- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2008

The belated fourth installment in the Indiana Jones adventure series merited a title along the lines of “Old Indy and the Chariots of the Gods” but settled for the hero’s name and a klunky something-or-other called “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

Its nostalgic success is being overshadowed by the Batman spectacle, “The Dark Knight.” This prosperous also-ran status mirrors the situation in summer 1989, when “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” received a warm welcome but was trumped by “Batman,” the hot novelty of the season because Jack Nicholson was the Joker.

Only the original Indiana Jones picture, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” dominated its particular season of theatrical release, summer 1981. It did so as a relative dark horse: The pre-eminent, presold attraction was “Superman II,” whose early lead was chipped away by “Raiders.”

The first sequel, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” got off to a prohibitive early lead in the summer of 1984 but was overtaken by “Ghostbusters.” When new, “Temple of Doom” was seminotorious. Its grotesque and grisly elements aroused so much aversion that the PG-13 rating was speedily contrived to create some wiggle room for subsequent mass-audience movies that overshot PG norms without risking R ratings.

The Steven Spielberg retrospective at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre offers the opportunity to watch the episodes of the 1980s in a theatrical setting, starting this weekend with “Raiders.” It’s a time-traveling opportunity that may be hard to resist, especially since “Crystal Skull” is stale enough to suggest the franchise needs rejuvenation or retirement.

According to the cherished tribal legend, “Raiders” was hatched four years before it was realized, while producer George Lucas and director Spielberg were sharing a holiday in Hawaii. They built sand castles on the beach and pledged to collaborate on a globe-trotting swashbuckler. Mr. Spielberg wanted to direct something similar to the James Bond movies. Mr. Lucas, whose “Star Wars” was in the process of becoming the box-office phenom of summer 1977, claimed to have something “better than Bond.”

The boast seemed plausible. There was also a Bond movie in summer 1981, “For Your Eyes Only,” and while it was no disgrace, it lacked the novelty appeal and kinetic flair of “Raiders.”

In the third chapter, Team Indy beckoned Sean Connery, the original Bond, to help rehabilitate things by playing its hero’s whimsical pappy. Father and son seemingly secured immortality by sipping from the Holy Grail.

Almost 20 years later, the fourth movie looks anything but immortal.

Isn’t there a lot of untilled comic-book and pop-history Indy ground out there? “Temple of Doom” started in a promising vein that evoked “Terry and the Pirates,” then plunged into “Gunga Din” country. Keeping the vintage Indy team together no longer makes much sense, but opportunities may abound for fresh recruits attracted to the character and his underdeveloped legend.

EVENT: Revivals of the vintage Indiana Jones movies, part 1 of a “Steven Spielberg Retrospective” WHERE: American Film Institute Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring

WHEN: “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Friday through Sunday and Thursday; “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” Aug. 15 to 17; “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” Aug. 29, 30, Sept. 1, 3 and 4

ADMISSION: $10 for the general public; $9 for seniors, students and military personnel; $8.50 for AFI members

PHONE: 301/495-6700

WEB SITE: www.afi.com/silver



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