Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The (2008)

The continuation of one of popular cinema’s enduring franchises is also one of Steven Spielberg’s rare misfires.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Review #284

Dir. Steven Spielberg
2008 | USA | Action/Adventure | 122 mins | 2.39:1 | English, German & Russian

PG (passed clean) for adventure violence and scary images

Cast: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf
Plot: Amid the Cold War, Indy faces a race against time to find the legendary Crystal Skull of Akator before the Soviets, who believe that the artifact can help them conquer the world.
Awards: Nom. for 1 BAFTA – Best Visual Effects

Distributor: Paramount

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Mainstream

Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 5 May 2008
Spoilers: Mild

The whole world waits with bated breath as Indiana Jones makes a ‘better late than never’ return to the big screen. Directed by Steven Spielberg, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the fourth installment of the popular Indiana Jones series which began with the genre-defining Raiders of the Lost Ark.  When Spielberg and George Lucas announced that they were to make Crystal Skull, many critics were skeptical.

In today’s context, digital technology and advancements in special effects have made significant contributions to cinema.  But it’s a double-edged sword.  Too much effects and digitalization have resulted in the dilution of film, causing some movies to feel cold and lifeless.  Never can we replicate the intrinsic and warm picture qualities that are apparent in ’70s and ’80s cinema.

Crystal Skull suffers from this.  From the beginning, it does not capture the magic and spirit of its three predecessors. As the movie rambles on, the story gets weaker and finally succumbs to visual effects in the final third. Unlike Minority Report in which CGI were used intelligently to drive the plot, Crystal Skull depends on CGI to cover up the flaws of its story.

Crystal Skull is one of Spielberg’s biggest flops of his largely celebrated career.  Even composer John Williams has an off day, writing uninspiring music that occasionally borrows from his score for War of the Worlds.  

Stunning but realistic action sequences which are the hallmarks of Indiana Jones pictures are far and few between in Crystal Skull.  The most incredible sequence is a twenty-minute vehicle chase over cross-country that culminates with Indy’s amphibious truck plummeting down not one, but three waterfalls.

“Damn, I thought that was closer!”

Fair enough, Harrison Ford slips into his dusty boots and wears his fedora hat with ease. His characterization of Indy has not changed after decades; he finds no difficulty in cracking jokes during dire circumstances, and he’s still terrified of slimy snakes.  However, due to Ford’s age, Indy is now less agile and nimble.  There are a few sporadic moments when Ford is unable to shoulder the demands of being Indiana Jones. 

It is the final third which lets Crystal Skull down the most.  Copious amounts of CGI plus an absurd concept about aliens from outer space is a surefire way of condemning the series to obscurity.  

Although Crystal Skull entertains like a summer blockbuster, it is never a satisfying movie.  Viewers rarely get the sense that Indy is in danger (which is obvious in the three prequels); he seems to shrug off one fight after another.  In a way, it seemed like the stage was set for Indy to do rehearsed battles with his nemeses.

Crystal Skull is one of the worst disappointments in recent years, considering its arduous long wait and sky-high viewer anticipation, and that it’s helmed by the most gifted filmmaker of his generation.  What happened, Mr. Spielberg?

Grade: C  




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