Nepali Times
Critical Cinema
Lost in a crystal maze


It has been nearly two decades since the last installment of the Indiana Jones franchise-that 80's magic orientalism that gave us the idiosyncratic adventurous Dr Jones aka Indiana saving precious artifacts from murderous Nazis and natives-and now with Steven Spielburg's Kingdom of the Crystal Skull we have something, well, older and more tired.

From the 30's where we last left Indy, it is now the 1957, the Atomic Age, the Nazis have been left behind to the new Red Menace. An older Indy seems have taken up the chalk and laid down his whip when he is ejected from his teaching position for suspected communist sympathies. Not long after, he's drawn into another adventure, this time into Peru playing chase with the Soviets pursuing a crystal skull with alleged paranormal powers.

Crystal Skull sometimes seems less a movie directed by Stephen Spielberg than one assembled by crews of stunt choreographers and CGI animators. But that would suggest that there are no scenes shot with flair and vision. Indeed, there are-clever, packed with references for the film buff to pick out and when the action picks up, often exhilarating. Curiously, the iconism of the genre remains largely intact and potent: Indiana's fedora igniting that spark of romanticism to those old enough to remember it. But, something of that glamour is lost, or at least dulled in CGI pastiche of Indianas past.

One trouble is that every actor in Crystal Skull is weighed down by sheer ludicrousness of their assigned characters. In light of that challenge they all perform admirably. Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones much older since his last outing is called upon to execute improbable feats of athleticism which he follows with grimaces or grunts of protests as if disgust of his circumstance.

Cate Blanchett ,despite being strait-jacketed as the frosty ambitious Soviet operative a in deliberately unflattering uniform and an atrocious accent, manages to camp it up to her advantage. Perhaps the most challenging is Shia Labeauf, the greaser sidekick plied with clichés who seems like Ford's heir apparent.

An indication that perhaps the franchise should have been left to rest are the uneasy updating of old prejudices to fit current political correctness standards. Like the academic disciplines that Professor Jones teaches, there is an ambivalence-to say the least-about our protagonist's relationship with the other. It is poorly resolved here by keeping the people of color to the bare minimum on the screen.

So instead of spear-heaving natives, we have hordes of implausibly giant ants that consume their victims ála The Mummy. But of course, this being what it is, you can't avoid the menacing savage that can be turned away with some fetishistic icon. Obviously, Indian Jones couldn't be chasing an artifact in Europe, scaring away the French natives with a Big Mac.

Ultimately, it hasn't shed its sheen of cultural chauvinism, something you could have overlooked when Indy was battling Nazis. It always struck me as a racist the notion that ancient architecture has some extra-terrestrial or Atlanean or some other such outlandish theory, as if the natives were too primitive to ever construct it themselves, a notion that comes into employ here.

And here lies the real failure of the movie: in terms of ludicrousness the plot fares much worse than the characters, more tenuous than the treacherous and rickety ancient walkways they will inevitably have to traverse. In fact, you might nap past the clunky exposition that Ford has to deliver before the action picks up again. With the characters bled out of their drama, it seems George Lucas' obsession with X-files material that delayed the Indy project had finally won out-to the detriment of a story befitting this beloved but flawed franchise.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the
Crystal Skull
Director: Steven Spielburg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf
2008. 2hr 3 min . PG-13

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)