Sunday, October 19, 2008

DVD Review "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"

Finally - back to movies.
In full disclosure, I saw Indy IV in May, when it was released in U.S. theaters. I liked it then, and liked it again on DVD, but I must admit that seeing it a second time changed my opinion slightly.
It is 1957, 19 literal and fictional years since Indy's last adventure (the disappointing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). Now it's the Commies who are the enemy. Soviet Colonel Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) has captured Indy (Harrison Ford, looking might fit for his 60 years) and is forcing him to help her find a relic first discovered in 1947, now ensconced in a military warehouse in Nevada's notorious Area 51. After a harrowing (and ridiculous) escape, Indy finds himself accused of being a communist sympathiser and is ousted from his position as a tenured professor of archaeology. About to take off for Europe, Indy is approached by a young ruffian by the improbable name of Mutt Williams (Shia Lebeouf), who asks Indy to help him rescue both his mentor and his mother, who have been kidnapped in Peru. After the two are nearly attacked by KGB officers on campus, Indy and Mutt find themselves on their way to Peru, where Indy rediscovers the one true love of his life, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and his former schoolmate, Professor Harold Oxley (John Hurt). Oxly has found a fabled "Crystal Skull" which seems to have driven him mad. It is also the catalyst for what the evil psychic Spalko is planning to use in the creation of a psychic mind-control weapon against the West. Indy also discovers (SPOILER ALERT) that Mutt is his son.
While nothing will ever come close to the excitement and wonder director Steven Spielberg created in the first Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tries mighty hard; there are exciting chases, monstrous buggies, and other-worldly powers at play. Sadly, the script by David Keopp (Jurassic Park; War of the Worlds; Panic Room) gets bogged down midway through with exposition and discovery, leaving Indy and company to slog through some rather boring, but necessary, dialog. There are more than a few amusing moments (including a very funny nod to Indy's fear of snakes). but it all feels rather forced this time around.
The performances are mostly fine. Ford seems game, if a bit long-in-the tooth-for some of the sillier action sequences. Lebeouf is terrific as the rebellious Mutt, sporting Marlon Brando's outfit from The Wild One in his first appearance. And Karen Allen dazzles as Marion; the chemistry between her and Ford is just as dynamic (and welcome) as it was in Raiders. John Hurt isn't given a whole lot to do here as the crazed "Ox" but Cate Blanchett has plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery as a Russian psychic who wants to know (literally) everything. The CGI effects aren't too terrible (with the exception of a pack of Peruvian monkeys), though the finale pales in comparison to Raiders' ghostly face-melting, head-exploding denouement. Certainly better than than the ridiculous Last Crusade, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull lacks the sense of wonder we all felt when we first saw Raiders. Time has not been kind to our heroes, and it shows. **1/2 (Two and a half Stars out of Four)
PS - A recent Internet rumor says that Indy will be fighting Commies over possession of the Ark of the Covenant (glimpsed briefly in Indy IV's opening sequence) in Indy V. Let's hope that's not true and that all parties involved have put Dr. Jones and company to bed, once and for all.
As always, more of this, anon.

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