23 May 2008

Film: "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Story by George Lucas & Jeff Nathanson
Screenplay by David Koepp
Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent and Shia LaBoef
Theatrical Release Date: 22 May 2008

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For Adventure Violence and Scary Images)

Aside from being generally fun, if at times too cute and predictable, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a crucible for studying the two filmmakers responsible for it: George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.  The opening sequence, with impetuous teens racing a military convoy, is pure Lucas, calling to mind American Graffiti, Speeder Bikes and that entirely-too-long podrace.  Indy is betrayed early on in the film, and becomes the victim of McCarthyism, his patriotism and allegiance to Uncle Sam questioned by the FBI.  This is vintage Spielberg; he's reminded us of the horrors of World War II, and now he holds up the 1950s as a mirror for our modern day political anxieties.  Romping around the globe, tracking a kidnapped colleague of Indy's...the middle of the film is pure, vintage Indy.

Once the film reaches its third act, however, it becomes apparent that this was the big thing that George Lucas was obsessed with enough to chase off the reportedly magnificent script turned in by Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont a few years ago.  At the risk of spoiling things, the rumors that Lucas insisted the film deal with sci-fi elements are entirely true.  In fact, at one point in the middle of the film, while finding out what the Russians are after, Indy himself derides it with a crack about "saucer men from Mars," which was at one point the title Lucas wanted. Yet, when one contemplates the previous Indiana Jones films, it becomes a question that each of us as fans must answer: Why should the Crystal Skull payoff leave us so different from, say, the Covenant of the Ark payoff?  Or, for that matter, the Holy Grail payoff?  

Surely, those film endings were supernatural and based only loosely on anything "real," too.  No one has ever found either artifact, and chances are, if and when they should turn up, they won't do what those movies depicted them doing.  No, the real problem with this film is that it's too distinctively split.  Even a mostly casual fan of Lucas's and Spielberg's will immediately identify the parts of the film that were scripted to appease each director.  Lucas may have created Indiana Jones, but it is clear that it is Spielberg who sees the character the way the audience sees him.

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