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At the Movies: Close Encounters of the Indiana Kind: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ***

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did no harm to the storied franchise but certainly didn’t elevate it either. The first film set the bar too high, perhaps, as the sequels haven’t quite been able to capture the magic of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Dissecting the reasons why may leave you scratching your head as it appears the Crystal Skull team tried to do everything Raiders did and then some. They even brought back beloved Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood.

Somehow though, this Indiana Jones just doesn’t deliver the goods. It is with much disappointment that I write this as I practically cut my teeth on the Indiana Jones movies. Actually, only the first film had any real impact on me and that was because I was one of the kids lining up down the block day after day, week after week, helping to invent the modern day blockbuster. Indy was our hero and we knew every single line from that film.

Well enough could not be left alone because people wanted more Indiana Jones. Two more movies came out, only one of which was any good. And now, the fourth. The film brings in some young blood, Shia LaBeouf, in hopes of making the film interesting to the younger set. Cate Blanchett has been cast as the villain to give the film respectability, perhaps, and Harrison Ford is back as the iconic archaeologist.

The script was written by David Koepp, from an idea of George Lucas’ that Indy and Marion’s love affair way back when resulted in a son named Mutt (LaBeouf). Somehow Indiana Jones and Mutt get entangled in a plot involving a crystal skull that will take them to South America to return the skull to its rightful owners. Marion is somehow dragged into the action.

The plot is fairly silly, unlike the Raiders story which had a reluctant hero only interested in digging up treasure and a tomboy girl who was interested in more. This time, Marion is out to protect her only son and Indy is just trying to keep his old body from falling apart. Between them, Mutt appears to be gaining his footing to go from being a mechanic/Brando greaser (the film takes place in the ‘50s) to becoming a chip off the old block. One suspects that the next Indy movie may involve Mutt as the central figure.

All of these father and son intricacies are reminiscent of the Star Wars movies where this person has to end up being that person’s dad. I am not sure it works here, partly because Mutt doesn’t have much to do other than mug for the camera and swing on vines with monkeys in the rainforest (yeah, don’t ask).

And then there’s the matter of what the whole film turns out to be about. Without spoiling too much let’s just say that it will either make a believer out of you or not. I guess if you have Steven Spielberg and George Lucas on a movie it is inevitable that things take this kind of turn. The Indy movies are such a specific milieu that the introduction of something this off the wall makes it all seem suddenly very silly.Crystal Skull is not a bad movie. It just isn’t a great movie. But there are worse ways to spend your time and money.

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