Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

In every Indiana Jones movie, there is this thing. Call it a trick, or technique or specific shot, but in each of the four films, director Steven Spielberg dedicates a few scenes for you to really take Harrison Ford seriously. The set-up: Ford is talking with someone, very serious and gruff in his manners. As he speaks, the camera steadily zooms closer and closer to his face. Somehow the small line of dialogue Ford was spitting out turns into a three-paragraph monologue, and you’ll wish you had been paying attention the whole time.

This trick, I’m sorry to say, is the best part about the new Indiana Jones flick. The scene takes place in a diner, while Ford smoothly impresses young greaser Shia LaBeouf. Soon after, LaBeouf and a few of his leather-glad buddies are in a standoff with the preppie gang. It’s a great moment, like West Side Story mashed with Grease. But then, sadly, we get back to the movie at hand.

Indy is older, Spielberg not only wants you to know it, he makes a point at highlighting it. Set in the 1950s during the Cold War/nuclear holocaust scares, Spielberg is genius at setting up Americana nostalgia that older crowds will get a kick out of. And there in lies the problem. After its amusing first half-hour, Indiana Jones falls into a tired, confusing and rather boring plot.

The story, which is damn-near impossible to explain, involves Russian Communists, old Indy flames, giant disgusting bugs and even makes room for a completely out-there extra terrestrial subplot.

Spielberg, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, has two sides to his vast talent. On one, he flexes his inner-child, showing off his boyhood desires. Sci-fi pics like E.T., Minority Report, and Jurassic Park are always fun. On the other end of the Spielbergian spectrum we get the serious auteur. The man that creates masterpieces like Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Munich. Although we can all acknowledge his talent in his “fun” work, we usually wish he showed us all he’s got.

But here’s the low down: if you’ve enjoyed watching Ford thrash his whip for the past 20 plus years, then you’ll most likely enjoy this too. An impressive supporting cast with the likes of Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, Karen Allen (where the hell did they find her?) and LaBeouf (the kid is going to be a big, big star) help move the film along. But it’s Ford you came for, and it’s Ford you’ll get. Kudos to the aged actor for still being able to so seamlessly emerge himself into the character.

Spielberg’s technical talent is unquestioned, thanks much in part to fantastic stunts and reliably superb cinematography from collaborator Janusz Kaminski. I just wish he took the film more seriously (or less seriously for that matter) because even a talented cast can’t stop you from checking your watch. C-