July 1st, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

by Wendell Weeks • in Films
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I reveal plot points in this review, so if you’re going to go see it, you’ve been warned. But really, the warning you should heed is to skip the film altogether.

As I biked across DC to catch a late afternoon showing of the film at the historic Uptown Theater, I had, in the back of my mind, this sense that I was about to be disapointed. Not surprising I suppose, given that a fourth installment in a series has the odds stacked against it to begin with — especially after such a long break since the third film. Expectations get higher the longer the break, as does the excitement to see one of the great characters in film history on the big screen one more time.

I hadn’t seen the trailers, and what few short reviews I’d read seemed to suggest that it wasn’t great, but that it wasn’t awful. So I consciously challenged my vague sense of potential disappointment by telling myself that, at minimum, I was going to have a mildly entertaining afternoon at the movies.

Five minutes into the film, the first problem hits you hard, stares you right in the face. That really obvious thing you thought you could ignore, or that they’d find a way around. But you can’t, and they didn’t. And so, we meet our hero anew, as he picks his hat up off the ground, the camera trained on his shadow as he places it on his head, then we see him from behind and finally he turns and faces the camera, our hero, Indiana Jones, and all you can think is:

“Man Harrison Ford is old.”

And of course more to the point: Indiana Jones is not supposed to be that old. There’s just no escaping or denying it, this character was never meant to be played at this age in his life. There was one early scene between Jones and the young Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) where there was a nice dynamic between the two, Ford playing the calmer, wiser man to LaBeouf’s hot head youth. But aside from that, even Ford himself seems vaguely out of sorts playing Indy at this age.

They don’t deny his age in the film, they don’t try to have him play younger than he is, and in fact, it’s not even the reason the film fails. It could still have been an entertaining film worth the trouble of making and seeing. That’s the unfortunate thing, that it’s bad primarily because — dare I say it — it was poorly directed.

Let me say for the record that I am no Spielberg-basher. Yes, his penchant for cutesy and syrupy can be a bit much for my taste, but the man (usually) knows how to craft a film. And while the action sequences are well-executed as always, they were hardly engaging because the rest of the film was so un-engaging.

It was flat, it was dull, it didn’t bring you in. It just never found it’s rhythm. The jokes weren’t funny — not because they were lame — the jokes have always been slightly lame in all the films, but in a fun way and in which the characters always managed to pull it off, because you were engaged in the scene, you were along for the ride.

But the gags in this one feel forced and fall flat. Imagine it in one of these ways:

  • Like watching the footage of the blocking rehearsals. Or at best, that they’d only done one take of each scene.
  • It kind of had a made-for-TV quality, albeit with a budget for special effects, but still like it was never meant for the big screen.
  • Like some less talented people paid a franchise fee for the rights to the characters and made their own film, with a Harrison Ford lookalike.

It wasn’t entirely Spielberg’s fault, the script had it’s flaws as well, chief among them the moronic, all-too-pat ending. How about just suggesting that ending, you know? Maybe a nice, sweet, cheeky moment between Jones and Marion that leads us to suspect where there’ll end up. What happened to letting the audience fill in the blanks?

While the ending is ridiculous, it’s nothing compared to an early sequence in the film that’s been dubbed “Nuking the Fridge”, a newly christened film world phrase, equivalent to TV’s “Jumping the Shark” (which comes from an episode of Happy Dayss). If you’re not familiar with either expression, you can check out explanations on Newsweek.com or on the no doubt recently, and hastily registered nukingthefridge.com.

About the grade

Why 20%? I don’t know. Doesn’t everyone get at least 20% for just making a movie? From film students to Hollywood moguls, isn’t 20% sort of the minimum?

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