Indiana Jones and the Chariots of the Gods (A Movie Review of The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Why were the critics harshing on a perfectly enjoyable movie? Possibly because people have some very different definitions of what an Indiana Jones movie is. Let’s take a little walk, debunk some of the garbage being spewed and then address the annoying elephant in Walgreen’s, I mean, in the film.
First off, Indiana Jones movies, while generally consisting of plots surrounding religious artifacts are homages to pulp fiction with an archeology vehicle. The original three films owe a lot to the pulp adventure magazines of the 1930s and to authors like Talbot Mundy (you probably haven’t heard of him, but trust me, he’s an influence on the character).
As you’ve doubtless heard, Crystal Skull takes place in the late 1950’s. 1957 to be exact. You can’t fault Lucas and Spielberg for moving the date up to keep the Indy character closer to Harrison Ford’s actual age… even if Ford doesn’t look or move like his age. The pulp fiction of the 1950’s wasn’t so much the stuff of mystic artifacts and lost civilizations as it was of science fiction and flying saucers. If you look to keep the pulp influences consistent with the setting, a search for alien artifacts actually fits. The crystal skulls are also ancient religious objects (remember, Temple of Doom wasn’t about Christian mythos, either). The chariots of the gods angle of aliens being the ancient gods is more of a late 60’s/early 70s thing, but does fit in logically with the cold war themes. (Interestingly enough, Martin Caidin, who wrote a couple Indiana Jones novels in the ’90s, explored a similar storyline in the third of his Cyborg novels, “High Crystal.” Yes, that’s one of the books the Six Million Dollar Man television show was based on. The difference was he was looking to the ancient astronauts in South America for advanced optics and lasers, not mind control and telepathy, but he was still racing enemy agents.)
You may not like Indiana Jones leaving fantasy and entering science fiction. It might not have been the direction I’d have opted for, either. Still, the approach is consistent with the character’s roots, so let’s not have any complaining over that.
The second complaint that’s been cropping up is that the movie is too dark and serious. People (are critics people, too?) saying this have been focusing a bit too much on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which had much more humor and broad farce than other entries. Three out of the four films are at least 80% adventure movie. Last Crusade was probably more like 60% adventure, 40% humor. You want more humor? Rent a Lethal Weapon movie. Nothing ‘s wrong with humor, but that’s not what the emphasis has been.
The real problem, and the thing that keeps this from being a great movie, instead of merely good, is the terrible mis-casting of Shia LeBeouf as Indy’s bastard child. Besides being mis-named (LeBeouf translates to “the beef,” so one hopes he either starts lifting weights or changes his name), when I looked at LeBeouf in this film, he kept reminding me of a more gangley, blond version of David Schwimmer. I should not be reminded of David Schwimmer if the character is supposed to have come from the seed of Indiana Jones. Then again, when I stopped and thought about it, there’s a certain logic to that LeBeouf/Schwimmer synergy. On my way back and forth to the theater, I passed by the Walgreen’s LeBeouf was arrested at. I recall back in the late 90s how several waitresses in town would complain about Schwimmer hitting on them (apparently, this was before he made friends with the local nightclub gurus) and was once dragged to a Bar Louie where the main form of entertainment was the waitresses pointing at Schwimmer and complaining. Dweebs of a feather should stay out of action movies together, as it were.
The wanna-be James Dean dressing and posing wasn’t credible. The constant hair combing looked like it was a direct lift from 77 Sunset Strip’s Kookie character.
To sum it up, George Lucas saying he wants to do another Indiana Jones movie starring LeBeouf, isn’t all that far away from him wanting to do another Star Wars movie starring Jar Jar Binks. It wouldn’t be as bad, as LeBeouf’s pronunciation is a whole lot less distracting than Mr. Binks, but it’s still not a good idea.
If you can ignore LeBeouf, and it isn’t that hard to do so, you have a perfectly good adventure movie with lost treasures, dirty commies standing in for Nazi’s, and a whip. William Hurt is good as an unhinged archeologist. Blanchett and Winstone, while not being in any danger of stealing the show, are fine as their pulpy characters.
Worth seeing, just know what it is you’re going to see.