Don't let the "Crystal Skull" scare you off, Indiana Jones makes a triumphant return

by JD Warnock on May 22, 2008

in Print Reviews

For all the fans out there still reeling from the fallout and disappointment caused by the profoundly unsatisfying “Star Wars” prequels let me quell your fears… this isn’t that.

Remember kids, George Lucas’ name is attached to both franchises, but at the end of the day these are Stephen Spielberg movies. Sure, Lucas wrote the story and obviously his paws are in the mix, but Steve has always known how to wrangle his Indiana Jones partner and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is no different. Frankly, it’s just further proof that if Spielberg had directed any of the “Star Wars” prequels, there would be at least one less smudge on Lucas’ now somewhat-tarnished legacy.

For me personally, it was exhilarating to be back inside another Indiana Jones adventure. It may take audiences a few minutes to remember that it was the action/adventure matinee serials of the 30s and 40s that inspired Lucas to create Indy in the first place. It is that highly stylized concept that has always given Lucas and Spielberg full license to go for all of the over-the-top gags and stunts, and melodramatic dialogue and plot moves they can think of in each Indy flick. Indiana Jones Ford LaBeouf Crystal Skull

In spite of an over-reliance on CGI, and on studio over location shots in “Crystal Skull,” Spielberg manages to put us right back in step with the welcome world of Indiana Jones. It’s hard to deny that the first three films benefit from great location work and live creepy-crawlies. Real snakes, bugs, and rats trump computer inventions any day. Lets face it, if the “Star Wars” prequels had relied on the same technology that was available for “The Empire Strikes Back,” they would most certainly have turned out better. Lucas has been responsible for funding and developing some of the best new tricks in modern filmmaking, but his projects always seem to suffer from “necessity” taking a back seat to “infinite possibility” in the process of invention.

Lucas did make one undeniably brilliant move with this script though, he set the story in the late 50s. It not only explains why Jones is 20 years older, but it allows Lucas’ to show off his love for the “American Graffiti” era, with period-appropriate references in the first act like drag racing fast cars, spontaneous brawls between the greasers and the preppies, and Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt Williams character dressed head-to-motorcycle in a spot-on homage to Marlon Brando in “The Wild One.” Shia LaBeouf Ford Indiana Jones 4

Honestly, I enjoyed “Crystal Skull” so much that, just to make sure I wasn’t going too easy on the film, I went back and watched “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It made me appreciate even more the savvy choice to bring back Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) from the first film. The acceptable script for “Crystal Skull” plays the continuation of those two characters beautifully, and it’s great to see Karen Allen again who’s been quietly but steadily working since her film debut in “Animal House” in 1978. I must admit though I miss the Sallah character played by John Rhys-Davies in “Raiders” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” and I did have my hopes up for a cameo from Henry Jones Sr (Sean Connery). I’m sorry to disappoint, but no dice.

Then there’s the big question… Does Indy age well? Sure, Harrison Ford is older. The irony is that the story reflects the age difference, but the gags and stunts don’t. The second we see Ford on screen as Jones it’s all over. He’s still the coolest guy in movies – he’s still the only Han Solo, and the only Indiana Jones.

That said, Shia LaBeouf just keeps proving why he’s a mega star. There are a scant few young actors who can go toe-to-toe with Harrison Ford in that legendary get-up and come off with that level of presence and charisma, LaBeouf is definitely one of them. While I hope Steve and George have the good sense to let the franchise rest with the dignity it more than retains with “Crystal Skull,” if they do decided to “pass the hat” so to speak, to a younger someone else, LaBeouf has more than proven they already have the man for the job.

It’s a tall order to come back after 20 years to a beloved franchise and turn out a picture that fans will adore anywhere near as much as the earlier works. “Crystal Skull” is far from a perfect film, but it’s not a disappointment and for most fans that’ll be good enough.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 RCM May 22, 2008 at 10:06 pm

Good review J.D., I just saw it (I really enjoyed it), and you said it best in the video review “It’s not a perfect movie, but it is an Indiana Jones movie.” It’s not perfect but, it will not let down fans of the franchise.

Reply

2 RCM May 22, 2008 at 10:06 pm

Good review J.D., I just saw it (I really enjoyed it), and you said it best in the video review “It’s not a perfect movie, but it is an Indiana Jones movie.” It’s not perfect but, it will not let down fans of the franchise.

Reply

3 David Bruce Murray May 23, 2008 at 11:12 pm

Whoever made the decision to release _National Treasure 2_ on DVD this past Tuesday didn’t do their homework. This new Indy movie illustrates just how bad NT2 is.

Reply

4 David Bruce Murray May 23, 2008 at 11:12 pm

Whoever made the decision to release _National Treasure 2_ on DVD this past Tuesday didn’t do their homework. This new Indy movie illustrates just how bad NT2 is.

Reply

5 Charles May 26, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Yep, it’s an Indiana Jones movie thru and thru. The first three movies had a distinctive “look” to them – the film stock, the lighting, the colors, etc. – and I read somewhere that Spielberg asked Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to study that look and apply it to “Crystal Skull”. It was spot on, it could’ve just as well been two years between “The Last Crusade” and this new one. The scene near the end where Indy uses the skull as a key to open the door to the inner chamber is one of my favorite moments in the entire franchise.

Reply

6 Charles May 26, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Yep, it’s an Indiana Jones movie thru and thru. The first three movies had a distinctive “look” to them – the film stock, the lighting, the colors, etc. – and I read somewhere that Spielberg asked Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to study that look and apply it to “Crystal Skull”. It was spot on, it could’ve just as well been two years between “The Last Crusade” and this new one. The scene near the end where Indy uses the skull as a key to open the door to the inner chamber is one of my favorite moments in the entire franchise.

Reply

7 Kinderbrause May 28, 2008 at 8:36 am

I watched the original movies over the weekend again and couldn’t wait to see the new one. When I walked out of the cinema yesterday, I was in tears and I still can’t get over it. That’s the second time Lucasfilm ruined the heroes of my childhood. And I thought the disappointment couldn’t be worse than Episode 1. How wrong I was!!!
Except for a decent performance by Harrison Ford this has nothing on the old movies. It’s a ridiculous CGI-action flick for the Michael Bay/ Bruckheimer-generation that lacks heart, soul and character-development. Sure, there are some nice in-jokes but where’s the original wit of the former movies?
Not to mention the laughable plot. I get the idea of the 50s, the Russians, the Roswell-Aliens and Area 51. I even think, it’s a good idea to see Indy in another decade. But come on! This is not Indy! He’s an archaeologist and an adventurer, not a Colonel, a agent and a double-agent! And he is certainly not Mulder!
This movie is Stargate meets X-Files meets Mummy meets National Treasure II meets Encounters of the 3. Kind. And they were all way better than this cheap rip-off!
And the ending! What were they thinking?!! It’s as if God appeared at the end of Raiders and thanked Indy for finding his lost Ark. It’s as if Jesus appeared at the end of Crusade to collect his grail.
I’m still wondering why ET himself didn’t make an appearance. At least Tarzan did.
I don’t expect realism in a Indy movie, but I expect believability within the created universe. And if Indy can survive anything without a scratch, where’s the point? If anything is possible without consequences, it’s not suspense anymore, it’s pure boredom.
So. Thanks again, Lucasfilms, for ruining a perfectly good franchise. Don’t even think about “Henry Jones III – The Trilogy” or little green men shall take you away in their flying saucer and you shall never be seen again.

Reply

8 Kinderbrause May 28, 2008 at 8:36 am

I watched the original movies over the weekend again and couldn’t wait to see the new one. When I walked out of the cinema yesterday, I was in tears and I still can’t get over it. That’s the second time Lucasfilm ruined the heroes of my childhood. And I thought the disappointment couldn’t be worse than Episode 1. How wrong I was!!!
Except for a decent performance by Harrison Ford this has nothing on the old movies. It’s a ridiculous CGI-action flick for the Michael Bay/ Bruckheimer-generation that lacks heart, soul and character-development. Sure, there are some nice in-jokes but where’s the original wit of the former movies?
Not to mention the laughable plot. I get the idea of the 50s, the Russians, the Roswell-Aliens and Area 51. I even think, it’s a good idea to see Indy in another decade. But come on! This is not Indy! He’s an archaeologist and an adventurer, not a Colonel, a agent and a double-agent! And he is certainly not Mulder!
This movie is Stargate meets X-Files meets Mummy meets National Treasure II meets Encounters of the 3. Kind. And they were all way better than this cheap rip-off!
And the ending! What were they thinking?!! It’s as if God appeared at the end of Raiders and thanked Indy for finding his lost Ark. It’s as if Jesus appeared at the end of Crusade to collect his grail.
I’m still wondering why ET himself didn’t make an appearance. At least Tarzan did.
I don’t expect realism in a Indy movie, but I expect believability within the created universe. And if Indy can survive anything without a scratch, where’s the point? If anything is possible without consequences, it’s not suspense anymore, it’s pure boredom.
So. Thanks again, Lucasfilms, for ruining a perfectly good franchise. Don’t even think about “Henry Jones III – The Trilogy” or little green men shall take you away in their flying saucer and you shall never be seen again.

Reply

9 Don Of The Dead May 28, 2008 at 6:46 pm

UGH!!! This movie was PATHETIC! I should have learned my lesson with the newest Star Wars movies! STOP MAKING MOVIES THAT WILL FASCINATE YOUR CHILDREN!!! My son even hated this movie………… I would rather watch “There Will Be Blood (eventually)” while eating triscuits with no water………….BAD BAD BAD………… COME ON, ALIENS? Magnetic heads…………BEFRIENDING MONKEYS? I want my money back.

Reply

10 Don Of The Dead May 28, 2008 at 6:46 pm

UGH!!! This movie was PATHETIC! I should have learned my lesson with the newest Star Wars movies! STOP MAKING MOVIES THAT WILL FASCINATE YOUR CHILDREN!!! My son even hated this movie………… I would rather watch “There Will Be Blood (eventually)” while eating triscuits with no water………….BAD BAD BAD………… COME ON, ALIENS? Magnetic heads…………BEFRIENDING MONKEYS? I want my money back.

Reply

11 Liam Sharp Sharp Sharp May 29, 2008 at 3:25 pm

I want to be like Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones.

Ford, just as he did in the first three Indy films portrays a well kept, intrepid and above all cunning adventurer, the dream combination of wits and skill.

This man can do just about anything he likes with a bull whip while at the same time speak about 200 dead languages.And Indy doesn’t hold back, whether it be using gun powder to trace a magnetic relic or drop an AK47 on the floor in such a way that he shoots a Russian in the foot, and he does it at ease.

“You don’t know im! You don’t know im!” screams Ray Winstone’s character ‘Mac’ to one of Indy’s foes during a game of chicken between two jeeps inside a military hangar.

This long awaited fourth adventure sees Indiana along with prodigal son ‘Mutt’ (It’s a human being, not some sort of talented animal that George Lucas probably wanted to throw in there) delve into a South American jungle whilst at logger heads with the soviets trying to get to the bottom of what it is exactly the crystal skull they have on them can do. Amazing are some of the opening stunts and I never knew how handy a fridge during a nuclear wipe-out could be.

I’m not the naive 10 year old I was when the original Indy trilogy was put to me in the late nineties so like my grandad I was left saying to myself ‘I ain’t avin that’ at some of the plot revelations and just a couple of the stunts. Like driving off a cliff and landing the vehicle on a branch, and it wasn’t even Indiana who pulled that manoeuvre out of the bag.

Being a Brit, I enjoyed seeing Ray Winstone in there and have done a few impressions of him referring to Indiana as ‘Jonesy’ since seeing the film.

The magic, excitement and interest of the Indiana Jones we know and love is still there and so leads to quite an enjoyable cinema experience, but its needs something just a little bit more out of this world to create that feeling I got during Raiders.

And before I forget, John William’s soundtrack still sends that little shiver down my spine.

Reply

12 Liam Sharp Sharp Sharp May 29, 2008 at 3:25 pm

I want to be like Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones.

Ford, just as he did in the first three Indy films portrays a well kept, intrepid and above all cunning adventurer, the dream combination of wits and skill.

This man can do just about anything he likes with a bull whip while at the same time speak about 200 dead languages.And Indy doesn’t hold back, whether it be using gun powder to trace a magnetic relic or drop an AK47 on the floor in such a way that he shoots a Russian in the foot, and he does it at ease.

“You don’t know im! You don’t know im!” screams Ray Winstone’s character ‘Mac’ to one of Indy’s foes during a game of chicken between two jeeps inside a military hangar.

This long awaited fourth adventure sees Indiana along with prodigal son ‘Mutt’ (It’s a human being, not some sort of talented animal that George Lucas probably wanted to throw in there) delve into a South American jungle whilst at logger heads with the soviets trying to get to the bottom of what it is exactly the crystal skull they have on them can do. Amazing are some of the opening stunts and I never knew how handy a fridge during a nuclear wipe-out could be.

I’m not the naive 10 year old I was when the original Indy trilogy was put to me in the late nineties so like my grandad I was left saying to myself ‘I ain’t avin that’ at some of the plot revelations and just a couple of the stunts. Like driving off a cliff and landing the vehicle on a branch, and it wasn’t even Indiana who pulled that manoeuvre out of the bag.

Being a Brit, I enjoyed seeing Ray Winstone in there and have done a few impressions of him referring to Indiana as ‘Jonesy’ since seeing the film.

The magic, excitement and interest of the Indiana Jones we know and love is still there and so leads to quite an enjoyable cinema experience, but its needs something just a little bit more out of this world to create that feeling I got during Raiders.

And before I forget, John William’s soundtrack still sends that little shiver down my spine.

Reply

13 Lucas July 17, 2008 at 1:18 am

Yeah the movie was pretty good. Some people have immortalized Indiana Jones in their minds, but I find most people who don’t like this probably haven’t seen the old ones in a long time. My biggest issues with this movie are two-fold:
1. Aliens don’t belong in an archeology franchise.
2. No mega-gruesome deaths like the previous movies.

Why aliens? I mean does that mean aliens are responsible for the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail? I as a human am proud of the accomplishments my species has achieved. I think the whole idea of a successful archeologist is finding knowledge and wisdom in our past that we may have forgotten or lost. Having aliens responsible for all of our greatest architectural and cultural achievements is just not an idea that I think Indy should stand for.

Blowing up heads. There wasn’t enough gore or grisly deaths. I loved the final scene in Raiders. I used to hype myself up to see it happen every time and it would always freak me out. One guy’s head melts, the other two explode. Blood and brains everywhere! That’s entertainment. So one dude gets eaten by some ants… they could have made that more interesting if his body started splitting up underneath the blanket of ants… but no. He just went into the hole whole. And Cate Blanchet’s death was anything but gruesome.

But its good to hear a positive take on the movie, which is ultimately what I left the theater with.

Reply

14 Lucas July 17, 2008 at 1:18 am

Yeah the movie was pretty good. Some people have immortalized Indiana Jones in their minds, but I find most people who don’t like this probably haven’t seen the old ones in a long time. My biggest issues with this movie are two-fold:
1. Aliens don’t belong in an archeology franchise.
2. No mega-gruesome deaths like the previous movies.

Why aliens? I mean does that mean aliens are responsible for the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail? I as a human am proud of the accomplishments my species has achieved. I think the whole idea of a successful archeologist is finding knowledge and wisdom in our past that we may have forgotten or lost. Having aliens responsible for all of our greatest architectural and cultural achievements is just not an idea that I think Indy should stand for.

Blowing up heads. There wasn’t enough gore or grisly deaths. I loved the final scene in Raiders. I used to hype myself up to see it happen every time and it would always freak me out. One guy’s head melts, the other two explode. Blood and brains everywhere! That’s entertainment. So one dude gets eaten by some ants… they could have made that more interesting if his body started splitting up underneath the blanket of ants… but no. He just went into the hole whole. And Cate Blanchet’s death was anything but gruesome.

But its good to hear a positive take on the movie, which is ultimately what I left the theater with.

Reply

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