‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ DVD is a mixed bag

If you, like me, are an ardent fan of the original Raiders of the Lost Ark and the ensuing Indiana Jones franchise — with all its ups and downs — then Tuesday’s DVD release from Paramount of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull presents a dilemma.

Are you honest with yourself, and everyone else, by acknowledging that this is the weakest entry in the now four-film series (not counting the superb Young Indiana Jones TV series)? And if so, do you side with South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whose “The China Problem” episode last week cast director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas in the metaphorical light of being Indy’s greedy, product-driven “rapists”?

Or do you seek silver linings on the new two-disc DVD, from its lavish special features (with great making-of material) to the fact that the film opens with the one of the best sustained action sequences in recent memory? In short, do you cut slack for Stevie and George — not to mention now retirement-age Harrison Ford as Indy?

My attitude is somewhere in the middle, which is not to say it’s a muddle. It’s simply a mixed bag.

I truly believe that Indy’s time has come and gone, and that this film is a shaky evocation of superior efforts from up to a quarter-century ago. But I also believe Spielberg is one of our finest directors, and it wasn’t his fault that Lucas (as writer of Crystal Skull’s story) delivered yet another murky plot about rivals seeking to get a thing from a place in a big hurry — or something. And who are all these people and why should we care?

I swear, Indy 4 was as plot-challenged as any Star Wars prequel — and for much the same reasons. I was half-way expecting a subplot about Trade Federation blockades or complex senate votes.

Then again, give the film credit for its women, from Cate Blanchett as a stylish yet deadpan serious Soviet bad bongo battling Indy for possession of the thing, to Karen Allen — are you kidding me? — who amazingly returns as Indy’s old (like him) love interest from the first film.

Women in Hollywood just aren’t allowed to do this sort of thing when they no longer look so pretty or young or glamorous. But here’s spunky Allen, bless her, and it’s utterly grand that Indy 4 went against the sexist grain to give her another shot.

On the other hand, the film overcompensates for Indy’s advanced age by making him gallingly indestructible, when it was Indy’s vulnerability — even when much younger — which made him so endearing in the first place. And please, the story goes absolutely nowhere, including Indy’s banal relationship with the biker boy played by Shia LaBeouf, whose name added marquee value and a bit of youthful heat, but who was as miscast as anyone I’ve seen in any recent movie. (Note to Lucas: Working out your daddy issues already had become gratingly monotonous 20 years ago. Think of something else.)

But back to those silver linings: This film also bristles with bold and grand action sequences, and its whiff of nostalgia is more enticing than stale. And on DVD, at least, you can break up its leaden plot with an intermission, which I could have used in the theater.

Hey, I love Indiana Jones. I just didn’t love this movie. But the bottom line is I’d rather it exist than that it never be made. And if that makes me a fanboy — albeit one who avoids the gushy mindset of blind adoration — then so be it. Some of us criticize because we care.

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