Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull, is the only film in the series that I had a chance to see on its opening night. I, like a lot of people, had been waiting for a long time to see a new Indy adventure on the big-screen, and the level of excitement and anticipation in that sold out screening was palpable. As the lights went down and the film started, I wore a huge grin, still in dis-belief as to what I was about to see on the big-screen. In a way, I still am. By the closing credits, my grin had faded considerably. The excitement and joy had somewhat been replaced with an uncomfortable confusion, with all manner of thoughts rushing through my brain. I left the cinema to the classic Indy theme, deflated and trying to decipher my conflicting feelings about it. It’s not unnatural to wait for something for so long, only to be disappointed on its arrival. The issues I have with Crystal Skull aren’t solely due to my insatiable fandom though, and the film is undeniably filled with flaws from beginning to end.
It’s easily the worst film in the series and has become an easy target for abuse from critics and fans alike. That said I don’t hate it, at least not in the same way other people might. I do agree with a lot of the criticism thrown at it and there are moments of surreal awfulness, which I will never be able to forgive. The whole nuking the fridge thing, I can live with to be honest, but Shia LaBeouf swinging through the jungle with the worst looking on-screen monkeys since Jumanji, is dreadful and makes me cringe just thinking about. It’s a ridiculous idea anyway, but you’d think the special effects team would at least have tried a little harder with the monkeys. Other issues are Ray Winstone’s triple agent, who is do annoying and completely throwaway, to the point where I wish I could just reach through the screen and kill him in the first act. Indy calling Marion ‘babe’ is the icing on the cake really; as much as I love their relationship, Marion as a character, and Karen Allen, their relationship here isn’t the same volatile, yet believable relationship from Raiders.
Another thing that bothers me is that the exposition this time around is clunky, with an almost sleep-inducing speech from Ford, in a scene where he even seems to be close to nodding off. But despite all of my issues, I’m actually okay with some of the bigger complaints made about the film, namely the aliens. Considering that the character of Indiana Jones was born through the adventure serials of the 1950’s, the inclusion of aliens into the series was only a matter of time. The fact that Crystal Skul is set within the 50’s, at a time where America was in the height of its paranoia of invasion by the ‘commies’, means that the appearance of beings from another dimension, feels at the very least justified. Indy’s age isn’t an issue for me either and despite that long exposition scene in the diner, Ford plays Indy with the same charm and vigour as always, albeit with grey hair. After all, as Indy himself once said, “It’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage”.
I think that the main problem I have with Crystal Skull, above all the video game special effects and annoying side characters, is that we had to wait so long for it. For almost twenty years, the three main players involved refused to make another film unless the script was right, yet they settled for this?!! It does have its pros, as well as cons, but Crystal Skul simply doesn’t justify the length of time we were made to wait for it. Had it been made in the 90’s, at least there would have been a chance of redemption afterwards; a chance to right the wrongs in the same way Last Crusade did with Temple of Doom. Instead, the chance of another Harrison Ford starring Indiana Jones film, looks less promising by the day; meaning that we’ll either have to live with the bum-note ending of Crystal Skull for the rest of our lives, or more than likely deal with a re-boot.
What’s a particular shame is that there is actually a much better version of the film out there, in the form of a screenplay by Frank Darabont. I’ve read it and it’s absolutely wonderful, but rumour has it that it was tossed aside when Lucas wasn’t happy with it, despite Ford and Spielberg loving it. David Koepp, who actually ended up writing the final screenplay, is a great writer and his story does steal a lot from Darabont’s much better version; but Darabont’s script feels much more like a celebration of the Jones films, a love letter to the character and the franchise, which sadly got lost in Koepp’s re-write. In another dimension somewhere, a world exists where Darabont’s film was made and I’m a much more content Indy fan.
Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skul is essentially a bittersweet experience for me. In truth, despite all of its problems, I’d gladly take another Crystal Skull if it meant getting to see Indy on the big-screen again. It’s like a dysfunctional relationship in that sense, one which I know isn’t good for me, but that is impossible to break off. It has got its merits and is still a lot of fun, but there is an unshakeable sense of disappointment that comes over me whenever I get to that point in watching the franchise. Looking on the brightside, it isn’t as bad as The Phantom Menace and there hasn’t been an announcement that Shia LaBeouf is taking over the reins…yet.
Trivia Tidbit: Sean Connery was approached for a cameo appearance as Henry Jones Sr., Indiana’s father, but he turned it down, finding retirement too enjoyable. George Lucas later stated that in retrospect it was good that Jones Sr. did not appear, as it would disappoint the audience when he would not come along for the adventure. Harrison Ford also joked that he was getting old enough to play his own father, so Sean wasn’t needed anymore.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com