Welcome Back Dr. Jones

Posted: May 27, 2008 in Movies

Grade: C+

When a fan is forced to wait 19 years for the next installment of his/her favorite movie, game, television show, etc, anticipation is always going to be high as are expectations.  Expectations ride even higher when the previous three entries into a Tetralogy are considered to be very good movies.

Prior to seeing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull I viewed the saga as two great movies and one very good movie.  After leaving the theatre Sunday night I added one decent movie to that list.  Mind you, Indy’s latest adventure isn’t a bad one but the magic that drew so many of us to the first three films is nearly absent for most of this film.

I usually don’t agree with professional movie critics but in Crystal Skull’s case I thought most of them were right on the money.  Where I do differ from many of them however is that I don’t believe the movie’s shortcomings can be attributed to Ford’s or Indy’s age.  With the exception of a few small moments Indy acted like a 58 year old man should and I thought the older and wiser Jones was just as entertaining as his younger counterpart, albeit in a different fashion.  Sure he’s not as energetic as he once was but had they pushed the character in such a direction, the movie would have been awful.  While a 58 year old man is well past his prime, most men who keep themselves up are more than capable as was Indy. Ford as well as the other actors here give fine performances, it was the material they were given to work with in many instances that kept this film from being great.

Take for instance the scene involving Mutt and Irina Spalko.  During this scene the two engage in a fencing matching while Mutt has one leg on his jeep and another on comrade Spalko’s.  This scene would have worked had it not been for the over the top corny “Lucas” dialogue.  During the fight Marion, who is driving one of the jeeps begins giving Mutt fencing instructions to which Mutt replies “Mom this isn’t a match”.  This particular minute or so of the film made me cringe as if I was watching The Phantom Menace. While there were more than a few but thankfully short awkward moments none bothered me more perhaps than the scene in which Mutt begins swinging from vine to vine in the tree tops.  Not only did this feel outlandish but I cringed because it felt like the film was screaming to the audience “hey look this is Indiana’s son, isn’t he just like him!”  While Indiana Jones films have always been somewhat over the top, I felt these two scenes were both out of step with the saga and somewhat embarrassing.

There are several instances in the film where the actors look uncomfortable in their roles and with the script.   There are a few scenes in particular that stand out in my mind where this can be witnessed.  When Marion first makes her appearance on screen Indiana stands in front of the camera like a lost child and sort of shakes his arms, legs, and head as if he’s a lost dog looking for food.  Marion then walks right by him as he continues to poorly convey befuddlement.  At first it looks like bad acting on Ford’s part but don’t be fooled by this.  It’s not the acting, its the direction he’s given that keeps this scene from being both funny and having any kind of impact.   It’s not difficult to see the type of joke they were shooting for here but it fell short due to it’s corniness and overacting.  I found myself sinking in my seat once again a bit later in the film when Marion makes puppy dog eyes at Indiana after he makes the comment “none of them where you”.  Not only was this way out of character for Marion Ravenwood but I can’t recall the last time I witnessed something like this coming from a 48 year old woman.

As an Indiana Jones super fan it would be easy to nitpick this film to death.  Unfortunately Crystal Skull contains many elements that just don’t mesh well with the first three films.  Aside from some of the “cutsie” and corny scenes the film has an excellent concept and each actor does his/her best with the material and direction they where given.  For the most part the action scenes work well and are on par with previous Indy films.  Having Karen Allen reprise her role as Marion Ravenwood was great and Shia LaBeouf is an excellent addition to the Indiana Jones family, not just figuratively but literally as well. As usual the score by John William’s is excellent and adds much to some of the more shallow scenes, though I would have liked to have heard some darker selections.

A few of the more embarrassing scenes not withstanding Crystal Skull is a film that Indana Jones fans will appreciate, even if to a much less degree than its predecessors.  Many have stated that Spielberg and Lucas should have “left well enough alone” and that Indiana Jones no longer works because the character and the actor are to old.  Make no mistake about it, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull  does deliver this time around though to a much lesser degree than it did in years past.  Does this film fail where others in the saga succeeded because of Indy’s age?  My consensus is that it has nothing to do with age and everything to do with the delivery of the story.  I’ve said many times that Crystal Skull is a great concept and that I’m not opposed to aliens in an Indy story.  The manner in which the story is told however, at least this time around is shallow, to fast, and lacks a lot of emotion.  Skull feels contrived and had George Lucas written all over it.  From the “cute” little Caddyshack style gophers at the opening of the film to some of the more awkward scenes and dialogue it’s clear Lucas had a lot of influence in the film.  Lucas has great concepts but should stay away from writing screenplays and scripts.  There was a very Star Wars Prequel-esque feeling to this film, but surprisingly enough it works, even if in limited capacity.

If there is ever going to be another Indiana Jones film and it’s obvious there might be, Lucas needs to hand his concepts over to writers who can create meaningful and purposefull dialogue.  Spielberg on the other hand needs to tell his friend “sorry George, that doesn’t work here, that doesn’t belong in a Jones film.  Any future installments should return to the series darker and more enigmatic roots.  Danger, wonder, action, and humor make Indiana Jones films great, and I’d like to see more of that please.

Spielberg claimed that this film was being made for fans of the saga but it felt more like they tried either too hard or not hard enough in their attempt to recapture the magic of the past.  Instead of approaching this film saying “we’re going to film it the old fashioned way, and it’s drawing its inspiration from B movies of the 50’s, both Steven and George should have done nothing other than to try and make a good movie.  Foregoing modern technology didn’t make the film fit in or seem similar to other entries in the saga, it made it stick out like a sore thumb.

Summing things up, if you enjoyed the first three Indiana Jones movies you’re most likely going to enjoy this one and will enjoy watching it more than once.  Think of Crystal Skull as you would a diet soda.  Sure diet soda is ok when there’s nothing better avaliable, and while it tastes similar to regular soda you’ll find yourself missing the sugar and caffeine rather quickly and you’ll wish you had a regular soda to wash that bland taste from your tongue.  At any rate its good to see Henry Jones Jr. back in action.

  1. Deity Rob says:

    Well put old chap. Well put.

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