Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Based on reviews of the fourth "Indiana Jones" movie, we went to see it Wednesday the 4th in much the same spirit that we would go to ride a roller coaster, and in that spirit we enjoyed it and were not disappointed. In a number of ways, however, the film IS profoundly disappointing. The years of wrangling over the plot ended up with a least-common denominator solution that could have been much cleverer and better done with a little more effort. In particular, the film was marred by its opening sequence, which contained some bits of absolutely staggering stupidity. Some of this was later explained away by plot hand-waving, and some redeemed by the actual clever bits along the way, but it started off the movie with an unnecessary sour taste that took time to overcome. A lot of the other stunts are INTENDED to make you say, "Oh, come ON!" but can be justified based on the combined application of toon physics and hero's luck that rules the "Indiana Jones" universe.

Harrison Ford plays Jones as understandably older and somewhat world-weary, having supposedly gone through World War II as an OSS agent before resuming his teaching career at the University of Chicago. In this movie, Jones is pretty uniformly gruff, grim, and put-upon, with almost no flashes of the famous Indy/Han Solo grin. Instead, the job of having a cocky "attitude" devolves upon "Mutt" (Shia Le Boeuf) who holds up the side very well as an intelligent but defiantly uneducated "greaser". "Mutt" falls very naturally into a position of being more Indy's on-the-job apprentice instead of comic sidekick. Karen Allen (Marion Ravenswood) is one of the best things in the movie. She is still very attractive, and her infectious grin as she is pulling off a stunt that amazes "the boys" is a delight to see. Her character pulls no punches and gives no ground to the men. Neither does Cate Blanchett as the lead villain, Stalinist agent Irina Spalko, who is both a mastermind and formidable fighter. (Sorry, there is no "catfight" between the two female stars--.) Blanchett is having obvious fun being the baddie. If her portrayal savors more of "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS" than "Rosa Klebb," (complete with a uniform that is Werhmacht gray instead of the proper Soviet brown her goons wear), that is yet another fault of the screenwriters and not the actress.
The ever-reliable John Hurt steals the occasional scene as the mad Professor Oxley. Ray Winstone, as Indy's wartime comrade in arms, does not quite succeed in keeping you guessing about his motivations.

Great stunts, excellent effects, beautiful sets--there is a lot to enjoy, and you will enjoy it more the sooner you take your critical facility out of gear. Lots of violence, though minimal gore. In the "Jones" tradition, there are icky moments with both snakes (natch) and bugs, so if either creep you out, be warned.

Detailed and spoiler-rich dissection follows behind the cut--.

In the opening sequence, Spalko and her KGB troopers penetrate "Area 51" in order to steal the corpse of one of the Roswell aliens, which turns out to have a crystalline bone structure with some eerie qualities. Jones, and his OSS buddy "Mac" (Winstone) have been kidnapped to assist in locating it because they both assisted with the recovery of the remains and it is "hidden" in what turns out to be the enormous warehouse (now Hanger 51) seen at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (This fact is confirmed in a quick shot near the end of the warehouse sequence--.) No explanation is given as to why, when they haul Jones out of the car trunk he has been riding in, he is in his "adventuring" gear, although he may have been snatched off some dig site, possibly. Jones first proposes locating the supposedly highly magnetic remains with a compass, and, when no one has one, falls back on "field expedients". (This is humbug in the first place, since I can't believe that Spetznaz/KGB special troops conducting an armed mission in a foreign country would not ALL have compasses for escape and evasion if for no other reason.) Instead of asking for a needle or a suspendable knife blade, Jones tosses a cloud of gunpowder in the air saying, "If it's still magnetic, the metal in this gun powder should point the way." It was all I could do not to blurt out "THERE'S NO METAL IN GUNPOWER!" right in the theatre. Not quite correct, as it proves:some modern formulations of smokeless powder do contain traces of metallic compounds intended to prevent traces of copper from jacketed slugs from fouling the bore. However, these are all compounds of tin, bismuth or lead, all non-magnetic metals. As more powder is needed, the Russians are seen pouring powder out of hand-grenade casings, despite the fact that loose powder has not been used in grenades since the 19th century, let alone in contemporary US "pineapple" grenades as shown. Close to the box, Jones switches to using shot from shotgun shells as an indicator--which had to have been non-magnetic lead. Now, it IS established later on that whatever attractive force the crystal bones exert, it is NOT magnetism as we know it, and attracts all metals (albeit with maddening inconsistency, even with in the same scene--the phenomeonon occurs when needed for the plot and is forgotten otherwise). HOWEVER, Jones had previously confessed that his exposure to the alien body in 1947 was minimal and there was no way he should have known this at the start of the movie. Arg!

Once you get past this, even Jones' survival of an atom bomb test by hiding in a convenient lead-lined refrigerator doesn't seem so preposterous. (Interestingly, in 1957, the movie's time, there were a number of low-yield tests of .5 kiloton weapons at the Nevada Test Site, so this actually isn't impossible--.)

Once Indy escapes from the Russians in Nevada, the race is on to intercept and foil their nefarious plan, with Indy showing clue-deciphering skills that show that he is the intellectual if not physical ancestor of symbologist Robert Langdon of "The DaVinci Code." Having gotten a letter from the missing Oxley which is written in an extinct language, Jones first declares that he might be able to decipher it by "going through Mayan" and then instantaneously gives a clear English translation.

Who knows? Perhaps Langdon is another by-blow of Indy's? One of the nice things about some of the back story we get to hear is that Marion has had a life, including a WWII marriage to a fighter pilot, since deceased, and a long-running friendship, if not actual liasion, with Professor Oxley.

Another nice, if probably unintentional reference, occurs in the demise of Irina Spalko, who has demanded of the aliens that they tell her "everything." This is hubris akin to that of mythical Semele, mother of Dionysus, who required her lover, Zeus, to reveal himself to her in all his godly glory. Like Semele, Spalko is reduced to ashes when her unwise wish is granted.

As a final quibble, one understands that, when tracking hitherto unknown aliens to hitherto unknown cities in the jungle, one is likely to encounter hitherto unknown species of pests. However, one can't resist pointing out that not only do known species of army ants not live in enormous anthills, it would be impossible for a swarm the size of the one we see to do so, since they would have to have scoured the countryside of every living creature for dozens of miles around to have maintained themselves. The cast could just as easily encountered the migrating swarm, or crashed into a tree full of them, with much the same effect, except that then we would not have been treated to the spectacle of the big, bad Russian Dovchenco (Igor Jijikine) being dragged to his doom down the anthill--. A pity some of the plot points didn't end up there as well.
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