Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: A second time round…

I love writing about things I enjoy, which should give you a clue as to how I feel about this current installment of Indiana Jones. And how I feel about movies. Thankfully everyone involved in the making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull seems to also love movies and thankfully Indiana Jones.

There’s more joy for the cinema captured in the first 5 minutes of the Crystal Skull than there has been in any movie I’ve seen this year. Admire how Spielberg effortlessly swings his cameras in and out of cars, catching reflections off hubcaps and side mirrors. And in the details, how extras playing Communist Infiltrators shake their heads at the crazy youths driving them down. The lighting separates the action and space inside and out [Janusz Kaminski] exquisitely giving details to every actor’s face. It’s beautiful. It’s fast, furious, free-flowing and fun to watch. You take in every aspect and every aspect is perfect. Anyone who’s said this movie is on auto-pilot isn’t watching.

And then there’s the series of shots reintroducing us to Indiana himself. Pure movie magic. The timing of the drawn out moment, saving the first glimpse of Indie on screen in the last 19 years and probably for the last time all together.

People have complained about the cartoony elements of the film – and there are some. A few more distracting ones than in the othe rmovies. Welcome to film history boys and girls. Movies of the 50s had these elements. This is the type of movie kids and adults and adults that were like kids like us enjoyed then.

People also said they hated the backdrop special effects (why not use completely real locations?) One, movies of this era used backdrop. Two the other Indie films use backdrops (remember the mine ride in Temple of Doom?) Then there’s lighting they say. It wasn’t as earthy as the first three films. It’s not the same cinematographer for one, and again it’s not the same era of filmmaing their drawing reference to. Jaminiski’s lighting and color techniques almost make the film feel like it’s black and white, and look at the stunning way in which he flares Blanchett’s and Winstone’s faces in the tent.

People also said…”Aliens?” My friend said “Zombie Jew Scroll?” Referring of course to the first film of the series. In a serial there’s always some over the top elements. Some work…some don’t in this day and age. Me I thought the nuclear explosion worked just as well as bumping into Hitler…and that is very well. A great laugh and it puts Indie exploits into perspective and time and place.

This was my second time through the movie. The first time I fell prey to the excitement, to the built up memory of the first three films. The adrenaline in my veins made the film go by almost too fast. Those too cartoony moments were slaps across the face and affected my need for perfection and those moments affected everything else as the film continued.

As I said in my first review the third act is weak, and it is. As I said in my first review it’s David Koepp’s fault…well, much of it is. But it also lies on the backs of Lucas, Spielberg and Ford. They all had veto power. They all had just as much say.

Don’t confuse what I’m saying here. The outlandish plot was fine to me. The subject of the film – outstanding. Just as the first three films did it digs into the culture of the era in which it was set. It was the way in which the story handled the plot, or Koepp handled the story while the others nodded their head in approval. Otherwise Koepp’s script isn’t all that bad. There’s some great dialogue and excellent character exchanges (some of which Koepp has given the writer of Raiders, Laurence Kasdan, credit for). Minor things like the continuity of where the whip was made sense this time (because my adrenaline wasn’t causing me to overlook the details.)

To be quite honest I was so juiced that the first viewing was a blur. My mind was moving faster than the film unwilling to slow down and chew on the finer moments. Like Cate Blanchett’s performance. It’s amazing what she can do with so little. Where the script lacks depth for the character – Blanchett fills in.

While I was able to enjoy the finer qualities fo one of our current great actresses, I was a little less impressed with Shia LeBeouf’s performance, while Ray Winestone does as much as he can with his character.

That’s the probem with the film. It’s enjoyable up until the end. Even the final reveal of the mystery works for me now (except for maybe the close-up squinty glare that’s given). It doesn’t know when to tie things together and when to let things go.

Blanchett’s Irina Spalkow is tossed to the side as an antagonist and slinks into her own story, really in no way affecting Indie’s story. Not at all what an antagonist should do. Ray Winstone’s character is never quite involved enough to leave a mark on the final moments of the film. Because we never see John Hurd as the character Indie and Mut knew we’re never really affected by his story. There are many things that went underdeveloped for the sake of the rollicking good time, which makes the film truly a rollicking good time, but means that the end less exhillerating than the beginning. Even for all of the beautiful special effects wizadry.

For those of you that have whined and complained about this film just to hate, whine and complain. Grow up and become a kid again. It’s the same thing that happened when Temple of Doom came out. It wasn’t the same as the first film so people hated it. It took awhile for fans to accept it into the cannon. You can’t expect Lucas, Spielberg and Ford to want to make the same movie over and over again. Look at The Lost World and how horrible that was. They’re artists looking to stretch themselves creatively. Who wants to see the same story over and over again.

But then there’s the lot of you that doesn’t want to see the same thing over and over again. It’s a generic version of a summer movie, you say? Indiana Jones created the summer movie. So why shouldn’t this new installment also be one?

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One Response to “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: A second time round…”

  1. Andrew Says:

    This film was like a circus. If it looks like it’s on autopilot, that’s only because the pros involved make it look easy. As you point out, the details don’t happen on their own.

    What you said about movies of the 1950s puts Shia’s “Tarzan” moment in better context for me. In fact, his vine swinging and how it’s staged (with the monkeys) is very much like the old black and white Tarzan films of the 50s.

    If the haters would actually go back and look at the first three Indiana Jones Movies, they would see that they’re all high key and pretty saturated. Kaminski is the same guy who shot Schindler’s List and Munich; he can do earthy. In this film he was paying homage to Slocombe.

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