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Cinema in Focus: ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’

The fourth in the series is nostalgic and divergent, and includes the classic values in other Indiana Jones films.

3 Stars – Wholesome

The latest installment of Steven Spielberg‘s and George LucasIndiana Jones film series is nostalgic and divergent. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is nostalgic because it is filled with vintage Indy action combining educational intellect with impossible fight scenes. It is nostalgic in its references to Indy’s fear of snakes, the mapping of the airplanes’ route and packed government warehouses where valuable and powerful artifacts are neglected.

For those who have seen the previous films, we recognize the hat, shadow and theme music as Indy makes his appearance, and we enjoy seeing cherubim’s wings on the Ark of the Covenant as it is revealed inside a damaged crate. But this fourth film created by the combined genius of Spielberg and Lucas and still casting 65-year-old Harrison Ford as Indy is divergent because it steps away from human history with our religious antiquities and moves into science fiction with an emphasis not on extraterrestrials but on interdimensional beings with the classic elongated skulls and large eyes of sci-fi aliens.

Unlike Spielberg’s E.T., in which the science fiction is a children’s tale and the extraterrestrial being is like a toy, the being or beings in this tale are dangerous. Their postmortem power is destructive to humans and the environment as they seek their own unity and return to their own dimension.

Using the mystical symbols and mysteries of the Inca culture as its loose connection to history, in this fourth chapter, Indy is embroiled in a Russian scheme to control the power of the crystal skull. We soon discover that this is not an artifact of antiquity; rather, the skull represents a power that is not of this world. The ensemble cast includes some familiar faces and some new ones. The return of Indy’s love, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), provides the usual relational tension, and the introduction of Irena Spalko (Cate Blanchett) as the obsessed villain fits the Indiana Jones story line.

When former schoolmate and fellow archaeologist Professor “Ox” Oxley (John Hurt) is taken captive by the Russians, Marion goes to help him. When she is also taken captive, she gets a letter out to her son, Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), to get Indy to help them. This begins the adventure as we realize that both Ox and Indy had a fascination with the legend of the crystal skull and the City of Gold.

The classic values of the Indiana Jones films are present in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Education is exciting and necessary, the world is full of adventure but also of danger, there are powers that can destroy you when you try to control them, betrayers will pay for their deceit, greed can cost your life and friendship can save it. Those are lessons that are true in life as well as in these fictional tales.

Discussion:

  • It has been noted that the large-eyed skulls that are picked up by modern science fiction to depict extraterrestrials and, in this film, interdimensional beings, bears a strong resemblance to the large-eyed demons from the drawings of the middle ages. Do you believe there is a connection? Do you believe these images are the same, different or just archetypal and fictional?
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  • When greedy “Mac” George McHale (Ray Winstone) betrays Indy, he eventually pays the ultimate price. Do you believe greedy people pay for their desires in this life? How is their payment most often exacted?
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  • The discovery of the special relationship between Mutt and Indy sets the stage for future Indiana Jones films. Do you think Mutt will make a good lead character? What will need to change in this character if he is going to continue the vintage story line?
  • Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara, and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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