Well, here we are. I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a couple days ago in Santa Cruz – we took in the matinee showing largely out of reservations over the quality of the film we were about to watch. I even decided to forego popcorn, unsure as I was that the movie was worthy of a $6 snack. Bottom line: the jury is still out.
We saw it and all five of us were unanimous that it pretty much sucked. But now I’m not totally sure. And right up front, I would like to say that my thinking has changed largely because of the essay and following debate here. Because here is the thing: it’s exceedingly difficult to go into a movie like this, when you’re so intimately bound to the three originals (yes, all three of them). There are different ways of watching movies, and I say with utmost shamelessness that I hope I never lose that way of watching movies like kids watch them. I don’t see why that has to go away when one becomes educated as to “how to watch a film.” That beings said, I probably watched this movie with overly nostalgic eyes rather than giving it a chance as a potentially complex and unique film in its own right.
As others have done well to point out (see above link), Spielberg didn’t just pick up after Last Crusade and do Crystal Skull. He did a whole bunch of other stuff in between, and he actually made quite a shift in his own filmmaking style during that period. So we should expect something different from the first three Indies. When I think back on the film keeping that in mind, I’m actually struck by how much continuity there was with the “originals.” I would like to list some examples here, but this is a movie that I don’t want to spoil for others. Well, perhaps I can be vague… There was the theme of fatal lust for knowledge – it got the bad guys at the end of Raiders and Last Crusade, and it came into play significantly in this one. D did well to notice the poison darts in the first adventure scene with Shia. This effectively identified him with Indy in the very first scene of all the movies, as he runs from the natives and the rolling ball in Raiders. Other things are coming to mind, but I think they qualify as spoilers.
In a word, this movie needs a repeat viewing, but not necessarily because it’s just “so much fun,” although plenty seem to feel that way about it. The case has been made that Crystal Skull needs to be viewed on its own terms rather than as a skeptical fan demanding certain things and excluding new and different possibilities. Let the story do what it will. It isn’t what I would have chosen, but there it is. Once we can all get over that, we can see that there’s a lot more to the movie than we would have otherwise noticed.
UPDATE (and response to Ailsa): Saw it again, with a cleaner slate, and noticed a couple more things. For one, Kamiński’s cinematography deserves recognition. More than Slocombe in the previous three Indys, Kamiński seemed interested in shots that raised Indy above his surroundings. In the early warehouse scene, at least three times Indy is far above the commies that are around him, whether he climbs up stacks of crates or is running across planks near the ceiling. In particular, shots of him climbing, and then the over-the-shoulder shots while he stands above the others are striking, given that Indy has just been unloaded out of a car trunk and his heroism is largely based on luck. Shortly thereafter, he emerges from the refrigerator, climbs (again) up a hill, and dwarfs the landscape below him as it smolders following the atomic blast. As noted earlier, this scene parallels a similar one late in the film that also has Indy in a high foreground as we watch the action in the lower background. The somewhat awkward scene toward the middle that had Indy and Mutt descending into a cave contained another overt height-shot of Indy. As Mutt wonders at Indy’s career as a “teacher,” the camera does a shot-reverse-shot of Indy standing up on a ledge as Mutt looks up at him. Enough of these shots were used in the film to validate the point, but one wonders as to the meaning. More thoughts are pending.