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Bum Rap: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull



Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is the least interesting of all the Indiana Jones movies. It’s hobbled with the introduction of Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) as Indy’s son and heir to the Jones adventure throne and relies too heavily on computer generated special effects for a movie series that previously had been known for featuring death-defying stunts and minimal special effects.

Shia LaBeouf, John Hurt, Karen Allen and Harrison Ford

Shia LaBeouf, John Hurt, Karen Allen and Harrison Ford

That being said, even if Crystal Skull isn’t the best Indy movie of the bunch I wouldn’t say that it’s a bad movie. Heck, it’s actually a good one.

I think what hurts Crystal Skull most of all is that it’s impossible to critique that movie without putting it up against one of the greatest films of the last 30+ years; Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). I can’t imagine most people don’t know of or haven’t seen that film or at least aren’t aware of certain scenes there like Indy (Harrison Ford) being chased by the giant rock through the cave or Indy and Marion (Karen Allen) facing off against a pit of poisonous snakes in Egypt.

And any movie being compared to something like Raiders, currently ranked as the 31st best movie of all-time on IMDB, is going to come off looking a bit shallow.

The only problem with viewers judging Crystal Skull so harshly is that ALL of the other Indy movies have problems of their own.

Indy socks a commie!

Indy socks a commie!

In Raiders Indy rides atop a submarine from Africa to an island in the Aegean Sea many hundreds of miles away. Yet the submarine apparently never dives nor Indy never is affected by the elements outside in open seas and arrives alive and ready for action on the island. Much of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) takes place in a cave system over an active volcano, yet Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) is placed just a few feet over the lava she escapes unharmed/unburned. And in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Indy and Elsa (Alison Doody) survive a fire in a Venetian‎ sewer by diving under the water and surfacing in an air pocket. Except once the air was gone from that pocket, what would they breath since the fire would have consumed all the oxygen in the sewer?

I’m not knocking the other three Indy movies since all of them have these and many more flaws — but my point is that Crystal Skull isn’t the only Indy movie with issues.

What I think Crystal Skull gets right is that, though many don’t realize this, it actually fits well with all the Indy movie cannon as a whole.

One of the crystal skulls

One of the crystal skulls

Raiders, Temple of Doom and Last Crusade all deal with elements of religion; the Ark of the Covenant, Sankara stones and the Holy Grail. And Crystal Skull deals with crystal skulls that are holy relics to the inhabitants of the hidden city of Akator in the Amazon jungle. Where I think many felt that Crystal Skull got wrong, but I think it really got right, was that while the first three films shared a lot in common with the adventure movie serials of the 1930s and 40s, the periods those movies are set it, Crystal Skull instead was influenced by sci-fi films of the 1950s and 1960s with the introduction of Nazca Lines, aliens and UFOs to the mix. Which is the period that movie’s set in.

I also liked how the passage of time wasn’t ignored in Crystal Skull either. There’s nearly a 20 year gap between the story of Last Crusade and Crystal Skull and in the time between the films there are hints at what Indy’s been up to. Be it being a agent for the Allies during WWII to being called out with a group of other scientists to investigate the Roswell UFO crash in 1947. Indy’s lived a life between those two movies – even if we didn’t get to see exactly what happened on screen.

I’ve never understood why Crystal Skull drew such a negative reaction from the viewers. To me, if George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford would have come back with Indiana Jones IV and had tried to do all the same things they’d done in the previous films again without doing something new that would have been the disappointment.




Bum Rap – TRON: Legacy



I really thought I was going to hate TRON: Legacy (2010) before I actually saw it. It was a movie that didn’t seem to generate a lot of good “buzz” before release, got bad reviews when it did come out and just didn’t seem all that hip or cool to begin with. Who makes a sequel to the movie TRON (1982) that at that point was nearly 30 years old and didn’t do that well at the box office to begin with? That was the question no one seemed to ask before TRON: Legacy went into production.

Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde

Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde

So I only saw TRON: Legacy when I caught it during a free Starz weekend one Saturday night a year or so after its release. Even then I only happened to start watching it at about the mid-point scene where Castor (Michael Sheen) is shooting light…things(?) out of his cane during the big bar fight. I couldn’t believe how weird the whole thing looked. But even then there was something about the visuals and what story I’d seen that piqued my interest so I DVRd a later showing and watched it the next day.

And watching the movie from the beginning I was actually kind’a surprised — I found TRON: Legacy to be pretty great. Unlike a lot of other big-budget movies of similar theme, TRON: Legacy has an interesting story mixed with action along with slick CGI visuals. And at least here, set inside the world of a computer, these slick CGI visuals actually make sense.

Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn / Clu

Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn / Clu

What’s really interesting about TRON: Legacy from a fan standpoint is that it’s a true sequel. Who else does that where today it’s normal for similar movies to do a “reboot” every few years? There were ten years between Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man reboot. The American version of Godzilla had 16 years between reboots. And there were 21 years between Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboots. With the TRON movies there’s that nearly 30 year gap between the first and second and it’s like the creators of the movies figured they’d be able to explain enough in the story of TRON: Legacy as to what happened during those years for the audience to keep up.

“Tron, what have you become?”

The Grid

The Grid

In the original TRON, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) created a computerized universe and was digitized himself and placed on the “Grid.” There in the computer, Flynn played life and death games and fought to free the programs of this universe from the Master Control Program. And told in flashbacks in TRON: Legacy, Flynn delved deeper into the world of TRON and created a program that was a duplicate of himself, Clu. But just when he was on the verge of a major discovery Flynn went missing. Now, about 20 years later, Flynn’s grown son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) goes looking for him and finds his father in the most unexpected of places; trapped in his computerized universe that’s been running and evolving with a despot Clu looking for Flynn’s head and a way off the Grid.

Jeff Bridges as Clu

Jeff Bridges as Clu

Essentially, TRON: Legacy is an effective chase film, with Clu chasing Flynn and Sam along with program Quorra (Olivia Wilde) all looking for some means of escaping his computerized universe and slipping into ours. This, along with the mostly spectacular special effects, makes TRON: Legacy one of the better big budget computer effects driven action movies of the last decade.

I do say that the special effects are “mostly spectacular” because of one glaring issue with TRON: Legacy; the character of Clu. Not with the actual character, he works well. What mostly doesn’t work is the 3D effects used to bring Clue to life. In the movie Jeff Bridges plays Flynn as a 60 year old man and computer effects are used to create the face of Clu as Bridges looked in the original TRON as a spry 30 year something man. When these effects work the younger Bridges/Clu looks great. When it doesn’t it comes off creepy and fake.

Otherwise, though the creators of TRON: Legacy have created a true artificial world almost entirely in the realm of 3D computer effects.