Saturday, May 31, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Lost Aliens

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Writers: David Koepp (screenplay); George Lucas (story)
Starring: Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Cate Blanchett (Irina Spalko), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Shia LaBeouf (Mutt Williams), Ray Winstone (‘Mac’ George McHale), John Hurt (Professor 'Ox' Oxley)

It's being 19 years since the last Indiana Jones film — Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, considered to be best of the three, other two being Raiders to the Lost Ark, and The Temple of Doom. Since then, Spielberg has gone from strength to strength (or weakness to weakness), proving his skills in all kind of films, from pathbreaking Jurassic Park to Schindler's List to outright rubbish sci-fi caper War of the World. So, you don't expect your Indy to be the same Indy, the actions same action. Yes. We have waited for this Indiana Jones for a long time, but, for sure, not to be assaulted by Steven Spielberg's obsession with aliens. Now, that was too much to take! Even more than watching Cate Blanchett in a highly under-written role. What on earth is she doing here? Why?Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull leaves you with a bitter aftertaste. You expect changes, because the time has changed, because Indy has aged (and because Sean Connery has refused to do any more films). So, why not make an all new Indiana Jones adventure. Not really! This one is for the fans for one last time. This is for Lucas and Spielberg to see a happy-ending for the character they had created. This one is for director Spielberg to visit his favourite theme, aliens, that is, one more time. (With due respect, after the brilliant ET, the best alien movie ever made and thought-provoking Close Encounter with the Third Kind, and then the disastrous War of the World, he should even stop thinking, A for Alien!). But Oh!
Here's the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Before we tell you the story, and there's not secret there anyway, let's talk about the aliens first.
Yes. Your guess is right. The alien(s) look(s) like an extra from War of the World, and it (they) appears and disappears without explanation. Unless you want to take it from Spielberg and Co the conspiracy theory that ancient civilisations were created with the help of extra-terrestrial beings. The alien does not know English, you see, but can speak Mayan, and it had been waiting to get its crystal skull back for thousands of years so that it can take a form and go back from where it had come. Now, this is a good enough premise to make a gripping movie. But what Indy has to do with it? And anyways, the elongated skull does not even look impressive.
This much for the 'NEW' in the film. Everything else is old, and the update on the old. There's a unhurried scene in the beginning of the film showing a smiling picture of Sean Connery, just to remind us how much time has passed. Then appears Indy’s old flame from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Karen Allen, and lo and behold, Indy has a son, in the form of young Shia LaBeouf. Now, LaBeouf can be a scenestealer (Transformers), and he no way deserves that Tarzan act in the Amazon forest. There's more, including John Hurt's mad archaeologist, Ray Winstone's friend-turned-foe-turned-friend-turned-foe dead guy, and Cate Blanchett as Russina Lady Hitler in search of psychic powers.
Now, without anymore ado, the story: It's cold war America, and Russia is the new Germany. And, like their evil predecessors before, they are also looking for paranormal ways to defeat their enemy, good ol' America. "You have your nuclear bomb, so now it's our time to acquire some bigger power," says Cate's Irina, the Russian super-vamp, who is looking for some psychic power to read everybody's mind, especially the Americans', even though she cannot read our Indy's mind. Never mind that. Even never mind if she does not look scary at all. Poor Cate Blanchett, she is one of the great artists of our generation, and such a waste of talent. There's nothing for her to chew and bite, and she does not scare us anywhichway! We sorely miss Amrish Puri!
Anyway, the search for the weapon begins in Neveda, US, where the US army is planning a nuclear test and the Russians wants the remains of an alien mummy. Then the inevitable happens. The bomb blast, and Indy survives by hiding in a refrigerator. Give us a break. Break. The beautiful mushroom of an explosion. Anti-Communist America catches up with Indy, he loses his job and all set to go London, when a young Matt, on a Harley Davidson, riding all over, including the college library, makes an appearance and there's another adventure, involving, what else, the crystal skull, and a lost archaeologist, the mad John Hurt. And remember, Indy is being spied on by his friend-turned-foe Mac. So, everyone set for the mythical kingdom, the elusive El Dorado, which they eventually find, with 13 aliens waiting for them, one without the head, because Mad Hurt is carrying it like a lost treasure, but not before long chase scenes (a la Crusade), sword fights and attack of man-eating ants, fall on waterfalls (a la Temple of Doom), and fighting some savage tribes (a la Lost Ark), and, yes, you are invited to Indy's wedding, and no, he's not giving up his hat, but we can probably expect another Indy caper with junior Indy taking the lead. I don't mind that, I like the LaBeouf guy, and sorry for the long sentence, but that's how the action goes.
Much has been written about retaining the timespan with the earlier series and Harrison Ford's age. So, no comments on that.
The soundtrack is still haunting, especially if you are an Indiana Jones fan, and action set-pieces remind you of the earlier movie. It's a huge nostalgia trip, if nothing else, and for that alone, it's worth a watch.
Rating ***1/2 out of *****

Earlier Indiana Jones Films

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Writers: George Lucas (story) and Philip Kaufman (story)
Starring: Harrison Ford 9Indiana Jones), Karen Allen (Marion Raven-wood), Paul Freeman (Dr. Rene Belloq), Ronald Lacey (Major Arnold Toht), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Writers: George Lucas (story), Willard Huyck (screenplay)
Starring: Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Kate Capshaw (Wilhelmina 'Willie' Scott), Jonathan Ke Quan (Short Round (as Ke Huy Quan), Amrish Puri (Mola Ram), Roshan Seth (Chattar Lal)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Writers: George Lucas and Philip Kaufman,
Starring: Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Sean Connery (Professor Henry Jones), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody), Alison Doody (Dr. Elsa Schneider), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Julian Glover (Walter Donovan), River Phoenix (Young Indy)

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