Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull


Indy IV

Warning: some spoilers!

Well folks, I finally got to see Indy IV—despite the fact my original plan to see it in luxury La Premiere style (comfy chairs, waiter service, bottle of wine) was scuppered by family visits and various other commitments. Instead, I took an afternoon off work, swallowed my pride and went alone to Hoyts where, as usual, you get treated like scum that they must begrudgingly provide with a minimal service in exchange for being fleeced (already it’s on the ‘put it in the loungeroom-sized cinema for those few losers who didn’t see it in the first two weekends’ list).

But this isn’t the place to enumerate my numerous complaints with the soul-sucking Hoyts chain of cinemas; that’s for a later post. This is about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the one film all us life-long Indiana Jones fans have been champing at the bit to see, the return of our beloved hero and his whip-cracking adventures. And the verdict?


Oh, it’s OK. It’s light, predictable fun. I had a good time, walked out of the cinema, and promptly forgot all about it. Because you could beat yourself senseless agonising about all the things this film could have been. You could scream that that they should have left Indiana to ride off into the sunset at the end of The Last Crusade, that Harrison Ford is too old to play the character anymore, that there’s no magic, no Indiana Jonesness, to the whole exercise. Or you could just pay your money, have a laugh, and forget about it afterwards.

The question is, it the films themselves, or is it us? I watched the 1972 sci-fi film Silent Running by Douglas Trumbull the other night, and it seemed clunky and slow, and in places (especially the Joan Baez songs) silly. When I saw it as a kid that film blew me away. It seems all our old popular culture memories are either being plundered and destroyed, or held up to a light far too bright for them to endure. Nobody has an “I remember that, that was fantastic” moment anymore, because we see all the old films and TV shows again when we buy the lavish DVD box sets, and replace the warm, special glow of childhood with the harsh glare of experienced adulthood.

So maybe I’m too experienced now. When Indiana flies to the Nazca lines in Peru, my ten-year-old self would have been wrapped up in the exotic mystery of such a place. But now I’m 42 and I’ve actually been there myself, and flown over them in a light plane. I know there’s no hill overlooking the spider symbol with an old Peruvian graveyard on the top. Of course suspension of disbelief is all part of the fun, but there are plot holes and unbelievable sequences here that reach out of the screen and slap me in the face.

This brings me to my next question, has it all been done before? Have we seen all the good ideas in cinema, and especially in the ‘wisecracking adventurer’ genre? There’s nothing about the plot in Indy IV that surprised me or that seemed clever or new. There were no memorable lines that people will repeat to each other for decades to come (“snakes … why did it have to be snakes?”) There’s very little wit.

Of course, I have to lay some of the blame at the feet of George Lucas. He seems to see storytelling as a railroad track his characters follow against their will—a bit like Indy strapped to the rocket sled in a sequence at the start of the film. Anakin Skywalker never seemed to make one damned decision in the whole three of those odious Star Wars ‘prequels’. It gets worse here towards the end—Indy and his little Scooby gang go through the motions, not affecting anything around them. Indy doesn’t make a difference, do anything heroic, he just becomes a cardboard cut out following the scriptwriter’s dotted line. He doesn’t do any of what he so famously used to do—“make it up as he goes along”.

There was a lot of potential here. Indy could have been dragged successfully into the 50s, with its McCarthy paranoia, cold war conflict, 50s B-movie aliens. It just needed a script cleverer than this one, which makes perfunctory nods in the direction of these plot devices and then doesn’t go anywhere with them. Cate Blanchett brings a lot of charisma to her sexy Russian, but there’s no chemistry between her in Indy, and nothing is done with her character except fill the boots of bad guy. Shia LaBeouf is a good young actor and there could have been some great father-son stuff with Indy, but it never really happens. Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) could have been Marion Ravenwood instead of the strangely two-dimensional character here. Steven Spielberg still knows how to direct an action sequence, but this time they feel pasted in, with no relevance to anything, and there’s none of that brilliant ratcheting up of the stakes that was done so well with sequences like the flying wing fight in Raiders.

Yep, it could have been a great film. But by some combination of lack of ideas, the feeling we’ve seen it all before, and the fact that I, and the filmmakers, and the actors, are all a lot older—well, it just never gets there.

But I’m still giving it three fedoras out of five. It’s an OK couple of hours, even though Indiana Jones should have been left to ride into the sunset.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. anaglyph
    Jul 02, 2008 @ 14:33:57

    >>The question is, it the films themselves, or is it us?:

    It’s both. There are still amazing films: have you watched Blade Runner recently? Alien? The Incredible Shrinking Man? The Day the Earth Stood Still?

    You have to remember that Raiders of the Lost Ark was not a new idea – Spielberg & Lucas were merely re-creating a genre that already existed and giving it a hip spin, much as people are doing with the ‘superhero’ films like Batman and Iron Man. In my opinion, all these ‘culture-referenced’ films will date badly. But if you examine the films I referred to above, you’ll note that the ‘hip’ factor was not what was on the minds of the directors concerned – they were films dealing with message. They had a point.

    Raiders was never anything more than an adventure ride. It set the tone for so many adventure flicks that now it seems old hat in comparison to its own genre. It was bound to happen. The only films that last are films that have a reason to…

  2. Universal Head
    Jul 02, 2008 @ 14:55:48

    Funny you should mention The Incredible Shrinking Man – I just saw it again a few days ago, and it does stand up well I must admit. The conversational banter between the husband and wife is very modern, and the way he strikes out at those he loves more as he hates himself more is a concept far beyond the usual scifi films of the era.

    Raiders will always be a classic though because it’s so well made, and the script is so good. It has a punchiness, pacing and sense of fun that sets it apart. Also, I suppose studying it back in art school made me really appreciate all the little touches in it that make it work so well.

    Excellent points though. A film has to be more than a fun ride, because fun rides tend to be quickly forgotten once you get off them.

  3. Atlas Cerise
    Jul 03, 2008 @ 05:16:05

    Will you be buying this on DVD?

  4. Universal Head
    Jul 03, 2008 @ 10:29:50

    Ha! Yeah, sure.

  5. Annie
    Jul 04, 2008 @ 13:42:02

    You are a good writer. This ought to be published in the New Yorker or something.

  6. pil
    Jul 15, 2008 @ 08:48:00

    Yes, that’s a really good review. It is exactly how I felt after the film.