After nearly two decades of speculation and worry, the summer of 2008 brought the highly unnecessary fourth installment in the Indiana Jones franchise, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. All parties involved promised us that their involvement was contingent on just the right script. That sounded promising, but I should remind you that after three Vacation movies, key players Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo stated that they wouldn’t return for a fourth film unless the script was “just right.” Have you seen Vegas Vacation? ‘Nuff said.
I expected to reenter the world of Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones with a mixture of anticipation and dread. What I actually walked into the theater with was an attitude a bit closer to “who cares?”
As the character in the Family Circus comic strip says, “Not me!” – I couldn’t care less. I’d already been burned by three Star Wars prequels and had long since come to terms with the so-called raping of my most beloved childhood memories. I had also come to realize that no matter what was behind this film, whether it be money or a mid-life crisis, it ultimately didn’t matter. It was, after all, just a movie and no matter how bad it was, my memories and my childhood were still intact and still pure.
Though countless die-hards will undoubtedly disagree with me, I’m happy to say that with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, no childhoods were raped. Not mine, at least. Now, this movie didn’t exactly take my childhood out for a fancy dinner and dancing and whisper sweet nothings into its ear under the moonlight. This movie did not have the decency to call my childhood after the obligatory three-day wait, nor did it even bother to make breakfast for my childhood in the morning. But nothing that happened between my childhood and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that wasn’t agreed to by both parties. However, my childhood will probably not be calling Indy back for another date. It was decent; I’ll even go so far as to say that it was pretty good. But it wasn’t that good.
I apologize if my humor is a bit off-color, but I get a little tired of the people who seem to think that movies like this one or the Star Wars prequels are somehow retroactively making their lives worse. It’s been 19 years since the last Indy movie. What do you people expect? What do you want? With this movie, you get what you pay for. What Lucas, Spielberg and Ford have given us with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the Indiana Jones movie that came 19 years after the last one. No more, no less.
Now, some folks will tell you that this movie doesn’t capture the same feeling as the previous three installments. Having re-watched the first three films in the series in preparation for the fourth installment, I will say that all of these films have a very distinct flavor all their own, and there isn’t really a “definitive Indy feeling” other than bare knuckle brawling and a rollicking good time. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a departure in the sense that the first three films act as an homage to the old Republic serials of the '30s and '40s and this one is more of a 1950’s B-Movie, complete with all the trappings of the genre. But at the end of the day, it’s got the one unifying factor that remains true throughout the entire series: Indiana Jones.
I imagine that a lot of fans had a lot of problems with the depiction of Indiana Jones as an old man. Naturally, they wanted to see their childhood hero remain eternally young and virile and couldn’t imagine him as anything other than the strapping young smart-mouthed adventurer. If you fall into this category, you should not watch this movie. It will rape your childhood.
However, if you enjoy the prospect of a hero nearing the end of his days, having lost a step or two and not packing quite the punch he used to, you might enjoy this movie. No matter what you think of the film, I think it’s hard to argue that Harrison Ford doesn’t bring something great to the table. I’d even go so far as to say that his performance in this film is even stronger than in previous films because of the added dimension and depth that the character has been given. Indy’s not as cool in this movie as he was in the earlier ones. It’s a lot like watching your grandpa run around with a whip and a gun. But if your grandpa was Indiana Jones, you’d still think he was pretty damn cool, right? Hell yeah!
Now, I’ve given you the good and I’ve defended this movie against its detractors. But along with the good comes the bad and since I’ve already given you the sugar, I must give you the medicine. Hopefully that first spoonful will help it go down.
One of the big arguments against Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that it feels less like a film and more like a nostalgic thrill ride. Like the roller coaster version of Indiana Jones or a remake of a classic song. It hits all the right notes and it does what it has to do, but it’s not the original and it never will be. Sort of like a remake of a Beatles song: No matter how good it is, it ain’t the Beatles. I have to admit that I agree.
On one hand, it is the Indiana Jones movie that came 19 years after the last Indiana Jones movie. One could argue that it sort of has to be a nostalgic trip down memory lane. On the other hand, as fun as this movie can be at times, ultimately it just lacks heart. As a longtime fan who grew up with Indiana Jones, I should have cried during this movie. That’s as direct and to the point as I can be. I should have cried when Indy and Marion were reunited, or at the very least teared up. I should’ve gotten goosebumps when Indy put the hat back on or cracked the whip for the first time. But I didn’t. And that is the worst thing I can say about this film. For a movie that was supposed to be a nostalgic and exciting trip back to my childhood, it was far too tame and lackluster. While it didn’t offend me or make me shake an angry fist at Spielberg & Lucas for retroactively molesting my childhood, it didn’t really fill me with the sense of wonder that it should have either. It didn’t rape my childhood, because it lacked the ability to return me to those days of wonder.
Ultimately, I did like this movie. It wasn’t great, but it was fun. Sure, it wasn’t as good as the first three, but it was a hell of a lot better than Rocky IV, Land of the Dead, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and whatever the fourth Alien movie was called. Most film franchises can’t successfully make it past two movies. Judged against its peers, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a resounding success.
The first three Indiana Jones movies were supposed to take us back to the halcyon days of the Republic Serials. With this one, Lucas and Spielberg set out to make a '50s era B-movie, and I think they succeeded. The movies of that time might not have been art, but they were a good time and are now revered as classics in their own right. I won’t go so far as to call this movie a classic, but I do think that ultimately, it will stand the test of time and will take it’s proper place among the rest of the Indy series.
The 2-disc special edition features a ton of goodies. A pre-production documentary, a 12-part production diary and a whole bunch of galleries and pre-visualizaton stuff. It’s got everything the hardcore fan or film buff could want, including a bunch of interviews with the cast and crew. Basically, the same stuff that every other 2-disc special edition set has. If you’ve seen one 2-disc set, you’ve seen ‘em all. You know what’s on here, go ahead and buy it: It’s probably only $5 more than the regular version.