Friday, July 16, 2010

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The criticism towards The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has become so brutal, to add much of anything would be piling on. Steven Spielberg himself has all but said hedid not want to make the film. Shia LaBeouf has publicly trashed the movie as being an overblown special effects piece with no story--and this guy starred in Michael bay’s Transformers without complaint.

What can you say about a film whose biggest legacy is adding “nuke the fridge,” a phrase meaning something in a movie so incredulous, it ruins the rest of the viewing experience, to the lexicon?

I can echo LaBeouf--there is too much unnecessary CGI. Gophers? Really, George Lucas? I actually felt saddened comparing the obvious blue screen backgrounds verses the actual sets used in the original films. I am not going to adamantly recommend The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull period, but I sorely advise you to not watch any all the previous films prior. By comparison, old fashioned art desin runs rings around CGI.

The story reminds me of the same problems that plagued Temple of Doom. I think alien artifacts are just as distant and difficult to care about as pagan stones from a death cult. The communists do not make as good a villains as the Nazis, either. It is more than just that too much time has passed since the end of the Cold War. These commies were too generic. Where is that godless, evil empire? The best Indiana Jones films played up the good versus evil dynamic with spiritual overtones. The worst two left those out completely.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tried hard to be a nostalgia piece, but its lack of heart only reminds me of how much better Indiana Jones used to be. They should have left it as a trilogy.

So what happened? To state the most obvious, it is next to impossible to accept a 65 year old grave robber is is still involved in such high adventure. The last couple years have seen some pitiful efforts by aging actors to continue with their usual rounds with mixed results. I am not one to make a general statement that there is a definite time to get off the stage, but I admire it when entertainers figure it out for themselves. Jack Nicholson can no longer play a counter culture icon. He knows. Sean Connery can no longer play an action hero/ladies man. he knows it. But Sylvester Stallone has no clue he can no longer play a boxer or mercenary. Mick Jagger cannot prance around on stage singing about sex. They both might break a hip. Sad to say, I doubt Harrison Ford can still play a swashbuckler.

But to state something a little less obvious, no matter how much talent is attached to a movie- --and it does not get much more loaded with talent than Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford-- when it has lingered in production hell for fifteen years, not much good can come of it. Fans actually split the time periods of production into eras. There was a time in the early ’90’s when the`story was going to revolve around Atlantis, but Ford wanted to hung up the fedora. Then came word Kevin Costner might be added to the cast as Indy’s brother, but Lucas was off making the Star Wars prequels, so that fell through. Then there was going to be a remaining with Ben freaking Affleck as Indiana. Sheesh.

There were so many scripts floating about by even top notch writers like Tom Stoppard, penning an Indy script became a rite of passage for screenwriters. At comic book and science fiction convention, you would here at least a half dozen claims someone had read a script by the latest hot writer and just knew that was going to be the script. I am certain hardly any of that was true, but if you spend even a few minutes on Google looking, you can find all sorts of scripts for the fourth Indy. None apparently managed to satisfy the big three until now.

But what do we have in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull besides an incredibly confusing acronym? )IJ&TKotCS) An aging action hero too old to believably do all the running, jumping, and fighting necessary to pull off the role, flavor of the moment Shia LaBeouf as a costar, and communists and aliens as bad guys. No matter how many good stories were set during the Cold War, commies do not make as good a villains as Nazis and Indy is supposed to fight Nazis. He has sought the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail, two symbols of pure goodness, in battling the pure evil of Nazism. Commies are a big step back. Aliens? It sounds like we are heading into Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider territory with the Illuminati seeking a time control device for no clear purpose whatsoever. There are too many head scratchers here for Indy to be the huge hit everyone, including me, was hoping for.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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