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May 20, 2008

Skull satisfies the jones for Jones

[img id="80632" align="alignleft"] Don't make the same mistake I made if you see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull this weekend. In my infinite wisdom, I only bought a medium popcorn before the film started. You're going to need one of those giant tubs, and considering the level of sustained action in the film, you're probably going to need the free refill, too.

The bigger mistake I made, however, was having exceedingly low expectations going into the film. With a revival of another slightly overrated 20-year-old franchise featuring a poorly aged hero and the god-awful Star Wars prequels—produced by the Indiana story writer and executive producer—hitting new lows with each installment, there were more than a few reasons to be skeptical. But not only does Indy 4 not suck, it's arguably the most mature, complete film in the franchise, rivaled only by Raiders of the Lost Ark in terms of overall quality.

The film's lack of notable flaws is almost as jaw dropping as the film itself. There is not a single cringe-worthy line of dialogue—and it took a lot to earn back my trust after the Last Crusade's infamous, "Nazis...I hate those guys." The action, suspense, and plot are all exactly what you want from a summer blockbuster—you'll be intermittently excited, terrified, and giggling like a five-year-old. The acting is excellent; familiar characters lose none of their charm, and new characters who dramatically reshape the story of the Indiana Jones franchise make the story even better. And, of course, Indy and his hat are as dashing as ever.

One of the biggest criticisms of Steven Spielberg's pre-1990 films was their preference for fluff over social commentary. In this Indiana, between the absurdly well executed car chases, fight sequences, and explosions, there are vague suggestions of Cold War paranoia, the power of the individual mind versus the herd mentality, and politics as usual. These moments show Spielberg's recently-attained maturity while not sacrificing his virtually unparalleled ability to entertain. The opening sequence of the film, where rambunctious 1950s teens drive recklessly around a convoy of military vehicles headed to Los Alamos, also hearkens back to George Lucas's American Graffiti. I'd never thought I'd praise Lucas ever again, but credit must be given where it's due: He's put together a truly remarkable film that can at least begin to rebuild his reputation.

There's no need for me to spoil the plot of the film for you, but just know it doesn't disappoint. Look up the crystal skull's page on Wikipedia for background information if your undying Indiana Jones geekdom hasn't driven you to do so already. The story is certainly Indy-worthy, and while the ending is somewhat ridiculous, in reality it's no more ridiculous than the ending of any other film in the franchise. Oh, and the one snake cameo is hilariously timed, too.

Perhaps the film's greatest accomplishment is its careful use of special effects technology old and new. While the feel of the original Star Wars trilogy was absolutely ruined in the prequels by their utter dependence on CGI, Spielberg only uses CGI when he has no other choice to get the shot he wants. Indy 4 is the first blockbuster where old school special effects and digital technology are seamlessly integrated. Considering that Spielberg created the mess that is the contemporary special effects-heavy blockbuster, it's only fitting he'd be the one to clean that mess up. Between Iron Man and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 2008 has been graced with more awesome action blockbusters than entire summers in the past—and it's not even June yet. The Dark Knight, The Incredible Hulk, and other potential successes are yet to come. Can I just say I'm really looking forward to this summer?