STUDIO: Paramount
MSRP: $39.95
RUNNING TIME: 122 Minutes

  • The Return of a Legend
  • Pre-Production
  • Production Diary: Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • Pre-Visualization Sequences
  • Galleries
  • Lego Indiana Jones Demo

The Pitch

Why the hell not?

The Humans

Cast: Harrison Ford. Cate Blanchett. Shia LeBeouf. Ray Winstone. Karen Allen. Jim Broadbent. John Hurt.

Director: Steven Spielberg.

Writers: David Koepp. Jeff Nathanson. George Lucas (Story)

The Nutshell

Taking place some years after the seemingly series ending ride into the sunset of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we meet our adventurer as a man entering his later years as well as the family he never knew he had. And interdimensional alien beings. And…

The Lowdown

What follows is my theatrical review for the film followed by a new afterward:

It’s too easy to review a film like this with your heart.

It’s an Indiana Jones film, by God. Despite my lack of love for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
there’s no denying the fact that the films brought to the masses by
Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford are cuts of movie
magic. Rarities. Legendary creations born smack-dab in the middle of my
formative years that I was able to watch bloom before my impressionable
eyes. The heart has a way of overriding the brain at all the worst
times. If I could go back in time and rewrite all of the reviews I did
for the Star Wars prequels, I
would. The haze around my brain held thick and despite repeated blows
of logic and reality, the heart pumped double time to keep the illusion
alive. I felt that haze creeping on once the Lucasfilm logo appeared.
It’s amazing how powerful these two franchises are. Their ability to
ride our love and emotion sometimes makes it hard to know what we’re
seeing until long after we’ve had time to let it marinate. More than
nearly any other franchises, these are like loved ones whose faults we
overlook for the greater good.

Adversely, it’s unfair to
approach a film of this significance strictly as a cynic, because
there’s no denying the stamp and signature the Indiana Jones films have
had on the adventure genre. The last time we met Indy was before the
digital age and arrival of waves of filmmakers wanting to ride Steven
Spielberg’s adventure coattails. In some respects, the Indiana Jones
films constituted the last analog franchise in the world of cinema.
Instead of seeing the world of adventure through a world of matte
paintings, phenomenal stunts, and intricately conceived action beats,
we now see Indiana Jones and his associates as indestructible digital
avatars on the rails of one pretty but benign sequence after another.
I’m sure there’s still plenty of old school technique on display, but
I’ll be damned if it feels the same.

It certainly doesn’t look the same. Though occasionally bathed in the
warmth and glory of the original films, Janusz Kaminski’s
cinematography lends a much colder and synthetic look to the
proceedings. In the film’s introduction to the now grayed Indiana
Jones, the look is so oversaturated and laden with glare it nearly
overrides the content. Never before has a film in the series felt as
much pieced together as here – almost as if the audience is seeing a
high budget fan film or some connective Indiana Jones content for a
DVD-ROM or online presentation rather than the genuine article. Never
should one be reminded of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
when watching an Indiana Jones film. And though this early scene isn’t
nearly as overt in its stylistic choices, it certainly provides a
disconnect from the job at hand: bringing a beloved character and his
universe back to life. The film looks a lot more like “the New
Spielberg” with its more metallic palette rather than the warm and
comforting celluloid of the old days. The first moments where we’re
reintroduced to the leading man in particular have a very weird look to
them, somewhere between feeling too manipulated in post or reeking of
the soundstages they were filmed on. The lighting, tone, and mood are
simply a poor conductor for the Indiana Jones magic so desperately
needed to get the film out of the gate on the right foot. Eventually
the look achieves more balance, but it’s an uphill battle. The film
should have captured the mood and delivered the Indiana Jones we know
and love immediately. Instead we’re graced with a clunky introduction
that delays the payoff the film needed to deliver just to simply remind
us this is a legitimate Indy film. Luckily there’s still joy in seeing
the Man with the Hat on the big screen.

It takes a while, but
once he’s given a chance to do more than participate in a few somewhat
uninspired action sequences (including a ludicrous nuclear explosion
that is pretty to look at, but requires the biggest suspension of
disbelief in the series), Harrison Ford manages to remind us why we
love him in this role so much. The fedora and whip go a long way, but
the man still looks good. And when given the time to lecture the young
Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) or interact with his peers we get to see
the charming and rakish Indiana Jones we remember. Sadly, too much of
the time the actor is forced to deliver line upon line of expository
dialogue or solve puzzles in his head and then explain them to one of
his cohorts. It doesn’t feel organic like it used to. Worse yet, this
Indiana Jones is more resilient and indestructible than ever before, a
trend we’ve seen all too much of late. Though this is escapism at its
most obvious, the character who in the past had to cheat a swordsman
and have rotors and grinders and flocks of birds take out his enemies
seems awfully content to go toe-to-toe with anyone who crosses his
path. More often than not the result is a stunt double or CGI version
of the man being slammed, bashed, or otherwise creamed in a manner that
lessens the fun and humanity of the professor with an active lifestyle.

This man was aching from the mileage in the first film, one which takes
place 21 year before this. Here he seems older-looking, but otherwise a
lot more up to fisticuffs, smashing into vehicles, dodging gunfire for
great lengths of time at close range [and in one little moment it seems
like the Russian soldiers actually wait to fire until he’s almost out
of sight, which is probably more a case of sloppy editing than anything
else]. It becomes tedious after a while. One of the opportunities of
this film should have been a chance for fans to say goodbye to an icon,
though he did ride fittingly off into the sunset 19 years ago. There’s
not a sense of Indiana Jones winding down or conceding to time. That’s
an aspect of the film which is sorely lacking, especially when Ford is
asked to carry both the action hero responsibilities as well as the
mentoring ones. If the goal is to showcase that Indiana Jones is
timeless and impervious, job done. Otherwise, the fallibility and
waning physicality of a man who has done it all [the film alludes to
extensive work with the military between the last film and this one] is
something we’re not able to see. Ford has some very solid moments and
some lesser ones, but when it’s all said and done he does a better job
than his behind the scenes collaborators Lucas and Spielberg. More on
that later.

The supporting cast ranges from solid to
forgettable. Shia LaBeouf is engaging as Mutt Williams, especially
considering the one-dimensional look they gave him. Mutt’s obviously
the heir apparent to Indy. The mystery regarding his connection to the
mythology is wafer thin, but anyone coming into a film like this to be
surprised by plot turns is fighting a losing battle. Mysteries
surrounding the possibly otherworldly origins of the Crystal Skulls of
the title, the allegiance of Ray Winstone’s character Mac McHale, and
Mutt’s relation to Indiana Jones are dealt with quickly and early so
that they’re not mysteries at all. When asked to help carry the action
workload, LaBeouf does an able job. He is maturing into a good physical
performer in addition to his excellent comic timing and naturalistic
acting. Unfortunately he’s given a truly horrible action sequence late
in the second act that seems too cheesy even for a Mummy
film. Vines. Monkeys. Laughs. If this is truly the passing of the
franchise baton to the younger man, it could be worse. But I can’t
imagine this film generating enough interest to sustain any additional
cinematic adventures.

Karen Allen looked great in the
photographs leading up to the production, but she seems out of depth in
live action. The character of Marion Ravenwood (now Williams) was
always the best foil for Indy. Gritty. Sly. Able to hold her own. Not
as whiny as Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott and not as boring as Alison
Doody’s Dr. Elsa Schneider. Here she feels tacked on, a device to bring
Mutt and Indy together. The relationship feels forced between the two Raiders of the Lost Ark
leads, and though there are a few moments intended to inject emotion
and warmth into the film, it doesn’t register. It’s nice to see Marion
back, but perhaps a cameo would have sufficed. She feels shoehorned
into the rest of the film.

Cate Blanchett’s Irina Spalko doesn’t fare much better. There’s no real
sense of adversarial chemistry between the Russian scientist/sword
lover and Indy. She simply arrives with her cronies, says her lines,
gets thwarted, and moves to the next scene. It’s nothing against
Blanchett, she knows what kind of movie she’s in and does decent work.
There’s just not that much work to do other than to deliver lines,
swing her weapon, and fire an amazing amount of bullets that miss their
mark. Also, a possibly interesting subplot involving Spalko having
extrasensory powers is abandoned almost immediately.

Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Jim Broadbent are along for the ride but of
little consequence other than to deliver exposition and lots of it. The
CGI gophers, ants, Crystal Skull ‘owners’, monkeys, and other assorted
minutia range from horrible to moderately entertaining. The less said the better.

The film is simply on rails too much. All of the films in the series are globe-trotting affairs that take Indy and his friends from one set piece to the next. But without the crackerjack little
moments present even in the third film it just feels fast and
overdesigned in lieu of actual meat. A fun and potentially wonderful
quicksand sequence is ruined by a bad snake gag. The massively scaled
and potentially show-stopping climax is betrayed by a lack of tension
and elaborate effects substituting for the sort of adventure we expect
from the series. A waterfall sequence breaks no new ground and once
again assumes the audience is dumb enough to buy a group of misfits
surviving fatal fall after fatal fall into raging and rocky shallows
(in a big metal open air car no less) with nary a bump on their head to
show for it. It goes on and on. Killer ants (that feel like the beetles
from the Mummy movies)
being thwarted by the simple presence of a crystal skull, and in fact a
few sequences that are solved simply by holding the crystal skull. This
is a far cry from Kasdan. There’s a cool blow gun moment that’s
rendered much less cool when you consider that the darts aren’t double
sided. Little things. The way during the chase sequence with the
voracious ants that Marion disappears in her vehicle until she’s needed
to save the day a few beats later. The Tarzan sequence with LaBeouf.
The horrible nuclear explosion evasion sequence…

This is lazy
stuff, and filmmakers who pride themselves on storytelling should know
better. Especially Spielberg. George Lucas, because of his massive
molestation of the Star Wars
prequels, as well as his inability to use the apparently fantastic
Frank Darabont draft of this film, will get the brunt of the
complaints. But Steven Spielberg is no pushover. Nor is Harrison Ford.
This is a team effort, and there’s really no excuse for this to be
anything less than well-conceived. It’s almost as if the false starts
and numerous changes in content, balanced with the ever difficult
schedules of the involved parties took a front seat to actually
deciding if this was an adventure worth pursuing.

They should have known better. Especially Spielberg. He’s too good to settle for this. As disappointing as it is, The Lost World
still felt like Spielberg was having fun. I almost expected him to
overpower his collaborators and make this film as seamless a companion
to the other films as possible, adhering to the same techniques and
materials as he used from 1981-1989. Though the film owes as much a
debt to the science fiction of the 50’s as its predecessors did the
serials and pulp of the 30’s, there are still ample moments where it
seems as if the filmmakers are overcompensating. A set piece where a
line of smart dialogue would suffice or a superhuman act where a
knowing nod towards the lead character’s advancing age would deliver
more impact. This is not the graceful and eloquent Spielberg of recent
memory nor the wunderkind that redefined nearly every genre he took a
stab at. This is a concession. The Indiana Jones franchise had already
embraced mediocrity with the third installment [the less said about the television series the better]. But even with that in mind this installment
delivers the latest critical strike, yet another in a steady stream of
seemingly invincible properties whose luster has been rubbed off enough
to make them just plain old movies rather than the seminal cornerstones
they earned the right to be. In a way it makes the first film that much
more astounding, but the bottom line is that a truly amazing character
has been stripped of his grace to die perfectly fittingly of natural
causes. It’s been nineteen years. Interest had waned to safe levels.
The great archaeologist had delivered his last adventure on the big
screen and it was just fine that way.

This isn’t archeology as
much as it is grave robbing. When it’s all said and done, Indiana Jones
was better left alone. I understand when creators need to dip into the
well one last time whether to finish their story, make up for a
lackluster entry, or most commonly to pay the bills. George Lucas,
Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford are three people who haven’t needed
to worry about such matters, which makes the existence of this Indiana
Jones film that much more inexplicable. Even with lowered expectations
and a place of being weighing the heart and brain equally, this one
falls short. It’s a decent diversion, but do we need any more of those?

expectations were reasonable. Skeptical even. But still this one didn’t
click. It’s not the years nor the mileage that have made this film a
disappointment. It’s the fact that by stepping into the digital era
Indiana Jones has lost his magic.


I was hoping that time and no cloud of expectations would enable Crystal Skull to fall into a comfortable little place in my heart, because I don’t much like the third film either when it boils down to it and I’m content to drift on cruise control with characters I love as much as the next guy.

Sadly, I find the film harder to enjoy now and truly believe it’s one of the worst movies to bear the “Directed by Steven Spielberg” label. It’s hollow, the action scenes are largely disappointing, and there’s too many moments that seem to be coasting on nostalgia like the Ark of the Covenant reveal. My new least favorite moment is when at the tail end of the motorcycle chase through Indy’s campus their bike comes to a crashing stop in a library and a kid is waiting to ask Indiana Jones a question. It’s cute, it’s trite, and it seems to exist to create levity in the middle of a breakneck scene. It feels manipulative and not in the way that captivates an audience. Sadly, watching the film I find too many contenders for “least favorite moment”.

This is not a good movie. Harrison Ford and Shia LeBeouf emerge somewhat victorious but there’s nothing here that reminds me of why I love Indy and why I’d ever want to saunter up to the box office again should they return.

The Package

I was surprised to see such a nicely appointed first dip from the folks as Lucasfilm. Having owned no less than three incarnations of the first trilogy, I feared the worst by this installment when it came to special features. Seemingly knowing that I’d not pay a second DVD visit, the folks involved have delivered a rather nice collection of features though obviously sans commentary since it’s a Spielberg movie.

The real meat of the package (slang) is the 80+ minute documentary/production diary that covers the filmmaking process, though we don’t spend a lot of time during the conceptual or post-production process. Hence the title
Production Diary: Making ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I personally find the actual filming to be the least interesting part of DVD featurettes because people are so busy with the work and there’s a sales job at hand regarding the material. They’re in the moment and it’s not as easy to see the creative process. The moments leading up to filming, the adjustments made after a take, and the long pre and post production developments are the real juice for me, so this is a fun and extremely watchable almost feature length documentary with tons of access, but I’d had loved to have seen the years leading up to this. When film is actually rolling, most of everything is in place and there’s not as much room to tweak it on the fly. A film like this with such an interesting and somewhat troubled backstory would be amazing to learn about but “warts and all” really isn’t what these folks are about.

I was extremely surprised to learn that the film was cut the old way without the use of digital tools. It’s a shame it was shot as it was and so laden with so many effects that defy the old school approach. Old school is the last term I’d use to describe the film, though a lot of that falls on the cinematographer’s work.

That said, it’s a fun documentary. It’s hard not to feel like there’s a lot of restraint being used and at several moments it feels like Spielberg’s saying the nice thing though he’s seriously skeptical of Mr. Lucas’ decisions but all in all it’s nice ot see these old pros at work regardless of the finished product.

More of the interesting detail is covered in the shorter, numerous featurettes on the DVDs, the best of which being the ones focused on effects and pre-production.

There’s a nice amount of material here and even though I’m not a fan of the movie, there’s plenty to like here. There’s no denying the talent, skill, and filmographies of these people and seeing them in their element never gets old.

Even George Lucas. Which is saying something.

I won’t go as far as to say this is a DVD for everyone, but there’s enough decent stuff to justify the purchase.

6.5 out of 10