Thursday, May 29, 2008

Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is the fourth film in the Adventures of Indiana Jones movie series. It is the year 1957, and twenty years later after The Last Crusade. The movie begins at a secret United States military base called "Hangar 51" in the southwestern United States desert. The Soviet Union military has captured Indiana Jones (alias: Dr. Henry Jones) and his friend Mac. The Soviet troops disguised themselves as American soldiers to infiltrate the military base warehouse (which also holds the Ark of the Covenant from the first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark) to retrieve an object of extraordinary mystical and psychic power that could lead to global domination by the Soviet Union.

The Soviet troop leader, the villainous Colonel-Doctor Irina Spalko, and her troops follow Indiana Jones inside where they discover a skeleton of extraterrestrial origins (from the 1947 Roswell UFO crash) hidden inside one of the crates. The Soviets seize the skeleton, but Indiana Jones takes one of the soldiers hostage and a fight erupts inside the warehouse. He escapes on a rocket sled into the desert and nearly survives an atomic explosion in a nuclear weapons test community. Upon his return to Marshall College as a college professor of archeology, Jones is under FBI investigation because his British friend, Mac, is a Soviet agent (think McCarthy era and the hysteria of some Americans sympathizing with Communism). He is also offered a leave of absence (resignation) by Dean Stanforth from his job to avoid a termination because of the ongoing investigation.

Indiana Jones learns from greaser Mutt Williams that his mother, Marion Ravenwood, and his colleague, Harold Oxley, have disappeared. The Soviets are looking for the legendary crystal skull of Akator supposedly taken from El Dorado, the hidden city of gold in South America. When they both arrive in the jungles of Peru, they learned that Oxley was locked in an insane asylum until the Soviets kidnapped him. In Oxley's former cell, they discover clues to the grave of Francisco de Orellano, a 16th-century Spanish conquistador who went missing while searching for Akator. Jones finds the crystal skull that Oxley hid in Orellana's grave. The Soviets capture them and take them to the camp where they are holding Oxley and Marion, who later reveals that Mutt Williams is Jones' biological son, Henry Jones III.

Mutt, Marion, Mac, Oxley and Jones escape from the Soviet camp leading to a lengthy and spectacular vehicle chase through the jungles involving monkeys, sword fights and several Soviet soldiers killed by giant army ants. They ride an amphibious vehicle over a cliff and down three waterfalls where they eventually find the Temple of Akator. The group encounter traps they must pass and survive to enter the extraterrestrial chamber tomb. They discover artifacts from ancient global civilizations inside the temple. There are thirteen crystal extraterrestrial skeletons seated on thrones. One has a missing skull. Irina Spalko meets the group in the tomb and places the skull onto the skeleton. The aliens (communicating in an ancient Mayan dialect) want to give them a great gift. Spalko demands to know everything, and the skeletons begin firing knowledge into her eyes. Meanwhile, a supernatural dimensional portal opens in the ceiling to reveal a spaceship (UFO). While Jones and the group escape the tomb, this knowledge overwhelms Spalko and her body disintegrates. The portal pulls and kills Mac as he tries to retrieve treasure. The temple crumbles, and the spaceship vanishes without a trace. When the group returns home, Jones becomes an associate dean at his former college and marries Marion Ravenwood.

I really enjoyed this film. While there were some parts of the film that I thought were bizarre, such as Mutt Williams swinging in the trees with the monkeys, I thought the directors could have added more dramatic temple traps scenes because I thought this part of the film was very incomplete. It has been almost twenty years since the film (The Last Crusade), so this film was definitely long overdue. I was also glad that the producers (Steven Spielberg and George Lucas) agreed to keep the same stunt work for consistency with the previous films. I thought Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Irina Spalko was incredibly good. It also feels complete with the marriage of Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood, whom met each other in the first film. I do believe a fifth movie is possible. After Raiders of the Lost Ark, Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls is definitely my second favorite Jones film in the series.

I really liked the idea of the extraterrestrial-ancient civilization plot. This is a fantasy movie based upon Spielberg and Lucas' favorite childhood characters. While some people may think the UFO story is too far-fetched and unrealistic, there are true studies that extraterrestrials descended upon earth in UFOs and educated ancient civilizations such as the Mayans, Egyptians, Babylonians and Chinese with their knowledge. Their existence is also well-documented in the Bible. While this may sound like X-Files, Lucas and Spielberg touched on a topic that was popular in the 1950s (U.S. government's secrecy of the Roswell UFO crash) and the belief there are other beings out there in space. Recently, there has been an increase in paranormal activity, especially the sightings of UFOs in places such as Texas and California.

In sum, I thought the movie could have elaborated more on the history of Akator and the extraterrestrials but I understand that not much was known in the 1950s. I definitely recommend this movie in your action/adventure/science fiction collection.

Click here to learn more about the legend of El Dorado.

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