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Indiana Jones and Kingdom of Crystal Skull

May 28, 2008

If this is your first Indiana Jones adventure, and you had not watched Raiders of Lost Ark or Temple of Doom or even Last Crusade, chances are you might like it and even enjoy it. Yeah like my friend who was watching the movie with me, was whooping with delight. On the other hand, myself just felt cold at the numerous scenes in the movie. Call it the Generation gap. Or maybe the fact that Raiders of the Lost Ark, the very first Indiana Jones adventure and the best one, would always rank among my favorite movies. I hated Temple of Doom, while Last Crusade was pretty good, but for a botched up climax. Clearly this is a series, where none of the sequels have been able to match up to the first one, and the latest installment just confirms the fact.

The Story

It is the year 1957, and Dr.Indiana Jones( Harrison Ford) is now an aging 50 plus and no longer young and dashing. The movie starts off with a group of Russian soldiers led by Col Dr. Irina Spalko( Cate Blanchett in a hideous wig, and a thick Russian accent) forcing Dr.Jones and his partner George Mc Hale(Ray Winstone) into leading them to a crate that is believed to contain the remains of an extra terrestrial creature that crashed a decade back in the New Mexico desert. The crate is located at a US secret military base in Nevada called Hangar 51, basically a kinda Govt warehouse which contains all sorts of secret artificats, including the Lost Ark. Jones try to escape, but he discovers he is double crossed by his pal George, who is on the Soviets payroll. Anyway there is an escape scene, including a nuke blast, a rocket sled. And then for sometime we have a bit of McCarthyism politics comming with Jones under the scanner by the Feds , as his pal is a Soviet agent. In order to avoid being fired by the university authorities, Dr.Jones, goes on a leave of absence, and runs into Mutt Williams( Shia LaBeouf), a bike rider sporting a Marylon Brando jacket and hairstyle. Mutt informs Dr.Jones that his old colleague Harold Oxley( John Hurt) has disappeared somewhere in Peru, after he had discovered a crystal skull.

So off to Peru,go Dr.Jones and Mutt, where they discover that Oxley was locked in an asylum, until he was kidnapped by the Russians. In his cell, they discover the clues to the grave of Francisco De Orelanna, a Spanish conquistador, who went missing while seeking the mythical city of Akator, also known as El Dorado. Indy and Mutt, go to the grave and discover the crystal skull, which basically resembles that of the native Indian tribes. The Russians want the skull, as they believe that it comes from an alien life form and has great pyschic power. And so Indy and Mutt, are again captured by the Russians, and at the camp, they meet Oxley and Marion Ravenwood( Karen Allen), Indy’s ex lover and Mutt’s mom. And oh yeah in a pretty Bollywoodish twist, Indy comes to know that Mutt is his own son. And so we have a series of adventures including a chase through the jungle, armies of killer ants, vehicles falling over waterfalls, and finally the temple containing the treasures. What happens is best seen on the screen.

Like all the other Indiana Jones movies, this too has a lot of eye popping action sequences, to pump up the adrenaline, including a bike chase in the University campus, a long chase between Indy,Marion,Oxley, Mutt and the Russians through the jungles, we also have Mutt and Irina doing a sword fighting on moving vehicles, the amphibious vehicle in which Indy and co are travelling falling down 3 waterfalls, Indy and Matt entering the grave, Indian tribes comming out of hiding places to attack Indy and co.

However the much hyped sequence of the killer ants attacking looks pretty fake and artificial. Give me the snake pit any day. Also the opening sequence is nowhere half as exciting as it was in Raiders of Lost Ark. Indy escaping from a rolling boulder in Raiders of Lost Ark, was thrilling, because it was chillingly realistic, here his attempts to escape from the Russian soliders on a rocket sled, looks plain cartoonish. But where Spielberg loses the plot majorly is the climax. Honestly this has to be one of the most dud climaxes ever filmed. It is exciting, you have special effects, rocks falling, fires and all CGI stuff, but at end of it, you feel like asking what was all that about.

In fact that is the major failing of Kingdom of Crystal Skulls, it simply does not know what genre it wants to be. Spielberg tries to mix up the good ole action adventure genre with a Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and even tries to add a touch of 2001: A Space Odysey. Both Spielberg and Lucas, seemed to have got carried away by the action and CGI, that they have not choosen to take care of the script and screenplay. The movie just keeps lurching from one point to another. In fact it seems more like a collection of action sequences rather than any coherent plot or story. And the editing sucks badly. Some of the action scenes just keep going on and on, until you desperately want to cry Stop. Looks like the editing department was sleeping on the job here. Spielberg got the action, the pacing, the atmosphere, the look right, sadly he forgot the basics here. Honestly this decade has seen Spielberg losing it a lot. Barring Munich and to an extent Minority Report, most of his other movies have been big disappointments.

Another area where the movie fails majorly is characterization. The earlier series worked not just because of Indiana Jones, but even the side characters, whether it was Indy’s Egyptian friend Sallah, or the sinister looking Major Toht who has the headpiece diagram burnt into his hand or even Amrish Puri’s tantric Mola Ram character. Here most of the other characters are pretty much sketchy. For eg the main adversary Col Dr. Irina, looks like a relic of old B Grade Hollywood thrillers, with her false wig and a thick accent. Also considering the fact that she falls from waterfalls, is attacked by ants, and is always fighting, her hair do never seems out of the place even once. Neither does Indy’s amnesiac colleage Harry Oxley, evoke our sympathy or even humour. He is so plain irritating, and just keeps mumbling. And as for the sidekick and Indy’s son Mutt, his smart alecky nature, makes you want to smack him right in the face.

Inspite of his advancing age, Harrison Ford, still does pretty well as Indiana Jones, and is sprightly enough in the action scenes. Karen Allen, is still as sexy and as attractive as she was in Raiders of Lost Ark, inspite of touching 50. Cate Blanchett however is a big disappointment as the villianious Dr. Irina, with her hemming and hawing. Instead of evoking any menace, she just ends up plain irrritating. And her thick Russian accent does not make matters any better. And so is John Hurt as Harry Oxley, who looks perpetually lost and confused.

  1. Hi Ratnakar,I wasn't sure how to get in touch with you, hence this comment….. and I didn't want to continue the discussion on PFC. I have written enough there today :).My goodness! NRI people used to say,"You bloody Indian"? I was shocked to read it!!! Such morons. If you read Rediff or any other place that allows for discussion, you will often see the other kind of people too, who say that NRIs are good for nothing :). No wonder that our country is in the state that it is today. I see that you write on a variety of topics. I shall add you on to the blogs I follow

  2. By the way, this is Debashri 🙂

  3. Hmmm. I have to disagree with you about Irina Spalko's character. I thought both the character and Cate Blanchett were fascinating. Other than that, for a long time even I was angry at the regressive CGI they used in the film, but over repeated viewings I have come to accept it and the film as another Indy adventure. Sure, not as good as Raiders (no action film will ever come close to it anyway), but just a different take on Indiana Jones. The only problem I still have is the fact that the years have caught up to the mileage and Indy is no longer as daring or rash as he used to be. I guess that comes with old age, but I just can't stomach Indy being old.

  4. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is less irritating and more enjoyable on a second viewing- trust me.Spielberg pays homage to a lot of Hollywood classics; for instance, the "quicksand coming out of stone" technique was recycled straight out of Howard Hawks' Land of the Pharaohs.

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