Indiana Jones has finally returned -- to both the movie theaters and to the toy shelves. After a nineteen-year hiatus, the powers that be for Indy -- including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford, have finally come together once again to regale us with another tale of the most famous archaeologist-adventurer of all time, with INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL!
As one might expect, he's not taking on Nazis this time. The decision was made to bump the Indiana Jones adventures as far ahead in time as the actual hiatus between the movies. This newest film takes place in 1957. So as one might expect in this Cold War era, Indy is going up against the Soviet military.
Indy is older, hopefully wiser, and the 64-year-old Harrison Ford, who declined to dye his hair for the movie (but who hardly looks elderly or even all THAT grey), still performed many of his own stunts -- which should be something of an inspiration to an increasingly aging America, if you want to stretch the point.
To prepare for the role, the 64-year-old Ford spent three hours a day at a gym, and relied on a high-protein diet of fish and vegetables. Ford had kept fit during the series' hiatus anyway, as he hoped for another film. He performed many of his own stunts because stunt technology had become safer since 1989, and he also felt it improved his performance. He argued, "The appeal of Indiana Jones isn't his youth but his imagination, his resourcefulness. His physicality is a big part of it, especially the way he gets out of tight situations. But it's not all hitting people and falling from high places. My ambition in action is to have the audience look straight in the face of character and not at the back of a capable stuntman's head. I hope to continue that no matter how old I get."
Dare we hope for a fifth Indiana Jones movie with that comment?
Steven Spielberg said Ford was not too old to play Indiana: "When a guy gets to be that age and he still packs the same punch, and he still runs just as fast and climbs just as high, he's gonna be breathing a little heavier at the end of the set piece. And I felt, 'Let's have some fun with that. Let's not hide that.'" Spielberg recalled the line in Raiders, "It's not the years, it's the mileage", and felt he could not tell the difference between Ford during the shoots for Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That's pretty impressive given nearly two decades of time between the two films, and having seen the movie myself, I have to concur with the assessment.
Following the theatrical release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989, Lucas let the series end as he felt he could not think of a good plot device to drive the next installment. However, he declared that if he ever found a new plot device that all three men liked, he would consider a fourth film. And without getting into all of the details, which would cause this review to run the size of a small telephone directory, it's taken this long to nail down a decent story as well as get the schedules of all three men together agreeably. Spielberg and Ford have certainly kept busy, and as for Lucas -- ever hear of a little thing called Star Wars?
As for the storyline of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, here's a well-balanced outline of the film:
The film is set in 1957, making it nineteen years since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, thus acknowledging the real-life passing of years between films. Indiana Jones is having a quiet life teaching before being thrust back into his old adventuring ways. He battles agents of the Soviet Union for the crystal skull. "The theory is they are shaped by higher powers or alien powers or came from another world, or an ancient Mayan civilization had the powers," Marshall explained. Indy's journey takes him across New Mexico, Connecticut, Mexico City, and the jungles of Peru, as well as the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. There will be mild humor regarding Indiana's age.
Very mild, really. I was concerned about an excess of age jokes, but they really don't press it heavily at all. As for Indy " having a quiet life teaching before being thrust back into his old adventuring ways," clearly he's been up to more than just that in the intervening nineteen years. He served in the OSS during World War II, and clearly went on some adventurous archaeological expeditions after the war.
Some plot details have since been released on the official website of the film and in the trailers found on the site. The film opens with an action sequence pitting Jones and his new sidekick Mac (played by Ray Winstone) against Soviet Agents in the Southwestern desert. They escape and return to Marshall College where Indy encounters young renegade Mutt Williams (played by Shia LaBeouf) who needs Dr. Jones' help in finding the mysterious Crystal Skull of Akator. Legend supposes the skull was stolen from a mysterious City of Gold guarded by the living dead in the Amazon. Whoever returns it to the city's temple will become master of the Skull's powers. Together they travel to Peru where they find themselves battling the Soviets under nefarious Dr. Irina Spalko again, who wants the power of the skull as an advantage in the Cold War.
Now, as long as it's been since there was an Indiana Jones movie, it's been even longer since there's been a line of Indiana Jones action figures. There was a capable one based on the first movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, produced by Kenner. Not too surprisingly, the line took a fair number of cues from the Star Wars line that was being produced by Kenner around the same time period, as far as design, size, and articulation was concerned. For the time, it was a perfectly decent toy line.
There was a second toy line based on the second movie, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. However, this movie was not as well-received. Considered far more dark and grim than its predecessor, it was actually set before the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and had a fair higher gross-out factor in some regards, and the scenes involving children being used by a cult as slave labor in a mine didn't go over too well with audiences. The toy line was not produced by Kenner. It was produced by LJN, and the figures were a larger, oddball size for the time. A proposed second assortment never materialized.
There was no toy line for the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Seen by some as almost an apology for its predecessor, it was much better regarded than the previous movie, and is well thought of today. But one can hardly blame toy companies and other licensees for being a bit skittish.
Certainly in the years since the last movie, Indiana Jones as a concept has proven its popularity. There was the well-received TV series "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles". And in more recent years, Walt Disney World created a live-action Indiana Jones stunt show for their MGM Studios, while Disneyland created an entire ride around the Indiana Jones concept (personally, I prefer the ride). There have been a handful of toys here and there, most of them Disney park exclusives tied into the attractions, but there hasn't really been an extensive Indiana Jones action figure line available for many years.
One can hardly blame the stores for not wanting to take a risk on a toy line that, despite the popularity of the character and concept, never really had an extended run, and also didn't have any really new offerings forthcoming.
Until now....with the new movie, Indiana Jones has returned to the toy stores with a vengeance, thanks to the fine people at Hasbro. Although the line is understandable emphasizing the new movie, it is, interestingly enough, not exclusive to the new movie. The toy line is not technically called "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". It is called, simply, "Indiana Jones". One has to believe that Hasbro has plans for Indy toys well beyond the movie. I hope these plans are carried out to great success.
At the present time, the toy line seems to be largely split, if not entirely evenly, between the new movie, and the first movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. The only item outside of these two movies that I have seen is a German Motorcycle and Driver which are from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I am hopeful that the toy line does well enough -- and there's certainly no reason it shouldn't, as the movie is almost assured to be one of the big summer blockbusters -- for the line to continue and be expanded.
Come on, you know you want that Sean Connery as Indy's father figure. Heck, some of you probably even want a Shortround figure...! Certainly there's a load of potential with four movies to work from, and if Hasbro wants to take it beyond that, there's always the Young Indiana Jones TV series.
Hasbro has really pulled out all the stops on this. There's 3-3/4" action figures, 12" action figures (including one with Harrison Ford's voice!), vehicles, Titaniums, Adventure Heroes, and even Mr. Potato Head in "Taters of the Lost Ark".
But, like the old advertising slogan said, "If Adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones", so that's who's getting reviewed this time around. And since I'd like to emphasize the new movie, I'm going to review the basic 3-3/4" Indiana Jones figure from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
There has been almost as much anticipation about Hasbro's Indiana Jones action figure line as there has been about the movie itself. Consider Star Wars. Consider what a 1977 Star Wars figure looked like. For its time, it was decent enough. Moderately detailed sculpt, about all that was expected back then. Articulation was limited to the head, arms, and legs. The Indiana Jones figures of the time, also produced by the same company, were pretty much the same.
Consider a modern Star Wars action figure. Much more precise, much more accurate, vastly more detailed, and certainly vastly more articulated. A good Star Wars figure today will be articulated at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles, with a considerable range of motion at all articulation points.
The difference is that Star Wars figures have been "back" since the mid-1990's. There's been a gradual evolution towards their current level. Indiana Jones has not been around. He hasn't had a major presence in the toy stores since LJN's stuff was clearanced. Fortunately for the esteemed Dr. Jones, the lessons learned in advancing Star Wars figures to their present level can be applied immediately and directly to him.
And they most certainly have been. I purchased the figure that was designated, simply, "Indiana Jones", representing the new movie. This figure shows Indy as he is best known. The jacket, the accessories, and of course, the mandatory hat, which on this figure is removable!
The figure is a superb piece of work. The headsculpt looks more like Harrison Ford than a headsculpt this small should be able to get away with. The head is 1/2" high. That's pretty small to get this good a likeness, although I'm sure the original sculpt was somewhat larger. Indiana has an expression on his face that I would define as a sort of world-weary determination. He's out there to do a job, to retrieve the crystal skull, but dang it, does he really have to go through all of this business with the Russians and various traps in the temple along the way?
The figure is superbly well-designed. While I have made some comparisons to Star Wars, Indiana Jones is NOT Star Wars. There's nowhere near the same amount of "fudge room". You can maybe get away with a little inaccuracy on some fictional freaky alien that's barely humanoid to begin with. Mess up on Indiana Jones, a character who, for all of his high and perhaps implausible adventure, nevertheless is firmly rooted on planet Earth in an established historical time period, and people are going to notice.
There's certainly no indication of any inaccuracies on the figure. The sculpted clothes are properly rumpled. The jacket, except for the sleeves, is a separate piece, sort of like a vest, but is not intended to be removed. But it adds to the realistic look of the figure. Indy is wearing a belt with a holster and a satchel pouch. These are nicely detailed and very neatly painted, with regard to buckles and snaps. No expense was spared on the details. You want to see intricate sculpted detail? Check out the shoelaces.
Indy's hair is a sort of brown with a few hints of grey. This would reflect the movie's theme, of an older Indy, but that doesn't mean he still doesn't have adventure in him. Hand him a whip, a gun, drop him in a remote part of the world on a quest, and stand back. He's still got it.
Any complaints about the figure? Well, it took me searching through a few to find one whose eyes were neatly painted, and on all of the figures, they're a little large. I can forgive this for the most part. I suspect the production time on these figures was a little shorter than average, and this is no doubt the most difficult part to paint simply because (a) the detail area is so small and (b) requires more than one color. This isn't a belt buckle that just needs a spray of gold. You have the whites of the eyes, the color of the irises, the black pupil, the black overline -- it's NOT easy. I might wish for a little more precision here, but I can understand the difficulty.
And Indy's removable hat is a LITTLE on the big side. Again, I can forgive this. It's simply the limitations of the size and materials. One wouldn't want Indy's head to be any smaller, and if the hat were made from a thinner material, it probably wouldn't hold up very well.
Two things I am VERY pleased with, that I would specifically like to cite. Occasionally in toy manufacturing these days, mold creases creep into the finished product, resulting in indented lines on the item. If this goes across a small figure's face or some such, it can pretty well ruin the look of the figure. I have seen no evidence of this on either this or any of the Indiana Jones figures I have inspected in the stores. Secondly, there is no dirty weathering paint applied to the figure, except a very minimal amount on the jacket, which is not inappropriate. This is a practice which I despise, and it would've been too easy to do it to Indy. I am sincerely delighted that Hasbro abstained.
Articulation is truly superb. Indiana is poseable at the head (with a ball and socket design), arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. Many of these articulation points have swivels and rotations as well as back and forth movement. This is a superbly well-articulated action figure!
Let's discuss accessories. One's firmly implanted in Indy's left hand, and it's the crystal skull itself. Originally, I thought that this was a small piece that had been glued into Indy's hand, and I considered it fortunate that Indy comes with a second left hand, skull-free, that can be switched out, for adventures before he finds the skull or has to do something else along the way. However, when I popped out the left hand with the skull, I discovered that the base of the hand was the same transparent plastic as the skull. This means that the hand and skull are all one piece, and that this left hand is actually PAINTED flesh-tone, and Hasbro did such a good and accurate job of it that I didn't catch it. And usually I'm pretty good at picking up on those things. And it's a pretty intricate sculpt. I do have to say that it's not as large as the crystal skull seen in the movie, by a rather considerable measure, but that thing would've been virtually impossible to hold one-handed anyway. So I'll allow for a little inaccuracy for the sake of the toy license. Meanwhile, as long as he's holding the skull, you can pose him to do the old, "Alas, poor Yorick" pose out of Shakespeare...
Indiana also comes with a very nicely detailed pistol, even with some painted detail on it, and of course, his legendary whip. Although molded in a curved form, when stretched out about as far as possible, it's over 6" in length. It's too small to actually use, of course, but where would Indiana Jones be without his whip? It's as necessary as the hat!
There's one more secret accessory in a little cardboard box designed to look like a wooden crate. It's marked "Top Secret - Army Intel 9909002 - Do Not Open". Okay, fine, I won't. Anyway, I'm not going to give away any details like this. Buy one for yourself. :)
So what's my final word here? I'm decidedly impressed. I'm truly delighted at the return of Indiana Jones, both to the movie theaters and to the toy stores. Certainly there's a wide range of action figures already available -- and for you "army builders" out there, you can get a nice supply of well-made German soldiers and Russian soldiers out of this. But there's also tons of more potential for Indy, once the new movie has run its course. Given that the toy line is called "Indiana Jones" and already has product out for more than just this newest movie, clearly Hasbro realizes this.
It is my sincere hope that Indiana Jones will have an ongoing presence
on the toy store shelves, especially now that interest in the character,
which I doubt was ever all that diminished, has been renewed. And as
for this specific KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL INDIANA JONES figure,
it most definitely has my highest enthusiastic recommendation! Welcome
back, Indiana Jones!