/ 19 May 2008

Harrison Ford resigns himself to a critical lashing

While a frenzy was building amid the sea of fans massed to glimpse Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford and the rest of the stars at the world premiere on Sunday, a healthy scepticism was building up at the Cannes festival among film critics who would assess the merits of the movie on show.

The queue for the first screening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — his first outing in almost two decades — might more accurately have been described as a shove.

There were scuffles as journalists vaulted barriers in order to gain entry to the cinema, only to be manhandled out of the way by pale-suited security guards.

As the opening credits rolled, even the mere sight of Spielberg’s name sparked a rumble of applause.

But Ford (65) knew that while the audience might love it, the critics were likely to be more harsh. ”I expect to have the whip turned on me,” he said.

”It is not unusual for something popular to be disdained by some people. I fully expect it, and I’m not worried about it. I work for the people who pay their money to see the movie. They are my customers.

”I want to create the best experience I can for these people. This film is such a celebration of the movies that I feel inured from professional criticism.”

Perhaps that’s just as well, for early indications suggest that, while public demand for the fourth adventure of Indiana Jones will doubtless be high, the critical reaction will be muted. An instant review from the website cinematical.com opined that the film was ”simultaneously self-conscious and self-satisfied, as if a little warm glow of past glory will soothe our bumps and blows from the clumsiness of the script”.

Aside from Spielberg and Ford, George Lucas, who created the story, was in town. So were a clutch of British actors in the film: John Hurt, who plays archeologist Professor Oxley; Jim Broadbent, who plays the dean of Jones’s university; and Ray Winstone, who takes the role of Jones’s unreliable pal Mac.

And Cate Blanchett, the film’s icy Soviet villain, Irina Spalko, was there to say that she apologised to the ”entire Russian populace” for her slightly comedic part in the film, straight out of a Bond movie.

Much has been made of Spielberg and Lucas’s desire to make the film’s action sequences as ”old school” as possible, using traditional stunt and physical techniques rather than digital wizardry. According to Lucas, they did not set out to ”one-up” the many action movies since the hero’s last outing 19 years ago.

”We weren’t going to have F14s flying under freeways. This is a real story about real people,” he said of the film, which involves a race to control the minds of the entire human race, and a mystical Mayan temple created by hyper-intelligent extra-terrestrials.

Spielberg said he admired many recent action films such as the Bourne series and Casino Royale — ”the best Bond movie since From Russia With Love”. But he is a fan of good old-fashioned storytelling, he said; and had, where possible, worked with real, large-scale sets, ”making as much of this movie practical magic rather than digital magic”.

Notwithstanding a great deal of chatter on blogs, the details of the plot of The Crystal Skull have been fairly well-kept — despite the fact that, according to Spielberg, ”there was a break-in into my private office and 3 000 stills, covering three-quarters of our production, were stolen and turned over to a website”.

A sting operation and a swift arrest prevented dissemination of the pictures.

On the set, the script was available only on a need-to-know basis, with even members of the crew denied access.

Talking about the time that has elapsed since Jones’s previous outing in The Last Crusade, Spielberg said it was he who had to be convinced to resurrect Indy, after Ford mooted the idea at the 1994 Oscars: ”I was in my dark period, making depressing historical dramas. It took a long time to find the right story.”

Lucas came up with the central idea of the crystal skull. ”But what the story was going to be and who the villains were going to be took time,” said Spielberg.

Of the buzz around the film, Ford said: ”I am very gratified that there has been a consistent interest in this character and in these films over a pretty long period of time. We’re talking nearly 30 years now.

”We made this movie for the pure pleasure of sitting in a darkened room with other people seeing something that will just kick your butt.”

From ark to skull

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first movie, was released in 1981 when Harrison Ford was 38 and director Stephen Spielberg was 34. Ford is now 65 and Spielberg is 61.

  • Spielberg and crew shot Raiders on a budget of $18-million. Estimates suggest the new one cost 10 times more.

  • Empire magazine predicts this fourth film will gross $2-billion worldwide, compared to $384-million for Raiders.

  • Set in 1957, the new movie lands Indy in a race with Soviet agents to find an ancient crystal skull that can bestow immeasurable power. Raiders was set in 1936 with our hero enlisted by the US to keep Adolf Hitler from acquiring the Ark of the Covenant.

  • In Crystal Skull, Cate Blanchett is the main baddie, a Soviet agent called Spalko. In Raiders, Indy’s nemesis was Belloc, a French archeologist.

  • The other female lead is Karen Allen reprising her role as Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s romantic interest in Raiders. But Indy has a new sidekick in the character of Mac, played by Ray Winstone.

  • In 1981, the Guardian‘s film critic said Raiders was ”increasingly tiresome and ultimately exasperating”. Today’s verdict on the two-star review by the Guardian‘s film critic, below: ”Hang up your hat.” – guardian.co.uk Â