Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Review by Stuart Bland 

In 1989, when I was seven years old, I remember going with my dad to see the new Indiana Jones movie. I had loved the first two (despite being slightly irritated by Temple of Doom) with all its whip-cracking and booby traps - it was the pinnacle of all of my childhood fantasies about adventuring. I would take great inspiration from the movies and write volumes of stories focusing on my expeditions to distant and mysterious lands in search of ancient artifacts. Going to see this movie was the closest thing I would get to seeing Star Wars on the big screen again (or so I thought at the time).  When the final credits started rolling at the end of The Last Crusade, I was very satisfied. Jones had ridden off into the sunset in the perfect culmination to the trilogy. It couldn't have ended any better.  

So, a couple of years ago, I heard that Lucas and Spielberg are joining forces once again to bring our favorite archaeologist back to life. I was unsure about Ford returning after all this time; he was in his 60’s now and could no way do the stunts he had previously excelled in. I was also a little wary of Lucas' obsession with CGI. He had irreparably damaged my opinion of Star Wars with Phantom Menace. What was he going to do with my other childhood icon?  

Well, it was overblown and cheesy. However, the thing that made Indy so accessible as a child, and still as an adult, was how Lucas and Spielberg left their egos at the door and just created something which was a whole lot of fun. No overly complicated plots which would lose a seven-year-old ten minutes into the movie, but just good old fashioned storytelling the way movies should be, which was always Spielberg’s intention.  

Taking place in the 1950s, we are re-introduced to Henry Jones Jr., truly looking like a fish out of water, looking like he had the rotten luck of being in the wrong decade. Everything else had changed around him, but Indy was still the whip-crackin’, fedora-wearin' archaeologist we all knew him to be (albeit with the odd extra pound or so).   This story also introduces us to Mutt Williams, played very well by rising star Shia Laboeuf. The rest of the cast are a bit hit and miss: Cate Blanchett is perfect as Irina Spalko, the stereotypical “bad guy” of the movie. She really threw herself into the character, and she looked like she was having a ball at being dastardly. Ray Winstone is decent enough, though I really expected better. I don't think John Hurt was really given the opportunity to really prove his worth, as he spends most of the film just mumbling to himself. And then we come to Karen Allen, who I remembered fondly from Raiders of the Lost Ark as the feisty female who could go toe-to-toe with Indy, personality-wise. But now, her character has been reduced to a cardboard cutout, a stereotype.  She looked like an actress that was enjoying being given a major film role for the first time in many, many years and couldn't quite believe it. She was horrible to watch.  

And then, of course, there's the man himself. At first, I was a little unsure of how Harrison Ford was going to make this work. He has aged a lot since The Last Crusade (nineteen years, to be exact), but he still had the ego, the bravado and the charisma to carry the movie forward. In order for this movie to be successful, Ford had to pull Indy off. He did.

Like with most adventure movies, there are some moments when you suspend belief, and there were some fantastic, old-fashioned special effects. I was naive to think that there would be no CGI in the movie, and when it appeared, it was way overblown. But despite this, the movie still maintained the essence of fun (although really, the bit with the gophers was a bit much), and I must say, the cameo appearance from the Ark was a nice touch.

I was so happy that David Koepp returned to the team to write the script. I thought the only way it could be done right was if he was involved. Setting it during The Cold War was a smart decision, as it set Indy up as kind of an anachronism.  The USA and Russia's cat-and-mouse game to gain ultimate power was very well played out, and it was handled effectively. Yes, some of the dialogue was clumsy, but I was able to get past that because the pace of the story was so enthralling.  Because Indy is an icon: no matter who the enemy is, Indy will still be there. He is the constant in an ever-changing world.

If I was that same seven-year-old boy again, getting to see Indiana Jones on the big screen for the first time, I would be just as impressed now as I was back in 1989. It’s not gonna set any new standards for filmmaking, nor will it win a host of Oscars. But I’m damn sure its gonna inspire a whole of host of kids to become obsessed with adventure, fantasy and movies, just like it did with me.  In a time when films spend so much time and money trying to outdo one another with the latest this and high-tech that, good old-fashioned storytelling is what can make the difference in a child's imagination. And when it comes to that, you don't get much better than Indiana Jones.   I look forward to introducing my future children to this character, along with any future incarnations of same, which I’m sure will be as good as the ones I've already seen.

3/5 stars


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