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Brad’s April Escape - Part 20
April 30 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Each weekday this month, I’ll screen a film from The Bearded Trio Cinematic Universe and list 10 random scenes, characters, musical cues or performances that I particularly enjoy and look forward to upon every viewing. I’d love to hear similar little things you enjoy about these films, and hope you join me in this escape from the present-day world.

My final entry in this series is the last collaboration between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and John Williams: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - An Introduction
After 19 years, Harrison Ford donned The Hat once again for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Like the Star Wars prequels, the anticipation for this release was very high. The result was enormously successful at the box office, but this film received a curious backlash, and not immediately after its release, either. As the years have passed, people - myself included - have distanced this film from the first three in the franchise.

Ford was 66 when this film was released, and even the ultimate heroes have a shelf life. Father time is undefeated, as Charles Barkley is fond of saying. But this film is historic in nature for many reasons. Number one, it will represent the last theatrical collaboration between Lucas, Spielberg and Williams. I know Indy 5 has been in the works, but with shooting delayed due to COVID-19, and the release date changed twice, I have serious doubts we'll ever see a fifth Indy film.

However, there are some magical moments in this film, beyond the obvious bits of nostalgia. Ford is outstanding, and it feels like he never skipped a beat between Last Crusade and Crystal Skull. Williams is Williams, and comes up with themes that fit right into the greater Indiana Jones realm. I'm happy Crystal Skull exists, and while there has been a years-long backlash, I do detect a renewed acceptance and appreciation of the film in recent times.

10 Things I Like - Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

1. Of course we are reintroduced to Indy in silhouette. Steven Spielberg's magic touch with the Indy films is that he makes them specifically for the audience. Audience entertainment appears to be his top priority. This was one of the moments that you expect, but you smile at anyway.

2. Another cameo I fully expected, but was happy to see anyway. The Lost Ark. When the camera pans back to this warehouse, full of wooden crates, I knew Spielberg would find a way to drop the ark into a shot somewhere.

3. We've seen so much through Indy's eyes over the years. So much history, when you account for the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Here, we see more history we'd probably rather not see - the mushroom cloud of a nuclear blast. So much of Indy's history we have witnessed was based in the 1930s. The advent of nuclear weapons is based well outside of the 1930s, and this served as a stark reminder that Indy is living in a different world now.

4. Another lovely nostalgic moment. You hear the Henry Jones theme played as a defeated Indy looks at photos of Marcus Brody and his father at his desk. Even though it's early in the film, Indy has already been through physical and emotional trials. He looks so down, with so little energy in this terrific scene. He's been put on leave, he's intent on moving to England, and has nothing keeping him where he is. It's the clear end of the first act of the film.

5. A very good scene that acts as a pointer scene - laying out much of the plot to come - as well as a transition scene and an introductory scene for Mutt. It's a lot to pack into one scene, but Spielberg handles it with ease. Mutt is clearly not a finished character. He's way too reckless and quick to anger, but it is a good starting point for him.

6. This shot reveals the first time we hear the Williams theme "Call of the Crystal/" I hear a lot of Close Encounters's score contained within this theme. I think it's the arrangement of notes, and the pace of the notes, that lends itself to mystery and other-worldliness that is perfectly appropriate for an object like the crystal skull.
Williams handles the skull musically, much like the other supernatural objects in the Indy franchise like the Lost Ark and Sankara Stones. I tend to separate the Holy Grail from that group, because the grail feels like something more grounded in the real world, and has more simplicity to it. It's a cup. I mean no disrespect to the grail when I say that. It's actually my favorite MacGuffin in all of the Indy films. It's not as grand as the Lost Ark or as mythical as the stones or the skull. But Williams writes music that works magically well for all four items.

7. This is an incredibly well done set piece by  production designer Guy Hendrix-Dyas. Orellana's Grave is a scary, clever and original set design, and works so well. Williams's soundtrack cue, titled Orellana's Cradle is another ideal match. It relies on fast piano playing and quick, light percussions that sound totally in place deep in a jungle. The music is muted and a bit and plays under the action. It works well with the dark and dusty visuals present throughout the scene.

8. The return of the love theme between Indy and Marion comes up here, as Indy escapes the Russian truck in the jungle near the Amazon River. Williams has stated many times his affection for the character of Marion, and the theme he wrote for her reflects that. It had to be so much fun for Williams to revisit that theme 27 years after he introduced it to all of us.

9. Ants are this film's creepy crawlies. You knew there would be something to follow up the snakes, bugs and rats, and Spielberg came up with killer, carnivorous red ants. The ants were a convenient plot device to get rid of a lot of Russian soldiers through this chase sequence, where Indy is more or less on his own in terms of an ability to combat enemies.

10. This is another remarkable set piece, the final chamber that contains the interdimensional beings. I can't give enough credit to the craftsmen who put so much detail into each set throughout this final sequence. Each room Indy and his friends enter is beautifully done. But in a very George Lucas-like move, the camera doesn't unnecessarily linger on these sets. It just takes them in as part of the natural environment, and that's a big part of what makes them so effective.

Brad’s Escapism Moment in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Indy sees a spaceship. That has to be peak "We're not in Kansas anymore" for our hero in the hat.

It has to be an inherent challenge to make one film in a franchise 19 years after the previous entry. Some distance is going to be inevitable, and can easily separate it from the others (cough Avatar sequels cough). But Crystal Skull is a great time. Ford's ability to naturally carry on this character after a nearly two-decade break is a testament to his genius in front of the camera, and while I wince at the number of punches he has to take, he has clearly evolved, and is even wiser than the last time we saw him. What a treat.

And it has been a treat for me to analyze all of these films across this most difficult month of April for all of you. I will have plenty more content coming for this wonderful website soon, with The Clone Wars at the top of my priority list.

Eternal gratitude goes out to Rob for giving me the freedom to explore these films that mean so much to me. So many of the thoughts I've expressed in this series have represented thoughts that only existed within me, for sometimes decades. I'm so appreciative of this platform and opportunity to express myself, and express how much the works of The Bearded Trio mean to me.

The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams and a whole lot more.


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