/ 23 May 2008

Indy goes old-school

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 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 although 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. Early indications suggest that, although 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 archaeologist 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 digi-tal 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 extraterrestrials.

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.” —