Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
By Matthew Huntley
May 27, 2008
When rumors surfaced of a fourth Indiana Jones picture, I grew nervous and my heart sank a little. Too much time passed since The Last Crusade and I thought, at this point, Indiana Jones should honorably stand down and take his place as a revered icon of cinema, for it's better to leave fans wanting more than to leave them with a bad taste in their mouths. Why not just let Indiana Jones live on in our memories? His big screen time had expired, and there's no shame in that.
But obviously Paramount and the indomitable trifecta that is Spielberg, Lucas and Ford didn't agree. Too bad, because The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a mess - a dull, ugly and flat experience with few memorable moments. It shocks me to admit I was never excited, thrilled, mystified, humored, enchanted or romanticized by this movie. After all, this is Spielberg we're talking about, not to mention Indiana Jones!
I don't think the problem is the plot, which contains more science fiction than religious mythology. We expect bizarre things from an Indiana Jones picture (such was the nature of the Saturday serials that inspired them). The movies could be about anything as long as they were coherent and interesting. We all know the majority of their success resulted from the inventive action, stunts and breathtaking set pieces, as well as its charming and funny hero.
Nevertheless, David Koepp's screenplay, from a story by Lucas and Jeff Nathanson, steadily falls apart and loses us. Never before has Indiana Jones himself been such a bore, this time acting more like a tired, vapid college professor instead of a virile archaeologist/adventure-seeker. He constantly talks and babbles, almost to an exhaustive degree. I know he's supposed to be older now, but that doesn't make him any more interesting, and certainly not more entertaining. There's a scene shared between Jones and Mutt in a Peruvian cemetery where so much wearisome dialogue is spoken, I started to grow impatient. Great movies allow their stories and action to move with the dialogue. This one puts on the brakes and our minds wander.
Still, the bigger problems are the action sequences themselves, which fail to provide a genuine rush or sense of danger. Spielberg breaks the cardinal rule of cinema and makes the movie underwhelming at the points where it should be most engaging. Sure, the sequences probably seem ambitious on paper, but when filmed they lack the vigor to get us involved and stimulated. Spielberg's gift for enveloping us and make us participants of the action seems to be missing here.
Consider the action contains but is not limited to: a motorcycle chase through a library; a quicksand predicament where Indy must come face to face with his greatest fear; a horde of red ants threatening to eat their victims; a fencing battle taking place aboard two moving jeeps; a greaser swinging on vines like Tarzan; and a boat going over three waterfalls. All these should have incited a reaction and sense of wonder because of their design, but instead they limp in their delivery.