Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Dumb

Here’s a movie that adults will think is made for kids and kids will probably think is made for adults. In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull we catch up with an older Indiana Jones. Everything is familiar, but a little different and frankly, just not as good. After adjusting to an aged Harrison Ford running around in the Indy get-up, I realized that if he has gotten older since the last movie, so have the rest of us. For a fantasy movie like this, it was quite a slap of reality.

So how was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? First let me establish my Indiana Jones standards. To me, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the best movies ever. Period. Citizen Cane and The Godfather? Keep them. I’ll take Raiders six ways from Sunday. As Han Solo, Harrison Ford was already “the man”, and then he goes and tops it. Raiders was a nonstop action movie with humor and an element of the supernatural that is hinted throughout the movie, but only truly exposed in the fantastic finale.

The other two Indiana Jones movies never quite lived up to the first one. I remember cringing early on in Temple of Doom. It was far more cutesy and cartoony. They added a little kid as the sidekick Short Round, the Scrappy Doo of the Indiana Jones series. The film was sillier than the first and the action sequences seemed like amusement park rides. The third movie, The Last Crusade, was better than the second, but still nowhere near as good as the original. Sean Connery as Henry Jones, Sr. provided plenty of comic fodder, but it was more slapstick than anything else. Also, in both sequels, the supernatural element is overdone and they relied far more on CG special effects than the original. The impossible situations were just a little too improbable in the sequels.

Having said that, there I was on Friday night of opening weekend, with a ticket in hand, very excited to see Indiana Jones in action again. The music alone is enough to stir up those old emotions. But rather quickly you realize this is not going to be the movie you were hoping for. The first third of the movie is definitely for the older people in the crowd. There are lots references to the first three movies and tips of the fedora to a couple of beloved characters. As you’ve seen in the trailers, we revisit a very familiar warehouse which we have not seen since the closing shot of Raiders.

The nostalgic nature of the movie is what will keep the old crowd going throughout the rest of the film. Meanwhile, the kids in the crowd will probably enjoy the movie enough, but they won’t appreciate the franchise like their elders do. How many adults do you think are dragging indifferent kids to the theatre while gushing over the wonder and magnificence of Indiana Jones? Meanwhile, these kids have seen more copycat characters of Indy than Indy himself. They probably don’t even realize he is the model in which all of the others were based.

The last two thirds of the movie are definitely geared towards the youngsters in the crowd. The action is outlandish and CG heavy. Indy shares the stage with another young sidekick. (Shia LaBeouf from Transformers.) While most of the supporting characters are forgettable and the plot a little convoluted, there were a couple of highlights. Cate Blanchett is pretty good as the villain, Irina Spalko. For an over-the-top character, she actually acts the most like a person who is experiencing some of the fantastic things that happen in this film. Another bright spot is the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood to the series. No female lead has ever rivaled Marion in the hearts of most Indy fans. (She was in Raiders and Animal House... you gotta love her.)

The bottom line? Keep your expectations very low for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and you will enjoy it just enough. Just be prepared for a ridiculous, special effects laden ending. It’s not a great movie, but because it’s Indiana Jones, it’s passable. I would put it ahead of Temple of Doom and behind Last Crusade.

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