Retrospective - Crystal Balls


Revisiting this was never going to be pretty so I apologise in advance. Nearly a decade later I barely remember the film in question. Instead there's just a mental block covering over the let down of what could, and should have been. A vague feeling of frustration, denial... and boredom. It took so long to make. Surely that means all the best ideas have been used to create it I told myself. It's got to be good because they took some time and care. To bring back an icon like this takes some effort right? As it turned out the opposite was true. Nobody really cared or even tried. I have to temper my thoughts, after all this is following up a classic series containing the greatest film of all time. I've been through worse. But I suppose I just need to get this one off my chest. Going back to see if things look any better with a few years just makes the flaws much more apparent.

There are many issues that seem small at first but become more offensive as they are studied. Did Indy even fire his gun in this film? A weird question I know. But this is a series in which shooting bad guys for both action and comedy is a staple after all. The hero kills people that are evil, it's satisfying. The swordsman gag is funny every time. Just as melting faces and the crocodile deaths are great every time. However here things are strangely neutered, the heart and soul is missing. It's a minor point you might say; but as things progress it's more apparent that the film makers took out the grit which made the hero interesting and the punches meaningful. In doing so made the thrill of the action set pieces has drained away. It's part of why this all feels so wrong.

Even things like the music seem to have been given the bland treatment. The original pieces which accompany the villains and some of the main set pieces fail to register even on repeat viewings. They are all totally forgettable. Worse yet, cues that had real impact in the earlier films are recycled to try and recapture some of those feelings artificially. You can't just throw in one of the final tunes from The Last Crusade and have it stick without a movie of similar quality coming beforehand. Don't try and insult me like that guys, you should know better.

Knowing better becomes a prevalent theme here. Surely oldschool Spielberg would know how to take this material and make it work? Instead it feels shoddy, it's just been slapped together. Ancient aliens are not a good substitute for religious artefacts, but once upon a time this might have been done with some tact or skill. Some ideas are still related to worship after all. Even the hamfisted father and son storyline would have also been interesting if it was handled properly. Indy had a son - he caught him picking his pocket after the Japanese bombed Shanghai. You can't trick me with this other guy. It's surprising how much of the script just falls flat because they approached it from the wrong angle. If you're going to steal from Flight 714 and other such stories at least show a similar kind of restraint. If you're going to try and throw in nostalgic elements and make another Indy sequel at least get your brains in gear first.

At one point they go out of their way to show us that Marcus and Henry Jones Sr. are dead. Why? Throw Sallah under the bus while you're at it why don't you. There's no need to have such tone deaf attempts at tying things together like this. It's not earned and its not emotional. The old stories had a handful of moments that linked them together, but they stood on their own. This is just crass and unnecessary. Keeping Marion alive of all people feels particularly weird, firstly because the romance elements were never repeated in the past, secondly because she has nothing of interest to do as a character here. They should have used a new an age appropriate love interest. Something original like a fellow teacher perhaps, bringing them together as professionals.

Elsewhere the characters are just as awkward. Instead of killing off the backstabbing cohort in the opening he's played by Ray Winstone for some reason. He sticks around the whole time just to act as dead weight and get on everyone's nerves. Instead of using the talents of John Hurt he bumbles around like a lunatic most of the time. Instead of a good villain we get Cate Blanchett doing ... I don't know what with that accent. Jim Broadbent shows up just to be another English guy working at the college. But why? (This question crops up fairly often here I admit.) Most of these performances are either poor or superfluous. The pitch perfect ensemble from Raiders has been replaced by a series of weird caricatures and bizarre misfires. I guess the Soviet Union villains were a logical idea in some ways but it feels strange like so many of the period references.

Do we really need to have the setting hammered home so often? It's just an adventure guys, a few Nazis and the odd British Empire reference here or there are fine. Instead they blast Elvis Presley at us, there are 1950s cafés and nuclear weapon references at every turn. It becomes particularly obnoxious during moments that show anti-communist student protests. Like do you get it? Do you get it yet? It's the Cold War! Look, there's Howdy Doody and Indy said something about Eisenhower. Look there's The Bomb. But why are these things in Indiana Jones? Stop shoving them in our faces already. Maybe it would all be forgiveable if when they got to the action and the tombs things actually picked up.

The amazing synchronisation of music and chase scenes from the past are just as absent however. The opening is tedious and exists just to ruin the Citizen Kane gag in Raiders. I guess they really wanted out do the mystique killing young Indy intro which looks subtle in comparison. Even the simple and mostly effective motorcycle chase is spoiled by glaring continuity errors (it's a bus, how do you miss that in the shot?) and awful Wilhelm Scream additions that feel jarring even for the most overused stock sound of all time. But of course even the great Ben Burtt is out of shape, adding things like the most clichéd breaking vase sound. Things that used to be moments of excellence are done haphazardly and without attention to detail. They even muddle up the creepy crawly scene with the main bad guy fist fight so that neither is effective enough. There are so many moments of weird disappointment at every turn.

Expecting a death trap in the Mayan ruins? Oh nothing happened. Expecting that crazy logging machine to be used in an elaborate fight with a particularly gruesome death? Oh it just blew up before things even started. (How are they still driving without the trees being cleared?) The pacing, the ratcheting tension, the creeping suspense... they're all missing. It's all been done better, and last time there were real insects and waterfalls and it had blood and it had heart. There are a few jokes that work, but most of the time they are embarrassing. There are a handful of moments that feel like real set pieces or real Raiders sequel sequences, but they are few and far between. Some of the locations and the designs are pretty cool. Harrison Ford still does a fine job.... but it's not enough.

It's ultimately an odd blend of playing it safe and using ideas that really just don't fit at all. The often criticized Temple of Doom is a masterpiece next to this. It's packed with crazy, inventive, and memorable stuff all over the place. A weird sci-fi plot is one way of adding something fresh I suppose, but the rest this is a tedious rehash of past glories at best. At worst it's pretty shocking what passes for a stunt driven action adventure. It's not the worst sequel or even the worst movie. It's not the worst example of bleached out cinematography or the worst use of horrible CGI and childish humour. I've been less entertained and cringed more. I admit there's a lot of hyperbole and personal bias here. But energy is what a franchise like this needs, a bit of drive. Here they have no vision, it just flounders and flat lines.