Initial response to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull


I’ve had the unique opportunity to see this movie twice in 12 hours on opposite coasts. I watched it last night at 12:01 in the company of

  , his wife (and co-director of The Bentfootes) Kriota Willberg, and loyal Wadpaw reader The Editor at the too-small, under-equipped City Cinemas Village East Theaters in New York City, then flew home to Santa Monica, picked up the kids from school and took them to a matinee show at the state-of-the-art Century City AMC 15.

Or at least the show at the Village East was supposed to start at 12:01. (To add to the excitement, [info]jacksonpublick and date were seated the next row over.)  Around 12:15 a burly man charged up the aisle carrying the huge spool of film on his shoulder, and about five minutes later the movie actually started. The sound was tinny and the projection substandard, as it has always been at that theater. I liked it just fine, R sent me an email saying he was conflicted, Kriota enjoyed picking apart the logical inconsistencies, The Editor seemed pleased but not blown away, and Mr. Publick was seen weeping softly for his ruined childhood as the lights came up.

I admit I was a little hesitant to see it twice in 12 hours, especially as I haven’t slept in about a week due to traveling, but the sound and projection at the Century City AMC is astounding and I enjoyed the movie easily twice as much on the second go-around, with my seven-year-old son on one side, marveling at the ravenous ants and cheering the atomic bomb, and my five-year-old daughter on the other side, cowering in fear of the mummies and whispering to me that Cate Blanchett looks really good, both with her sunglasses and without them, both ways looks really good.

(Dad, by the way, agrees. And in fact I’ll go one better — Irina Spalko is my favorite Indy bad guy — sexy, tough, resourceful, human, smart and funny. She has a good plan and her prosecution of it is logical and consistent. She’s everything a bad guy needs to be.)

(When she meets her doom, Kit was a little confused and a little horrified. The following conversation occurred:

KIT: Dad, what just happened to her?
DAD: [gives an explanation of what happened to her]
KIT: Oh. That’s okay, we hated her anyway.)

I will need to watch the movie again with a timer and a pause button to properly analyze the screenplay, but I will say that upon two viewings the script holds together as well as any of the Indiana Jones adventures do and better in some areas than ever. It is thematically rich and consistent, and the action is as fluid as we would expect from the director of Raiders and as complex as we would expect from the director of War of the Worlds.

The first time around, sure, there were some things that stuck out weird to me, but that effect came largely from my own expectations, not from what’s actually in the movie. The second time around, with my Indy-loving kids by my side, none of that stuff seemed to matter anymore — it was a much more purely enjoyable experience, visceral and effective, inventive, sly and affectionate.

I read about people saying that the first 25 minutes is great but then the movie loses its energy. That’s not the movie I watched, it seemed to keep going just fine, keeping pace not only on its own terms but on the terms of its predecessors.

First time around, it was a little weird to see Indy have to drag four or five other people around for the last hour of the movie. Second time around I barely even noticed it.

Anyway, it’s getting late and I still haven’t slept yet so I’ll stop here. It’s a real movie, it’s a real Spielberg movie, and yes, it’s a real Indiana Jones movie. Which is not to say there was not some confusion in my corner of the theater, leading to these two comments:

1. SAM: I think it’s set in 1957 because the actor playing Indiana Jones is just that much older. That’s why he looks so old. They made it happen later because he’s old now.

2. KIT: (pointing) Is that Indiana Jones?
DAD: Yes.
KIT: Why isn’t his hair brown?

Within moments of returning home, Sam found his brown fedora, a life-size plastic skull and a pillow case and was seen romping around the house pretending to be Indiana Jones in his latest adventure.

There are, of course, Spielberg references tucked into almost every scene — too many to recount here, some of them very oblique and almost subliminal.


25 Responses to “Initial response to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”
  1. travisezell says:

    I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this, but I’ve only seen it once and I can’t really make up my mind. I will at some point have to make a return trip before I can figure out what I think.

    I’ll be honest with you: I can’t wait until you’ve seen it with that pause button and timer, because I would love to read an analysis of it (but I won’t read it until I’ve made up my own mind anyway).

    • Todd says:

      Well, structurally it has the four acts of Raiders and Temple, and I’d be willing to bet that it has 12 “chapters” as well, with each chapter culminating in some mind-blowing piece of business or other.

      Thematically it seems to have to do with the acquisition of knowledge, how too much knowledge can be a double-edged sword.

      It resonates down Spielberg’s career with its depiction of an obsessive, negligent father, then steps forward to make amends for fathers of earlier Spielberg movies — sometimes blatantly so.

      • travisezell says:

        On first viewing, my main problem with it was that there never seemed to be any real challenge in getting from one puzzle to the next, or one emotional beat to the next. Indy could decode ancient Mayan pictograms so fast he might as well have been reading English, and each step felt like one amazing leap in logic after another, no guessing, no wrong steps, no accidents or missing pieces. It was all so easy for him to figure out…

        And on the emotional/character side of the story, everything he went through felt equally as easy… Indy finds out about Marion (and his reaction is one of the best single moments in the film, that laugh), Indy discovers he has a son (boy I hope nobody’s reading this before they watch it, huh?), Mac betrays him, then unbetrays him, then rebretrays him, and Indy never really seems to deal with any of it… he just accepts it like the next step up a staircase toward the end and we go with him.

        The story has plot/mystery, character/relationships, and action/adventure… and the only obstacles that felt real to me were the action/adventure ones. Maybe that’s just me?

        I do admit, I was a little extra critical because after all, this is Indiana Jones, and short of Star Wars it’s one of the stories I grew up holding above all others.

        • charlequin says:

          By my reading (but I mean, I’m just some guy who saw the movie) there’s a key difference in this movie compared to the three previous ones: those are about young Indiana Jones (but not Young Indiana Jones, of course) actively resolving the gap between his desire for people and his desire for knowledge; this movie is about old Indiana Jones playing out the consequences of that resolution.

          I do think there are two beats that are missing from the movie that would help make this theme more explicit: one would expand on the FBI plotline from the beginning a little more, and the other would involve giving Indy one of those people-or-artifact choices that we all loved in Raiders and Crusade. But I think it works pretty well anyway.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Glad I checked in before crashing to see Sam and Kit’s reactions, as well as your re-reaction. No surprise the movie was better your second time around.

    Have you read Manohla Dargis’s review in the New York Times? It was her usual mix of disdain, digression and plain show-offiness. When she started ticking off a list of the movies this one alludes to, I thought, “Here it comes…” But she left out Caddyshack.


  3. jbacardi says:

    I’m on the fence about seeing this anytime soon, like this weekend; I’ve read both positive and negative opinions on it. It seems kinda follow-the-dots in execution, but then again I don’t expect labyrinthine plotting from an Indiana Jones movie.

    I watched Jaws tonight on TCM, part of an all-night Spielberg marathon (Close Encounters and 1941, as well as Spielberg on Spielberg), and referred to your posts on them as I did so with my wife (I was so proud of her for noticing the shooting star!), the first time she’s watched it since 1975, I believe.

    Just wondering: do you intend to write about The Terminal one of these days?

    • Todd says:

      I will indeed write about The Terminal, all in good time.

      • jbacardi says:

        Good. I found myself liking that film quite a bit, even though there’s a fair amount of blatant heartstring tugging (which I usually get very put out by) and while I’m not looking for affirmation, I am interested in others’ opinions on it.

  4. Oh my god…you are batshit crazy, Alcott! This movie didn’t bother you?! I won’t say it sucked–it’s too competent for that, and the combination of Spielberg, Harrison Ford, a fedora, a whip, and John Williams’ music will never fail to put at least a semi-smile on my face–but I dare you to find one genuine emotion in that movie. Or a single moment that had any gravity whatsoever. Even Last Crusade, which this is probably the closest to, tonally, had real chemistry between the characters, who would actually get sad or angry or upset or hurt or worried about each other from time to time. What the hell did the protagonist want, dude?!

    • Anonymous says:

      One genuine emotion: Indy’s reaction upon seeing Marion. There’s at least 20 different things going on in his face and body. It’s funny and sweet and odd and I could watch it on a loop.

    • e_ticket says:

      One genuine emotion: Indy’s reaction upon seeing Marion. There’s at least 20 different things going on in his face and body. It’s funny and sweet and odd and I could watch it on a loop.

    • Todd says:

      “What the hell did the protagonist want, dude?!”

      I will expand on this more after seeing it again, but my first thoughts are that Indiana Jones, who has spent his career taking things from their hiding places and putting them in a museum, now wants to put things back where they belong. SPOILER ALERT He wants to find Mutt’s pal Oxley, but Oxley’s gone crazy, so he needs to make him sane. Oxley, like Mac, is a reflection of another side of Indy — they have different purposes in their quests. To make Oxley sane again, Indy must return the crystal skull to the place it belongs. In returning the crystal skull to the place it belongs, he SPOILER ALERT discovers his missing love and acquires a missing son, and eventually he returns himself to where he belongs — both emotionally and professionally. But more on this later.

      • chrispiers says:

        Yeah, it redeems Indy a little. I mean, sure, he’s always been a hero. But he’s also been pretty damn casual about how he treats ancient artifacts, especially for an archaeologist.

        I forget – did he or did he not take that sword from the mummy? He’s been borrowing Mutt’s pocket knife and sees the sword and mumbles guiltily that he doesn’t want to keep borrowing his knife. But I think he then returns it. If so, Indy is definitely more respectful than before.

      • Oh, I get it. I know what Indy’s supposed to want, but I never ever felt it. This is the same director who took 5 minutes out of his shark thriller to show an exhausted Brody bonding with his kid, and another 10 to show Brody, Hooper and Quint bonding on the Orca. He also made time in Raiders of the Lost Ark for Marcus to warn Indy that the ark was “like nothing you’ve ever gone after before,” for Indy to mourn Marion’s death, for Marion and Belloq to get drunk in a tent together. My issue is with pacing, dialogue and gravity–when every moment serves the purpose of a hammy joke or an action beat, and the cinematography has more in common with Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Spiderman than Raiders of the Lost Ark, I can’t help but miss the heart.

    • Hey, who let you out of the Astrobase? Get back to work, slacker!

  5. lupa says:

    I just got back from seeing it. Well, that’s not true. I just got back from walking around my neighborhood seething fiercely about it. The structure of the script is sound, but there were so many scenes that did nothing to further the plot or the character arcs, which could have been cut in order to make some of the archaeology components be remotely *accurate…*

    I’m trying to keep myself from ranting until I’ve slept on it, but I’m finding it terribly difficult.

  6. The reversal of returning an artifact instead of recovering one really puts IJatKotCS‘s (hee hee!) into perspective.

    The series began as Lucas’s and Spielberg’s take on Bond, but this episode seems to flip the Bond formula on its head: SPOILER The first part of the movie Indy’s trying to save someone instead of kill them; instead of receiving a mission from the government, he’s under suspicion as a traitor and plans to move (to London, I think he says), his CIA contact is a traitor, and, most important of all, it ends with a wedding! (Though so did that one Bond movie that must not be named)

  7. greyaenigma says:

    While watching movies I often note logical inconsistencies and inaccuracies, but I’ll usually forgive them if the movie was enjoyable enough on its own merits.

    My friends, however, seem to fall into two categories: those that find the finding of fault unforgivable, and those that find the forgiving unforgivable.

    I think this is why I don’t watch movies with other people much these days.

    During the truck chase scene, I really did have the reaction of “does this have to be next to a cliff?”

    I noticed that when Indy steals one of the trucks, he’s briefly chasing the the entire Russian group, I later wondered if that was in any way a reference to Han Sol chasing the company of stormtroopers. Maybe not, since they don’t all turn around and chase him (until he gets the skull.)

    Finally, I noticed that my current daily hat, just happened to match the one Indy wears in this film. I was hoping while leaving the theater no one thought I did that on purpose.