Indiana Jones — worth the wait?

After a 19-year absence, cinema’s most famous archaeologist is back in action with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. So was it worth the wait?

That depends on what you've been waiting for.

I saw the opening midnight showing of the latest Indy flick at the Park Side cineplex. And when I, along with two packed houses, left the theater just before 2:30 a.m., one thought kept buzzing in my addled brain: "That was fucked up."

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull seems to exist in one of those alternate comic-book universes rife with storylines written by an overly ambitious fanboy. It just so happens that the fanboy in this case is none other than George Lucas himself, the man-child responsible for all of the Indiana Jones stories. But KotCS is, in its own soberly perverted way, far removed from its predecessors in terms of tone and style, and is easily the most outlandish in concept of the series, from its gonzo premise right down to its action sequences. While the scenes of peril in Raiders of the Lost Ark were thrilling for their gee-whiz factor, I found myself watching KotCS in dumb amazement, thinking, “I can’t believe they had the balls to do this.”

And it’s no wonder, when you consider that the film, which is set in the 1950s, gives both Lucas and director Steven Spielberg carte blanche to indulge in the fantasies of their formative boyhood years, albeit filtered through the sensibilities of men in their 60s and accomplished with peerless craftsmanship. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a film they seem to have made for each other, their wettest cinematic wet dream for all to see.

Despite the comic-book scenario, this may be the most sober and heartwarming of the Indiana Jones movies, from its acknowledgments of mortality and the passing of time to Harrison Ford’s nuanced performance. While his characterization of Indiana Jones has long been noted for its grittiness and realism, Ford now has a grizzled, world-weary edge to him we haven’t seen before; he’s 19 years older than when we last saw him, and he acts it. The rest of the performances are also strong, particularly Shia LaBeouf as Mutt, the greaser who serves as the catalyst for the latest adventure and whose relationship with Indy is one of the linchpins of the film.

What amazes me is that most critics have praised KotCS, and not because I think the movie is a dog, — which it is not — but because it is so unlike the original trilogy, including the ways I’ve mentioned above, and in terms of Spielberg’s direction and Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography. Spielberg has been quoted on record as stating that he and Kaminski, who’ve worked together since Schindler’s List, wanted to recapture the warm, organic look achieved by cinematographer Douglas Slocombe for the first three Indy movies, but KotCS has starker, colder visuals, adding to the feeling that we’re watching an Indiana Jones movie filtered through a dream. Which is sort of the effect Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had on me, a waking dream. It was, to be sure, a surreal experience. If this is indeed the last chapter for Harrison Ford as the beloved, intrepid archaeologist, at least he went out memorably, the final scene providing a corny, old-fashioned send-off that, after all these years, feels about right.

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