It’s entirely possible, I suppose, that you’ve awoken this very hour from a long and deep coma; or you’ve just emerged after having been trapped by your father in an Austrian basement for 24 years; or you’ve only recently returned from a long stay on the far side of the Moon. Had any of these scenarios actually occurred, I’m fairly sure that you’d have better things to be doing than reading this ‘blog’, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that you’re aware that there’s currently a new Indiana Jones movie in the cinemas.
Well, I’ve seen it, and it’s okay. I want to talk about it here, but I realise that anyone reading this, if indeed such people exist, might not have actually seen it yet, so if this is the case, then here’s a review for you: Indy IV is alright, it’s nowhere near as good as the others, and it has many flaws, but it also has some of the things which made the other films so exciting. Go and see it before reading on, because…
MINOR PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW!
Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is not an awful film, it’s certainly better than most of the movies which have been made since the original trilogy, which steal the same basic idea – such as Tomb Raider, and The Mummy Returns. I think the film has essentially two problems which prevent it from being great…
Steven Spielberg and others have repeatedly stated during the film’s production that they were going back to the old-school way of doing things, with actual stuntmen doing actual stunts, and using very little computer generated imagery. Well, I’m sorry Steve, but your pants are on fire. There are lots of stuntmen doing their thing, to be sure, but there’s a lot of really quite rubbish CGI as well.
Some of the stunts are so amazing they could only have been achieved with a bit of help from computer graphics – such as the bit in the trailer where Indy runs along a row of crates, cracks his whip over a beam and swings out over a moving car all in one shot – but CGI is fine if you can’t tell that’s what it is. There are quite a lot of mind-boggling camera moves which must also have been achieved with a bit of undetectable digital jiggery-pokery, which look brilliant.
But there are long sections which contain a lot of very ropey CGI, such as the chase with the amphibious vehicle, and the bit with the ants – neither of which have anything like the tension they could have, because you can’t avoid the thought that what you’re watching is quite clearly fake.
Despite getting on a bit, Harrison Ford is still looking quite trim; Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the script. The original films were very efficiently scripted, with nary an ounce of padding, but the new one has many elements which are either superfluous, or are wasted because there’s no time to use them properly.
For starters, there are simply too many characters. Karen Allen’s character could have had some interesting romantic interplay with Indy, except that for some reason she’s lost all her fire since Raiders. In that film she was a spiky firebrand, always at odds with Indy despite their obvious attraction, but in this film she’s mellowed to the point of being dull. Obviously she was needed for the ending, but I think reducing her role to a cameo near the end would have freed up valuable screen time for some of the more interesting characters.
Also, Ray Winstone’s character was wasted. It would have been interesting to explore his relationship with Indy, but apart from the “just like Berlin” conversation, he’s merely a plot device. We don’t get any indication that these two characters have a history together. He could easily have been written out completely.
The same goes for John Hurt’s character. Reduced to playing the ‘mad professor’ role, he never really connects to any other character at all. We spend most of the time retracing the steps that his character made previously. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to have seen Indy doing the detective work, and being the first one to make the discoveries, rather than simply trying to work out what Hurt’s character was going on about?
Mutt was by far the most interesting of the side-kicks. With Indy’s references to his Father and Marcus Brody, he introduced an interesting line of thought about what it means to get old. Indy’s conversations with Mutt touched on this as well. It would have been far more interesting to explore this a bit further with Mutt, I think, and write most of the other characters out.
Also, what was the bit with the fridge all about? That entire scene, as well as being preposterous and requiring a lot of special effects money, was completely unnecessary. Are we really supposed to believe that Indy survived being at ground zero in a nuclear explosion by sitting in a fridge? Or that he could fly through the air in the fridge, over a mile, faster than a speeding car, and when he hit the ground he climbed out without so much as a headache? He’d already escaped from the Soviets – why was this scene in the film at all?
Also, one of the things which marked the previous Indiana Jones films apart from all those films which cribbed the same style is that although they acknowledged the presence of supernatural forces – emerging from the Ark, or manifesting themselves through the Grail – they never made the mistake of actually depicting supernatural creatures. Other films have shown undead corpses, or statues come to life, etc. But the Indiana Jones films never made the same mistake, keeping as much to reality as they possibly could. Until now.
So, although I enjoyed the film, I found it quite frustrating as well. It feels more like a chance for a reunion than a serious attempt to add a film of equal merit to the original three.