Kris and I met Dave and Karen on Sunday to see the new Indiana Jones movie, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This was a fun nostalgic throwback for me because I saw the first two Indiana Jones movies in the theater with Dave when we were much younger. (Much younger.)
Though I had hopes for the new film, they weren’t very high. I had seen the trailers, which promised new-style George Lucas instead of old-style George Lucas. (Translation: plenty of improbably CGI effects in place of story and characterization.) I’d also read how Lucas’ original idea for a new installment in the franchise was called Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars.
Let me state up front that I did not hate Crystal Skull. After my criticism of Peter Jackson’s Helm’s Deep, many people thought I hated that film. I didn’t. I just wish it had been better. And that there’d been one-tenth the CGI. (I did, however, hate Attack of the Clones.) I liked the new Indiana Jones movie, but only mildly. I don’t ever need to see it again.
Now I know many of you will tell me, “When you watch a movie like this, you should just enjoy it. You should turn off your brain and have fun.” But my brain doesn’t work like that. I can’t just shut it off. Besides, there are plenty of smart action flicks out there — why should I compromise just so filmmakers can have a license to be sloppy?
The acting in Crystal Skull was mostly okay. Karen Allen, who returns as Marion Ravenwood, is rather clumsy, but everyone else does a good job. Cate Blanchett makes a delicious Russian villain, though I get the impression that several scenes with her were left on the cutting room floor. Shia LaBeouf also does a fine job, taking the baton from Harrison Ford and opening the door for twenty more years of Indiana Jones films.
But my real problem, as usual, is with the script. I don’t like the script, neither on a macro-level nor a micro-level.
On a macro level, the story is sloppy. It feels like a patchwork, as if it were made up of several different ideas grafted together. Certain scenes go on far, far too long. The climax is lame in a George Lucas sort of way. The film just lacks an overall sense of cohesion that I would have liked to see.
But most of the problems occur at the micro level. This is yet another movie in which the filmmakers have become so obsessed with the neat stuff they can do (with CGI, of course) that they forget to be sure things make sense. Some examples:
- At the beginning, the story focuses on the hunt for a relic lost inside a vast warehouse. “It’s a powerful magnet,” Indiana Jones declares, and to prove his point, he tosses metal stuff into the air. Look! Magic! The metal stuff is pulled toward wherever the lost relic is! And once the relic is discovered, we see that its magnetic force is so strong that it tugs at the dangling light fixtures and at guns and at other objects. Fine. But why isn’t it exerting this magnetic force all the time? Why is it only magnetic when the plot needs it to be magnetic?
- Here’s a small spoiler. At the end of the extended introduction, Indiana finds his way to a strange small town in the middle of the dessert. He’s stumbled upon a nuclear experiment. When he hears a countdown broadcast over loudspeakers (why? to whom is it being broadcast?), he quickly tucks himself into a lead-lined refrigerator. Why? How does he know to do this? Worse, when the nuclear explosion occurs, the town is incinerated. Everything is vaporized. Except for the refrigerator containing Indiana Jones. That is thrown into the air for miles before it lands outside a prairie dog mound (without startling the prairie dog that lives there). Indiana tumbles out unharmed. Sorry. I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, but I can’t take it to the level of stupid.
- Later in the film, a caravan of trucks is making its way through the Amazon jungle. (Well, it might not actually be the Amazon jungle, but it’s close.) There’s a big tree-cutter machine in front slicing down the overgrowth so that the other vehicles can pass. This makes no sense. When it cuts trees, the trees fall, right? Don’t they just fall into the path of the oncoming vehicles? And what about the stumps. Later, the vehicle caravan devolves into a race through the forest. I could buy this in Return of the Jedi because everyone was riding speeder bikes which had no contact with the ground. I can’t buy it here. And I can’t buy it when the race moves to the edge of a CGI-cliff, a cliff miraculously free of rocks and boulders.
- Did you know that it’s possible to swing from vines like Tarzan at speeds much faster than those obtainable by jeeps?
- The titular crystal skull apparently has the mass of a plastic resin skull. Shocking.
That’s enough. I don’t have all day. This movie just feels like a Roland Emmerich-like production in which appearance matters more than substance. That’s a valid choice, but you know what? Movies made this way do not stand the test of time.
Again, I did not hate this movie. I had an okay time. I enjoyed the motorcycle chase. I liked Cate Blanchett’s villainess. I thought the story showed glimmers of promise. And I’m not saying that I expected the film to be a classic. I just wish it had more of the old George Lucas in it instead of the new.