Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – 2008 – dir. Steven Spielberg
It was only a matter of time, I suppose, until aliens would show up in an Indiana Jones film. After countless screenwriters and even more countless drafts, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull finally saw the light of cinemas nearly twenty years after the release of Last Crusade. The actual legend of the crystal skull concerns a series of artifacts discovered in Central and South America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Explorers purportedly unearthed several carved quartz skulls, and it was claimed that these skulls possessed not only unimaginable powers but that they could not have been crafted by modern means. A 1996 BBC documentary investigation revealed that several crystal skulls that had been displayed in museums and held by collectors throughout the world were forgeries. However, there did indeed exist a few specimens whose construction defied conventional explanation.
Speaking of defying convention, Indiana’s fourth outing has been tossed about as one of the weakest (if not THE weakest) of the series. As an action film, it delivers, and Harrison Ford himself presents a terrific performance. So what’s the problem with Crystal Skull?
Crystal Skull is an Indiana Jones film without an Indiana Jones plot. Most of the action seems gratuitous and unnecessary, rather than part of a genuine, understandable means to an end. There seems to be no reason for certain scenes to occur, other than the fact that they “look cool.” I can imagine one such development meeting… “We HAVE to have a scene with adorable monkeys, and ONE of the monkeys HAS to look like Shia LeBeouf! I don’t care how it fits into the film, but you fit it in there!” Ugh.
Also, how can a mid-twenties greaser hold his own in a sword fight against an accomplished Russian fencer on top of a truck moving through a thick forest at over 60 miles per hour? And how can there STILL be next to no suspense from such a scene?
Crystal Skull does for Indiana Jones what On Her Majesty’s Secret Service did for James Bond. On one hand, having the references and throwbacks to prior films was a nice touch, although giving Indiana a family may have been a curious choice at best. However, something is missing from this film, and what’s missing is unique, sympathetic characters. Indiana has become a caricature of himself. Indy’s line from Last Crusade, “It belongs in a museum!” and its subsequent response, “So do you!” seem particularly resonant in this outing. We don’t really see Harrison Ford portraying Indiana Jones so much as we see Indiana Jones playing Indiana Jones, but that’s not so much Ford’s fault so much as it is the film’s writing.
It’s tough to identify with any of the characters this time around (especially with stereotypically rebellious lad, Mutt Williams) and the senses of suspense and concern for the characters that carried the first three films seem to have been suspended.
There are some rays of sunshine that break through, however. John Hurt gives a terrific performance as the half-mad Professor Harold Oxley, and lines such as, “The word for ‘gold’ [in ‘city of gold’] translates as ‘treasure.’ But their treasure wasn’t gold, it was knowledge. Knowledge was their treasure,” reminds us that someone, somewhere remembered that Indiana’s supposed to be after what the metaphor represents, as opposed to the metaphor itself.
It’s not a bad film, to be fair. It’s just a weak Indiana Jones movie, and although he’s been around the block four times, any fifth journey will have a lot of ground to cover and some lowered expectations to which to play.
Perhaps the movie is best summed up by Dr. Irina Spalko’s (Cate Blanchett) line:
“You fight like a young man: eager to start and quick to finish.”
Okay, maybe not eager to start, given that it’s been twenty years… but it’s somehow easy to tell that this movie is one that the filmmakers were quick to finish.