INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL



Beyond the question of why on earth it took them so long to actually do a fourth installment, you must ask yourself...well, why bother? Aren't the original trilogy of films just enough Indy to be getting on with? George Lucas is notorious for tinkering too, so the other worry is that he'll completely 'rape your childhood memories' of the trilogy just like he did with the Star Wars films, according to various denizens floating around the circles of Star Wars hell. The truth is he made a series of kids films, not particularly good ones, as a follow up to an original set of...er...kids films, of which two were quite good actually. The shit one, as we all know, is the one with the teddy bears in it.

Likewise there are two good films in the Indy trilogy and one not so good, mainly down to Kate Capshaw being a bit of a prize tit in most of it. The prospect of a fourth installment has been echoing down Hollywood's halls for decades. Fortunately, Spielberg is back on board and the resulting film seems like a wobbly balancing act between Spielberg's notion of epic film-making (Y'know, where you actually build the sets and all) and Lucas' hollow, whizzkid, techno-zealotry wherein poor old Indy would have ended up being a completely CGI creation whilst any notion of good entertainment flies out of the window against a green screen.

What we do get is actually a competent slice of entertainment. It doesn't piss all over the franchise but neither does it raise it to another level. It just is what it is. It does deviate from the usual Indiana Jones formula by dragging in all the Von Daniken 'ancient gods were aliens' bollocks that even Doctor Who ceased draining for inspiration back in 1978. I'm ambivalent that Indy is shown as much older and reluctantly concur that the film, purposefully, must acknowledge this. If they hadn't and instead had tried to make Harrison Ford look younger or indeed recast the part, then quite frankly I would have been somewhat irritated. The problem here is that, rather than making him an aged icon, they do the very predictable and a)give him a son he didn't know he had and b)marry him off in the sentimental ending. This surely clears the way for a reboot starring the annoying Shia LaBeouf (Isn't that French for'The Beef' - what kind of a fucking name is that, I ask you?) and for Ford to take over the Connery duties as the equally annoying dad. A sort of Indiana Jones cum Steptoe And Son. Burn my eyes out if this ever happens, please. Form an orderly queue.

If Lucas and Spielberg are really going to be clever, and of course being positively drunk on the dollar signs in their eyes that's a moot statement, they'll treat the franchise just like the 007 one and recast and reinvent as they go. It can't go on as it is forever. The venerable Harrison Ford and his Indiana Jones are not indestructible even though the film has you believe he can lock himself in a fridge to survive a Nevada atom bomb test. It's one of the many swings from the sublime to the ridiculous that the film makes and, granted, there's always been an element of the ridiculous in the Indy trilogy. But not to this extreme. The survival of Indy in the fridge (a nice joke about kids avoiding playing in empty fridges saves it) is later pissed on when Shia does a Tarzan and recruits a horrid looking CGI monkey troupe to bitch-slap those pesky Commies chasing our heroes through the jungle. In fact it's the culmination of a whole sequence where three vehicles seem to endlessly chase each other side by side through dense jungle. So who the fuck cleared all the trees? Sure, we're shown an 'instant road through the jungle' vehicle thingy rumbling away but it quickly gets sidelined before this sequence starts so your disbelief needs suspending, hanging, drawing and quartering as the action plays out like some weird Royal Ballet amongst the trees.

Anyway, leave your brain at the door, ignore the aforementioned sequences and just enjoy the hokum. Indy and the Commies are on the trail of crystalline, mind bending skulls that belong to alien gods buried in the Amazon. That's all you need to know and if you hadn't guessed that's what the plot is about five minutes into this then I pity you. Cate Blanchett mangles an accent to give us the obligatory,ice cold KGB agent and plays it for camp value, sporting a number of butch looking outfits, being a dab hand at fencing and getting a very Indiana Jones comeuppance. John Hurt, as the batty Oxley, is on hand to assist Indy but looks like someone you'd find under Vauxhall Bridge and they've exhumed Karen Allen to reprise the Marion Ravenwood role from Raiders. In Raiders she was a superb foil for Indy, here she just comes across as...well...as old as Harrison, and a bit mumsy, I'm afraid. Cruelly, it does sometimes feel two geriatrics have somehow got entangled into the plot of a pulp action film by mistake. Both often have to have a rest after some exuberant physical jerks, giving LaBeouf centre stage to do a sort of James Dean/Marlon Brando number as the troubled teen lumbered with two old fogeys. It's actually quite amusing. Pity LaBeouf's rocker wig isn't CGI because half the time he's combing his hair and I half expected the wig to come off mid-comb or get snatched by a passing monkey.

The ensemble playing between Ford, LaBeouf and Allen does engagingly prop the film up and there's a nice line in witty repartee between them. Allen does tend to get sidelined and has little to do and even Ford suffers towards the end when the CGI takes over and he's left standing watching, along with us, in mock admiration of ILM's geek wizardry depicting spaceships breaking out of Mayan temples.

Besides the laughs, intentional and otherwise, there is plenty of proper Indiana Jones to wallow in - planes flying across maps, boats plunging over waterfalls, tribesmen attacking with blowpipes (there's a nice gag there too), man eating ants, lots of sword fights, punch ups, destruction and mayhem. It's brilliantly choreographed - perhaps too much so - and the effects are good but for a man of pensionable age (Ford, not me) much of this is now hard to believe. Ford is great, obviously having fun, but he's left it a bit late in the day to ask audiences to be completely taken in by a very grey haired ol' fella beating the living daylights out of hordes of Commie soldiers.

The other problem is that much of the trilogy's action tropes have since been trumped by pretenders to the throne like The Mummy films (the third of which is imminent) so this film really needs to raise the bar or lay down the challenge. The riddles and puzzles are right out of National Treasure and the Von Daniken nonsense is hardly the stuff of comebacks. Some of the laborious puzzle solving actually makes the film sag in the middle and then there is that silly bit of padding involving the quicksand and re-capture all within the space of ten minutes. It's only there to do the reveal about LaBeouf being Indy's son. The rest is fluff to stall the picture. The last twenty or so minutes don't quite provide the climactic ending the film cries out for. Remember the end of Raiders? That was really 'hairs on the back of your neck' stuff. The aliens recovering and taking their saucer with them just doesn't have that Biblical 'end of the world' wig-out (Labeouf not included) of Raiders.

It's an entertaining romp, not nearly as half-baked as Temple Of Doom, but far from the heights of Raiders. It looks spectacular, the pace is more or less maintained despite some longuers, it's fun to hear that familiar John Williams music, there are little acknowledgements to Connery and to the late, great Denholm Elliot, and the cast are uniformly good, even the hammy Blanchett and nondescript flavour of the month LaBeouf. It doesn't completely embarrass the franchise but the ideal vision of Indy - an icon never changing and never aging - is truly destroyed by the presence of some old, cantankerous, curmudgeon pretending to be Indiana Jones. Like father, like son I suppose.

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (Cert 12A. Released May 22nd 2008. Directed by Steven Spielberg)


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