- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
t has been said that there is no drug more powerful than nostalgia, and few things prove that point better than the Indiana Jones franchise. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas created “Raiders of the Lost Ark” out of nostalgia for the serials from the ‘30s and ‘40s, and now “Raiders” serves as the point of nostalgia for an entirely different generation. The problem with nostalgia, though, is that the memory is often much better than the real thing, and that, in a nutshell, is “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” It looks and feels just like an “Indiana Jones” movie should, but those endearing qualities also make it all look quaint, like a movie out of time.
Ten years have passed since the events of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (19 in human years), and Dr. Henry Jones (Harrison Ford) is still getting into trouble. Now he and longtime friend “Mac” McHale (Ray Winstone) are forced by Russian soldiers, led by the sword-happy Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), into helping them find a crate hidden within a warehouse in Area 51. McCarthyism was in full swing, and Jones’ involvement in the break-in has made him a “person of interest,” which ultimately costs him his job as a professor. As he’s due to leave for London, a young greaser named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) informs him that a group of goons has kidnapped his mother, and in return for her freedom, he must track down the Crystal Skull of Akator. Jones considered the story of the skulls to be a myth until Mutt gives him papers from Jones colleague Harold Oxley (John Hurt), who disappeared 20 years earlier searching for the skulls. Jones agrees to help Mutt find the skulls before Spalko does, as she’s planning on using their ability to launch a whole new offensive in the Cold War. As for Mutt’s mother, well, let’s just say that she and Jones have met.
The good news about “Skull” is that it doesn’t try to pander to today’s action crowd by throwing in a parkour sequence or a lengthy mixed martial arts battle (though there is a brief martial arts battle). Nor does the movie use much in the way of CGI, keeping the stunt work as authentic as possible. On the other hand, what this means is that there is nothing here that you haven’t seen before, which is a dicey move in a post-“Mummy” world. Sure, Stephen Sommers’ “Raiders” wannabes were crap, but at least they upped the ante somewhat. The most impressive action sequence here is the jungle chase, which plays like a low-speed version of the chase through the forests of Endor. That’s right, it’s modeled after something from 25 years ago, only slower.
Lastly, we must discuss the marksmanship of the Soviet army, who couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat, but who knows; the way Jones and friends cheated death throughout the movie (one word: refrigerator), maybe they were actually getting hit by those bullets, but were impervious to them.
Thank goodness, then, for the top-flight actors carrying everything out. Ford and Karen Allen, who reprises her role as Marion Ravenwood, have great chemistry, something Ford’s been lacking with his leading ladies for years. The idea of LaBeouf as a tough guy is hilarious, but once he drops the pretense, he fares much better. Blanchett does exactly what is required of her, which is to work those “wubbleyou’s” for all they’re worth and play the part as stock villain. John Hurt is not so lucky, as his Ox character is all over the place. Blame David Koepp’s inconsistent script for that one.
It’s cute that Spielberg and Lucas still have their youthful idealism this late in their lives, but perhaps it’s time to let certain things go. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” works for what it is, but its time has clearly passed. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Those movies are from an era that, for better or worse, is gone. Perhaps the best thing we can do to preserve the legacy of Indiana Jones is not by making more movies about him, but to simply admire these movies for how they once thrilled and inspired us, and move on. As Nick Carraway said in “The Great Gatsby,” you can’t repeat the past.
Two-Disc Special Edition Blu-Ray Review:
They may have been late to the game, but when it comes to releasing their movies on Blu-ray, Paramount means business. The special edition release of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” doesn’t quite boast as impressive a collection of bonus material as “Iron Man” (and really, how could you?), but there’s still plenty of great extras for fans to mine through including three interactive timelines chronicling the production of the film, the history surrounding the events in the film, and the story itself. The highlight of the two-disc set, however, is a five-part making-of featurette that runs 80 minutes long and covers just about every major sequence from the movie. Prefacing that featurette are two shorter ones that discuss the origin of the movie and casting (“The Return of a Legend”), as well as pre-production bits about pre-visualization, costumes and sword training with Shia.
Rounding out the set are even more production featurettes on the use of CGI and miniatures (“The Effects of Indy”), editing and sound mixing (“Adventures in Post-Production”), make-up, props, and the design and construction of the titular crystal skulls. There are even some pre-viz sequences to check out from three of the film’s bigger set pieces, as well as five different photo galleries and two trailers.