When we had finally secured a good copy of ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,’ run home, and put it in the DVD player, the level of excitement couldn’t have been any higher. But excitement soon turned to confusion, confusion turned to dismay, and dismay turned into righteous indignation. Throughout the entire viewing the same nagging question kept popping up in our heads: If we were willing to buy into the idea that the Ark of the Covenant could melt the faces of Nazis, Indian cult leaders could rip out hearts and put voodoo hexes on people, and that the Holy Grail was attainable and magical, why should we have any trouble with the believing that the El Dorado existed and was ruled by aliens? The answer, after hours of discussion with trusted friends, boils down to the unsatisfying ‘I don’t know, it’s just somehow too ridiculous.’ This film tests your suspension of disbelief threshold and fails miserably.
But to blame it all the film’s absurd premise would be too much of an oversimplification of what was wrong with the film as a whole, which can be expressed as a failure to properly execute the formula. The first three movies were all essentially the same thing: Indiana must save precious artifact from falling into the hands of an unspeakably evil group of bad guys (Nazis worked best) while traveling to exotic settings and escaping impossible death-defying situations. The films require a love interest with equal portions sex appeal and sass (or, in the case of ‘Last Crusade,’ Nazi allegiance) and possibly a zany side-kick like Sean Connery or that racist carcature of a Chinese kid from ‘Temple of Doom.’ It’s like playing T-Ball: put Harrison Ford on top of the predictable pedestal of events and let Spielberg hit it out of the park. Any idiot could put together an adequate screenplay to this effect, but they got a special kind of idiot to do it: the 21st-Century ‘I’m going to ruin everything good I ever did’ George Lucas.
Lucas decided to roll the dice and see if he could chart an Indy film off of the map by ignoring everything that made the first films great. What we got is a movie where Indy is fighting a psychic Soviet super spy (Cate Blanchett), so evil that she carries a sword, with his son (Shia LaBeouf) in a race to discover El Dorado using the power of (we shit you not) alien skulls that can control minds. The movie just described would be wretched even if it didn’t have an abundance of computer-generated monkeys and groundhogs, but it does. Instead of using the time-honored approach of having a love interest and a small cast of central characters with well-explored dynamics, Lucas goes for an ensemble cast with no chemistry or likable characters. And really, why not, it worked so well for his new Star Wars films? While we’re ranting, we should also say that Soviets just can’t match Nazis for evilness on the silver screen, it’s an undeniable truth that hasn’t been successfully challenged since ‘First Blood Part II.’
This was a movie that should have been rejected flat out by anyone that looked at the script and, sadly, Spielberg didn’t while he had the chance. He managed to squeeze a couple of exciting action scenes out of this turd, but he should have known better than to try and combine Indiana Jones with ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind.’ You know what, forget it, it was the aliens and flying saucers after all. What the hell were they thinking?