarzan scene, shouldn’t have been added at all). Luckily, the film also has some very long stretches that looked pretty free of all computer tinkering, and these parts (mainly the middle bulk of the film) are the strongest parts of the movie.

The script is what I would call rough. I heard it had dozens of rewrites, and yet this still feels like an okay script and not a rock solid one. I mean really, was aliens the best thing to explore? On one hand, the Jones movies have always been about these pulp fiction, noir, fantastic adventures inspired by serials of the 30’s and 40’s, and this fits pretty well in that mold. And while you are watching it, you kinda swallow the whole movie with the tongue in cheek plot until the end, where it just really goes over the top. You get to the climax where you seen the beautiful corpses of these aliens, and suddenly they resurrect into one big alien in this CG fuckfest where the the whole temple they are in falls apart and a flying saucer takes off. I just don’t think it was all necessary. We never needed to see these aliens, and if they were trying to mimic these fantastical serials, they should have taken a page from the “less is more” mentality of many of them. Describe and allude to this creature, but don’t give me a good view of how stupid it really looks. It takes all the wonder from the movie, and you end up feeling like you just watched the end of Mission To Mars instead of a great Indiana Jones movie.

Despite a rather crummy ending, it doesn’t ruin the movie for me. I was too busy grinning watching some great chase scenes, classic Harrison Ford, and a fun adventure. The characters and their interactions make this movie good, and even some occasional lame sequences can’t ruin that for me. It wasn’t perfect, but I never expected it to be. It’s a good popcorn movie for the summer, and worth putting down the money for, in my opinion.

5 Responses to “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”

  1. Andrew Raub Says:

    I never really understood the Shia LaBeouf hate either. The dude got popular through the Even Stevens show, and maybe 10 movies since, only 2 or 3 of which are a starring role. I mean, is he really in your face that much? I don’t even think he’s that bad of an actor. Anyways, I think he’s the perfect fit for Indy’s sidekick. You need someone youthful, energetic, and slightly annoying.

    I should see this movie sometime.

  2. Brian Hohman Says:

    No comment….

  3. Charlie Goodrich Says:

    The ending was disappointing, the CG was poor, and the script was rough like you said, Zach. Stupid fucking CG aliens and Russians! I agree with your review. Although Raub has a point, why all the hate for Mr. LaBouf? I enjoy his acting. I’m a big fan of the original three movies and I liked this one.

  4. Matt Jones Says:

    Very good review. Just a few comments:

    1. I didn’t think they did a good job with the villains in this movie. In Raiders and Crusade, the Nazis were really the reason why Indy was doing what he was doing, not the Ark or the Grail. In Temple of Doom, he was trying to save the kids in the end, not get the Sankara stones. In this movie, it seemed like the Russians were kind of not the point. It was more of getting to the end than defeating the Russians. Plus, Cate Blanchett never really seemed like a foe who was on the same level or higher than Indy. Belloq was Jones’s equal and rival in Raiders, the Temple had the guy who betrayed Shiva, and Crusade had the girl and the American Nazi dude. Blanchett just never seemed to be a stand alone baddie.

    2. LeBouf was awesome in this, in my opinion. His scenes (outside of the Tarzan scene) were the best. I even really enjoyed the somewhat CGI scene where he’s fencing between the two cars.

    3. The CGI was way overdone. There are even scenes I look back on now and think to myself, “Even though this is ridiculous, it probably wouldn’t appear so ridiculous if it wasn’t in CGI.” I mean, think about it this way: would the giant boulder in Raiders look so menacing if it were in CGI? No. Even one of the more ludicrous scenes I could think of, the nuke and the fridge, would have been a lot easier for me to swallow had they simply shot a real fridge into the air, done some camera work to slowly come up on it as it’s smoldering, and then have Indy kick out the door and look back on the nuked site. Whether or not it is true, the CGI appears to be making up for plot holes at times.

    4. The opening is right. This is probably the least of the Indy movies, especially for me because I love Temple of Doom, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. Just a small disappointment in the franchise. But this isn’t Phantom Menace levels or anything…even though I kinda liked many parts of Phantom Menace. Attack of the Clones, on the other hand, is a complete clusterfuck, which is too bad because Hayden Christensen really would have been a perfect Anakin in the right hands. But that’s another topic.

  5. Kevin Hagge Says:

    I enjoyed this movie. It was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be and I left the theater satisfied. That’s all I really ever ask for whenever I go see a movie.

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