Well, it opens worldwide tomorrow and Jedi News was lucky enough to be invited to London last night for the exclusive press screening at the Odeon Leicester Square.
Read on for our joint 'spoiler free' review with good pals and comrades-in-arms at Lightsabre.co.uk, and also a few questions with veteran actor John Hurt, and then get yourselves down to the local cinema and queue up for the 12.01am screening to welcome back the world's greatest action hero...
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”
Review by Mark Newbold and James Burns
The newest Indiana Jones adventure begins in the desert Southwest in 1957 – the height of the Cold War. Indy and his sidekick Mac (Ray Winstone) have barely escaped a close scrape with nefarious Soviet agents on a remote airfield.
Now, Professor Jones has returned home to Marshall College – only to find things have gone from bad to worse. His close friend and dean of the college (Jim Broadbent) explains that Indy’s recent activities have made him the object of suspicion, and that the government has put pressure on the university to fire him. On his way out of town, Indiana meets rebellious young Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), who carries both a grudge and a proposition for the adventurous archaeologist: If he’ll help Mutt on a mission with deeply personal stakes, Indy could very well make one of the most spectacular archaeological finds in history – the crystal Skull of Akator, legendary object of fascination, superstition and fear
So, first impressions...
What a waste! Yep, you heard right the first time. What a waste...of 19 years, because when Harrison Ford, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are on this kind of form, we should be watching the ninth Indiana Jones adventure, not his fourth. Stepping back onto the rolling boulder like they never stepped off, this is the film that should have followed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade back in 1992 when they first considered reuniting for a fourth film, and thankfully it's well worth the wait.
He may have to suffer a constant critical and media backlash but George Lucas is a lot savvier than he is given credit for. He knew the weight of expectation for The Phantom Menace would overwhelm the film, and he was right. Public expectations for the first prequel were astronomical, and in the intervening decade the film has never recovered. Here he predicts much the same, so if you are expecting Bourne Ultimatum style stunts, Matrix style effects and MTV style performances then back away from the ticket office and go see Speed Racer. However, if you want your Indy to pick up where he left off (albeit eighteen years later in 1957) then this is the film for you.
Foot-to-the-floor from frame one right through to the end, this opens an entirely new chapter of Indiana Jones while thumbing back through the pages of history to reminisce on past victories. He's older, he's not that much wiser, he cracks that whip like his life depends on it - which it often does - and he's still chasing his damn fortune and glory.
Mark Newbold of Lightsabre and James Burns of Jedi News were fortunate enough to be invited to the press screening of the new film at the Odeon, Leicester Square. Along with numerous other media types the atmosphere was expectant, and as the familiar yet noticeably different themes of Crystal Skull echoed through the speakers they prepared themselves to enter the world of Indiana Jones once again.
But not before a surprise guest climbed the steps to the stage to introduce the film. John Hurt, Professor Oxley in the film, waited for the applause to die down before addressing the crowd. “For months now I’ve not been allowed to discuss the film. And there’s not much point now as you’re all going to see it.”
As with all Indy films, the familiar Paramount mountain – and noticeably the 1981 Raiders era version – gave way to the first scene of the film, and we were away. With barely a second spared it’s clear we are in 1957. Well, when else was Elvis Presley singing Hound Dog? And, for the most part, the film rocks and rolls through its two hour life. While slow in some parts and overly slapstick in others, there’s no denying we are right back where we want to be, watching Indiana and company spill from danger to danger.
Thematically the film is most like Last Crusade with a twist, but instead of Henry Jones Senior being the father figure, Henry Jones Junior assumes that mantle, guiding young Mutt from a rebellious teen with a chip on his shoulder to…well, if we’re watching Mutt Williams and the City of Gods in three years time don’t say we didn’t warn you.
“Another masterpiece from our friends at Lucasfilm,” was James Burns initial reaction to the third sequel as we dined in the Rainforest Café after the film. “Perhaps not as good as Raiders but a great family feast nevertheless.” Mark Newbold agreed.
“Since 1981 nothing has come close to matching the pure adrenaline thrill of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which really caught lightening in a bottle. There’s no wasted motion in that film, every scene serves a purpose and leads to the conclusion in the warehouse.” Which, incidentally, is nicely used in Crystal Skull. “But this is as good a shot at matching it as any film since.”
Being an ensemble film there is a different emphasis with this movie. Raiders was the Indy and Marion show, while Temple of Doom gave us Willie and Short Round. Last Crusade added Sallah, Marcus Brody – lovingly remembered here a number of times – and Henry Jones Senior. Now Crystal Skull turns it up another notch with even more people for Doctor Jones to play off.
“The camaraderie between the main characters is brilliant to watch and works well on many levels.” Says James. “And I really liked the nod to the previous films, especially to Marcus and Henry Senior.” Mark agreed again. “There’s definitely a touch of Last Crusade in the Indy and Mutt relationship. Make of that what you will, but they also sow a whole field of seeds for further instalments with Mutt and Marion's reappearance. Oh, and don’t forget Janitor from Scrubs and Jim Robinson are in there too.”
Ultimately the film left James wanting more. “After 19 years I didn’t know what to expect, and now I’ve seen it I’m not disappointed. It left me wanting more and there’s room for more. We said before the film started, based on early reviews, we were nervous we’d be disappointed and wouldn’t want more, but we both felt quite the opposite.”
Mark sees the potential in sequels to this fourth adventure.
“Raiders is a lot like the original Star Wars in that it could have been a one-off movie. Temple of Doom was a prequel – I still don’t get that - and Last Crusade was the last crusade, the end of the series. But this is begging for a sequel. Imagine the end of Attack of the Clones, when Anakin and Padme get married, and not ever seeing Revenge of the Sith. This isn’t a million miles away from that. Really, it isn’t.”
One thing that can’t be ignored is the passage of almost two decades. In that time a lot has clearly happened to Indiana. He’s lost friends and family and maybe a yard or two of pace as well. “They addressed the time gap really well.” Adds Mark. “Indiana’s adventures in World War II are referenced, which is a nice shadowing of his Young Indiana Jones adventures in The Great War, but he seems to have had a hard time of it since we last saw him on the big screen in Last Crusade. He’s tired and a bit beat down, but like the Indy we know he just keeps on punching.”
Action and set pieces have been at the core of previous Indiana Jones adventures, and Crystal Skull is no different. But could 65 year old Ford carry them off, or would ILM be required to step in and save the day. “There are a couple of pieces in the jungle chase that didn’t work for me,” says James. “A bit too far-fetched and Tarzanesque. But saying that the kids will love it.”
“He might not be 80 like Mutt accused him of being, but Harrison still knows how to throw, and more importantly take, a good punch. There’s a drag ‘em out and knock ‘em down fight in the opening sequence that’s as brutal as anything he went through in the other three films. And the jungle chase, as seen in the trailer, comes pretty close to matching the adrenaline rush of the desert chase from Raiders.” And ILM’s work? Fears were that in the age of digital the effects would overwhelm the film, but it appears not to be the case says Mark.
“ILM apparently only did around 200 effects for the film and the effects that are on the screen are unobtrusive and well used. Granted, the finale is an effects spectacular, much in the same way as the end of Raiders, but that’s designed to show off the power of the crystal skull. And the ant sequence was certainly creepy. One of the soldiers gets dispatched in a gruesome manner.” “If only he’d have curbed his indigestion with ant-acid.”
Of the actors on show most got a resounding thumbs up, especially Shia LaBeouf. “Mutt is a character I wouldn’t mind seeing again on the big screen.” Says Mark. “He has a Han Solo arc, from cocky rogue to thoughtful man in the space of two hours, but it’s not forced or contrived. A lot of credit has to go to LaBeouf as well as Lucas, Jeff Nathanson and David Koepp. They’ve introduced a new character into a familiar series and made him part of the furniture by the conclusion of the film. I’d like to see Mutt in 1957 travel the world with Indy and Marion circa 1936. I think he’d more than hold his own.”
But James had this to say about the films female lead.
“Everyone with the exception of Cate Blanchett was believable.” “Yeah, the accent kind of overtook the character in places, although I liked the way Irina and Indy brainstormed together. That was interesting. Seeing Ford in the role again, not the wiseass cocky character of the thirties was captivating. Indiana is older and a bit beat down by life. You see he’s had some body blows lately, and Marion coming back on the scene adds a sparkle to the proceedings. Clearly Karen Allen is having a ball. In fact, it’s clear that they are all having a ball.”
And the soundtrack, by the maestro John Williams, how did that stand up? James had his own take on the music. “I didn’t notice the music as much as I thought I would, which believe me is a compliment. Listening to the soundtrack in the Odeon before the start of the film its clear he’s made another masterpiece.”
Mark has his own thoughts on movie soundtracks. “Williams just has a knack of making amazing themes and signature pieces but a film doesn’t have to be wall-to-wall music. Look at Star Wars, that isn’t flooded with music, whereas the prequels barely have a scene without an 80 piece orchestra blasting out a theme. Sometimes a sequence works better without music, like the asteroid field over Geonosis scene in Attack of the Clones, or the fight in Marion's bar The Raven in Raiders. It sounded to me, on first viewing, that Crystal Skull leans towards the older style, and I much prefer that. There’s a lot to be said for ambient sound in films. It’s why Ben Burtt won Oscars.”
Upon leaving the Odeon and moving back on to Leicester Square to find somewhere to eat James spotted flashing lights. John Hurt was signing autographs for excited fans, a huge bodyguard shadowing his every move. With camera in hand Mark took shots as James had a word with the screen legend...
“Did you enjoy the movie?” asked James. “It’s difficult to say when you’re in it.” Answered Hurt, signing our press passes and noting that they looked like beer mats. “That’s what I’ll use mine for.” Replied Mark. As if. James pressed on. “I really liked your character.” Hurt smiled and paused his signing. “Thank you, we really enjoyed making it, it was a lot of fun.” Posing for a photo with James he made his way off the square. “You’ll have to excuse me, I have to go and eat.”
Wrapping it up, what are Jedi News and Lightsabre’s final thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?
“We’d have no hesitation in recommending the fourth instalment. It’s an Indy film through and through and it’s good to have him back where he belongs on the big screen.”