“Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull”

By Eric Renderking Fisk. -  May 2008 Bookmark and Share

Flicks To Hold You Over: Kingdom Of The Crystal SkullWell, here it is... the movie many of us have waited a long time for... the third and maybe last sequel of "Raiders Of The Lost Ark." The actual movie that the title of this column here and on The Indy Experience has referred to: "The Flicks To Hold You Over..." all the others reviews were for movies to "hold you over" until this  was finally made and released. It's a surreal feeling, I'm actually writing the review to this film that makes me feel as if this part of our journey together is at an end.

There have been a lot of websites out there predicated on there being a fourth "Indiana Jones," since the internet began there have been people hammering out lengthy essays and posts on forums on what this should be about, who should be in it and what sort things should be alluded to in regards to what Dr. Jones has been up to since "The Last Crusade."

I have a sense of pride since I got a lot of this stuff right. I figured out that Dr. Jones would have used his experience and his knowledge in The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and used his status as an archeologist as a cover while either spying on the Nazi's or performing acts of sabotage like stealing an Enigma Code machine.

I speculated that this movie was going to be about a South American artifact, or taken right from Erich von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods," and I repeated the (obviously false) rumor that this artifact would be taken from the End Times prophecy that had to do with the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem. So there's a lot I got right and there's a lot that I got wrong. But there were moments while watching this film that I thought that much of what was said on many of these forums that were posted by me and a handful of intelligent posters were the grist for the script mill this came from.   

Ren's RantsThis movie isn't catered to the fans, it caters more to "The Fedora Chronicles" then any other site since we have tables in our forum dedicated to many of the themes hit upon in this movie. In fact there are aspects of this film that many fans will loath and despise because it's a fresh new take on the Action Adventure with an older, wiser adventurer playing the roll of mentor and father while at the same time making an attempt at recapturing the tone and mood of B-Movies of the 1950's, welcome or not. Jones and his fans have come a long way since the original - "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" premiered more then 25 years ago. Change is hard, and intolerable for some loyal fans...

"Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull" has everything you would expect from a movie of this kind, it's an action adventure movie with several leaps in logic as it asks you to suspend disbelief just long enough to enjoy it. I personally think it's the best of all "Indiana Jones" movies since "Raiders Of The Lost Ark." Keep in mind, though that I have to say that because I thought this film was tailor made just for me. Or, the kid I used to be back in the late 1980's when I first got my hands on "Chariots Of The Gods." [Skip Ahead If You Don't Want My Spoilers.]

Spoiler filled Synopsis

More then a decade after World War II and well into The Cold War against Communism and The Soviet Union - our hero (Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones) and his side-kick 'Mac' George McHale (Ray Winstone) are abducted and taken to a mysterious warehouse that's described  by the villainous Agent Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) as "...where you and your government have hidden all of your secrets."

After an ingenious search for a mysterious box that was carted away with everything else the U.S. Government is trying to hide because it's too dangerous or impossible to understand, Jones manages to escape certain death a handful of times... each time more "explosive" then the last.

Once the dust settles from the movie's opener, Jones is interrogated by two FBI men who accuse Dr. Jones of being a Communist agent... guilt by association since Mac has turned for profit. Dr. Jones' long time friend General Ross (Alan Dale) breaks up the interrogation and explain to the FBI men that Jones being guilty of treason is impossible, this man had proven himself time and again before and during the war in both Europe and The Pacific...

Jones is asked once more, what were the Soviets looking for in the warehouse? He doesn't know except that it ties in with the "Mind Control" programs Stalin initiated during his rain of terror, and "The Air Force Fiasco" that occurred in Roswell, New Mexico 10 years earlier.

After returning to the college where he teaches, Jones is pulled aside by Dean Charles Stanforth (Jim Broadbent) and told that he's essentially been suspended with pay while an investigation is in process. Dean Stanforth resigns over this atrocity. Back at Jones' home we take a moment to pause and reflect on what's happened during all these rough years with the loss of Marcus Broady and Henry Jones Sr. The United States isn't the beacon of liberty it used to be thanks to the fear of communist plots hiding everywhere and every non-conformist being labeled as a commie sympathizer.

As Dr. Jones is about to leave town, a young mysterious stranger - Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) informs Jones that his colleague Professor 'Ox' Oxley (John Hurt) is going to be killed unless someone can help him... since Old 'Ox' is mixed up with something that's associated with the discovery of another artifact that's similar to the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull that both men were "obsessed" with back in the 1920's when they were both college students.

After yet another chase, Jones and Williams fly to Peru, South America and follow the clues that lead them to a mountain grave yard that over looks the Nazca lines - the geogliphs and lines that were made in a Peruvian desert for "the gods." Once at this grave yard, Indy and Mutt uncover an artifact that will help them on their quest to Akator: The Fabled Lost City Of Gold and where the rest of the skeleton might be found - only to be recaptured by Russians and Mac.

In the Russian Camp in the jungle, Spalko lays out for Jones and the audience the Soviet plans of world domination and thought control thanks to what might also be waiting for them at Akator... Just like in every action-adventure blockbuster, the villain always lays out his plans and explains to the audience why this artifact is so special and what ties it has to either the world or realms beyond our own. Thanks for that little tutorial for those of us who have never read the Communist manifesto on Supernatural Artifacts nor Erich von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods."

When Jones won't co-operate, they threaten to exploit another one of Indy's pressure points - Marion Ravenwood - his old girlfriend from his younger days and his love interest from The Original Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

... It makes sense, if you stop and think about it. Since the Russian agents know so much about him already - such as where he was after the Roswell Crash and he was part of the team who were allowed to look at some bits of the wreckage - it stands to reason that they know about Marion. Of course, since Jones' friend Mac knows so much about him, he could have told the Russian Agents what to do and who to abduct...

After a thwarted escape and Marion's confession that Mutt is their love child (both Indiana and Mutt choose monikers for themselves after dogs...) the two are dragged on an expedition to Akator lead by Professor Oxley who's mind had been altered after looking into the skull too long. Not long, The Jones Family escape again, rescue Ox and the skull and Mac reveals himself to be a "double agent" who's been CIA and on Jones' side the whole time...

The group race to Akator, after a chase that's just as good (if not better) then the other sequels. They find a lost temple, restore the crystal skull just in time for the Russians catch up and then when the supernatural force awakens, everyone gets what they have coming to them... the final out-come of all the characters is indicative or reflective of their personalities.

In the final scene, we learn that Dr Jones is not only restored to his teaching position but also promoted as the Associate Dean, gets married and The Jones Family live happily ever after... until the next flick that's bound to be made since this movie was such a huge success after it's opening weekend.

South Eastern Vermont... Circa 1986

In the basement of a small ranch house in a small nook along the side of a hill in South Eastern Vermont, I made a room for myself where I did the majority of my reading and writing on a clip board that I still have somewhere here in the home office that's now in New Hampshire.

What I loved about this place was that this was essentially the first real place that was "mine," except that it was occasionally raided by my younger brother and his hoodlum friends from the neighborhood. Coming down the stairs you could see a pattern in the foundation, the darker concrete over the lighter made a pattern that was eerily familiar to that of a mountain that is still used as a Studio's logo...

Chariots Of The GodsAt a yard sale I bought a copy of Erich von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods." In a red rocker that used to occupy my family's living room from the mid-1970's till it was displaced by an equally tacky set a few short years later, I read the whole book with in a couple of weeks. Despite the fact that it was written in a style that was tedious and monotonous, it's a fantastic "what if" yarn. Mr. von Daniken's tale was self congratulatory, as if he was the first person to wave other people's discoveries of ancient artifacts that defied explanation as evidence of proof we've been visited by beings from another world from a civilization more advanced then our own. If a simple stick figure drawing or a painting looks to him like someone wearing a space helmet - then it's obviously someone wearing a space helmet?

If I were to draw short, wavy lines on a piece of paper - and you think what I drew were birds, is that what I actually drew? Mr. von Daniken's whole line of logic is predicated on what he thinks he sees is what's actually there... re-enforced by the fact that there is some really weird and freaky stuff that's been found in recent decades...

... all of which felt as if it was trying to write away centuries of faith and religion with a slight of hand, that all the signs and wonders from every person in every holy book was true but were performed by people who had access to technology that to us would look magic. A burning bush is nothing more then a mere hologram of fire super-imposed on a shrub. You too can walk on water with Jesus if you had anti-gravity sandals like he did! Mohamed assent into heaven was nothing more then a transporter effect cause by a flying saucer waiting for him above the clouds.

Now, if you were reading this book and wanted to guess what another sequel to "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" would be about while introducing the character of Indiana Jones to the Science Fiction genre, this book would be a great place to gather ideas and MacGuffin's - objects that serve as plot devices. Who knew that George Lucas - the idea man behind Star Wars and Indiana Jones - would be thinking the same thing all these years.

"The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull" should almost have a writing credit given to Erich von Daniken, or anyone else who took all these ideas of ancient astronauts and put them together in such away that made it easy to find and easier to digest.

Sitting in the theater watching this film made me remember back to a time in my life when I thought that EVERYTHING was possible, not just anything. If you stop and think about it, there's a huge difference between Everything and Anything, and it felt as if they were trying hard to bridge the gap between The Supernatural of the 1930's and The Other-World feel of the 1950's.

Close Encounters Of The American Graffiti Kind.

KOTCS TeaserI'm obviously a huge fan of the earlier works of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. If anything more, I'm one of the most famous - or infamous - "Indiana Jones" fans through out the entire country, if not the world judging by the amount of hits my articles got elsewhere and this site in general get, and the angry phone calls, hate mail and nasty messages posted about me on sites I no longer visit. I would rather NOT be remembered as "the biggest fan," being relegated to mere spectator. The roll I wish I was cast would be that of mentor, not just inspiring but DEMANDING that younger fans don their fedoras and go out and find something new to write about. I hope I've planed enough boots on the buttocks of enough youngsters so that they someday become the "Indiana Jones" of their chosen fields besides archeology.

I've seen more then my share of Lucas and Spielberg firm's, having the distant honor (or is that spelled "horror") of being the only man in living history to pay TWICE to see Howard The Duck in the theater and giving glowing reviews of "1942" and "Artificial Intelligence." I know SOMETHING of what I write about when I say that this film also had an air of familiarity to "Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull," as if this had been filmed on location in my home town in south eastern Vermont and one of the scenes had been filmed in the same place were I learned to make pizza's and salads when I wasn't washing dishes or taking out the trash, (again... the best job I had before I started this website.)

The way "The Crystal Skull" was filmed reminded me of every motion picture Steven Spielberg directed in the late 1970's and up to the mid-1980's. I'm sure the use of a particular lens on a particular shot, the "smash zooms in" and "smash zooms out" had a lot to do with it, as did the digital effects used to reproduce the film stock Mr. Spielberg used way back when...

I also felt that Mr. Spielberg was also trying to recreate some of the magic of George Lucas' first success: American Graffiti, a movie about teenagers during the late 1950's and early 1960's, the era that Jones' son, Mutt, owns.

There were a lot of musical queues by composer and conductor John Williams that reminded me of his earlier sound tracks... I swear I could hear bits of other themes from "Close Encounters," "E.T. The Extra Terestrial" and of course "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind." [Am I forgetting "War Of The Worlds?"]

All of this seems to have been an effort to place Indiana Jones and all of his baggage well into the 'universe' that served Mr. Spielberg well in the past. As someone else wrote in one of the countless other pieces elsewhere, could this be an attempted to create an omibus for all of his work, just as Isaac Asimov did with the last handful of Science Fiction novels before he died? Or is this just a natural assumption since those who made this movie were simply trying to recreate the magic of all the movies they made a generation ago?

I'm not sure of anything, other then the fact that there will be a lot of our fellow fans who will be watching ALL of their favorite Spielberg back-to-back during a rainy weekend trying to trump my question with a better "definitive" answer.

"But Ren, Is This Movie Any Good?"

Well, that answer depends on a lot of different things, doesn't it?

If you're looking for a movie that's going to be fodder for discussions for years to come on The Indy Fan Forums everywhere else, this is a FANTASTIC movie. Fans are going to love to whine about this movie if they hated it, and fans are going to love defending it if they enjoyed it. It has everything for the lovers and haters alike.

There will be a legion of people who will be discussing the costume alone... should it have changed since 1938 when we last saw Indiana Jones in "Last Crusade" and if his outfit was going to change how would it be different? [Don't touch the fedora or the jacket, folks. Don't touch perfection but play with everything else if you have to if they insist on making a fifth.]

There will be those people who will be talking about Jones and the relationship dynamics of his new family, we've never had a married or monogamous action hero in a successful series since The Charles Family in "The Thin Man" movies, have we?

There will be topics about how Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull made it cool again for greasers in leather jackets to go back to school, folks are already dusting off their copy of their "Grease" soundtrack and singing out-of-key versions of "You're The One That I Want..."

But who cares what my opinions are about what other people think about this film, other then I hope this inspires others to follow their dreams and find their own adventures?

I said already that this film is the best sequel of all the "Indiana Jones" films, it's the best of it's kind since the original "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," success that they won't ever duplicate since they won't ever take the character back to his tough guy origins or make other movies that have the same sense of real-world danger while looking for a super-natural artifact - a formula that made the first one so perfect. And, "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" is indeed my favorite film of all time...

There are aspects about "Temple Of Doom" and "Last Crusade" that I both loved and hated - the things I dislike about those two films I forgave effortlessly when I was in the theater and the first few times at home, just like some of the things that I just don't like or get about "Crystal Skull."

This movie doesn't feature the cold blooded mercenary with a secret heart of gold in "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," this is the Indiana Jones of the sequels - the often heroic and sometimes clumsy eccentric adventurer that we grew to love in the movies that followed. I'm not saying that Indiana Jones had been dumbed down for "Kingdom Of The Crystal Skulls," in fact he has to rely more on smarts the muscle to get out of a lot of jams and pinches. There's also a lack of suspense simply because Jones has gotten out of scrapes before, you just assume that he'll get out of the next one.

Vintage Aficionados, Retrocentrics and even Indy Fans are and will be divided over this film for a long time to come. The best antitode for the controversy is to just go with the flow or just ignore it all together. There's always other period films, other action-adventure movies. And if you're feeling really ambitious, paw through your own books and see if you can gather your own clues about your own great adventure.

Be sure to keep your chins  up and your fedora's on... and come back to The Electric Speakeasy and tell us all about it.

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