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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

dir: Steven Spielberg
[img_assist|nid=58|title=Let me die with some dignity, please|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
The wave, like any wave, builds slowly at first. The forces at work that generate a wave are staggering, truly, physics and hydrodynamics on the grandest scale. The effect of the moon’s gravitational pull, weather patterns, the Coriolis effect, currents, underwater structures like reefs and rock formations, tectonic plates and volcanic activity; all combine to generate the mightiest and meekest of waves that plague our oceans and seas.

Other forces include anticipation, nostalgia, relentless marketing campaigns and the blind willingness to believe that something that has to be shit could actually be all right against all the logic and sense available in the universe, let alone under the sea in an octopus’s garden in the shade.

The wave I’m referring to is the crashing wave of disappointment that is this motion picture in its entirety: this picture in motion of such staggering awfulness that it makes me weep for the lost childhood that Spielberg and Lucas have stolen from me retroactively.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not a good film. It’s not even a bad film. It is strictly speaking a film that should not exist. Part of my mind is trying to convince me that maybe I didn’t watch this flick, and that I’ve imagined its sheer awfulness, and that scene after scene of staggering banality really could not have been this bad.

Maybe I’ll never know. I’d have to somehow make sure that I never watch it again in order to convince myself that it never happened. I’ll have to create a blind spot in my vision for when the flick is advertised in my line of sight, or when the DVD is inevitably on sale/for rent, or pretend people are mad when they talk about it. The sad truth is I’m probably incapable of managing the grand level of self-delusion that would be necessary, no matter how much I wish it was true. Now I know how Christians feel.

The last time a film disappointed me this much, it had the word Pirates in the title and a numeral as well, being a 3 or a three or a III. Well, this film here is a IV, and they’re notoriously hard to get right. Rocky IV notwithstanding.

I ask myself, as I would ask Lucas and Spielberg if I could ever get them tied up together in a basement next to a leather-bound Gimp suspended from the ceiling, why there had to be a fourth installment in the series. The adventures of Indiana Jones have had sufficient airplay, so to speak. Three very successful films and a television series covering the adventures of a young Jones have pretty much entertained the masses as much as the masses need to be entertained. This one, I guess, is meant to be like a victory lap, a valedictory valentine fare-thee-well to the fans.

It presupposes that They, being Spielberg and Lucas, are doing it for Us. If that’s the case, guys, honestly, who the fuck do you think you’re kidding?

The film opens with a disheveled and aged Jones being dragged out of the boot of a car by some evil Russians led by an evil Russian minx (Cate Blanchett). They are after the remains of some alien from Roswell, New Mexico, and they are kept in the giant warehouse we last saw at the end of the first film as the Ark of the Covenant found a new home.

Narrow escape follows betrayal and narrow escape, before Jones finds himself in the middle of a nuclear testing site, and survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge. The fridge is propelled from the centre of ground zero several kilometres to safety. Jones emerges unscathed, only to look up at the sheer otherworldly magnificence of an atomic mushroom cloud.

Now, perhaps those words alone, spoilers that they are, aren’t enough to convince you of how the film goes wrong right from the start, and how profoundly. The problem is that for me the sequence represented such a comprehensive ‘jumping the shark’ moment that everything that followed never really recovered from that initial stumble. Even more dispiriting is the fact that it happens so early on that I never really had a chance to be lulled into a false sense of security.

What follows on: really, does it matter? Aliens, Soviet conspiracies, crazy John Hurt and crystal skulls, Incan Peruvian lost cities and Amazonian jungle chases, greaser morons and old girlfriends (emphasis on the old), all to the accompaniment of Harrison Ford looking confused and irritated that he’s been woken up so early on such a cold day.

Honestly, I know people are going to disagree with me as to the reasons why everything falls apart so completely, but my biggest problem wasn’t the storyline, the irritating presence of Shia LeBeouf or the way they waste the presence of Ray Winstone, who’s so much better than this. The problem is that Indy just isn’t Indy in this.

He looks like a pale copy of Indiana Jones performed by someone who only has a passing familiarity with the character. Ford has become a parody of himself, because he seems unable to interact with the other actors around him. Perhaps it would have been preferable to have him acting with CGI characters, because he never really seems to be in the same scene with the other actors.

Maybe none of that would have bugged me as much if there was more interesting stuff for Indy and sidekick Mutt to do. But there isn’t. Their journey from point to point is pretty dull, and there isn’t really a lot of action, excluding the apocalyptic beginning and ending, spread throughout the story. Once the jungle fights start, including a harrowing battle amidst the hugest, nastiest ants ever generated by a computer, then maybe it gets a bit more entertaining.

Really, though, there’s not much entertaining being done. The perfunctory feeling to the proceedings never really faded, and I rarely if ever felt like I was watching an Indiana Jones movie. I remarked to a friend that the film most clearly reminded me of another awful movie, being The Mummy Returns, which itself is a piss-poor Indiana Jones rip-off, and I stand by that misstatement.

Some might have trouble with the supernatural elements mixed in with the science fiction stuff, but that’s the least of the flick’s problems as far as I’m concerned. If you can accept a filmic universe where a crate containing the broken down tablets of the Ten Commandments can unleash spirits that melt Nazis, or the Holy Grail, or Kali priests who can rip out a guy’s heart without touching him, then a magical alien crystal skull shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

But it does all come across at profound odds and at a completely wrong angles with the Indiana Jones movies. Most of what happens only apes and echoes other sequences from the earlier films, but done in such ways that heighten the unreality of the action sequences and this world as it’s supposed to exist.

Were they ever believable? After all, the hero we remember held onto submerging submarines, whipped guns out of enemy’s hands, evaded ancient deathtraps, broke through walls using columns and outran rolling stones whilst clutching priceless idols.

But, even with the supernatural elements and endings taken into account, the solutions to crises and the action itself were generally grounded in a mundane reality. Here it all felt kinda skewed in wrong directions.

I don’t know how we were supposed to feel watching this flick, but I certainly didn’t feel any of the excitement and wonderment I did whilst watching the first one. The problem, amongst many others is that I’m not the same person I was back then. I was a child, and I saw as children see. I can’t be expected to see a film now as I saw it, clean slate and humble orphan that I was, versus the mangled, spirit-crushed wreck that I am today. Life has that effect on people.

But there are still films I can watch and be entranced by, no matter the approach or subject matter. I watch the films of Miyazaki or older flicks with child lead actors where I forget decades of cynicism and jadedness for a few hours to wallow in the joy of innocence, hope and pure emotions unadulterated by ambivalence and doubt.

This is never going to be one of those kinds of flicks. It might even sound incongruous to be speaking of such stuff considering that the Indiana Jones flicks aren’t aimed at children per se, and have hefty amounts of violence. But they do come from and are aimed at memories of so-called ‘Saturday afternoon matinees’ of Lucas’s youth. As such, the rest of us are also supposed to revel in the genre wonderfulness of a bygone era updated with extremely nice visuals (courtesy of Spielberg’s longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski) and the best CGI effects money can buy for modern audiences.

It’s just that when the fun is absent, when the references to the earlier films grate instead of fill you with nostalgic warmth, and when it feels like a rip-off despite being the ‘original’, then who’s it supposed to entrance, transport, entertain?

Not me. Even within the trappings of what could have been an interesting story about the Cold War, the atom bomb arms race, the embracement of an understanding of human civilisation having to be radically rethought in the face of a startling new discovery, it all boils down to an awkwardly uncomfortable experience. It’s something like having a drunken, older relative cracking on to you at a wedding reception. Nobody comes out of such a situation smelling like roses.

I think that my opinion is at odds with much of the public and the critics, who don’t see it as an unnecessary last trip to the well, nor do they seem as irritated by Ford’s perplexingly bad performance, or the lack of sharp, snappy dialogue. Nor are they as disgusted by the idiotic happy families element, or by the absolutely nonsensical ending (which did leave me awestruck, if only for a few moments). So maybe my take on it, overflowing as I may have been with unrealistic expectations, is unfair.

Well, then I abjure you to sit through it yourselves and see what a waste of time, money, blood, semen, tears and alcohol it truly is.

4 times I felt like leaving within the first half hour out of 10

“We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away.” – yeah, like pleasant memories being taken away such as films we used to love when we were younger – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Pointless Sequel