Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Sometimes I see the poster and I still can't believe that a new Indiana Jones movie is finally upon us. It's now been nineteen years since the third one came out, and perhaps an entire decade since I first heard of the possibility of a fourth. Spielberg and Lucas and Ford are all in their sixties and they've finally reunited to make another installment. And why not? The other movies do technically constitute a trilogy, but this is not an epic that needs a beginning and an end. They could keep churning out these movies as long as the blood is still pumping through their veins.

Unlike the Star Wars movies, I don't enter the theater with a well formed preconception of what I am supposed to see or what I want to see. A new Indiana Jones movie is not particularly special for what it can do, but it is exciting for how fun it promises to be.

Perhaps I didn't know what to expect because I didn't have a clear idea, really, of what makes an Indiana Jones movie. But from the opening scene-- no, even from the Paramount logo-- the movie is wonderful in its combination of familiarity and freshness. I still couldn't put my finger on it, but it all feels so right, it feels just like the other three while delivering something completely new.

We see Indiana Jones tumbling down three waterfalls, escaping fire ants, dodging a thousand bullets, even surviving a nuclear blast. I think it was at the third waterfall drop that I realized why it felt so right... The sheer joy by which it treats itself. From every rational view a drop down a waterfall that big would kill a man. Instantly. But the movie presents it in a way that keeps a smile on your face without sacrificing tension. And when Indiana Jones crawls out of the water beaten up but still ready for action, you're right there with him and ready to go.

Roger Ebert said of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, "We find ourselves laughing in surprise, in relief, in incredulity at the movie's ability to pile one incident upon another in an inexhaustible series of inventions." He might as well be saying the same in 2008.

This movie isn't perfect though, and I do have two specific complaints.

One, the middle part gets a bit slow and dreary, with Indy spending a lot of time figuring out the clues and thinking aloud. Spielberg seems determined not only to present preposterous action with rambunctious gusto, but tie it together with a web of plot. A noble cause, but it had me anxious to get back to the preposterous rambunctiousness again.

Two, the movie's climax is a bit heavy on the CG, despite the rest of the movie (and the series) having a very earthy feel to it. It feels alien to the world the series lives in, no pun intended. If there's one scene that doesn't feel like an Indiana Jones movie this is it.

That said, the movie was fantastic fun and if they ever make a fifth one I'd be ready and willing to trek to the cinema on opening day all over again.

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