I went to the midnight showing of Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull last night, cautiously aware that any unrealistic expectations I may have harbored would automatically detract from my enjoyment of the movie. So as much as I love Indy with a nostalgia rivaled perhaps only by my love for old school Star Wars, I took care to make sure that my hopes were not too fiercely pinned on this fourth installment.
As a result, I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, the film was not as good as it might have been, but it was a lot better than it could have been also. I absolutely loved the old school analog feel of the film, and Spielberg used good old fashioned stunt work and imaginative camera angles and kept the CGI toned down, as should be. He really recaptured the look and film of the original trilogy series but threw in enough updated flair to keep things interesting.
I have always admired Harrison Ford the actor’s incredible ability to take punches and make them look like they really hurt, but then bounce back with some smart-aleck comment and rugged confidence (note, this is one of the reasons I love Nathan Fillion in Firefly). I am not a huge fan of Shia LeBeouf—his overly earnest, hyperactive performance in Transformers surely didn’t sway my opinion in his favor—but I find myself genuinely enjoying the easy rapport between him and Indy. All of the nods to previous films (watch for the Ark of the Covenant and the snake) didn’t seem contrived; rather they seemed to merely celebrate the spirit of the old films without beating our heads over the top with it.
The film had plenty of classic Indy creepy crawly moments and great, satisfying action sequences. I am constantly amazed at Spielberg’s ability to make done-and-done movie clichés (like the all-important car chase) seem fresh and original and imaginative.
Also, while the movie occasionally toed the line of cheesy, the screenwriter was smart enough to throw in enough clever writing to pull off potentially disastrous lines. For instance, when Marion asks Indy why he never stayed with any other woman long enough, Indy responds “Because they weren’t you, honey.” To me, the “honey” in this line, is what the “kid” is in Casablanca‘s “Here’s looking at you, kid.” That extra term of endearment somehow saved the line from cheesiness. The difference is this however: n Casablanca, the word “kid” (“which, helloooo, totally makes the line”) made that quote become iconic and classic; however, in Crystal Skull, the “honey” merely redeemed the line from being entirely saccharine.
But little touches like that throughout the film sidestepped potential problems and kept me happy. Thank you, Spielberg.
Warning: SPOILER ALERT ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I wasn’t even too jarred by the whole alien twist at the end, mostly because I had pretty much expected it after the first scene. Also, the inclusion of the mysterious Nazca Lines in Peru in the opening moments of the film already signaled to me that Indy’s leap (pun intended) into the paranormal this time was going to be of extraterrestrial origin.
My enjoyment of Stargate: SG-1 over the years probably primed me to accept the weirdness of the alien plotline way before it was revealed in the final moments of the Indy film. The whole premise of Stargate is that the advanced technology of ancient civilizations to achieve marvelous architectural wonders—as evidenced by the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Nazca Lines, the statues on Easter Island, Stonehenge, etc.—was actually brought by extraterrestrials that visited Earth and eventually left these things behind. In the Stargate film, for example, one extraterrestrial posed as Ra, the Egyptian sun god. Armed with superior technology, he successfully posed as a god to the masses and this supposedly accounts for the detailed hieroglyphs that archaeologists have found which depict the Egyptian pantheon of gods. As the storyline goes, the people didn’t just make their gods up–they were actually visited by aliens but mistook them for gods and recorded these experiences on stone and in papyrus.
This so-called theory is perhaps best exemplified in the book Chariots of the Gods (which I have never read) which apparently served as the inspiration for series like Battlestar Galactica (which I could never get into) and Stargate (woot woot). Suffice it to say, this theory has served as a staple for many science fiction stories today.
So the fact that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull threw this in as a final plot twist didn’t seem too outlandish to me (outlandish as it pertains to the realm of science fiction, not outlandish as it pertains to the real world. I’m not saying I believe in aliens, just in case you didn’t catch that;). Just saying as far as sci-fi goes, this was nothing new. Spaceship leaving earth after being disturbed by curious individuals? Check (X-Files movie). The idea of a collective consciousness complete with genetic memory being downloaded into one person’s brain that can’t handle it? Check (Jack O’Neill or Daniel Jackson in Stargate).
In short, the Indiana Jones franchise has always dabbled in the paranormal. So rather than searching for the fantastical untapped power of the ark of the covenant or the Holy Grail, you have, well… aliens.
Kinda weird. But hey, that’s science fiction for ya.
The film is not without its flaws, and I can see some people maybe not liking it, but here’s my advice: just sit back and enjoy. It is what it is. Overall, I was reminded why we love Spielberg. The man knows how to make an enjoyable flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Now if only George Lucas would have let him help with the newer Star Wars films…