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The Adventures of Indiana Jones
(Raiders of the Lost Ark/ Temple of Doom/ Last Crusade)
(DVD Collection from Amazon)
"Indiana Jones and |
the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"
There are formulas and, then, there are formulas. In film criticism the term is most often used to deride a lousy sequel or flimsy generic product. Not so, here. Maybe it's because in addition to the Spielberg set of skills one should laud this director for his genius in keeping a formulaic success as fresh as that favorite meal you never get tired of.
How is "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" formulaic? Let me count the ways (in no special order).
1. The prologue: an action sequence introducing characters and the treasure, setting up the plotline, which is always an extended chase to find it and hold onto it. Here, we meet villainous Irina Spalko, (chameleon Cate Blanchett) a uniformed Russian leading a platoon of soldiers who do her bidding.
Under the threat of death, Indy, (favorite and inimitable leading man Harrison Ford) intrepid archaeologist both in the classroom as a college professor and in the field, is obliged to find a particularly valuable artifact in a huge military warehouse. Forget the technically clever way in which he does it. What's important here is why the lady wants it so much. Her primary weapon is the mind, and she is under the illusion that she possesses a special power. With this ancient artifact under her control, she imagines that she can dominate the world and turn it into a bastion of fanatical fascism.
2. All characters will go through beatings that no non-celluloid human could possibly withstand. (Had to throw that in).
3. Indy has a love interest and, possibly, relatives. Karen Allen started this off in the first episode as a fellow (and often disagreeing) archaeologist named Marion Ravenwood. Just how far the emotional side of this relationship went is fully clarified in this current episode, but let's not reveal too much yet.
4. The ultimate treasure will never be easy to find and will depend on surprising and providential appearances of clues. For this task we have Shia LaBeouf in the leather-clad, tough talking, knife wielding son of Marion's, Mutt Ravenwood. He comes to Indy bearing papers from his mother that turn out to be an ancient letter in an obscure enough language that it can be called dead, and your generic treasure map. Indy can interpret these through his knowledge of Mayan. This is the crucial starter which will gas up the enterprise and Indy's complete susceptibility to finding something of indescribable importance. Again a nod to Spielberg for dreaming one up that advances the value of this standard plot point by granting it supernatural powers that shouldn't ever fall into the hands of the numerous psychopaths who inhabit the series.
5. The relative and/or love interest gets involved. Indy learns that Marion has been taken by Spalko and her heathen friends. Another nod to the director and his screenwriter David Koepp for this nicely staged way to reintroduce Allen, who dropped out of the preceding two installments for reasons we can only guess at. Be that as it may, her return has been heralded and casts a warm glow over this latter day continuation. (The L.A. Times ran a feature article about it with the headline, "Hello Karen? It's Steve." Hilarious.
6. The relatives bicker. There was no more elevated humor in the third installment than that which arose from Indy being joined on his third adventure ("The Last Crusade") by his dad, Professor Henry Jones (I), played by none other than Sean Connery (who insists on calling Indy, "Junior"). Conflicting familial acts of omission, pride, distance and long held misunderstanding is the material for some energetic homespun comedy relief that lightens the tight moments.
In the hailstorm of accusations that unfold between Indy and Marion in this new context, it all comes out, recriminations for Indy's relationship failures, etc., including the disclosure that Mutt is Indy's son. Indy's disbelief is tempered with pride. And, then, the lad has to prove his legacy with adventurous sense and capability. Suddenly the old man demands further schooling for his child.
7. Then, there's Harrison Ford. In the realm of perfect marriages, count this exceptional hunk of a man, with a softness of personality, a disarming gleam in his eye, and a master of his art being wedded to this character. A cultural icon emerged and proves again to be a cinema heavyweight. Besides that is the actor's athletic physicality to make the stuntwork seamless.
If there is one thing to be critical of, the off note is the strange choice to make the villain a Nazi clone. It likely came from a consideration of working within the time being represented but a more Eastern identification might have worked better in today's framework of global concerns. But, this is not a quibble that'll bring the cave tumbling down and, of course, is arguable.
A second quibble might be the extended action sequences which, however dazzling in the Spielberg/Lucas mold, go on a few whiplashes too long.
'Nough said. It can more or less be guaranteed that anyone who loves this series and who has been looking forward to another exploration in the company of our all-American hero, will not be disappointed in so much as a single frame of Part IV. What is especially satisfying is how it's fashioned to take aging into account. No younger actors "playing" the man of the rocks behind a pretense of verisimilitude. Ford and Allen are allowed to play it in the context of a history that could only come from actual passing years and this honors the series and everyone who had the wisdom and integrity to stick to the formula and invent upon it.
For action fans (and those who appreciate a well-served formula) it's precious metal with a pedigree. It's not an alloy.
~~ Jules Brenner