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Unrealistic Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Movie title - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Grade - D+ (one and a half stars)
Director - Steven Spielberg,
Producers - (Exec.) George Lucas, Frank Marshall
Key Actors - Harrison Ford, Kate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Karen Allen, Shia Labeouf
Genre - Action, Adventure
Summation - Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) goes in search of a powerful ancient artifact and is pursued by soviet forces seeking to learn its secrets.
Spoilers ahead - No

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Indiana Jones, like James Bond, is an untouchable American icon. If you grew up in my generation, you remember when Raiders of the Lost Ark made theatres and etched an indelible impression on the world of entertainment. Then Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came along, but it went out with more of whimper than a bang by comparison. Then came Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which proved to be another monumental directing achievement. And now, almost twenty years later, we have “Dr. Jones” before us again in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Now let it be clear from the outset that I wanted to like this film. I really did. I wanted to see it go down in history as an influential and riveting work that would be looked back upon with a sense of admiration and dignity. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen; I didn’t like the film, and I don’t see it going down in history as a truly great movie in years to come.

The movie was well crafted. The music was great. The scenes were nicely shot and spliced. The acting was good, and at no time was I bored. And let it be said that the filmmakers did a superb job of recapturing older elements of the original Indiana Jones movies, human elements like Indy’s dreaded fear of snakes, his role as a revered scholar and teacher, and his unmistakable charm as the world’s most adventurous and brilliant (not to mention, lucky) archeologist. Bringing back Miriam was a swell move too, as was letting the audience see the original warehouse where the ark was stored at the close of the first movie. As the flick progressed, a resurrected sense of nostalgia overtook me. The storyline was deep and rich—a telltale sign that the movie I was watching was indeed the handiwork of a brilliant filmmaking team.

But…(big but!)

The two fatal flaws of the film worked together to deliver what served as a deathblow to its worthiness as a phenomenally great movie. First, it was unrealistic through-and-through. Every action sequence, from beginning to end, was plagued with unwarranted and horrendous departures from reality. Second, these departures from reality caused the movie to drift from a to-be-taken-serious action-adventure where the laws of reality and physics are kept intact, into a cheesy fantasy-adventure for kids. Such is not the Indiana Jones I grew up with!

These dauntingly unbelievable action sequences range from farfetched to more than farfetched. Instead of seeing a sophisticated and resourceful Russian woman carrying a gun, she carries a sword. Why would she? Instead of two guys fighting in a warehouse and one forcing the other against a corner of a room, we see two men acrobatically knocking each other through windows and onto control panels, accidentally activating a rocket that manages to scoop them up and send them flying out of the compound. Such adolescent antics can be tolerated in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but not Indiana Jones! Instead of believable-but-intense chase scenes, we have chase scenes that are well beyond belief, up to and including Indy pulling stunts off the back of motorcycles that only experienced, well-paid stuntmen would dare attempt.

We have Indy dodging bullets at point-blank range, whipping the butts of jeep-fulls of Russians with little more than punches and kicks, hats staying on during harsh exchanges of blows, and let’s not forget those ants! In this movie, there’s only one thing tougher than Indy, and that’s the ants! They can take down running humans and kill them in under a minute! They can even use each other to make an “ant ladder” to reach someone who is suspended off of the ground! But the ants aren’t the only weird-behaving creatures in this film! Attacking monkeys amazingly single out only the “bad guys” and fight them! Indiana Jones is that cool! There are standing, prancing, leaping, truck-to-truck swordfights on bumpy, Amazonian terrains that would knock a tightrope walker flat on his ass! Instances of such absurdities are too numerous to mention in this review. These are only a small sampling of them.

One constant of this movie is that just when you want to really get into the story and enjoy the action, just when you want to relish the contributions of the characters and appreciate their experiences, you are reminded of the sad fact that everything you are seeing is palpably unrealistic to the core. You try to be lenient by allowing exaggerations in the name of some harmless and docile fantasy, but your efforts are soon overshot. Be prepared to say to yourself over and over: “No way that could happen!” I guarantee you, you will!

Lighthearted dialogue is common, but even more common are flat-out, failed attempts at humor. Flopped humor isn’t the only thing that’s rampant in this movie; frequent usage of too-modern phrases like, “same old, same old” are there too. To say that the presence of such occurrences is irritating is, well, an understatement!

And get ready for plenty of scientific and factual blunders that are mighty hard to ignore, like the presence of electronic counters when they weren’t invented yet, lead lined (and labeled so) refrigerators being conveniently available to protect Indy from atomic blasts—and not only does this fridge not lock someone inside like refrigerators of that era typically did, but it is particularly entertaining to see old Indy get blasted into the sky by a nuke while hiding in that refrigerator and then violently crash-landing, and then getting out and walking away without even a scratch or a limp! Oh, and let’s not forget the weird behavior of metal objects, some of which are attracted to the crystal skull while others inexplicably are not (gun powder, knives, and gold: yes. Belt buckles, swords, guns, and buttons: apparently not).

Now I’m all for fantasy adventures. If that’s the type of movie you want, then more power to you. There’s nothing wrong with watching Godzilla attack a city, or seeing a fat panda that talks and knows Kung Fu, but when someone turns my Indiana Jones into a tall-tale take like this, I’m insulted—very insulted! Thanks for fucking up a classic, Spielberg! You really have lost your touch!

(JH)

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