Thursday, 29 May 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

From the abundance of fedora hats travelling around London recently, one would almost think that there was a new Indiana Jones movie on general release.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hails the return of the snake-fearing, whip-bearing archaeologist, and it is a welcome return. The back may not be as straight, and a paunch is evident, but the sense of adventure and the now familiar smirk is prevalent.
During a comparatively uninspired set of opening credits, a KGB envoy arrives at a top secret government location in the Nevada desert to the strains of Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog. There they proceed to kill everyone in sight.
Jones (Harrison Ford) is hauled out of a car boot along with his sidekick Mac (Ray Winstone), and ordered by head honcho Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) to locate a specific box in a warehouse containing all of the artefacts the US government does not want the public to see.
Among these artefacts is the Ark, but it is a box containing mangled remains that Spalko seeks. Despite Indy’s best efforts, she escapes with it.
Accused of aiding and abetting Communist spies, Indy is given a leave of absence at his college. Before he sets off for London, he is approached by a James Dean-like figure named Mutt Williams (Shia LeBouf), who tells him of the kidnap of his mother and Indy’s old friend Professor Oxley (John Hurt).
Off we go again.
The two travel to Peru to track him down, and learn that he has discovered the location of the fabled Crystal Skulls, which together can give the power and knowledge of mind control. They find one of them buried with a band of Conquistadors who supposedly discovered El Dorado, before they themselves are kidnapped by Spalko’s agents.
Taken to a small settlement near the Amazon, they are reunited with Oxley and Mutt’s mother, none other than Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen).
Having stared into the eyes of a Skull for too long, Oxley is something of a gibbering wreck, but he is able to communicate to Indy the whereabouts of the other Skulls, which are thought to be extraterrestrial.
A poorly executed escape attempt from the clutches of the KGB sees an exhilarating chase through the jungle, during which Indy learns that Mutt is his son. Following an ant attack and a perilous journey down the river, Indy and company arrive at the lost city. However they are being tracked, aided by one of Indy’s group.
While the alien element seems a little harder to stomach than the previous supernatural forces explored in the previous movies, it brings more of a sense of the unknown to the story.
Ford is clearly relishing the reprisal of his role, as is Spielberg in his role as director. Blanchett and her goons played the Commies as seen through the eyes of late 1950s America: as evil, interfering, one-dimensional baddies, right down to the deliberately awful accents.
Allen’s chemistry with Ford was spot-on. Indy and Marion’s love-hate-hate-love relationship was as strong as ever, particularly in one humorous scene where not even gags could keep them from arguing. Indy warmed astonishingly quickly to his role as a father, and to his son, a chip off the old block it would seem.
However the CGI, although it makes certain things look more realistic, is overused, and a scene involving Henry Jones III swinging through the trees like Tarzan made me pray that a vine would snap.
Crystal Skull is not Indy’s best outing, which is surprising as the screenwriter David Koepp worked with Spielberg on Jurassic Park, and although the dinosaurs stole the show they worked spectacularly well together. However it is entertaining enough, and the good old fashioned humour is still there, although purists will be firmly split in two.
Whatever the success of the movie, the fedora hat phenomenon is sure to spread beyond London and cover ground quicker than the ants.

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