Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the …

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

 

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The summer’s first (and perhaps only) surefire box office smash has arrived.  Harrison Ford has donned his fedora after much coaxing (and his approval of many scripts).  Popcorn sales are predicted to soar.

The film is a solid return to form, capturing the charm of the first film in the series, eschewing much of the over-the-top embellishments of the second film and delivering on the promise of the prior trilogy.

Let’s get the complaints over with first.  There are lots of water scenes, and our cast is mysteriously dry immediately thereafter.  (Perhaps a conscious nod to the same effect in the myriad films this one pays homage?)  The bad guys apparently don’t know how to shoot their machine guns, they always miss our heroes no matter how close the range. (Again, probably a sort of tribute to other cliffhanging thrillers).  The James Bond-like countdown of a digital timer in an early scene seems like more of a gaffe than an homage (that sort of technology was yet to be invented in the movie’s 1957 timeframe). 

But what a rollicking start to the film.  Somehow Indy has been thrown into the trunk of the bad guys’ car.  Spritied away to a temporarily deserted US military base in the desert, Indy’s first word when he discovers the identity of his captors is a scornful “Russians.”  The plot has to do with a chase for the lost source of an all-seeing brain.  The Russkies want it to effect a psychic war, Indy knows he can save the world and undertake some great archeology along the way.

In his first escape from the clutches of the bad guys, led by the icy Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko, look for a quick visual reference to the titular object of the first film. 

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In fact, much of the new film is laced with visual and thematic references to earlier works from director Steve Spielberg and writer George Lucas.  A chase through the jungle recalls the chase through a forest in one of the Star Wars episodes.  The crystal skull being sought seems to have come from a cousin of E.T.  And there is more than a passing plot point that recalls Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

But none of that really matters.  Over the course of two hours, Spielberg is firmly in command.  Ford looks comfortable in his swashbuckling togs and dashing in his professorial garb.  He snaps his bullwhip with aplomb.  His long lost love interest Marion Ravenwood is still perky; Karen Allen looks pleased to be along for the ride. Shia (Transformers) LaBeouf plays a credible son of Brando in The Wild One. John Hurt (last seen as an attorney and Democratic advisor in HBO’s Recount) is underutilized as a temporarily brainwashed fellow professor.

The dialogue is snappy, the sets are magnificent.  The CGI is effective, the cast probably never got anywhere near the Peruvian mountains or the Amazonian waterfalls.  The score from John Williams weaves Indy’s theme at all the right moments. The aging nature of our hero is well developed; a great line is when he is told of being at the “age when life gives less and takes more.”

Get the popcorn, slather on the butter and salt (forget the health risks) and enjoy an almost ageless film.

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Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment and technology scene for many years. He has written for Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and once upon a time won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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