Do NOT read this if you haven't seen
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.
Even if you have, you may not want to read this.
I take no glee in writing this because I am a huge defender of Spielberg... and yet I feel compelled to say this...
I feel like CRYSTAL SKULL could have been directed by Brett Ratner.
Let me say, I enjoyed CRYSTAL SKULL. It opens really strong and is full of lively surprises throughout... but it slowly degrades and then abruptly falls apart...
And yet, I enjoyed it as a whole.
And I think Ratner could have directed it.
The Rat has got an impeccable sense of mimicry. And SKULL feels like an old Indy movie in a way that I think The Rat could accomplish. (This is high praise for The Rat.)
Then it fails in a way that I could see The Rat failing.
(Yes, I realize this is all terribly unfair—to take a Spielberg failing and somehow use it to crucify Ratner, who is wholly innocent here.)
I think the relative artistic failure of SKULL was more apparent to me since I watched the three previous movies during the week leading up to seeing the fourth.
It's partially a script-issue, but the timing of some throwaway jokes are really off. One that stands out is the scene where Indy and Mutt are surrounded by evil Ruskies in the coffee shop. Mutt pulls out his switchblade. Indy says something to the effect of, "Kid, looks like you brought a knife... to a gun fight."
First, the line is so obvious, it's painful. But the pause just absolutely kills it.
[Shot on Mutt holding the switchblade]
"Kid, looks like you brought a knife..."
[Ruskies slowly pull guns out of their pockets.]
"... to a gun fight."
I'm sorry, that's Ratner level filmmaking. I know it's an expression that people use as a metaphor, so making it literal COULD be funny. (Like how Crusade uses "the pen is mightier than the sword".) But it's implemented so clumsily here. And there are a few clankers like this.
Let's take the "critter" scenes...
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK:
Snakes. Classic. The main character's worst fear.
TEMPLE OF DOOM:
A huge variety of insects. Far scarier than the snakes, IMHO.
Rats. A little anticlimactic, but they're real.
That's the key. In the original trilogy, the snakes, bugs, rats—they were all real. Spielberg's even talked about how half the crew wouldn't film those scenes because of their personal phobias.
KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL:
CGI giant ants. Arguably more dangerous and thus dramatic than the rats in CRUSADE... but I got no tactile sense that they existed! I've seen some awesome National Geographic Channel docs on carnivorous ants and I like the idea... but the CGI really killed it for me. Surprising, too, since I'd heard that Spielberg was going to avoid the CGI as much as possible.
Another problem I had: the use of Marion Ravenwood.
Don't get me wrong, I love the character. She's by far the strongest female character in the entire series. Complicated and sexy in a way that I couldn't completely appreciate when I was a tyke. I was totally excited to see her return.
But the way she's used makes the film feel like it's suddenly turned into a Lifetime Movie of the Week. Marion and Indy shift from bickering to loving each other so abruptly, it's off-putting. It's not earned. There's no sense of the massive gulf of time they've lost by being apart. After Marion and Indy re-fall in love, they spend the remainder of the movie making luvvy-duvvy eyes at each other. I'm sorry, but it's true.
I'm going to graze over the gaping plot-holes of the alien climax. I like seeing aliens in a Spielberg movie. I like that he's open to casting aliens as evil now that he's older. But their motives and abilities in this movie are completely unclear.
And still, I'm willing to overlook those narrative gaps. However, let's jump to the very end...
RAIDERS Final Shot:
Camera pulls back to reveal a sprawling warehouse filled with crated-up mysteries. Brilliant. Creepy.
TEMPLE OF DOOM Final Shot:
Indy and Willie kiss as Short-Round, perched on an elephant, covers his eyes. Grateful village children surround them. Dynamic, romantic, exotic.
CRUSADE Final Shot:
Indy, Henry Senior, Marcus Brody and Sallah all ride horses off into the sunset. Classic.
CRYSTAL SKULL Final Shot:
Camera shoots down as wedding attendees shuffle out the door. Mutt stands in the aisle. Grabs his jacket and walks out with everyone else.
I'm sorry, but what the fuck?
I'm not the hugest Crusade devotee, but is THIS security-cam shot really intended to be the new final image of the Indiana Jones tetralogy? We go from riding off into a blazing sunset to watching some people shuffle out of a room?
Again: the final scene and the final shot feel like they're straight out of some stupid Lifetime Network movie. "Old Fogeys In Love".
These are my frustrations because this fucker was in classic development hell for FOREVER.
And yes, I did like the movie. It's fun, despite my nitpicks. It just pales in comparison.