Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
by Jim Pappas
Published: May 20, 2008
Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr. is back on the big screen in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull," and the now veteran actor, Harrison Ford, takes his rightful place as our hero. In this fourth film of the series director Steven Spielberg takes us all back to 1957, where the search for the origin of a mysterious crystal skull begins when Soviet agents infiltrate a U.S. military base in Nevada. Led by the sinister Dr. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett, who seems a bit bemused during her onscreen appearances), the Russians coerce Dr. Jones and his friend, George "Mac" McHale (Ray Winstone) into helping them find a sarcophagus stored at the installation. Dr. Spalko believes this relic will help her in her mission, which we find out later is being driven by the idea that some form of mind control lies at the end of a rainbow they hope to find with Indy's help. I should mention this military base is the location of many secret treasures, including the Ark of the Covenant from "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull" represents a return to those elements that made "Raiders of The Lost Ark" such a success. There is almost non-stop action led by a host of imaginative chase sequences featuring Jones at his daredevil best, as well as a smidgen of romance and the sweet anticipation of what we might find around the next corner. We're all involved in trying to figure out how and why the crystal skull that Jones finds in Peru has value, and why the Soviets are so interested in it. The film takes us to places we aren't expecting to find, and again teaches us that sometimes what we wish for may not necessarily be good for us. There is a science fiction element in this film not present in previous Indiana Jones adventures, and directorSpielberg manages, in subtle fashion, to compare the mid 1950's "red scare" with our present day paranoia over terrorism.
There are some new characters to the Jones universe introduced in the film, including Shia LaBeouf as Mutt Williams, a young 50's greaser replete with duck tail hair cut, motorcycle, and leather jacket. Mutt interrupts Jones's attempted relocation to Europe after Indiana runs afoul of the FBI. Jones's problems with the Feds have him suddenly in need of a new job after his university places him on indefinite leave due to these "imperial entanglements." So instead of heading off to New York on the first leg of his European trip, Jones joins with young Williams on a quest to find a Professor Oxley (John Hurt, outstanding here). Oxley had mentored, and was a surrogate father to Williams. Jones knew the man also, and admired him. Mutt tells Indiana that his mother Mary, apparently a former acquaintance of Jones, told him he could help her son. Not really knowing who this Mary was that Mutt was referring to, but impressed with a map (which Williams tells Jones he received in a letter from Oxley) in Williams possession that is written in an ancient South American dialect, Jones and the young man take off on a quest which eventually leads them Peru, and some astonishing discoveries.
There are some problems with this new film, among them being a rather over-the-top approach to the action sequences, and logic defying scenes that should probably be re-edited to make the story flow a bit more smoothly. I got the feeling there was a general sense of playfulness on the set, with everyone involved having fun and neither worrying too much about making a grand statement nor making a serious attempt at covering all the logical loopholes created by the script. The screenplay was written by David Koepp (whose work includes "Stir of Echoes"), with the story being supplied by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson. However, any complaints one may have about the story or screenplay can be dismissed because there is nothing more outrageous or hard to swallow in "Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull" than in any of the previous Indiana Jones movies.
One very important old friend appears in this new film, as Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood. She joins Indiana and Mutt on their quest, and figures prominently in the end. Another major character in the film is Dean Charles Stanforth, played by Jim Broadbent, who stands by Indiana when the university turns its back on him. Interestingly, this film was shot entirely in the U.S. states of Connecticut, Hawaii, New Mexico, and California. Another point of interest is the fact that the story itself is inspired by the real life discovery of a crystalline skull in 1924, by the adopted daughter (Anna) of archaeologist F.A. Mitchell Hedges, in the jungles of what is now Belize. She was with her father as he was searching for evidence of the lost continent of Atlantis. Other skulls have been discovered since that time, and to this day no one is entirely sure who made them, or why. Legend has it that the one discovered in Belize possesses some kind of psychic powers, and was used by a high priest of an ancient culture in that land to will death upon enemies. Anna herself reported having vivid dreams about the Mayans when she slept with the skull near her bed. Whatever the truth is, it served to inspire the story of this film.
"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" opens everywhere on May 22nd.