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Indy’s back! But not really…

Let’s face it. It’s been 18 years since “Last Crusade” and the whole gang’s now 18 years older: Spielberg, Lucas, Ford. So now that the long-anticipated 4th installment to the franchise, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, has been released, the big question on everyone’s mind is: Does it live up to the hype? My answer is straightforward: No.

First off, let’s talk about the good points of “Crystal Skull”. The movie starts off with a bang in an action-packed thrill ride through an Area 51 warehouse in 1957 Nevada. These first 15 minutes had already proven to me that Ford’s age was certainly no hindrance to what Spielberg was able to accomplish on film. They really pulled it off and what we see action-wise is most definitely an Indy film. The death-defying stunt sequences, fiery explosions, exhilarating chase sequences are all there accompanied by the classic John Williams score.

The sets and various locations are quite impressive, as Indy ventures through Mayan temples, Amazonian rivers, and the jungle. What I was excited to see again was Barnett College where Indy teaches at and a classroom scene reminiscent of “Raiders” and “Last Crusade”. Indy’s home has been reconstructed to look somewhat similar to the earlier sets as well. I was also happy to see distinct references to museum curator Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Indy’s father, Henry Jones (Sean Connery).

Onto the bad points. Removing all of the action sequences, “Crystal Skull” does not look like an Indiana Jones movie, but rather “Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow” with Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Shia Laboeuf, and the rest of the cast slapped onto it. What bothered me most was that the movie looked artificial. I couldn’t help but notice this odd bleach filter effect that was added onto the film to make it look like some classic 50s detective movie, rather than the natural, vibrant colors used in the first 3 movies. I felt like the entire movie was taking place in a giant, white cloud or that I was still asleep the night before, while watching it in a muddled dream.

Although the acting is convincing, we do not see Harrison Ford behaving like Indiana Jones or Karen Allen like Marion Ravenwood. One reason for this is the dialogue, or lack thereof, in David Koepp’s screenplay. Harrison Ford’s dialogue is, at times, excessive, while Karen Allen just smiles widely into the far distance and the camera cuts. Character development is scarce in this film as we learn little to nothing about any of them or what has happened between the supposed 15-year gap from the last film.

From what I can recall, the exposition in the previous films was never so convoluted as “Crystal Skull”‘s, to the point where the audience easily becomes lost in the details. As for Karen Allen, it seems as though she’s simply having the time of her life with this one, as in the entire time. She fails to slip back into the feisty, hard-edged character of Marion Ravenwood from “Raiders”, and rather comes out acting like…well, Karen Allen. The exchanges between Ford and Allen are brief and subtle, and it appears as if they’ve lost some of the chemistry they had in the first film. I will say that Shia Laboeuf does a fair job as Mutt Williams and I didn’t really have many complaints there. However, Ray Winstone’s character of Mac is utterly pointless and unneeded throughout the entire film. He’s good. He’s bad. The exchange happens constantly and he just becomes an annoyance who never should have been included in the first place. I can’t say a whole lot about John Hurt’s Harold Oxley, or Cate Blanchett’s Irina Spalko characters because, once again, character development is scarce.

George Lucas, why? A major issue I had with this installment was the overuse of CGI. The ending comes entirely out of the blue of what’s considered an Indiana Jones movie and is primarily a special effects extravaganza used to appease child audiences with a final bang. For those of you wondering whether aliens are in this movie, the answer is yes. Let me get this out. Aliens do no belong in an Indiana Jones movie. Lucas seriously needs to get his head straight if he’s thinking of doing a 5th one because this clearly did not work. What concerned me most was that Lucas would attempt to modernize the franchise with an embellishment of special effects and CGI like what he did with the tragedy that were the Star Wars prequels. I believe Lucas also switched from film reels to the digital format, vowing never to switch back again. “Crystal Skull” proves that newer is not better, and I think Indy fans would have far more wanted to see a movie that was more down to earth and practical like the first 3 films.

The Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stones, the Holy Grail, and the Crystal Skull. First off, I can’t say much about the Sankara stones as “Temple of Doom” is considered even by Spielberg to be the least favorite in the franchise. However, when comparing how the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail were depicted in “Raiders” and “Last Crusade” to how the Crystal Skull was presented, I couldn’t help but notice how less amazing the skull looked than the first two artifacts. Not only does it show up halfway into the movie, but it looks like a block of ice or one of those cheap, plastic toys that roll out of a vending machine for 25 cents. I still remember the scene from “Raiders”, where Indy and Sallah raise the Ark out of its box and how glorious it looked, golden rays of light illuminating the entire room. Even the grail looked convincing as this brown, rusted metal cup that Indy plunges into the fountain and takes a drink out of. The skull, on the other hand, is just found behind a corpse (I won’t reveal any spoilers) and carried around in a bag by Huxley throughout a large portion of the movie.

One last thing to note was that “Crystal Skull” lacked any stakes that were at hand for the characters. Although it’s mentioned that the “Skull” brings ultimate power and knowledge, we never get a sense of any of the character’s motives and there’s a lack of twists. In “Raiders”, Indy was hired by the museum to retrieve the Ark before Belloq, while having to save his love interest, Marion Ravenwood. In “Temple of Doom”, Indy had to bring back the Sankara stone to a destitute village that was undergoing a famine and whose children had been kidnapped by an evil Thugee cult. And in “Last Crusade”, Indy had to find the Grail before the Nazis did, while having to rekindle his relationship with his father and save his life. What did Indy have to do in “Crystal Skull”? He had to return it to the temple it was taken from. There’s nothing really in it for him and there aren’t any stakes at all. None of the main character’s lives are ever seriously at risk, despite how unbelievable (literally) some of the scenes are (cough*waterfall*cough).

Anyways, if you’ve been dying to see this, I say just go ahead and watch it. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. But don’t expect anything like “Last Crusade”. My grade for “Crystal Skull”: B-.

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