- Written by David Koepp, from a story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson
- Directed by Steven Spielberg
I dreaded disaster when I first heard that George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford making a fourth Indiana Jones movie. Nearly twenty years after Indie’s latest outing, I felt it was best to let sleeping triumphs lie.
I was wrong.
They pull it off beautifully, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is easily the best entertainment to come out of the once-reliable Lucasfilm since, well, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In fact, it’s one of the best turn-off-the-brain entertainments to come out of Hollywood in that time.
Don’t worry about the plot, which is as implausible as the hero’s luck. Like all Indiana Jones movies, this one is about clever lines, period décor, self-referential jokes, and ridiculously exciting action–especially action. We get Indie, armed with a whip, fighting off armies with machine guns, surviving a nuclear blast, and riding a motorcycle through a university library (a bit that ends with a great gag reminding us that he is, after all, a college professor). There’s dry sand (not quite the same as quick sand), a multi-vehicle chase with characters jumping from one car to another, an attack by monkeys, and another by giant ants. And, of course, there’s a snake.
And every bit of terror and suspense undercut with a delicately-designed laugh. I guess Spielberg learned his lesson from the Temple of Doom fiasco: Indiana Jones is too absurd to be played straight.
He also can’t be played young (although he’s given a young sidekick played by Shia LaBeouf, costumed like Marlon Brando in The Wild One). The filmmakers made the wise decision to set the film in 1957–19 years after the Last Crusade. That way, Ford doesn’t have to play younger than he really is. He even has gray hair here–almost unheard of for an action hero.
Not that anyone is going for realism. Indiana Jones exhibits the same amazing strength, stamina, and reflexes seen in the other films, even if Ford needs more help in achieving them. These movies always used a lot of stunt doubles, but 27 years ago, Ford allowed himself to be dragged behind a truck hanging onto his whip; now he uses a double for long shots of riding a motorcycle. He’s 65–you can’t blame him.
Spielberg and company have a lot of fun with the ’50s setting–especially in the early part set in the United States. We’re treated to Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog,” atomic tests in Arizona, Russians, and McCarthyism. Since the Nazis were gone by 1957, the Commies fill in for them as the sneering bad guys (especially Cate Blanchett enjoying a hearty meal of scenery; talented actors always make the most entertaining hams). But the filmmakers haven’t forgotten the other side of the cold war; Indiana Jones loses his tenured professorship over suspected Communist sympathies.
But don’t expect a political film here. There’s only one lesson to be learned from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: How to make a really entertaining movie.
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