Posted: 05/26/2008


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull


by Jef Burnham

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One of the more vivid of my childhood memories is linked to the first time I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; you probably know instantly what I’m referring to. When the high priest tore out the still-beating heart of the sacrifice and lowered the screaming, now heartless man into a pool of lava, I was aghast. My young mind could barely register this, and that fearless Dr. Jones has amazed and entertained me ever since. Whether it be for that particular scene, or perhaps the opening of the Ark of the Covenant, Indy has made a lasting impression on a lot of people. In a summer that’s shaping up to be packed with super hero films (which you won’t hear me complaining about), it’s so good to have an iconic hero such as Indiana Jones thrown into the mix.

Nineteen years after we followed Indy on a search for the Holy Grail, we join the seemingly past-his-prime archeologist/adventurer during the Cold War in 1957 (I say “seemingly” because he may look older, but he can still jump from moving vehicles like it was 1936). Amidst the Red Scare, a group of KGB agents rope Indy into a mystery surrounding an ancient, crystal skull, believed to have been stolen by Conquistadors from the fabled El Dorado. On his quest, Indy is joined by Marion Ravenwood, with whom he became embroiled in the Ark caper, and her son Mutt (Shia LaBeouf, Transformers). The villain this time around is a rapier-wielding, Russian psychic played by Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou).

As executive producer George Lucas said, “It’s just a movie.” And it’s certainly nothing brilliant in terms of script (Crystal Skull is penned by David Keopp, who wrote Spider-Man and one of my guilty pleasure films, Secret Window), but damn if it’s not the most fun you could hope to have at a movie. Even at an 11:40 AM showing on Memorial Day with maybe 25 other people in the audience, there were folks cheering and clapping from titles to credits. This is top-of-the-line adventure filmmaking, and not in the least bit disappointing (as Lucas would lead you to believe), even if Spielberg and crew turned away from the supernatural storylines of the previous three films to make this one more of a science-fiction picture.

All of the standard Indy scenes are here: car chases, kidnappings, swinging from his whip, rescuing his hat at the last moment, and enormous bugs. In one of the most notable scenes in the movie, Indy’s gang and the Russians are chased by what Dr. Jones so scientifically refers to as “big damn ants.” This is truly a spectacularly disturbing sequence, on the level of Temple of Doom’s sacrifice scene.

Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.

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