Saturday, 22 January 2011
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
The Indiana Jones films have a soft spot for bibliographic culture. When, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, two army intelligence officers speaking mumbo-jumbo about Nazi shenanigans interrupt a lecture, Dr Jones makes everything clear by opening the ubiquitous leather-bound volume with odd alphabets and line drawings of mythical creatures. When he goes home to pack his bullwhip we see his impressive private library. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade features a Venetian library, where Indy, crashing through the floor, discovers a clue to the location of the Holy Grail. Libraries and books complement the character - learned, in some ways old-fashioned, reliable, and at times unexpected.
And in Crystal Skull, old. When the KGB attempt to nab him in a fictionalized New Haven, Indy and Mutt — his comic, younger counterweight — escape by motorbike, skittling through the university town by way of nods to a dozen mid-fifties cultural platitudes. They end up, for reasons which are unclear, careering through Yale's Sterling Memorial Library. The KGB are presented as acultural thugs, so presumably the library is a safe place to hide when you're on a 1320cc motorbike (in reality, the Soviet Union had more libraries and librarians per capita than any nation in history). When Indy rides out of the reading room he advises his students "If you want to be a good archaeologist, you've got to get out of the library," explicitly contradicting his opinion in an earlier film that "70% of archaeology is done in the library." He perjures himself again by returning straight home and opening a book (yes, you guessed it, a leather-bound volume with odd alphabets and line drawings of mythical creatures) to help solve an intellectual riddle.
Watching Raiders of the Lost Ark again last Christmas Eve, I was impressed by the witty direction, the cleverly acted performances, the light touches of style, the hints of Kurosawa. The second film is an enjoyable, if mostly forgettable romp, the third a return to form, one set-piece after another, Nazis and religion. In contrast, Crystal Skull is an uninspired mess. Populist and charmless, melodrama with tongue stuck too far into cheek, a movie that's been a work-in-progress for too long, and it shows. Some critics admired this film, contrasting the decentness of Jones with the brutality and nihilistic tendencies of twenty-first century movie heroes. I remain unconvinced.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Written by David Koepp, George Lucas, and Jeff Nathanson
Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski
Editing: Michael Kahn
Cast includes Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent