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MOVIE REVIEW: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

REVIEW SUMMARY: A fun trip down memory lane.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Indiana Jones embarks on a quest to find the crystal skull, an object purported to have mystic powers.


PROS: Maintains much of the charm of the original series; lots of Indy-flavored action.

CONS: The script plays fast and loose with the boundaries of believability.

BOTTOM LINE: A fun ride and a nice send-off for our man Henry Jones, Jr.

Over at SciFi Scanner, I talk about the migration of the Indiana Jones films towards science fiction. But how is the latest movie itself?

Reviews of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull have been mixed. I suspect that scifi fans are put off by the sheep’s clothing of the Indy franchise. Does anyone go to an Indiana Jones movie looking for the tropes of science fiction? Meanwhile the mainstream moviegoer is put off by the science-fictional ending. Reviewer backlash we are seeing here is just the standard reaction when the uninitiated are dipped in the foreign waters of scifi. It’s no wonder the film is getting mixed reviews.

Lighten up, people.

While the film probably won’t generate new fans of the original series, existing fans will enjoy a return to the characters and adventure they loved when they were younger. And why shouldn’t they? Despite a handful of awkward moments that destroyed suspension of disbelief, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a fun ride and a nice send-off for one of Hollywood’s most revered characters.

Here are my random thoughts on the film, as a science fiction fan who also happens to like the original Indiana Jones trilogy:

  • Indy is 20 years older. Sure, he’s showing his age; he throws punches like…well…an old man. If he expended half as much energy fighting the bad guys as he did maintaining hold of his hat, he would be unstoppable. But we love him anyway and it was great to have him back.
  • It was wonderful to see the character of Marion Ravenwood. She’s as spunky as ever, if a bit underused.
  • Shia LaBeouf makes a surprisingly good sidekick as the generically-named greaser “Mutt Williams”. LaBeouf has impressed me since his days on The Disney’s Channel’s Even Stevens, where he came off looking like a natural, and he also made quite an impressive big screen debut in the movie Holes, where he was cast for “young tom Hanks” vibe. There is speculation that LaBeouf might wear Indy’s hat and carry the series forward. There are worse choices.
  • Irina Spalko (played by Cate Blanchett playing Natasha Fatale from Rocky and Bullwinkle) makes a decent villainess who is also underused. She supposedly has psychic powers but shows no evidence as such. One wonders why the character was written that way.
  • The movie takes place in a Cold War of 1957 so the bad guys are the Communists. Cold War paranoia is then used to make a parallel regarding present-day loss of civil liberties at the hands of the government in the name of national security, but the attempt seems a little heavy-handed. Indy a “Person of Interest”? Come on!
  • The movie noticeably suffers in the believability department. (Can you say, “Temple of Doom”?) With all due respect to Lucas – the man whose power rivals that of God, what with his frequent “re-imagining” of the Laws of the Physical Universe – he could stand to learn a few things about science. I recommend that people in Hollywood schedule an Intervention and force (or is that “Force”?) George to take a crash-course in Physics. On the one hand, nobody falls out of a plane and survives in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. On the other hand, there are some serious eye-rolling moments in assorted scenes involving a trio of waterfalls, a motor vehicular cliff dive and a refrigerator. Yes, a refrigerator.
  • My young daughter wondered why there were no booby traps like there were in the previous films. That a great question. The new film is less about booby traps and more about hidden cities and treasure. More booby traps, please.
  • Indy, reciting his Han Solo mantra of “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” was a nice treat.
  • The titular crystal skull itself looks like the Alien designed by H.R. Giger, except it’s made of Lucite and looks like it’s filled with tin foil. (In another nod to Alien, John “Kane” Hurt is featured in the film as Indy’s nonsense-talking colleague. Sadly, nothing burst out of his stomach.)
  • As a scifi fan, I found the science fictional ending interesting, but predictable. Lucas drops too many hints for even the casual scifi fan to be surprised when we get there. As an Indy fan, the ending is perhaps the biggest fault with the film. It’s grossly out of place and Indy is clearly out of his element. The films were never about this; they were about Indy’s “real life” adventures. There was no need to whip up some fantastic explanation behind the crystal skull and a host of other myths and legends. Personally, I’m going to pretend it never happened…denial being the first stage of grief…

Despite the misgivings mentioned above, the good outweighed the bad. I left the theater happy to have seen old friends again. Thanks for the ride, Indy!

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

10 Comments on MOVIE REVIEW: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

  1. Better than Temple, not as good as Raiders or Crusade, but a serviceable entry in the series. Many of your points I echoed in my own review a couple of weeks ago.

  2. I completely agree with your last point, but I couldn’t really get past it, so I was very disappointed.

  3. Tony: I’m still in denial. πŸ˜‰

  4. …the generically-named greaser “Mutt Williams”.

    I am surprised at how few people seem to be picking up on the rationale for Mutt’s name. Mutt remarks at one point that he chose his own name (i.e., Mutt) because he didn’t like his given one… exactly as we all know that Indy did. And where did Indy get his chosen name? From a beloved pet dog. And what is a mutt, of course?

    The “generic” name is a deliberate parallel between the two characters, and actually a fairly clever one, IMO.

  5. The film is a real ‘chu chu kaa murabaa'[an amalgam

    of the sort]with horror,adventure, mythology and toppings of a bit of

    sf at last of course.

    Some scenes are really superb-a mushroom cloud for example and a

    grandiose take off of an alien ship.

    The story is about some knowledge hungry aliens who in their never quenching thirst of knowledge arrives in prehistory of earth.

    And there is lot of dhoom dhadakaa and hoopla when a team of Russian

    eccentrics led by a psychic lady and an equally crazy Americans play

    hide and seek and tryst with their destiny.

    Moral of the story:

    An age old adage,lust for knowledge is sin and for more knowledge it is

    even a greater sin.

    Recommended, for college goers only.

  6. I’m probably the only one who disliked the film NOT because of the ending (it was a bit stretched, but what the heck) and NOT so much because of the script, but because of the main driving force behind Indy, the holy trinity of Ford, Spielberg nad Lucas.

    Ford is old and tired, Spielberg is complacent, with his once unsurpassed film magic long gone, and Lucas is simply infantile and senile.

    After coming home from the cinema, I wondered if I didn’t like The Crystal Skull because I’m not a excitable boy anymore and action adventures cannot impress me as they used to do. So I watched The Last Crusade (after seven years or so), and I came to this conclusion – bullcrap! I was almost as dazzled and thrilled as in the old days of yore, simply because The Last Crusade is a brilliant piece of movie and The Crystal Skull is mediocre, dull, forgettable and tired.

  7. Greg L. // June 3, 2008 at 4:29 pm //

    Great review–mainly because I happen to agree with it (on strengths AND weaknesses) almost to the letter. Yes, LeBeouf is probably the single best actor to come out of the Disney machine–in fact, transcending it (he’s a family fave).

    It was great fun–definitely had a “reunion” feel not only because of Indy and Marion (and son), but also because of Marcus and Henry Sr. It still felt like they were in the mix. I’ve seen worse acting from live actors than we get from a picture, a portrait and a statue of Marcus Brody. And the spinning out of the father-son motif, along with the picture of Sean Connery on Indy’s desk–made it feel like Henry Sr. was still along for the ride. Of course, the Ford-Lucas-Spielberg reunion to make the film was long overdue and a welcome experience.

    I loved the 1950s setting and tone of the film–from the hot rod stuff (and all the vehicles) to the atomic stuff to the greaser stuff and more. Even the color palatte throughout a lot of the film had a pleasantly washed-out, period feel.

    One thing you forgot to note in your review was the deliberate tie-in to the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles with the mention of Pancho Villa. (Although the YIJC were already canon because of Ford appearing as “Old Indy” in the first episode.)

    Sure, some of it was over the top, but that’s how it’s SUPPOSED to be. Indy, Bond, etc. need to be just a little bit superhuman (without actually being “superheroes” with powers), just enough to get out of the “impossible” situations. It’s called “suspension of disbelief” people. It has its limits, and it must follow an internal logic. But I saw only borderline violations here–the waterfalls, the refrigerator–nothing that ruined the film for me).

    Good comment by Jason, too, on the Mutt-Indiana parallels.

    My ranking: Raiders, Skull, Crusade, Temple.

    Huzzah, Indy!!!

  8. Bill S. // June 3, 2008 at 5:05 pm //

    I’m ripping my hair out! What IS the problem with people not being able to suspend their disbelief? And not just in modern films. Look at the serials of the ’40s upon which Indiana was based. The most INANE things happened to get heroes out of fixes. Would it be fun watching Indiana Jones and pals survive a fall down a 10-foot waterfall? Ooooooh! Wow! What action! Well, NO, it wouldn’t be thrilling. Would it be gripping to see him survive a 100-foot waterfall? Yes! How about three in a row? Awesome! This is a MOVIE folks. Enjoy it! I’ll admit ONE thing: Marion driving the truck off the cliff was a little too “wacky,” though the unliklihood of survival did not bother me. And leave George Lucas alone! If it weren’t for him, none of us would probably be here today reading and writing about sci-fi film and TV. He is THE man. As for the blending of sci-fi into Indiana, why not? Someone mentioned how the others were based in “reality.” You’re telling me a 500-year-old knight or an ark containing the wrath of god are any more real than aliens? If you ask me, aliens stand a much better chance of being real than the killing power of an ark or an ancient knight who has not aged. So, Indy has had adventures where religion have dominnated, why not give equal footing to science (in the form of science-fiction). This was an awesome movie. I put it at No. 2, right after Raiders. And the best moment of all? “I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”

  9. Weyland-Yutani // June 4, 2008 at 3:57 am //

    The film lacked a sense of tension or drama. That is a deal breaker where Indiana Jones is concerned. Lazy writing everywhere. Very disappointing.

    As far as the sci-fi goes, I’d think that anyone that enjoys the ideas and mythology of aliens on Earth would be pretty put off by the opportunity missed by the writers of Crystal Skull. There is a compelling story in the chariots-crystal skull mythos with some pretty fascinating science fiction ideas. Maybe Indiana Jones isn’t the right vehicle for that story, but I’d think that regardless, people that frequent this site would expect a little more.

  10. Greg L. // June 5, 2008 at 9:14 pm //

    I’ll reluctantly agree that I would have liked a bit more “Chariots of the Gods” stuff to go with the skull and the Nasca lines. The ending did need a bit….something….more. I was half-expecting the aliens to be revealed as being the Close Encounters aliens (but thankfully not Aliens vs. Predators–some of the aliens backstory was in a similar vein). Now THAT would have been an iconic tie-in! But the thrill-ride journey and classic Indy moments more than made up for that weakness.

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