Crystal in my Mind

Some quick, formless thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which I caught at the multi-media screening on Tuesday.

Indy has never been a great cinematic lodestone of my life – Raiders was fantastic, but it was slightly spoiled for me by having seen the making of documentary first, and having seen clips from the damn film everywhere, which meant that much of my first viewing was simply reassembling familiar sights into the correct order. Temple of Doom I saw at the cinema, and – frankly – was way too dark and nasty for my tastes. Being a hyper-imaginative ten year old with a somewhat sensitive streak, the film was just a little too full-on, and once we got to hearts being plucked out, fiery sacrifices and various evil henchmen being devoured by crocodiles, I really just wanted it to end. There’s some great stuff in Temple of Doom, but it’s a somewhat mean-spirited follow-up to Raiders, and the character of Willie Scott was a one-note bad joke that just gets worse as time goes on (especially in comparison to the fantastic relationship between Ford and Karen Allen in the first film). Last Crusade was far more entertaining – unapologetically silly, and absolutely going for ‘more of the same’, but lifted thanks to the presence of Sean Connery, and in the year of Batman, it was good to see a popcorn film that wasn’t ashamed to be fun.

And now, after all these years, Indy has returned, and anyone going into the unwieldily-titled IJATKOTCS expecting a classic, or a suitable follow up to Raiders is going to be disappointed – for one journalist friend, this was apparently a horror of Phantom Menace proportions, but for me, Indy 4 did its job in being a fun, rousing piece of escapist entertainment, and threw in enough cool moments and imagery to make up for a shedload of flaws. The rumours of a more SF B-movie basis for the plot were proved right, as we are in Chariots of the Gods territory here, but the film just about gets away with it – both in the way it contrasts with the previous films, and the way it evokes the paranoia and strangeness of the Fifties. The screenplay shows very clearly that this is a film that went through a very lengthy gestation – you can feel different drafts and ideas fighting for space, and there are some utterly bizarre errors – they bring back Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, but don’t really do that much with her relationship with Indy (They just seem to end up back together with very little conflict, and it really could have been any of Indy’s old girlfriends from a script point of view), while the climax almost entirely reduces Indy to the status of an observer (Cate Blanchett’s wonderfully kooky pulp vilainess arguably has more of an effect). This is also a film that’s not really interested in darkness – almost as if Spielberg burnt himself out with Temple of Doom, this is very much in the light and airy style of Last Crusade, and there are some things it does better while there are others it makes worse. The old-fashioned approach to the photography is so good that it’s actually kind of disconcerting when the CGI effects come along, and it would have been nice if they could have eased up on the preposterousness a little – and yet, it’s still a fun, rollicking blockbuster with only a few langours, the sound design with Ben Burtt’s OTT meaty punch effects is wonderful, and it’s great to see Harrison Ford actually awake onscreen for the first time in a long, long while. Shia LaBeouf doesn’t disgrace himself in what could have been the Wes Crusher role of the Indy franchise, and while it’s very obviously a comfy movie made by people who are 26 years older than the team who made Raiders, it’s not a disgrace. The film may have plenty of flaws and problems that could have been easily fixable, but it was a fun, retro pulp adventure that I could happily cope with seeing again, and considering some of the movies I’ve suffered through in the last twelve months, I don’t think that’s at all bad…

One thought on “Crystal in my Mind

  1. I think I agree with you, Saxon. I’m a huge fan of the series, but this was no Phantom Menace. It certainly had its flaws, but there was a hell of a lot in the film that was enjoyable, too. It’s definitly better than ‘Temple’, maybe nipping at the heels of ‘Crusade’ and nowhere close to ‘Raiders’. :o)

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