MAXWELL: One more great escape with Indiana

5/25/2008 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve had it with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain. I’ve certainly had it with George W. Bush.
I’ve had it with politics, at least for now, so I did what I always do when I’ve had it: I escape with a movie. Not just any movie, mind you, but a bona fide fantasy, the more adventurous and far-fetched the better.
The god of good fortune was with me last Thursday morning when I opened the newspaper and read that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opened nationwide that afternoon. I immediately bought a ticket online for the 5 o’clock showing.
After entering the comfortably air-conditioned multiplex, buying a bag of popcorn and waiting in the semi-dark auditorium for the trailers to start, I began to feel better. When Indiana Jones himself, 65-year-old Harrison Ford, appeared on the screen, wearing that brown fedora and carrying that trademark whip, I forgot about Obama, Clinton, McCain and Bush.
I was in pure movie mode.
I hadn’t read anything specifically about Crystal Skull and didn’t know what to expect. I rarely read reviews beforehand because I don’t want smart-aleck critics, mesmerized by their own arch prose, spoiling the clean fun of a new experience. I’m still enough of a kid to enjoy real “movie moments,” when you don’t have to think, when the action, characters, dialogue, mechanical wonders and scenery pull you in for the ride and delivera few surprises.
I acknowledge, however, that because I was a lit major as an undergrad and a grad student, I knew a few things about the skull as an artifact. This little bit of knowledge enhanced the anticipation: What role would the eerie Crystal Skull of Akator play in the action?
In general, as I learned while studying Hamlet and Faust many years ago, the skull is a symbol of man’s mortality. It’s what survives after the body has been destroyed and becomes significant as a receptacle for life and thought and as a vessel used in the processes of transmutation. Countless forms of ritual, including the quest for the Holy Grail, superstition and cannibalism originate in myths about the skull.
Although I didn’t know the plot of the film, I was familiar with the legend of the 13 crystal skulls, dating back more than 500 years to the Aztec period. The skulls must be reunited by 2012 lest the world will come to an end. That’s some pretty scary stuff, so I was betting on Indy and Co. to find the lone skull and return it to its Peruvian tomb for a skulls’ family reunion.
In the end (I won’t give away the whole thing), the skulls are reunited, but making this happen is where all the fun is and the reason that millions of fans already have flocked to see the film.
The story, like all good escapism, has a believable frame and a substantive extended metaphor. The action begins in the desert Southwest in 1957. Guess what? This is the height of the Cold War. And guess what else? Indy’s mortal enemies, the antagonists, are those ruthless Soviets, led by the beautiful and evil Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). The Russkies want the skull for nefarious purposes, mainly as a means of worldwide mind control.
Yes, Indy, the brilliant archeology professor at Marshall College, is more jowly, more wrinkled and heavier than he was in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the old boy still has his swagger, acerbic wit and knuckles of iron.
The supporting cast adds to the fun. Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indy’s lover in Raiders 27 years ago, still lights up the screen when she turns on the attitude and the humor. Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), Marion’s son, is Marlon Brando and The Fonze rolled into one. Harold “Ox” Oxley (John Hurt) is the smart, pixilated old goat who understands the ways of the skull.
With the music of John Williams teasing the imagination, the duo of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, director and writer-producer, pulled off what may prove to be the best cinematic spectacle of the summer.
Anyone who is tired of our real-world political spectacle will find a great escape in Crystal Skull.