Tag Archives: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Pretty much everyone knows Indiana Jones. He’s a popular guy! The hat, the jacket, the bullwhip. If you’ve met him, these facets of his character ensure that you’ll remember him; if you haven’t, these facets still get thrown around in rumor and legend and make it feel like you’ve met him. I’m not talking about you and I, of course, or the world in which we happen to live, although pretty much everyone does know Indiana Jones. But Indy’s own world, in-movie, isn’t so dissimilar in that regard, and in fact his popularity might even be greater amongst the countless supporting characters who’ve seen him in action, experienced his -ness, or simply caught wind of his legendary adventures.

We talked about the much-feared superheroification of Indiana Jones in our review of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and thankfully that hasn’t happened yet (although we came pretty damn close in 2008). The hat, the jacket, the bullwhip — memorable, yes, but not actually the things that make Indy Indy, any more than the Walther PPK and the martini make Bond Bond. Still, they are the non-lingual facets of his character that have universal appeal, building a mythology such that you could sketch the character’s outline and have it be recognizable to anyone.

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Willow (1988)

When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 the primary news item was very definitely Star Wars and the announcement of a new expansion on the galaxy far, far away. The Force Awakens comes this December, but talk is already turning to Indiana Jones, another Lucasfilm franchise, and the possibility of continuing that as well (because distilling Raiders into Crystal Skull wasn’t enough). What’s next? THX 1138Howard the Duck? Radioland Murders? Perhaps even an original idea? Probably none of those for a few years, while Wars and Jones get the attention they deserve. Eventually, though, they’ll probably remake Willow.

Starring Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, Willow is a fantasy epic set in what seems to be a mystical land of fairies, witches, warriors and little magicians. Willow Ufgood is our unlikely hero, tasked with the safe passage of a prophesied infant through the dangerous lands outside the borders of his home. He seems like a simpleton, a mere farmer, but there’s a lot more to Willow than meets the eye. Importantly, despite the evil tyranny he encounters in his quest, Willow remains one of the most endlessly optimistic characters in all of fantasy cinema. This made Ron Howard the perfect director at the time to handle Willow’s journey, as his previous Cocoon was similarly steeped in magic and optimism. Davis is instantly iconic as Willow. Meanwhile, Val Kilmer plays a drunk version of Aragorn.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

This article first appeared as a part of the Brattle Theatre Film Notes commentary series, presented by the Brattle Theatre in Boston, MA, for a special screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Slight edits have been made from the original posting.

Not long ago Steven Soderbergh removed all of the color and sound from Raiders of the Lost Ark in an attempt to better study the visual staging of Steven Spielberg’s massively influential adventure film. The theory – according to Soderbergh – is that “a movie should work with the sound off”, that the coordination and arrangement of the visual elements of the story should, essentially, tell the same story that the dialogue tells. With Raiders, the theory certainly holds water: from the thick rainforest and cobwebbed tunnels of the opening action sequence to the quiet Archaeology classroom of the very next scene, from the snake-infested underground temple to the desert chase, the staging and pacing of the film is continuously surefooted. “No matter how fast the cuts come, you always know exactly where you are,” Soderbergh writes – and the attention he calls to the visual aspect of Raiders proves that Spielberg’s dedication to a strong sense of story isn’t compromised by a black-and-white color palette or a bass-laden electronica soundtrack.

To put it another way: Indiana Jones, even with these major elements stripped away, is still Indiana Jones. The color is one thing, but you’d think the absence of the iconic “Raiders March” would really shake things up for the worse. The John Williams score is inextricable from Indy, arguably as much a part of the adventurer as his hat or his bullwhip. You wouldn’t take the Bond theme away from James Bond any more than you’d take away his tux or his martini, for fear that the character before you wouldn’t seem like the same familiar spy anymore. Indy seems the same way, seems like a character so reliant on these iconic elements – but while Soderbergh’s exercise proved its point with regards to scene staging, it also pointed out what sets Indy apart.

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has no shortage of detractors. Whenever a beloved film or film series receives a new treatment or installment, most people – myself included – are bound to vocalize their qualms. We said why can’t they leave well enough alone? We said why does everything have to be CGI? With the fourth Indy flick, we said a whole bunch of stuff that shouldn’t be reprinted. So yeah: Crystal Skull is the weakest Indiana Jones for a few reasons. But let’s find something nice to say about it for a change, shall we?

Harrison Ford returns to one of his most famous characters after a quarter-century hiatus (he appeared in one or two movies in the meantime) and most of the old crew returns with him: Steven Spielberg directs from a story by George Lucas, composer John Williams scores the film, and Karen Allen revives the role of Marion Ravenwood. Cate Blanchett plays (ahem, overplays) the primary antagonist Dr. Irina Spalko, and the best things about her are her hair and her name. Among the other new additions to the Indy legend is the consistent use of CGI, which was used sparingly in the first three adventure films in favor of practical effects. It feels at times as if somebody wanted to cram as many CG shots into this thing as possible, and many of those instances are very unfortunately unconvincing. Also: aliens.

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