(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Indiana Jones is back and looking for the secrets of a lost civilization in Central or South America (and the script seems not sure what the difference is). This film is a compendium of geographic misinformation as well as solid collection of action sequences. Rather than being an adventure centered on religious folklore, this time Indy is involved with aliens and New Age ideas. As expected the thrills just keep coming, but like its hero the action is getting a little old and little stiff. Steven Spielberg directs. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Spoiler warning: This review has some spoilers of minor details in the film.

The Lost Race story, popular in the late 1800s, is not dead. Nor is Indiana Jones, popular in the 1980s. After nineteen years in both real time and story time, Professor Jones (Harrison Ford, of course) has been forced into a new adventure in the world of 1957. There is no way to make this a prequel the way TEMPLE OF DOOM was. Harrison Ford is 65 years old and looks it. Indiana Jones still does some marvelous physical feats, but you rarely see Indy's face when he is doing them. His stunt double is getting lots of work. Karen Allen is back as Marion Ravenwood and is well preserved enough to still be attractive. But many of Indiana's stunts have been handed off to new character Mutt Williams (played by Shia LaBeouf). Mutt is adventuresome himself and could himself almost be called a young Indiana Jones.

At the film begins Stalinist thugs have kidnapped Indiana in the hopes of finding a valuable thingee that has something to do with psychic power. The Nazis have been dispatched by history so Stalin is the power behind the new villains. It seems that Stalin is as superstitious as Hitler was, though come to think of it, in the world of Indiana Jones, Hitler was right to believe in the Ark and the Grail. The chase for the valuable thingee will take Indiana and his party once more into tombs and temples with booby traps. One major difference is that the three previous films are based on folklore itself based (at least nominally) on, respectively, Judaism, Hinduism, and Christianity. This time the inspiration is not a major religion but simply New Age thinking and conspiracy theories. Many touches have been put into the film to remind one both of Spielberg's and of Lucas's early films. To say more of what touches would be a spoiler.

Indiana's chief nemesis is Irina Spalko (played by Cate Blanchett). Spalko carries a sword and apparently sports a Louise Brooks wig. Indiana's chief partner, in addition to Mutt Williams, is Mac McHale (Ray Winstone), a friend of dubious value. Along the way they pick up Ox Oxlay (John Hurt), an archeologist whose mind has been destroyed by contact with a crystal skull. Rounding out the group is Marion Ravenwood of the first film who returns here. There are four major surprises in the script, two of which are that you guessed each of the other two at least thirty minutes before the revelations.

Some nice moments enliven the film. There is a nice eerie moment early in the film, which on retrospect could have been taken intact from the 1954 Mickey Rooney comedy THE ATOMIC KID. Perhaps a little out of place for the feel of the series are the comic shots, highly digital, showing prairie dog reaction shots to the action. One touch may or may not have been intentional. In the film APOCALYPTO (2006) the wife of the main character is shown to be in a very dangerous situation and needs her husband to rescue her. INDIANA JONES puts people in the identical situation and shows that it is not actually dangerous at all. Since it is not dangerous, I can see no reason Spielberg to put his characters in this non-dangerous situation except to poke fun at APOCALYPTO.

In general one does not see an Indiana Jones movie for its intelligent plot or for factual accuracy. This film has some very serious geographical errors, but in addition we see just taken for granted some things that are simply not true. 1) Indiana Jones assumes that gunpowder is magnetic. Gunpowder consists of potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur. It is not magnetic. Confusing things is that later in the film some traditionally non-magnetic substances prove to be attracted to the super-magnets in this film, but Indiana Jones does not know that early in the film. 2) The super-magnets attract metal buttons, swords, and anything else that should be magnetic but apparently not Jeeps. Jeeps would have been made of magnetic material in 1957 as now. 3) Later in the film, stone that is being put in place by resting it on sand in a container and then letting the sand run out. It would not lower the stone any lower than the height where the sand is leaking out. We see such a stone descend further. 4) I have no idea what is the tensile strength of a large snake, but I seriously doubt it can be used as suggested.

Well, what are the geographic errors? David Koepp (who wrote the screenplay) really seems to have a deep confusion about the differences between Peru and Mexico. Peru and Mexico are about 2600 miles apart. Much of the film takes place in Peru on the Amazon and in the mountains. That was where the Inca civilization was, but all of the architecture we see is in the ornate Mayan style from thousands of miles to the north. The Incas never used this style. The native language in Peru is Quechua, which Indiana says he learned riding with Pancho Villa. Villa rode a long way from where Quechua is spoken. The area where Indiana goes is referred to as "Meso-America." The most southern part of Mexico is considered to be part of Meso-America, but Peru is much further south in South America. We see a 1957 map that lists Belize. There was no place with that name until June 1973. [Thanks to my wife, Evelyn, for catching many of these errors.] I will very likely get complaints that people do not go to an Indiana Jones film to learn geography, but if geographic errors bother me, I have to report them.

This is very much a turn-your-mind-off sort of film with some fun action sequences. There is nothing wrong with that. But I would have hoped turning off the mind should not have been so necessary. I rate INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper