Actually, while George Lucas, Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg and all the other stars of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL were holding court at Cannes, in the south of France, I was watching their new film at San Francisco’s legendary Castro theater – the same theater where I’ve seen Mr. Lucas as a special guest several times. So while Mr. Lucas didn’t turn up in his home town this week, I’ve seen him often here. I’ve also been fortunate to attend the first preview screenings Lucas held for both INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, which Lucas insisted be held in San Francisco.
March 25, 1984 was the date for the first preview showing of INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, held at George Lucas’s favorite San Francisco theater, The Northpoint (now defunct), where STAR WARS also had it’s first preview in 1977. At that time, Paramount was ruled by by Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, both of whom flew in for the preview. I also had the good luck to be standing in the theater lobby when Steven Spielberg walked in with his good friend John Williams. A few minutes later I saw George Lucas cross the street in front of the theater, where he was almost run over by a speeding car. Shades of AMERICAN GRAFFITI! Afterwards my friends and I joked about the not so funny possible headline the next day: “STAR WARS movie mogul George Lucas hit in freak car accident.”
Harrison Ford also attended the screening, but fearful of being recognized by fans, he discreetly entered through a back door, just before the film was about to begin. Nobody in the audience was supposed to know it was an INDIANA JONES film. They were all told it was a new movie called “Anything Goes.” After the screening the audience was asked to fill out response cards, which had been especially formulated by George Lucas himself. His questionnaire focused on listing the favorite scenes in the movie, in the order of the viewers preference. So for TEMPLE OF DOOM, the choices were: “Nite Club, Airplane-Raft, Indian Village, Bug Cave, Mine car chase, Love scene, Palace Dinner, Rope Bridge and Temple Ceremony.”
Afterwards, Mr. Lucas, Mr. Spielberg, and virtually every one else connected with the film – including producer Frank Marshall, f/x supervisor Dennis Muren, sound designer Ben Burtt, etc. – were all chatting in the lobby of the theater, discussing the audiences response to their movie. Finally, Sid Ganis, who at the time was the head of Lucasfilm’s publicity deptment, suggested that everyone adjourn to his nearby Russian Hill apartment to discuss the audience reaction in more detail.
Unfortunately, what was undoubtedly the worst of all the INDIANA JONES films, was the very first review I wrote for Cinefantastique Magazine! Naturally I had to tell the truth and give the film a mostly negative report. But now, nearly 25 years later, I’m happy to say Lucas and Spielberg’s INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is a far better picture. To put it simply, it’s easily the best INDY film since RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK!
Of course, absence often makes the heart grow fonder, and we’ve not seen Indy on screen since 1989. Also, we haven’t seen the feisty Karen Allen, (the mother of Indy’s son) since 1981. So naturally there’s a bit of nostalgia involved for anyone who enjoyed the first three films.
Another big reason the new film succeeds so well is simply the change of setting. If it was set again in the thirties with Nazi’s as the villains, it would probably have been universally panned. But in THE CRYSTAL SKULL, we get not only a whole new era to explore, but also a whole new set of villains. As Alfred Hitchcock noted, the stronger the villain, the stronger the movie. Here we get Cate Blanchett, as a deliciously delightful Russian who can give Indy a real run for his money. Furthermore, just as Indiana Jones has aged and gotten wiser, so have Spielberg and Lucas. Mr. Spielberg, especially, has directed some very impressive movies since his last INDIANA JONES outing, including what is probably his best film, MUNICH.
Then, there’s the fabulous period and archeological settings, which are so pivotal to these pictures. Only now, instead of ancient worlds being discovered in the ’30s, we can explore them from the viewpoint of the ’50s, a decade that offers the filmmakers a rich palette of material and ideas that greatly compliment the basic storyline.
It was the age of Eisenhower and Elvis, of UFO’s and Joseph McCarthy, the Red Menace and hot rods, CinemaScope and VistaVision, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and THE WILD ONE, Jackson Pollack and the Beat poets, THE NAKED JUNGLE and INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN. All of these quintessential topics come into play in THE CRYSTAL SKULL, and much more.
More on the thrills and delights of THE CRYSTAL SKULL soon…