Chris Gelderd counts down to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny by revisiting 2008’s The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull…
In production for almost a decade, the final outing for everyone’s beloved professor and archaeologist Indiana Jones is now finally on the horizon. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny will be the fifth feature film for the man in the hat, and the first under the Disney studio banner.
Safe to say, it has been a production not without delays, controversy and rumour. From a global pandemic to cast injuries and shifting crew roles, bringing Indiana Jones back for one final adventure has been more challenging that recovering the Sankara Stones. But with Harrison Ford back as Indy, James Mangold in the directors chair and Steven Spielberg as executive producer, the franchise is set to go out with a bang.
But just where did it all begin for Henry Jones, Jr. on the big screen? As we countdown to the June 28th/30th general release, let’s go back to where it all began and chart the journey taken so far…
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
This 2008 American adventure film is directed by Steven Spielberg and the fourth instalment in the Indiana Jones franchise. It stars Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone and John Hurt.
In the height of the Cold War, Indiana Jones (Ford) and his friend George McHale (Winstone) are kidnapped and brought to Area 51 by Soviet agents led by Colonel Dr Irina Spalko (Blanchett). After the two manage to escape, Indy is sought out by Mutt Williams (LaBeouf) who wants his help to track down a mutual college friend, Harold Oxley (Hurt), who has been kidnapped in Peru after searching for mystical crystal skulls in the fabled city of Akator. Indy and Mutt are soon united with Mutt’s mother, Marion Ravenwood (Allen), who was also kidnapped by the Soviets. The group soon face a race against time to find Akator and discover the ethereal power contained within the crystal skulls before the Soviets do…
19 years after the Jones family rode off into the sunset in The Last Crusade, we re-join Indiana in the height of the Cold War; 1957. One thing from the off is that this film is a solid continuation of the franchise, acknowledging the age of Indy (and Harrison Ford as a capable actor) the change in culture and the change in government. Sadly, it just isn’t conveyed enough to warrant this holding up to the previous three and comes across more as love-letter from Spielberg and Lucas as a return to their beloved character because there is so much separating it from the old trilogy, but so many desperate links to keep it part of it.
Ford continues to do as much stunt work as he can for a 64-year-old, and it is impressive. Regardless of how the stunt and action is done, we see Ford in the thick of it, taking hits, falls and gunshots as best he can. We can still invest in the character, and it is a joy to see him in the fedora and leather jacket. While the material Ford has here seemed to turn Indy into more of a bumbling, out-of-his-depth hero at times, he still has the rugged looks and snappy dialogue like he did in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Without Ford, there is no Indy. Simple as.
The John Williams score is faultless; still sending chills up your spine when you hear the Raiders march blare out in the action sequences, and familiar motifs from previous films adding to a new score make this very familiar and comfortable ground. Couple this with some practical set designs, locations and costumes, there are many sequences here that evoke the fun of the B-movie that Indiana Jones is all about. It still holds plenty of creepy tombs, booby traps and ancient temples. The opening 20 minutes in and around Area 51 is classic Indy.
Sadly, everything else lets a positive start down. The creativity of this film falters from mixed production input – lots of things are played for laughs here; Indy becomes a clumsy oaf numerous times by falling over, bumping into objects awkwardly and finds more time to complain about anything and everything. The editing lingers on reaction shots for gimmicky lines and silly set pieces that just do not fit into Indy’s world – his genre has never been comedy, but now we see it trying to be casually shoe-horned in, and it does not work because none of the actors are here to play comedy as naturally as it needs to be.
Little things also make the film unsettling as a continuation. An example of this is the nods to the past, it’s painfully obvious photographs on Indy’s desk of his father and Marcus Brody are publicity photos from The Last Crusade, and neither are looking at the camera. Did Sallah take a picture of Marcus in Iskenderun between his capture by the Nazis? Did Indy take a picture of his Dad in the German zeppelin escaping Berlin? No – it’s another link shoe-horned in rather than a subtle continuation of our hero’s journey without depending on forced nostalgia.
Shia LaBeouf is not easy to like either; he is hot-headed, cocky and arrogant but not in a good way. He plays a 50s greaser armed with a flick-knife and bad attitude. Ray Winstone does what Ray Winstone does and nothing more, adding little to proceedings. Even John Hurt is wasted here and does not provide much – simply good actors being cast in a big film because they can. Cate Blanchett starts out promising as our paranormal obsessed Soviet Spalko, but is soon left a little out of the action and only pops up now and then, devoid of real menace. Even the Soviets themselves are a pale replacement for the Nazis. Rather than an entire army providing us with an enemy and having that sweeping evil that was present across ROTLA and TLC, the Soviets here are reduced to the same handful of shouting, gurning soldiers. There is no wider sense of military mighty and they just do not feel to be a threat; more like a small splinter group out for personal gain.
And then there is the CGI. The less said about that the better, but it turns sequences into a video game where textures never change, the environment is on a loop, and danger is all but reduced when the CG is painfully obvious. I understand it has been used to provide a safety net for Ford in some sequences and to create action physically impossible to do – but when it is used to add jungle creatures alongside actors, make silly comical prat-falls and defy logic with ridiculous action, then it falls flat.
It is an embarrassment for over half the film to see our hero act in a CGI world against CGI danger when we are used to practical action and locations. Yet when all said and done, everything is, once again, wrapped up and we are given another ending that is very much welcome; sweet, faithful the characters we’ve followed so far and satisfying. It’s not a great film, but it’s still an entertaining Indiana Jones romp that has the heart of what Spielberg and Lucas created decades before.
With the fifth instalment Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny fast approaching and confirmed as the final outing for the man in the hat, time will tell just what ultimate closure director James Mangold will give us – will we need our tissues or not? Get to the cinemas in just a matter of days to find out.
Starring along with Harrison Ford are Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”), Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”), John Rhys-Davies (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”), Shaunette Renee Wilson (“Black Panther”), Thomas Kretschmann (“Das Boot”), Toby Jones (“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”), Boyd Holbrook (“Logan”), Oliver Richters (“Black Widow”), Ethann Isidore (“Mortel”) and Mads Mikkelsen (“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”).
Directed by James Mangold, the film is produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, and Simon Emanuel, with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas serving as executive producers. John Williams, who has scored each Indy adventure since the original “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981, is once again composing the score.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny arrives in cinemas on June 30th, 2023.