Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

A proper review will be up soon, but I wanted to provide the illusion of actually spending time on it first. Also I'll add that I like the movie just fine, although I'll admit it's kind of pointless, one more go-round lacking the insane kineticism of Temple of Doom or the personal emotional core of Last Crusade. But it's a well-crafted, fun romp with plenty of Spielbergisms.

(Updated, ramblingly, 5/24/08 1:18 a.m)
I think one of the key features of this film is that the Steven Spielberg who made it is a subtly different filmmaker than the guy who made the original three films in the 1980s. It's my belief that there's a pre-Schindler's List Spielberg, who made movies characterized by clean narrative storytelling, and a post-SL Spielberg, more formally inventive, more interesting in complicated and even perverse stories, less interested in giving his audience a purely entertaining movie experience - and this is the Spielberg people don't like when they complain about the bookend scenes of Saving Private Ryan, or the endings of Minority Report or Munich, or pretty much all of A.I. Spielberg's always tried to straddle the line between mass-market blockbusters and personal art, and he's gotten more self-conscious and direct in his artistic endeavors over the last couple of decades.

So, as that relates to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the experience of it is substantially different from the experience of the older Indiana Jones movie - there's a distance, which makes me thing that Spielberg is kind of bored with the enterprise, doing 'one for them' to trade off against his Lincoln film and whatever else he does in the near future; and/or, that he's just not interested in giving his audience a smooth, pleasing experience, and the contrast between the older films and this one is thus more glaring. (In the same way, I think that Jurassic Park is a substantially less inventive, dynamic movie than The Lost World, but it offers a cleaner narrative and fewer narrative and thematic puzzles, and consequently JP is called one of Spielberg's minor masterpieces and TLW one of his flubs, but if you ask me, they're roughly equal in quality). At the same time, I don't think there's any way that this movie could have possibly seen as anything other than disappointing - we're talking about the fanboys, who basically just want to rehash the same experiences over and over again, and when something isn't the-same-but-a-little-different, they complain.

So once again, back to this new movie: I need to see it again to decide how I feel about it, but the range is limited: either it's a minor piece of work along the lines of The Lost World, a sequel made for trade-off purposes and thus essentially work-for-hire, yet containing some striking visuals, a terrific John Williams score, and the best Harrison Ford performance in at least a decade; or, there's a personal, subversive message embedded within it that I haven't cracked yet. If this latter is the case, the key is probably to be found in the movie's two most striking shots, which I realized today are mirror images of each other: the spectacular image of the mushroom cloud that Indy ponders, having miraculously just escaped; and the climactic image of the alien spaceship lifting off, disappearing into some other dimension, and leaving a wake of damage in its behalf. A contemplation of 20th-century scientific hubristic devastation?

More to write when I see the film a second time.



Alexander Coleman said...

I more or less agree with you. It's a lot of fun, minor Spielberg, sort of a mish-mash of the first three movies while being categorically separate.

Lucas definitely seems to have an eye on "relaunching" it with Shia, a sort of Indy Jones, Jr. franchise, so while truthfully there's no reason for this film to exist, for Lucas it appears there's a rather big reason.

One point in this film's favor is Blanchett's my second favorite villain behind the tandem of Belloq and Toht.

Justin Snow said...

I missed that mushroom cloud/UFO parallel. Good eye. And I hope you find something more next time around. I'd be interested to see what to come up with.