Spielberg, Ford Cracking the Whip
Harrison Ford has not lost his edge. He may look a little older, but his punches, kicks, coordination (roll, slap, then back to original vehicle) and smart mouth still define him as advertised, the one and only Indiana Jones of yore. His quest for the “Crystal Skull” relies a bit more on deductive reasoning and following leads than dodging rolling bolders. But the race against the Communist Reds (substituted for German Nazis) injects once again the brilliance of the filmmakers in the re-invention and re-introduction of the iconic hero.
Jones first appeared in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which spoofed the cliffhanger serials of the ’30s and ’40s; now, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have seized upon ’50s nostalgia, including Elvis music, drag racing, the McCarthy witch hunts, nuclear testing and Grade B flying saucer flicks.
Ironically, “Crystal Skull” opens with a road race that could have come out of another Lucas early classic, “American Graffiti,” but the glimpses of teen radicalism give way quickly to conspiracy, gunfire and the Red Menace.
Next comes a lengthy search through a hanger warehouse (reminiscent of one from earlier episodes in the series) and the new adventures surges instantly into the fast moving, wild, heavily choreographed fisticuffs that mimic and equal the series’ trademark of comic book styled cinematography. Of course, Indy soon trudges into an impending Nevada nuclear testing ground zero and again in the last minute cliffhanger finds safety by climbing into a led refrigerator to survive the blast.
Having jostled your eye bulging attention, the story — yes, there is an intricate tale unlike many current films driven solely by shock and awe — expertly unfolds with disconnected elements fitting together with the precision of diamond cutting.
Lucas/Spielberg in “Star Wars,” “Raiders,” and the like relied on what were then the beginnings of CGI styled magic. The written pages of the screenplays twists, turns and stunts determined the styles of screen effects, rather than vice versa; that is a series of cool effects seemingly put on the page first, then a bunch of characters dropped in to interact around the visual fireworks. As with earlier Jones films, effects themselves must be both miniature, stylized and intricate, such as the coordination to unlock a series of trap doors leading down a dusty, web filled passageway.
Ford has not lost the chemistry with Karen Allen (who starred in “Raiders”) so the smug, cute and cynical repartee ranges from well placed “I like Ike” and “drop dead comrade” detente busters to job, gender, and name (pay attention to the ‘Richard’ jokes) cracks.
Inescapably, mid film has a pacing slow down, but it’s hardly noticeable unless you’re a fully charged, adrenaline action junkie. The intellectual, deductive period solders loose ends to refinement while still having the adventurers traipsing in dangerous Amazon rainforests.
“Crystal Skull” confidently meshes all the elements to broaden its appeal, including Ford’s young greaser sidekick, Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) who’s always brushing his hair. He’s likely to turn up in another installment too.
(And for trivia blooper buffs — when Indy and crew fly around Latin and South America, they pass a country on the map labeled “Belize.” Since the story occurs in ’57, the country should have been labeled British Honduras.)
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