Sunday, May 25, 2008

Full Review: Indiana Jones 4

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Released May 22, 2008

The "Indiana Jones" movies are all about having fun. The plot isn't meant to be taken entirely seriously, and the mood of each film is dominated by camp. That said, there is a certain importance to the setting, time-wise, of the films and the old-fashioned sensibility that goes along with it. Installment number four is still set in the fifties, but the whole film feels like it's been forcibly modernized. The running joke is that Harrison Ford, now aged 65 years, is old. My reaction is simple: we get it.

The movie is so overstuffed with references to the original trilogy that there's hardly any room left for anything else. Shots of Indy's hat blowing and his shadow appearing before him work amazingly in trailers and TV spots, but in the film they become tired and overdone, and quickly. This film is unable to stand on its own in any sense, constantly referencing classic moments from the original films, even incorporating the absent character played by Sean Connery through photographs and mentions. Wink-wink references are a major component of the Indiana Jones movies, yet here they occupy too much of this film for it to function by itself. The most blatant example is the ceremonial gagging of Karen Allen, something I had predicted might happen in this movie. The need to have a throwback to a famous scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" where a gagged Allen shouts at Ford has no place in this movie, but it is inserted anyway. Was there not enough material to make a fresh movie? To support the possibility of creating an effective sequel without relying overly on the original(s), I direct your attention to "Live Free or Die Hard".

What "The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" doesn't take from the first three Indy movies, it sure tries to make it seem like it does. Jim Broadbent's college dean and Ray Winstone's fellow archaeologist are introduced so as to imply that they have always been a part of the Indy universe. The movie is so desperate to fit into the franchise that it wants to appear as if the entire thing is just one big tribute that it sacrifices novelty and originality for comfort and laughs. Shia LaBoeuf, to his and the film's credit, does fit in fairly well to the time period, and his signature overdose of energy is not too much of a detractor. The real strength of the film is most definitely a superb Cate Blanchett, who does her best to act like she's in a better film.

The structure of the movie is also a problem. Instead of the typical Indy-friend-damsel layout, there are a whopping five characters who make up the Indy team. Most of them are dead weight, and this feels more like a huge reunion than another Indy adventure. The plot is pretty absurd, and while it sort of always is, it's actually rather boring and tough to follow in this film. Without giving anything away, I will simply say that I'm rather unhappy about the direction of the plot. The movies are supposed to have a serialized nature, with a new adventure every fifteen or so minutes, but here it's just one big, bland series of repetition. This movie wasn't supposed to be a remake; it was supposed to be a fresh installment.

Keeping my thoughts in mind, and pointing out that two members of my four-person group fell asleep several times throughout the film, I will note that the audience sure loved it. They were laughing at most of the references to the older films, and they really appreciated the fact that Indy is a senior citizen. I did laugh maybe two or three times, but I think there is a fine line between camp and comedy, and this film should definitely have fallen into the former category. Looked at simply as a comedy, I still wouldn't say that this is a terribly good film. Perhaps a little bit of exciting, but overall the ride really isn't worth it.


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