Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Movie Review: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”

I really, really wanted to like this movie.

Indiana Jones has been my favorite screen character since I was 12. Over the years, I've seen all the movies, read the novelizations, and subscribed to the comic books. I was thrilled when I heard "Indy 4" was finally in production!

Sadly, the movie has turned out to be a dud.

Whose fault is it? Not Harrison Ford's. He clearly worked like a dog to get himself in shape. He looks tremendous for a 65 year old man. But he's still A 65 year old man, and too old to be a credible action hero.

Is it Steven Spielberg's fault? I don't think so. He still directs with a simple, clear style. He stages some amazing action sequences, albeit it with some pretty flat looking CGI.

Is it Shia LaBeouf's fault? Not at all! I was afraid he'd be another Short Round, or Jar Jar Binks, but he actually injected some welcomed vigor into the film.

Is it screenwriter David Koepp's fault? Maybe a little. The storyline is jagged and clumsy, and there are too many non-essential characters strewn about. The dialogue isn't really funny or sharp, like Tom Stoppard's touch-up work on "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." But in his defense, it's pretty clear that he had to work with some difficult egos who weren't about to allow much creative freedom.

The biggest problem with this film is George Lucas. By most accounts, Lucas desperately wanted an aliens and UFOs plot. He rejected scripts that Spielberg and Ford loved until the project nearly died. All the while, Ford got older, and older and older.

Finally, the three were able to agree on a script with a somewhat tempered alien connection. But by now, Indy's age had to be dealt with. Sure, it makes for interesting pathos, but we didn't fall in love with "Raiders of the Lost Ark" for pathos!

Long stretches of the movie are tedious. There's a lot of walking around, a lot of chatter, and precious little suspense. There's loads of navel-gazing, giving the film a vibe that reminds you of a couple of drunk guys at their high school reunion: "Hey, anybody remember "American Graffiti?" Or "E.T.?" How about "Close Encounters?" It all seems calculated by Lucas and Spielberg to remind us how awesome they once were.

Lucas is clearly in a creative funk. The Star Wars prequels were abominable. I suspect he surrounds himself with synchophants eager to ride the gravy train, the same kinds of friends who didn't bother to tell Fat Elvis not to wear tight, shiny jumpsuits.

"Indy" was meant to be the blockbuster that kicked off the summer. Instead, it felt like the Last Day of the Last Summer of Your Childhood. I could sense the audience weren't getting lost in the action; we were getting lost in our own melancholy. We wanted Indy to make us feel like a kid again; instead, we got served up a big 'ole plate of lost youth.

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