Saturday, July 5, 2008
At Long Last....
I have been sitting on my thoughts on Indy 4 for a long time now...have wanted to post them, if for no other reason than to get it out of the way, but for some reason, I have never gotten over the hump. So, finally, here we go…
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is…decent. I liked it…sort of. Many have pointed out the weaknesses in the script, and I would have to agree with that criticism, even though I like what many dislike about the script: its unbelievability. I mean, 98% of the film is absolutely ridiculous, and probably 96% of that is out and out unconscionable. But this is Indiana Jones…that’s part of the serial fun.
In many ways, I have to stand back and snicker with admiration that Spielberg, Lucas, and Co. have turned this film into what is really—I think I can say this without giving too much away—the ultimate synthesis of the two filmmakers’ blockbuster careers. I also can appreciate how, in the grand tradition of Indiana Jones films, Crystal Skull’s wacky mythology actually ties into the reality of American history…at least, as much as it can. It definitely appears that Spielberg and Lucas had a lot of fun making this film, which is refreshing.
But that “fun” aspect is simultaneously what gives Crystal Skull its goofball charm and what makes it feel like a lighter-than-fluff—dare I say insignificant—film experience. It just doesn’t feel like there is much going on in this film other than the surface zest. Not only is that disappointing, especially given the 19-year wait for the damn movie, but it is also disheartening that the years Indy 4 spent in development hell while Spielberg/Lucas/Ford waited for “the right script” have now resulted in a film that is “mildly fun enough.”
Also discouraging is the fact that this is, make no mistake, Steven Spielberg’s worst overall directorial effort in a decade or more. There are obviously many wonderful moments--the motorcycle chase in the first act, and the logic-defying chase through the jungle later on--that was a given. Spielberg can deliver classic moments in his sleep. But there is something about the visual element of Crystal Skull that feels remarkably ho-hum, like Spielberg was on autopilot for the duration of the shoot. Missing are the brilliant visual flourishes that have become commonplace in Spielberg films, and for perhaps the first time ever, Spielberg’s love of heavenly-white lighting seems stilted and unattractive.
The performances are fine. It is great to see Ford in the weathered fedora once again, and he brings his usual dry charm to the role. Ray Winstone has fun with his shifty character, though it is sort of a waste of such a great actor. Cate Blanchett is the best thing the film has going--she is absolutely brilliant playing the nefarious, indestructible female ultra-villain Irina Spalko, and Karen Allen, returning to the iconic Marion Ravenwood role, is equally fantastic. One shocking bit of curiosity is Shia LeBeouf’s casting as Indy’s young protégé, Mutt Williams. It would seem a natural choice, but the usually wonderful LeBeouf is a more natural fit for a geeky hero, and seems a little ill-at-ease tackling a tough-guy greaser like Mutt.
Overall, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a mild...very mild... entertainment. There are plenty of fun moments and the path of the screenplay is, as I mentioned, fun in a snickering, inside-joke kind of way. I enjoyed the film while it played, even though I still took issue with many of its aforementioned flaws. But finishing this review now, having gained a lot of distance from the film, it is simply not going to be a highlight of the year. It is not, strictly speaking, a BAD film...but after this long wait, after this much hype, after the supposed care that went into all stages of its production, it is ultimately a blockbuster dud.