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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Skull-Pounding Set Pieces

here's your hat, what's your hurry?

‘I have a bad feeling about this…’
– Indiana Jones, quoting Han Solo, in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Damn, I knew it was a mistake to let hope and a few (over-?) generous reviewers overwhelm my longstanding belief that another Indiana Jones film would be a fiasco… As I start to write this, I just got back from seeing the latenight screening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Incredibly Long and Charmless Movie Titles, and I’d rate it somewhere between the hokey-jokey Last Crusade and the screamy-corny Temple of Doom. And closer to the latter than the former. None of ’em even comes close to the pure cinematic joy of Raiders, of course.

But at least I didn’t hafta pay to see it.

The film bolts out of the gate and maintains the frenetic pace of a gallop to the end. It needs to stop and take a breath. It needs to pause and take a look around and think for a minute. Instead, it’s just one furious action set piece after another. But for all that, there are no thrills. I wasn’t moved to the edge of my seat even once. I never felt any sense of danger for the characters onscreen, even when they went plunging over three (count ’em: 3) enormous waterfalls. (Overfuckingkill. That’s the film in a nutshell.)  

It’s hard to feel scared for the characters when the danger is so badly CG’d. I’m tellin’ ya, the (not so) special effects are impossibly fake-looking and the whole damned thing looks like it was shot on a soundstage. It’s not just that the sets look built out of plywood and styrofoam and plaster of paris, either.

It’s the cinematography. I think back to how beautiful Raiders of the Lost Ark looked… think of those blue-white desert skies or the shot of the sun rising and hitting the map room where Indy stands with the Staff of Ra. It’s not the usual cinematographer (Doug Slocombe did the original 3 films; Janusz Kaminski did this one), which could be part of the trouble.

A bigger part of the trouble, though, is David Koepp‘s screenplay. It meanders. Worse, it bores. How many times did I sit there, wondering, “Where in hell is this going?” It was chock-full of caricatures rather than characters–not that terrible a crime in an homage to the old serials, of course, but at least in the past we’d get a villain like René Belloq who was like a dark and bizarro version of Jones, himself. In this one, we have the one-dimensional Irina Spalko, played with a single expression and a cartoon accent by Cate Blanchett in a severe wig. And–here’s the rub–Indy fucking well helps her! WTF?! And the MacGuffin this time? It’s seriously lame. (I suspect the MacGuffin was George Lucas’ idea, though. Not Koepp’s. Gots to give (dis-)credit where it’s due.)

And the direction of Steven Spielberg… Has he forgotten all he useta knew about how to construct an engaging film? Gadzooks, this thing is a mess! Nothing works in this film! Nothing!!

The worst thing is that this Indy isn’t the Indy I know and love. This Indy is surprisingly witless (hell, the whole damned screenplay is): his smartass remarks are mostly cringe-worthy, he is fooled not once but twice by a (lazily-conceived and -written) sidekick, and he helps the enemy. And I don’t think he uses his whip once–even though it probably would’ve worked better than a snake as a rope to pull him out of one jam he found himself in. It’s like he got not just old (which isn’t bad) but stupid (which is bad).

The supporting characters are mostly pointless. You could take Mac and Oxley right out of the film and it wouldn’t miss them. And please take Marion back out of the picture. She scares me with all those teeth. Plus she didn’t really have anything to do (until the dénouement, that is). And Mutt… If that sucky little biatch with the bad ‘do is the future of the franchise, then I have seen my last Jones film.

And don’t get me started on the monkeys. And the prairie dogs.

Terrible film. Reviewers are cutting it too much slack.

→ originally published 2008-05-24

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