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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull .
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Tagline: In May, the adventure continues.

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First the good news. THE GODFATHER PART III is no longer the worst sequel in the history of Tinseltown. Agreed, most people will think GODFATHER III worse than SKULL, and perhaps I do too on some levels. I saw them both on their opening days, and while I was utterly disappointed watching GODFATHER III, I was fuming watching CRYSTAL SKULL. It made me mad. "Oh Rich, that's just you being your hyperbolical self yet again." Not this time. This movie is bad. "Trust me."

Dear Steven,

Years ago you confessed that your movie 1941 was a complete misfire, so I beg you to do the same here. Tell us how aware you are that you made a movie fanboys have trouble lying about. I ask you now to please stop rationalizing this one away and tell us just how awful you think "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" really is. It's the least you can do for all of us who have paid you to suffer through it. Now I know that the story came from your buddy George, and that you were respecting it by not questioning how insane it was, but…you should have questioned it...or just said no. So I blame you. Not Lucas or Ford. Not Rio, Cain or the bossa nova. YOU.

You yourself even acknowledged this in Empire magazine in 2011; "I am loyal to my best friend. When he writes a story he believes in - even if I don't believe in it - I'm going to shoot the movie the way George envisaged it. …I will always defer to George as the storyteller of the Indy series.”

You should have said no to George. Instead, you sullied one of, if not the, greatest movie franchises of modern times. Maybe if George were dying and this was his last request. But even that's a maybe.

Make movies to make art. Make movies to entertain. Don't make movies because you are loyal to your friend.


But we're stuck with it, so here goes...

I should have known the SKULL would suck during the opening shot; a dissolve from the Paramount mountain logo to a dirt mound, where...ready?...a prairie dog pokes his head out and looks around. Perhaps he was looking for another CADDYSHACK sequel. Whereas the original RAIDERS brilliantly dissolved the Paramount mountain into an actual mountain, SKULL dissolves the mountain into a molehill. By the way, nice going producer Frank Marshall, who said they'll use CGI "only when necessary," then uses it in this very first shot, which has nothing to do with the story.

The moronic plot (aliens?), uninspired stunts (like Shia LaBeouf swinging from vines like Tarzan), cliches galore (all that was missing from the chase scenes was two workers carrying a plate glass window), and unintentionally laughable moments (Cate Blanchett's Russian accent!) are problems, but not the worst ones. No, the real problem with SKULL isn't what's in the movie, it's what's not in there. The chemistry. The fun. The amusing moments which used to come once a minute in previous ventures are absent here. Where's the Nazi unfolding what we think is a torture device and turns out to be a hanger to hold his coat? Where's Indy's look when the truck’s hood ornament he's clinging to for dear life starts cracking off? Where's the fig caught in mid-air before it’s eaten, because it's poisonous? For that matter, where is anything??? Instead we get brooding characters, uninspired set pieces, ridiculous chases, and the moment that had the sold-out audience slapping their foreheads in unison – a moment which is now called:



"Nuking the Fridge." For those of you who don't know, there's a scene in SKULL where Indy finds himself in a nuclear test area; a fake American neighborhood with mannequins and houses which will all be obliterated in the army's bomb testing. To get out of being irradiated into ashes, Indy hops inside a fridge. When the blast occurs, he is catapulted way into the air. The fridge lands, rolls violently down a hill, and out pops Indy! Since this imbecilic scene screened, the term "Nuked the Fridge" became synonymous with that point in any movie when it crosses the line into ridiculousness, a la Arthur Fonzarelli jumping the shark. Spielberg claimed it "was my silly idea" while Lucas countered "He's trying to protect me." But the extremely sad truth is, Who cares who came up with it? Why put a "silly idea" in at all?? Anyway...


INDIANA JONES AND THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008) begins with Indy getting kidnapped by Russians Boris and Natasha (not really, though they would have been less cartoony than Blanchett’s Irina & Co.). He escapes, gets nuked in the fridge, and meets motorcycling Wild One "Mutt" (LaBeouf), who’s the son of Indy's ex-RAIDERS flame Marion.
The real mystery in this movie isn’t the eponymous Crystal Skull, it’s how Indiana Jones, always clever and crafty, manages to be the only one in the world who doesn’t know that Mutt is his son. And yet, we're supposed to be surprised when this fact is revealed later. Anyway, Indy and Mutt go from set piece to set piece getting in and out of trouble while we pretend to care. And then…this whole stupid affair culminates with aliens and their large space ship. Really?? Lucas and Spielberg’s idea for this installment was to move from the 30's serial-like Indy movies into 50's B-movie stuff. Changing the formula of a beloved thing is always a risk, and usually results in failure. People are still yammering about when they changed the recipe for Coke, and that was thirty years ago.

So Indy and Co. are off to find the crystal skull, which, by the way, looks like a fully heated Jiffy Pop pan with eye sockets. Maybe, to make it more realistic, Spielberg and the prop department based it on a real crystal skull. If they did, they shouldn't have. We want to see something cool and big, something perilous and menacing, not a prop that looks it weighs a quarter of a pound. And why be realistic anyway? Who cares what a real crystal skull looks like? How many people knew crystal skulls even existed? I didn’t. I had to look it up just now. (Though claimed to have been from ancient civilizations in South America, crystal skulls were actually made in Europe in the late 1800s. Scam. And it goes without saying - but apparently not without writing - that although they're claimed to be paranormal, they have no magical powers. This movie isn't the first bit of fiction to utilize crystal skulls in the plot.)

And now a few words about the writing. Shit. Crap. Awful. Virtually every Hollywood Super A-List writer took stabs, heavy hitters Jeff Nathanson (no relation, that's why I can write this), David Keopp, Jeb Stuart, Jeffrey Boam and Frank Darabont. So how does this happen? I wasn't privy to how. I can only guess it had something to do with Lucas and Spielberg trying to find not just the one they thought was perfect, but the one they could both agree on (though I suspect it came down to the one they could both live with).
Now to be fair, this was never a fast-tracked project or one where they kept firing and hiring writers. It was simply getting someone to write something they'd be happy with. Of course, this raises the question - "Really? This is what you were happy with?" I would have been happier if they made INDIANA JONES AND THE CHURCH OF THE POISON MIND. That sounds like so much more fun. Indy, now 84 years old, meets the evil Boy George. “Do you really want to hurt me, Indy? Throw me the whip!”

When Spielberg's computer animated feature THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN came out, it dawned on me about halfway through - This should have been the script for the next Indy movie, not SKULL. Have you seen TIN TIN? You didn’t? It's really good. You did? Then...am I right? Or at least onto something?

The only thing great about watching SKULL again was that the Blu-ray's quality is dazzling. And the extras, which there are a lot of, are wonderful. At one point I found myself swept up in the making of the movie. Their attention to detail. The professionalism. The love of the craft. There's a featurette showing the previsualization of the opening warehouse scene, though, sadly, it’s more interesting than the actual scene. In behind the scenes footage, Spielberg is asked how he's feeling upon arriving in New Mexico for the first day of shooting. His joking response was that he hasn't quit yet, but that they should find a "younger, brighter director." As we know, sometimes when people make a joke, there’s a little truth in it.

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