Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

With the fifth Indiana Jones film going into production recently, I thought it might be fun to take a step back to 2008s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  At the time of release I felt the film was OK but ultimately a bit of a let down. Thinking about it, I’ve perhaps only watched it once since then – probably on DVD later in 2008 – so it could indeed be a good 13 years since I last watched it.

So how did it hold up? I’ve got to say surprisingly well. Some of the same old things annoy me, but not nearly as many as I thought there was (isn’t that always the way, with memory?), and they are:

  • The gophers. Having the Paramount logo turn into a gopher mound at the start of the film was cute, and subverted expectations after earlier Indy movies had the logo fade into something more epic. That’s actually fine. But to then have some CGI gophers appear – and then reappear during the opening reel – doing cutesy things… just… no. That’s not Indiana Jones. It’s not needed.
  • The fridge. OMG, I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but the scene is so stupid, it takes you out of the film. You sit there thinking, did that really just happen? Everything that leads up to it… the pretend town… the cut to the bomb on a tower… the warning sirens… it’s all very good. How it could have played out was after the Russians zoom past Indy in their car to escape the blast  – after previously wanting to catch him – Indy should have hotwired one of the many vehicles in the town and zoomed off, too. This could have led to a car chase, with lots of ramming and tension, which would then be further amped up with the bomb going off behind them. Far more exciting and visual than Indy being thrown clear of the blast in a refrigerator, with no other similar items thrown clear like he was. It’s just silly and unbelievable. Cartoonish, frankly. Not a good look.
  • The jungle chase. We’ve jumped a fair way into the movie here, which is a sign that there are huge chunks of the film which I think are perfectly fine. But when we get to this chase, the blend of real vehicles and CGI doesn’t mesh very well. Some of it seems fine, then it will look unbelievable, then back again. I think the main offenders here are Shia LeBeouf and Cate Blanchett sword fighting across two vehicles. Then LeBeouf swinging through the trees like Tarzan (yes, I get that it’s a homage, but it’s a bloody stupid, immersion-breaking homage). Then, finally, the way our heroes first drive their amphibious vehicle off a cliff, only to be saved – in extremely comedic fashion – by a well-placed tree. Then drive the same vehicle off several waterfalls, but are completely unscathed. And yes, I do know that earlier Indy films have some silly moments too – like the inflatable raft coming out of the plane in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – but this stuff is just cringeworthy and repeated over and over again, almost as if the filmmakers are saying to us, “Oh you thought that was dumb? Well now we’ll do it again… and again… how d’ya like them apples?” For starters, Marion deliberately driving the vehicle off the cliff, without knowing the extremely flexible tree would be there to break their fall, makes absolutely no sense. It’s pure suicidal, which is a characteristic I don’t believe is in the character, especially with her son in the vehicle with her. In comparison, the raft in the second film is pure desperation – and done once.

And… that’s it. You were probably expecting me to mention the UFO at the end, weren’t you? Nope, not me. Even when I watched this film originally was a little taken aback, but ultimately OK with the premise of aliens in the film. As I said to someone on Twitter recently, the aliens presented here are as fictional to me as ‘the power of God’ in the first and third movies, or the strange magic going on in the second film. If I can watch those earlier films, and believe in the made-up nonsense going on, I’d be extremely hypocritical to pooh-pooh the aliens here. Now, having said that it still might not be to my personal preference – the first three films having set a precedent for more Earth-based finales – but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t accept it, especially with the tie-in that it was aliens who helped early civilisations to become so advanced. In the fictional world of the film, I was like, OK, that’s fine.

So the film ended and I was pleasantly surprised with how much of it I enjoyed. Indeed, if you changed the three bullet points above to removing the gophers after the initial gopher mound gag; replacing the fridge with a car chase, per my suggestion; and modifying the jungle chase so it was more akin to the simple, 100% practical truck chase in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, you’d actually have a far better film all ’round in three simple steps. It would still feel like a more ‘modern’ film than the first three, and it would be reviewed by people with ‘modern’ eyes, even less accommodating of a film that’s steeped in the past than reviewers were when the first film came out. All of which is kind of unavoidable with such a gap but, broadly speaking, it would be still pretty damn good, I think.

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