It’s 1981, the local Odean is showing Any Which Way You Can, Arthur, Chariots of Fire, Cannonball Run, Clash of the Titans, Excalibur, Flash Gordon and For Your Eyes Only. Ronald Regan becomes president of the United States of America. Bucks Fizz win the Eurovision Song Contest for Britain. STS-1 launches, the first Space Shuttle mission. The first recognised cases of AIDS are reported. Prince Charles marries Lady Diana. MTV is launched and you can buy an IBM PC for the first time, for $1,565 in America.
Oh, and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is on at the pictures.
That’s the context of the first movie. Three years later (1984) Temple of Doom is released. This is the same year the Apple Macintosh goes on sale, Michael Jackson burns his scalp, the 10th shuttle mission is launched, GCSE’s replace O levels in British schools. In the cinema, we’re watching Ghost Busters, Beverly Hill’s Cop and Footloose.
And then in 1989 the third Indy movie airs, The Last Crusade, alongside Batman, Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Lethal Weapon 2. Also in that year George H. W. Bush succeeds Ronald Reagan, the first GPS satellites are placed in orbit, in Alaska’s Prince William Sound the Exxon Valdez spills 240,000 barrels (11 million gallons) of oil after running aground. Seinfield airs for the first time. East Germany opens its borders, and the destruction of the Berlin wall begins.
That’s the world when the first three movies were released. A time many of us were in our late teens or early twenties. My generation. Those of us who knew who to call when we saw a ghost, knew never to mix gremlins with water, and knew without a doubt that aliens would want to phone home and lay their symbiotic spawn inside our chests at the same time.
A lot, and I mean, a lot has changed since those times. The 90’s came and went, and we’re at the neck end of finishing the first decade in the 2000’s. The world became smaller, and more cynical, and the technology of our dreams turned out to be the agonising painful support problems of our daily lives. We discovered we were really wrecking the planet like a bunch of petulant kids, and that maybe it was time to grow up and take notice.
Expectations changed, reality became so unreal that our heroes had to become doubly so to seem fantastic. The Lord of the Rings and the Matrix changed the expectations of movie fans all over the world. And we began to re-invent.
In 2005 we re-invented Batman. In 2006 we re-invented Superman.
And then there was a rumour, a fourth Indiana Jones movie, with Harrison Ford no less. Would we be seeing a re-invented Indiana Jones?
I’ll be honest, I was excited. I had memories of loving the original three films, although I’d not seen them in the cinema. I’d watched them over and over whenever I could, I loved them, they were a part of my life and my youth. I was nervous, I felt the Star Wars films had been handled badly even if they were mostly enjoyable. But we’d seen it was possible to get away with it, Batman Begins I loved and Die Hard 4 was a credit to the franchise.
So we went tonight, I took my hat but didn’t have the courage to wear it. I want to write a positive review, I want you to go and see this film, and I want you to enjoy it, as I just did, but you have to keep in mind the context. Spielberg has given us a sequel to the Last Crusade in all ways. The same style, the same dialog, the same approach. He hasn’t tried to re-invent the characters, he’s dealt with them honestly, presenting them as older but the same people. He hasn’t tried to give the story a modern context, or a modern ethic, he’s kept it tied to the 50’s and kept it in sync with the previous three.
It’s brave I think, he said he was writing this for the fans, and he has. Because compared to the three previous movies, it’s excellent, superb, entertaining. Compared to action movies of today, it’s lacking and misses the mark.
Which is a real shame, because it deserves to be enjoyed more than I fear it’s going to be. It’s fast paced, it’s got Indy’s dialog, it’s got action, it’s got good guys and bad guys and incredible artifacts of power and mystery. It’s the fourth Indiana Jones movie at its core and it should be loved and enjoyed for it. But it’s gentle and soft. There is no Die Hard 4 here, no Batman Returns, no serious danger or deadly menace. There is no adrenaline fueled fear for our hero, no doubt he will win through, just curiosity about how and about why.
So here’s some detail, too many characters I fear. We could lose three or four and the story wouldn’t suffer and the film would be tighter, leaner and better paced. We’d have more room for Indy and Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) to play off each other’s dialog, and more room for pace and movement. Instead it feels clumsy and crowded, with both Ray Winston’s character and Karen Allen’s reprised Marion taking up space on screen and giving little in return. Cate Blanchett’s bad girl isn’t convincing or terrifying at all, and I’m not sure the movie would have been much different without her. Her role appears to be a confusing combination of Arch Villainess and Deadly Black Widow but her interaction with Jones is cold and uninteresting.
The story is the most complex of the four movies, and overly so in my view, it could have done again with being tightened up and thinned down and the film would be no worse for it. It’s also the most far-fetched of the four, if that’s possible, and while I won’t spoil it for you I think it makes an attempt to tie the previous mysteries together which isn’t necessary.
With all that said, it’s worth seeing on the big screen, the action is full of action and the presence of Indiana Jones is undeniably engaging. It certainly didn’t feel like it ran for two hours, it never lost me, I was never bored, and I was always interested in where it was going next.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a sequel to movies written in a different age, for a different audience, and I fear modern audiences will be left wondering what the fuss was about. It is a good movie, you should go and see it, but it’s not great, and it’s certainly not going to be the greatest movie this year. Spielberg hasn’t let down the original fans, but neither has he delivered something younger and newer audiences will be clamouring to see.