Say it ain't so

Say it ain't so

Posted by Sean Stangland on Thu, 05/22/2008 - 17:22

It's about 14 hours since the credits rolled on "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," and I'm still trying to convince myself that Steven Spielberg did not direct it.

"Crystal Skull" plays, more or less, like a cheap imitation of an "Indiana Jones" movie. Everything about it just seems...off. I knew we were in trouble when the film's very first shot was of a CGI gopher poking its head out of the dirt. The movie betrays, again and again, a year's worth of interviews with Spielberg in which he said he would do everything possible to not make this film a digital effects extravaganza. There are digital effects -- and shoddy ones, at that -- in every corner of this movie, from the sets, to the "matte paintings," to the characters ... there's one scene in which I'm fairly certain Indy's torch flame has been added in post with computer graphics.

The result is, I'm sorry to say, a movie that feels every bit like George Lucas' "Star Wars" prequels. George's fingerprints are all over this movie; a scene featuring Indy and new sidekick Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) in a tomb drags on and on with exposition, punctuated by poorly timed gags, for instance. The action sequences, while inventive and cool to look at, are never really exciting because everything looks so gosh-darned fake. The script, which is no doubt an amalgamation of 19 years' worth of drafts from an untold number of writers, is super-sloppy, and counts far too many new faces among its integral characters.

The best scene in the movie comes early on, when Indy and Mutt outrun Russian thugs on Mutt's Harley in a chase staged around, in, and through Indy's university. That scene makes use of real locations and practical effects, and is the only one with any sense of danger. (A later scene where Mutt swings on jungle vines with a pack of monkeys? Not so much.)

But the real crime of this fourth Indy is they've gone and made our hero one of the least interesting characters in it. Ford is not too old to sell the action, strangely, but he does seem too old to play the moments of quick-witted comedy. LaBeouf is clearly being groomed to inherit the franchise, and why shouldn't he? In "Crystal Skull," he excels in all the areas that Ford made a career out of.

The real star of the film, without question, is Cate Blanchett. The movie seems downright boring when she's not on screen. She seems to be the only person in the cast who gets it, who knows exactly when and how to dial up the camp. It's also quite a stitch to see an actress of her caliber and stature wielding a sword and firing a gatling gun.

Oh, the sad life of a movie geek, to wait 19 years for this and not be enchanted by it. It might be better this way, better to know right now that the movie isn't so good; the alternative is what happened to me with the "Star Wars" prequels. First night: "This movie rules!" Get it on DVD: "This movie sucks!"

No matter what, don't let this discourage you; there are plenty of tasty nuggets to chew on here, plenty of fun to be had. But when a movie is called "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," I'm expecting "Indiana Jones" -- not "The Mummy Returns," which this movie more closely resembles.

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