May 18, 2008

Cannes/Summer 08. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Previous entries gathering reviews of the then-current week's blockbusters, plus notes on this summer's movies in general: Iron Man, Speed Racer and Prince Caspian.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

"Best appreciated as a pulp prequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind... no, I can't," sighs Glenn Kenny...

Updated through 5/25.

"I mean the thing kind of is that, but the fourth Indy installment isn't really an attempt to retroactively create a Spielberg omniverse. But David Koepp's script, from a story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson and Hergé and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Erich von Däniken and Carl Stephenson and... well, you get the idea... does tie together a good number of Spielbergian themes into an eventually pretty nifty package. Yeah - this is, by my sights, the most fun and least irritating installment of the series since the first one."

"The world can rest easy - the old magic still works in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull [site]," announces Allan Hunter in Screen Daily. "It may take some breathless, helter-skelter action to redeem the opening hour's clunky storytelling, but the first Indy adventure in almost twenty years is like a fond reunion with an old friend and will not disappoint diehard fans or deter a new generation from embracing it as a summer blockbuster adventure ride."

"Aliens and a space ship mix it up with unaccountably well-lit caves, tumbles over waterfalls and swings through a jungle that would cause Tarzan to gape," notes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "Director Steven Spielberg seems intent on celebrating his entire early career here. Whatever the story there is, a vague journey to return a spectacular archeological find to its rightful home - an unusual goal of the old grave-robber, you must admit - gets swamped in a sea of stunts and CGI that are relentless as the scenes and character relationships are charmless."

"Sunday's world premiere was met with roaring approval, and any critical sniping will be deftly deflected by adoring audiences," reports Charles Ealy at the Austin Movie Blog.

Eric Kohn actually live-blogged the screening - spoilers galore.

Screening Out of Competition.

FILMdetail gathers notes, clips, just all sorts of things related to the Indiana Jones series.

At Cinematical, Christopher Campbell looks back on the "lost art of the serial."

Jonathan Lapper posts some concept art for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In the Guardian, David Thomson considers Harrison Ford's career.

For the Los Angeles Times, Peter Rainer profiles Spielberg; Paul Brownfield, Karen Allen.

The Toronto Star's Peter Howell talks with Allen and with Harrison Ford.

Online viewing tip. Anne Thompson meets Allen.

Online viewing tips. Loïc Le Meur gathers Seesmic interview with Spielberg, Ford, Lucas, Shia Laboeuf, Allen and Cate Blanchett.

To be continued below...

Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.

Meantime, on with the summer: "Here's to the extremes of cinema," writes Fernando F Croce. "I watched the Wachowski brothers' Speed Racer not long after Eric Rohmer's The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, and the switch proved to be more illuminating than jarring."

Indy 4

Updates: "[N]o critic's negative review will keep people from seeing this film - and yet, at the same time, no amount of enthusiasm or expectation or nostalgia can make up for the things that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gets wrong in its strained effort to throw Indiana Jones back up on the big screen," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "Spielberg and Lucas have stated that there's a minimal amount of digital trickery in Crystal Skull, but it's like hearing someone in the throes of labor testifying to their virginity between contractions... [Spielberg] may have done the impossible here; out of all his films, good and bad, Crystal Skull feels like the first one without a single shred of his personality in it, as if it were just another big, bland, expensive action movie."

"There are scenes in the new movie that seem like stretching exercises at a retirement home; there are garrulous stretches, and even the title seems a few words too long," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "But once it gets going, Crystal Skull delivers smart, robust, familiar entertainment. Ford looks just fine, his chest skin tanned to a rich Corinthian leather; he's still lithe on his feet, and can deliver a wisecrack as sharp as a whipcrack. Karen Allen, 56, who was Indy's saucy love Marion Ravenwood in Raiders, still has that glittering smile and vestiges of her old elfin swagger. They needn't break a sweat keeping up with the (relative) kids: 39-year-old Cate Blanchett, the movie's villainess, and Shia LaBeouf, who plays the young lead Mutt Williams, and who may be tapped to continue the series after Ford's retirement - at least that's what Lucas hinted a few days ago here in Cannes."

"One of the most eagerly and long-awaited series follow-ups in screen history delivers the goods - not those of the still first-rate original, 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, but those of its uneven two successors," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "As has been well chronicled, Spielberg and exec producer George Lucas went through no end of writers and story concepts before plausibly updating the action precisely the same number of years as have elapsed since Last Crusade, to 1957, smack dab in the middle of the Cold War. US versus USSR dynamic spurs the dynamite opening action sequence... Like the bravura opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan this smashing launch sets a standard the rest of the film has some trouble living up to."

"As a femme viewer I'd have liked more of the bicker-banter from the first installment," writes Anne Thompson. Still: "The film is directed with expert, Spielbergian precision and panache."

Cinematical's Kim Voynar reports on the press conference.

"It could shape up as the story of the summer," suggests the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik: "a new franchise from a character few had heard of (Iron Man), is snappy, original and complex. A revived franchise the entire planet knows about feels tired and mechanical."

"Since I'm not much of a fan of the Indiana Jones films, I went to a preview of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with dread, watched it with a mixture of nostalgia and bemusement, and left shrugging my shoulders," blogs Carrie Rickey.

"What made the Indiana Jones series so fresh and amusing back in the 80s was its lightness of touch and its tongue-in-cheek, 'ripping yarns' spirit," writes David Gritten. "That hasn't quite disappeared, but there's an awful lot of long-winded explanations of myths, legend and hieroglyphics in this story about Indy's mission to Peru for a crystal skull that's allegedly the fount of all knowledge. Thus, between a series of stunt-driven set pieces, many of them implausibly linked, the film gets bogged down in wearying talk."

Also in the Telegraph, Anita Singh: '[I]'s not as bad as everyone feared, but not as great as everyone hoped."

For the Boston Globe's Ty Burr, this is "grand old-school fun - a rollicking class reunion that stands as the second best entry in the venerable series.... Character and star may have aged two decades since the last installment, but bullets still miss the good guys with astonishing regularity, and Indiana Jones may be the only person who could escape a desert nuclear test site with an A-bomb due to land in ten seconds. How he manages this makes no blessed sense, but it's a hoot anyway."

"What they've done is certainly okay or good enough," writes Jeffrey Wells. "I didn't go into this thing expecting something by Euripides. Plus I had such a good time with Spielberg's immaculate architecture, choreography and editing that I was just charmed and off-the-ground during much of it. The 'old-school' character of it is pretty damn sublime. It felt wonderful to watch an adventure flick untouched or uninfluenced by time or post-Matrix or Tarantino-ish attitudes."

"It's the summer's most-anticipated film, the latest in a beloved series that's earned $1.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Add in a premiere at the most prestigious of international film festivals, and the wonder of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that it avoids being an anticlimax and is entertaining in its own right.... [T]he real heroes of this film are director Steven Spielberg and the veritable army of superb technicians who turn the film's numerous stunts and special effects into trains that insist on running on time."

"[W]hen Lucas and Spielberg launched this series in 1981, they were pioneers," Andrew O'Hehir reminds us in Salon. "Adventure movies had been left behind by the self-serious American cinema of the 70s, and they were the guys who were bringing them back. In the years since then, the world's filmgoers have gorged themselves on adventure movies, cheap ones and mind-blowingly expensive ones and every gradation in between.... In a sense, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has to get by on its nostalgia appeal - nostalgia for an earlier style of filmmaking, nostalgia for an aging and beloved character, even nostalgia for an older and more innocent form of nostalgia - which is an odd path to success for a $125 million motion picture."

Indy 4 Updates, 5/19: "What I want is goofy action - lots of it," writes Roger Ebert. "I want man-eating ants, swordfights between two people balanced on the backs of speeding jeeps, subterranean caverns of gold, vicious femme fatales, plunges down three waterfalls in a row, and the explanation for flying saucers. And throw in lots of monkeys.... I can say that if you liked the other Indiana Jones movies, you will like this one, and that if you did not, there is no talking to you."

"The immensely entertaining Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gives you the same sort of pleasurable rush - a potent mix of nostalgia-fueled glee and in-the-moment excitement - that you can get from a really great concert by a favorite band that first started charting in the 1980s," writes Joe Leydon. "That is, provided it's a concert where (a) the original players are obviously and unashamedly older, but still at the top of the their form, (b) they play both the oldies and the new stuff with the same full-out, rock-the-house energy, (c) the new members of the group fit in seamlessly because they've got the same beat, and (d) a bandmate who left the group a few albums back makes a welcome return midway through the performance."

"Unlike the calamitous Star Wars prequel trilogy, this film doesn't trash our treasured memories, but it doesn't add anything either," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "In fact, it seems like a very, very long extra ending, like the six or seven Peter Jackson tacked on to his The Return of the King."

Matt Dentler finds it "by far the most sentimental of the four installments, a film about generations of family. Likewise, it ends up being the lightest in tone, not as sarcastic as Last Crusade and much easier to swallow than the dark flourishes in Temple of Doom."

"The most striking thing to me about Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that it is, in spite of claims otherwise made, a CG version of an Indiana Jones movie," writes David Poland. "And this changes a great deal about what was so very pleasurable about the first three films."

The AICN triple whammy: Harry Knowles, Moriarty and Quint.

At Cinematical, Peter Martin offers "recollections of watching Indiana Jones through the years."

Time presents its "2008 Summer Arts Preview."

"Smitten With a Whip: Three Appreciations of Indiana Jones." At the House Next Door: Odienator, Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich.

At Hollywood Bitchslap: Peter Sobczynski and Erik Childress.

"A rainy day, one can't help but wonder where this late-blooming avidness for Spielberg has come from, having begun to emerge with his films A.I. and Minority Report," writes Emmanuel Burdeau in the Cahiers du cinéma Cannes diary. "Of course there is the fact that the filmmaker has become melancholy, even morbid of late, constantly retelling the same story about the lost child and the unworthy father. But still, that isn't enough to justify the type of love shown to someone who remains above all, to speak like Jean-Claude Biette, a great director, even more than a great filmmaker: all you need to see is the first hour of The War of the Worlds. Few have his logistical sense, his organization of image."

Paul Matwychuk and Nicola Simpson Khullar have a talk about Indy 4.

Chris Barsanti has a few bullet points.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Updates, 5/20: First and foremost for today's round, the Indiana Jones Blog-a-Thon is up and running at Cerebral Mastication, and has been for a few days now, so there's plenty to delve into.

"The most bizarre plot element in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn't have anything to do with extraterrestrials or the existence of El Dorado or even Shia LaBeouf's comb-wielding hommage a Marlene Dietrich in Dishonored - all of which do figure in the movie," finds the Boston Globe's Mark Feeney. "No, it's a thankfully short-lived subplot about the FBI suspecting Indy of being a security threat."

"[W]hile it's hardly the best of the series (not that we were expecting it to be), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull delivers an irresistible infusion of matinee-style mayhem that, really, we don't get enough of these days," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical.

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels like an old romance re-kindled," writes Mike Russell. "The pleasure is still there, informed by nostalgia, but that pleasure is also... complicated. Messier."

"At times, Crystal Skull proves that it can classically rock, and an automotive chase through and around the Yale campus has some especially ecstatic get-up-and-go," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "As with Live Free or Die Hard, however, computerized spectacle undercuts one of the series's basic pleasures: the woundable humanity of its protagonist."

"Fantastic first 30 minutes, almost perfect in every way," finds Yair Raveh. "But then loses steam. Lots of steam."

At Cinema Strikes Back, Charlie Prince is "happy to report it doesn't suck."

Another Summer 08 movie preview: The Boston Globe.

Updates, 5/21: "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is as joyless as its predecessors were blissful," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "Its sole intention seems to be the launching of a new franchise with LaBeouf's Mutt as heir to his father's fedora."

"You know how watching a sub-standard James Bond movie can make you feel like you're watching a 007 rip-off?" asks Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has that same kind of hollowness, as if you were watching an action-adventure from someone who had borrowed all of Steven Spielberg's script beats and pyrotechnics and none of the joy."

But for Bruce Bennett, writing in the New York Sun, the film's "not bad. In fact, it's good. Very good. There's nothing like a rousing mainstream movie that is actually rousing, and for most of its 120 minutes, Indy 4, as it's been dubbed, is fun, funny, harrowing, and imaginative, and it sustains a relentless pace."

"[W]hat a relief that Crystal Skull turns out to be a serviceable little nostalgia piece," writes Sean Burns. "I'm not sure there's any compelling reason for it to exist, but nowadays the summer movie landscape has grown so cluttered with gargantuan, visually incoherent behemoths, Indy's relative modesty is disarming. It's a fun night out at the movies, no more than that—but certainly no less." Also in the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge lists "Six action movies featuring actors way above the traditional age limit."

"Exuberantly executed anachronisms, the earlier Jones adventures happily bore the hokiness of their serial inspiration: the legends, the bullet-showered escapes, the sets, the moral at the end," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "In the thankless task of making a long-delayed follow-up in his earlier image, Spielberg - always hit-or-miss with (explicit) sequels - has made an overcautious movie, comfort food for some tastes but not very fresh."

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Updates, 5/22: "There's plenty of frantic energy here, lots of noise and money too, but what's absent is any sense of rediscovery, the kind that's necessary whenever a filmmaker dusts off an old formula or a genre standard," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "As expected, the high leaps and long jumps look impressive, even if it's something of a bummer when one of the best directors working today (Mr Spielberg) doesn't seem to be working as hard as the stunt crew. Initially, I thought he was bored with the material (he wouldn't be alone), but now I think he's just grown out of this kind of sticky kids' stuff."

"[T]here is something oddly moving about the dedication, diligence and inventiveness that Spielberg pours into every frame of the movie's mounting," counters Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "I will admit I didn't allow myself to be quite so impressed by the director's exacting expertise two decades ago. Granted, Spielberg was always a wizard in combining physical action with expressive compositions and dazzling camera choreography (as well as other formal elements including John Williams's sometimes trite but always effective scores). Back then, this all looked like empty prestidigitation and commercial cunning. Today, in context, it can seem as personal and purposeful as the craft of John Ford's Stagecoach."

"As one who considers Spielberg among the most immensely gifted moviemakers of his generation, I've never been convinced that the Indiana Jones movies find him working at (or anywhere near) his personal best," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "At the end of the day, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is nothing if not consistent - taking care of business solidly, professionally and without a lick of the genuine wonderment or inspiration that you can find in surplus in Jon Favreau's Spielberg-influenced Iron Man. But we're also (relievedly) a long way away here from the strenuous self-importance of the Bruckheimer-era blockbuster, and one should never look even such modest gift horses in the mouth."

"No mainstream filmmaker since Orson Welles can touch Steven Spielberg when it comes to camera movement and composition - or, more precisely, to composition that gets more vivid as the camera moves," blogs David Edelstein. He then describes a shot that is "the work of a man with film storytelling in his blood. What a bummer when the story he has to tell is such a cosmic nothing."

For Salon's Stephanie Zacharek,

it miraculously pulled off the effect of feeling like a surprise: The picture both fulfilled some vague, unexpressed hopes I didn't know I had and also left me with the sense that I'd just seen something I wasn't quite prepared for - the kind of contradiction that great showmanship can bridge. In a movie climate that seeks to promise bigger, bolder thrills, Crystal Skull daringly offers less, in the sense that it gives us action sequences that rely on visual logic rather than lots of fast cutting; its computer-generated effects are used with relative judiciousness; and it features human faces that actually look human - in other words, they belong to people who have aged, visibly, with the rest of us. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, made by a man who's amassed a great deal of money exploring the dreams and fears of childhood, and featuring a one-time action hero who's now in his 60s, is an adventure about the inevitability of adulthood - but if you put that on a poster, almost nobody would come.

"[L]ogistics match dialectics and we knowingly behold contemporary myth," declares Armond White. Related: The New York Press's Jerry Portwood blogs about editing White (and sorting through the hate mail) and points to John Lingan's interview with White for Splice Today.

"As someone who, as a boy, spent countless hours whipping invisible Nazis in the backyard, and clinging to the family station wagon in an imaginary dash to Cairo, it pains me to announce that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a dud." Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger.

"Some things about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are nearly irrefutable," argues Chris Barsanti at PopMatters. "First, Cate Blanchett does a fantastic Greta Garbo. Second, swarms of deadly ants are possibly scarier than tombs full of venomous asps. But most important is this: the audience opened their hearts and expectations to this film because 'they' (Hollywood) in fact doesn't make them like they used to. Maybe they never did. But with moviegoers facing a grim season of pallid CGI battle-toons like The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Prince Caspian, even the problematic adventures of one Indiana Jones can feel like a rich banquet in comparison." More from Bill Gibron.

"They didn't take the bait offered by Casino Royale or The Bourne Ultimatum and attempt to shoehorn Dr Jones into a frenetic, circa-2008 thrill-ride," and Jason Kottke is all the happier for it.

"Each new Spielberg film inevitably occasions some serious think-piece writing about the latest addition to the oeuvre of the most loved and hated American director currently at work," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in Stop Smiling. "Having recently caught up on some Spielberg films I've missed over the years I must admit to being more baffled by him than ever - how could such a savvy creator of pop culture that's both unabashedly awe-inspiring (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and deeply disturbing (AI: Artificial Intelligence) raise suspicions that he's just trotting out an old cash cow for one more milking?"

"It may suffer from a script that's both overstuffed and underdeveloped, but at its best - in happily preposterous action scenes staged with speed-demon verve, punctuated by slapstick punchlines - the jolly Indiana Jones offers the pleasure of a master horsing around with a long-stored train set, tickled to see he can still make the thing run," writes Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene.

"Even as the movie occasionally trips over its nostalgias, it's still a likable, if unremarkable, entertainment, a pleasant echo of past delights," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr.

Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "The movie, like the series overall, goes from a bang to a whimper."

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal is probably the worst of the Indiana Jones movies, but it's still pretty much a delight, from the beginning almost until the end," writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle.

Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper: "To answer the obvious questions off the bat: Yes, there's too much CGI; no, it doesn't ruin the film; yes, Harrison Ford both recognizes his age and still manages the requisite action; no, Shia LeBeouf isn't intolerable; and yes, this is a worthy successor to the original trilogy capable of being embraced by lifelong fans."

Updates, 5/23: Noel Murray and Keith Phipps present a Spielberg primer at the AV Club.

Indy 4 "sends you out as it should - exhausted and happy - and you won't begin to think about its flaws for hours," writes Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post.

"What happened to Spielberg's ingenuity and pizzazz?" asks Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "From Janusz Kaminski's leaden cinematography to the customary John Williams score that keeps trying to bully us into thinking we're having a blast, the film oozes complacency."

"The unholy mix of George Lucas's colonialist nostalgia and Steven Spielberg's fluency with action becomes more self-conscious in this fourth Indiana Jones outing," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader, where Lee Sandlin reviews Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

"Sitting through the final death agonies of the Star Wars prequel franchise was like witnessing the last moments of a dying elephant: the staggering, the pain, the doomed, redundant trumpeting," writes Peter Bradshaw. "Watching this new Indiana Jones movie, on the other hand, is like seeing a healthy, if elderly, elephant forced out of dignified retirement and made to caper and do tricks, to the obvious detriment of its health."

Also in the Guardian: "There's an increasing feeling that CGI, which promised so much, is looking increasingly clunky these days, that sophisticated audiences can see the joins and spot the jerky movements, and that these failings are cheapening the cinema experience," writes Ravi Somaiya.

"If you ever desired swarms of computer-generated red ants, now's your time," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "But the movie is all too often free of physical heft or gravity (an ironic indictment of the digital industry Lucas is responsible for), especially during a passive, Close Encounters-style climax that triggers an 'Um, wow?' in lieu of actual catharsis."

Following David Poland, the Movie City News team chimes in: Leonard Klady, Ray Pride and Michael Wilmington.

Updates, 5/24: "On the Raider's scale, the film is not quite as good as the first one, but better than the third, and way better than the second," writes DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice.

"Spielberg shouldn't have to shoulder much of the blame for the film's problems though. Legendary director Akira Kurosawa said that 'with a bad script, even a good director can't possibly make a good film' and many of Crystal Skull's problems stem from David Koepp's script that ignores personal relationships and relies on too many scenes of ridiculously over-the-top action," writes Jim Rohner at Zoom In Online.

Updates, 5/25: "The film is old-fashioned, self-referential fun, in which ancient mythologies are stirred in with newly created ones like the fetishistic fedora, bullwhip and leather jacket that make up Indy's ritual regalia," writes the Observer's Philip French. "Indiana Jones as embodied by Harrison Ford inspires an affection that Bond and the supposedly more complex, self-doubting superheroes don't. In an odd way, he embodies old-fashioned decency and a sense of being at one with the world and its history."

"It's not just a narrative mess," writes Matt Riviera. "Some of it looks like a fan film screened on YouTube in low-res, the green screen reflected in Blanchett's shiny bob. Crystal Skull pales in comparison to that oher recent adventure film throwback, Peter Jackson's meticulously crafted King Kong."

More from Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door: Spoilers!

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Posted by dwhudson at May 18, 2008 8:01 AM


it seems like the recipe of a good Indiana Jones film would be 1 part Nazis and 1 part biblical artifact... the Soviet army does a pretty good job of replacing the Nazis, but the other ingredient...

Posted by: patrick at May 21, 2008 4:51 PM