In 2008, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas brought perhaps the greatest action hero of all time back to our screens. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was highly anticipated, coming 19 years after the last installment and it was met, shall we say, with a mixed bag of reviews.
The original trilogy, launched in 1981 with Raiders of the Lost Ark, was set on the serial adventure stories of the 1920s and 1930s, and they proved to be a massive hit.
The old-fashioned style stories and old-fashioned techniques of storytelling made this series and its principal character one of the most popular and recognized in all of cinema.
For years the hope and desire for a fourth chapter grew, never diminishing over the years despite obvious setbacks to the franchise. The death of the wonderful Denholm Elliot, the retirement of Sean Connery and the advances in computer generated storytelling (more of which to come) also could have spelled the end of a series that bases its concept on a trip down yesteryear.
As the years went by and Indy – or Harrison Ford at least – grew grayer, the hope became more wishful thinking but remained nonetheless. It is fair to say the desire of the fans is what never let the idea rest. Spielberg had himself said the story was done after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989, but eventually the fans won out and Indy returned.
One of the many things about the first 3 films was how they were shot. There were skills and techniques used to save money and time but also that fitted the style of the 20s and 30s they were trying to replicate. That included minimum use of computer generated effects; and those that were used, it didn’t matter if they looked cheap, dated or corny. It all fitted.
I mention this because almost from the off in Crystal Skull, we have a CGI gopher which played right into the naysayers plans. For gopher see Jar Jar Binks. Okay, this wasn’t the greatest moment, but don’t judge the film solely on that.
19 years later, the original was clearly on the filmmakers’ mind as they moved the faux genre of serials from the 30s to cold war tension of 50s B movies, and for me this is where many people’s arguments fall down. Okay, the story of inter-dimensional beings or little green men seems a bit childish and not in keeping with a hero who has faced Biblical and occultist nemeses, as well as Nazis, but for me this is a massively strong positive point of the film. Anyone familiar with Roger Corman or even Edward Wood’s films should see the similarities (not in a sense of quality of output) but as a sense of tone and reflection of the times, and I think Crystal Skull achieves that.
Dealing with character evolution is neatly done too. We see Henry Jones Jr. is older and somewhat wiser, but he is still as “giddy as a schoolboy” when it comes to adventure and “fortune and glory”. His life has – but yet hasn’t – moved on, and I think that’s exactly how we would have seen him develop.
Yes, the addition of a son is an old, overused and lazy Hollywood tool, but after Shia LeBeouf criticized the film and distanced himself from it, I don’t think anyone would really mind if Mutt (Henry III) is replaced or absent, but there will always be a desire for the fedora-wearing adventurer, time will never extinguish that. And as he ages, Indy – with his joy of adventure – will continue to enthrall and entertain in his own inimitable way.
I say bring on number 5… and 6.