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Indiana Jones is back - and on form

18 May 08 13:54 GMT

By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News in Cannes

Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford's dashing hero, was infamously named after George Lucas's pet dog. And there were rumours that the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - the fourth movie of the film franchise - was the runt of the litter.

So it came as a surprise to many people in Cannes that the film was so entertaining.

Swashes were buckled, rips were roared and sticks were slapped.

The film suffers slightly from the mumbo-jumbo plot device of that titular Crystal Skull, but it was always thus.

Every Indiana Jones movie has what creator and co-writer George Lucas calls a "MacGuffin" - a mystical artefact that the intrepid archaeologist has to track down - be it the holy grail or a sankara stone.

This time, Jones is on the trail of a skull that must be returned to a lost city in the Amazon which is guarded by the undead.

It is a load of old nonsense, of course, but the journey is worth the price of admission.

Visceral quality

All the classic ingredients are thrown into the mix - murky temples with devilish contraptions, ancient pictographs scrawled on walls, and horrible creepy-crawlies scurrying over the imperilled heroine.

Director Steven Spielberg has largely jettisoned computer generated effects (much to the chagrin of tech freak Lucas) with the result that the film's action sequences have a visceral, physical quality you rarely find in modern-day blockbusters.

An extended sequence with Shia LaBeouf and Cate Blanchett careering through the rainforest, swordfighting astride two army vehicles is a pure adrenalin rush.

As ever, Spielberg brings both humour and visual flair to sequences where other films are happy to provide mere spectacle.

The film kicks off at the height of the Cold War, with Dr Henry Jones Junior captured by Russians.

Like Ford, the character is older, if no wiser. David Koepp's script wisely gets his star's advancing years out of the way early in the movie.

"What are you? Like, 80?" asks Shia LaBeouf, a Marlon Brando-inspired tearaway motorcycle freak who gets wrapped up in the adventure.

B movie inspirations

Like much of the supporting cast, however, his character is little more than a sketch. Cate Blanchett and John Hurt in particular are given little space to flex their considerable acting muscles as a Russian baddie and a bumbling shaman respectively.

Better realised are the little tips of the fedora to previous Jones adventures, and the B movies that inspired them. LaBeouf even apes Tarzan at one point - maybe indicating another film franchise Spielberg would like to resurrect?

For the hardcore Jones fans, this film was never going to live up to expectations.

One cinemagoer leaving the first press screening in Cannes said: "George Lucas, you gotta stop hurting us".

But this is no Phantom Menace or Godfather III. The quality control has been maintained, despite the 19-year wait.

And as Indy himself says, "I dunno kid, it's just a story."

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