Remember back when I was saying that they should leave well enough alone and never make a fourth Indiana Jones movie? Yeah, what the hell was I thinking?
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” lives up to the hype…every last bit of it. When I walked out of the theater I think I felt a little numb (in a good way). I just couldn’t believe that for the first time in 19 years I had watched a new Indy movie.
So what’s it all about? I’ll try to avoid spoilers. Shia LaBeouf plays a young man named Mutt who’s connected to two old friends of Indy (spoilers in invisotext: is one of those old friends Marion Ravenwood? Yes, he’s her son. Does that make him Indy’s son? It sure does.). One of those old friends disappeared and the other has been kidnapped. Mutt turns to Indy for help. The mystery leads them to South America first to search for a strange crystal skull and then deep into the Amazon jungle to find the ancient Mayan city the skull came from.
One of my first impressions when I walked out of the theater was that it was classic Spielberg. This is the kind of stuff he was doing 25-30 years ago. It’s in the spirit of “Close Encounters,” “E.T.,” “Amazing Stories” and, of course, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Not just in terms of the story, but in the overall tone too. The opening scene shows teens out for a joyride in a hot rod jalopy, weaving in and out of an Army convoy and trying to get the lead car to drag race with them – with Elvis Pressley’s “Hound Dog” playing in the background. I can’t put my finger on it, but there was something about those opening moments that had this classic vibe to it – that I knew I was in for the kind of fun I hadn’t had watching a Spielberg movie since “Jurassic Park” (it also harkened a bit to George Lucas’ “American Grafitti”).
That brings me to another thing I loved about the movie – the era it was set in. The movie takes place in 1957, a good 20 years or so after the earlier movies. It completely embraces this setting and that’s great. Indy gets caught up in the Red Scare and has a near miss at an atomic testing site. The Nazis have been traded in for the Russians. At one point as Indy stares into the face of a KGB agent holding him at gunpoint (played by Cate Blanchett) he patriotically proclaims “I like Ike!”
There are references to the earlier movies – some subtle (he still has his students reading from the Michelson textbook) and some not so subtle (the passings of Marcus Brody and Henry Jones Sr. are noted – also the Ark of the Covenant does make an appearance, but it’s not central to the story). There is also a reference to one of the storylines from “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” TV series.
And yet, despite these references, by embracing the 50s era, particularly in the first part of the movie, you get the impression that George Lucas isn’t just trying to reinvent the wheel. The character and the story are advancing. You know when a TV show you really like has been on for a long time and you go back and watch some of the earlier episodes and you realize how much its changed and evolved? That’s what’s going on here. Indy has evolved – we just didn’t get to see what’s happened between now and then. But if there had been a bunch of Indy movies over the last 19 years, I suspect this is where we would have ended up (we do get a little bit of back story – apparently “Col. Henry Jones” served in the OSS during World War II).
One last note on the storyline – as has been hinted in some of the interviews Lucas has given and as I alluded to earlier – the crystal skull is very different from the artifacts Indy chased after before. The earlier movies had him hunting down religious items. But this is something quite different. Once again, it’s very fitting for the 50s era and the B-movie sci-fi flicks of the day – much the same way the earlier movies paid homage to the Saturday matinee serials of the 1930s. I was braced for it because I had read up on the movie ahead of time (although I was careful to avoid major spoilers), but it might catch some moviegoers off guard.
So to sum up, I’ll make a bold statement: my judgment may be clouded because I just saw it, but if you asked me right now I’d tell you that “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is the best of the sequels. Better than “Temple of Doom.” Better than “Last Crusade.” Will my opinion change once I come off my Indy Jones high? Perhaps. But that’s how I feel right now.
Now that I’ve seen the movie, it begs the question “Now what do I do with myself?” Unfortunately, unlike the earlier installments, I probably won’t ever see this one on the big screen again – because I’m old and I’m broke and I just don’t get the movies that often. So now I’ll count the days to the DVD release, because you can bet I want to see it again – several times again!
UPDATE: Here are some follow up thoughts...
2 hours ago