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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

CLASSIC INDY: 'INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL' NOVELISATION (2008)



INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

A FILM NOVELISATON BY JAMES ROLLINS


PUBLISHED BY EBURY PRESS


Reviewed by Scott Weller


“It’s not the mileage, honey, it’s the years!!”


He’s fought snakes, spiders, rats, Nazis and Thuggees cults, now Indiana Jones has to go up against his toughest and most dangerous adversary yet-the film screenplay novelist!!

With the anticipation of a new INDY film, albeit fifteen years later than we hoped, at its highest peak from fans worldwide, the same expectations of delivering the goods to a still hungry audience could also be applied to the world of the film novelisation and to the person whose role in bringing it to page life could also be considered a task almost like handling a poisoned chalice. Over the years there have been many of these tie-in novelisations-some (ALIEN, RETURN OF THE JEDI), better than others (REVENGE OF THE SITH)-but the Indy ones (like the majority of the STAR WARS novels before them) have always been pretty highly regarded, and this new one-THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL-like the film, had to deliver the goods after such a notable absence!!

Campbell Black, James Khan and Rob MacGregor were the three primary writers whose work has now blended into the realms of Indy-dom and film novelisation history. Not since STAR WARS has the revelation and choosing of an author by LUCASFILM/EBURY PRESS to realize The Man with the Hat’s adventures felt so important. Rollins is a name new to me, but one that readers of adventure stories over the last few years are highly familiar with. He’s a bestselling author including the likes of ICE HUNT and THE JUDAS STRAIN.

Bringing any kind of adventure story to life is never going to be easy and an Indiana Jones film is a B-movie rollercoaster of thrills, spills and laughs in the best, most well made, tradition. A writer has to tread the delicate line of blending fantasy and humour, in the established noir of Spielberg, Lucas and Ford, to a novel like this-and it was never going to be an easy assignment. And despite its B-movie roots and inspirations, an Indy adventure isn’t your run of the mill stuff-heck, watch THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR if you’re after that! In the limbo land between film adventures, the fictional adventures of Indy over the last few years, by the likes of Martin Caidin and Max McCoy, have helped satiate our need for Indy, but they’ve never felt official- though they try very hard and, taken in an all round context, they are enjoyable as fillers, with some good action sequences and memorable MacGuffins at times, but, like all the other imitators that have followed in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK’s path, they just don’t have the Lucas/Spielberg feel to them. And when it comes to the novelisation of a bona fide new Indy movie, if you do a bad job it’ll be like throwing a Christian into the lion’s den of the coliseum. Screw up on this, and it’ll be on the book writer’s tombstone forever…

Thankfully, James Rollins has been spared a fate worse than death from Indy and his loyal fans, and acquits himself pretty well with this adaptation. In fact, it’s a darn good read!!

The back of the novels jacket reads THE MUST READ NOVELISATION OF THE MUST SEE MOVIE, and y’know, I’m pretty much in agreement with that assessment of a book for a change.

Working from the original version of the screenplay it’s interesting to see how slightly different some of the action and dialogue is before it was all locked down: either that or the writer wasn’t able to adapt them in book form (perhaps it’s a little bit of give and take on both fronts). Scenes that would be hard to describe are generally well realized by Rollins and there’s a nice breezy, fast paced style in the way the story is told (a pleasant writing style hybrid of Dan Brown and Michael Crichton, with a touch of Brian Daley thrown in, would probably be the best way I can describe him), the descriptions of all the characters is good –Indy, in particular, is great and totally in character, though obviously Harrison Ford is so iconic he doesn’t really need much description-you know him as the character, how he would gesture, fight, and you know how he’ll react, though Mutt comes cross as a bit weakly developed in the book-you realize just how good a job Shia LeBouef did in bringing this difficult character to life on screen believably-he could easily have become the Jar Jar Binks of the Indy universe!

Like the film, the book doesn’t skip or bottle out of addressing Indy’s age within the adventure-he gets bruised and battered, he has aches and pains, and injuries take longer to recover-an element that works well in both mediums, as is the depressed and unhappy feelings the character has that there is something missing in his life-that he hasn’t defined himself, until the end of the film and the book, that is, when he discovers he now has an adventure even more important in his life-his new family!

More depth is given to the story and the author, having spoken to the film screen writer, David Koeep, helps to fill in the blanks on parts of the story that weren’t given enough explanation, or needed strengthening in the written format. There’s a great opening chapter with regards to Orellana, sacrificing his men’s lives, in an attempt to return the Crystal Skull, there’s also more about the unseen incidents/adventure involving Indy and Mac’s opening adventure in the Mayan lair before being captured by the Russians and dispatched to New Mexico, and a neat homage to the alien autopsy home video, as Irina Spalko and her comrades perform a thorough examination of the AREA 51 alien...

These extra moments in the book, added or deleted scenes, really are nice to have, especially with regards to Spalko, and we find about a bit more about her and her rare telepathic abilities. And there are moments that build towards Marion and Indy getting back together again, too, which are really nice (I’m presuming they were cut moments from the film as some of these are also in the comic version, too). On the downside, some more establishing of Mac and Oxley’s character would have been nice, though there are some nice little bits of back story of the latter pertaining to his discovery of the Skull and his going temporarily doo-laley from it’s effects.

Other longer extended sequences in the book include anice scene in the book where Indy returns to his home with Mutt after his University chase, and after the moment where he checks his reference books (as in the film), proceeds to take his hat out of storage and check that he can still use the bull whip (which wasn’t seen or used enough in the film IMHO considering it’s one of Indy’s iconic trademarks), Mac and Dovchenko waiting for Indy and Mutt outside the burial area and re-capturing them, an extra scene of Spalko rapier training in the jungle, and some further nice bits of interplay/dialogue between Indy and Marion. A bit more on Marion’s life and the growing relationship between the pair is well handled-now that they’re older they realize that they’ve missed one another and that they’re a great pair truly destined for one another.

Of the differences between a film and a book adaptation, there are some highlights. Unlike the film version, Spalko is seen in an American army outfit unlike the final film, and Indy briefly sees the Ark of the Covenant – shoehorned in by the author as he probably wasn’t able to put it into the HANGAR 51 sequence descriptively as the same way Spielberg did in the film. Indy’s bullwhip returns for use in several additional places (I particularly liked the moment where he decides to use it to buy escape time for Marion and Mutt by taking on the Bolos wielding Ugha warriors at the cave entrance leading down to the temple steps, but thinks again when he sees the hordes of approaching warriors-perhaps a homage to the scene in TEMPLE OF DOOM where he is chased onto the bridge by scores of Thuggee warriors). Mutt also has a little run in with the Ugha before the gang rush down the temple entrance stairs, and the bodies of Roman soldiers and people of other historical eras are also discovered in the antechamber outside the Crystal Skull’s domain, their eyes burnt out, with the dreaded Skull also starting to partially reform before Indy uses it to open the door entrance to the main chamber.

Nice bits of continuity to other adventuress from the TV series and movies, continues the fine job of expanding on what was mentioned in the film, and there are some well done bridging moments to scenes we never saw in the movie that are also well realized by Rollins (there’s a great sequence where Orellana’s burial chamber collapses inwards on itself before Mutt and Indy get captured by the Ruskies, and its explained who the skeletal masked attackers were at the burial site previously, too!). The book also has a nice feeling that, as well as giving you explanations to things, it’s also being quite educational, too- giving you some important history lessons but not shoving anything down your throat, either, keeping up to the Lucas mandate to entertain but also inform and educate...

As the action intensifies, Rollins books enthusiasm for the adventure intensifies, and the truck/chase action sequence is very well put to paper and structured, with a couple of little action pieces that either didn’t make it into the film or were added on to iron out any possible inconsistencies that the film’s editing didn’t show-I loved the scene where Spalko throws her rapier at Indy with Oxley deflecting it away with the Crystal Skull. The sequence with the ants also carries on after the Dovchenko/ Indy fight, with the creatures following the Russian soldiers down the mountain and attacking them as they absail down the ravine. A piranha even makes a leap on Mutt when they’re in the duck about to go over the three waterfalls!

Once past the huge, well described jungle action, another challenge for Rollins is to make sure the finale section with the Skull being restored reads well and is equally well paced-it could easily sag at this point. He just about succeeds in giving the main five characters enough to do in that section, as Mac, Oxley and Marion come across a bit short changed in the film towards that point, but also, at the same time, keeping Indy at the forefront. Rollins gets the chance to expand and develop the final leg of the journey, successfully filling in the story blanks on the Crystal Skull and Oxley’s original attempt to put it back, and any other unexplained strains (at least in the final cut of the movie) along the way. Marion sadly is a little bit ignored here, but Mac has a better death scene in the book than the film-slightly expanded and a different point in the proceedings rather than just outside the Skull’s main chamber. Whereas the film left the aliens ambiguous as to whether they were good or evil- in the movie you could say they were irritated good guys when they were getting rid of Spalko (almost like an insect being swatted), here, though, the Crystal Skull aliens seem a lot more menacing as they kill her, deliberately pushing her brain’s mental abilities far beyond the point of overload. The death of her remaining soldiers is also pretty gruesome-something you never really saw in the final version of the film.

Additionally, as closure of the story draws nearer, some dialogue, which presumably came from the script, that resolutely brings Marion and Indy together (again making it into the comic book during that sequence), which I felt was sadly missing and should have been in the film, fortunately is in the book-the line where Indy looks at her at a crisis moment, escaping the gravity pool above them, and says “I’ve found what I wanted.” I loved that line and I can imagine how well Ford and Allen would have played it if it had been filmed.

The penultimate chapter of the book, with our remaining heroes escaping as the Alien Saucer craft goes inter-dimensional, also gets the chance to wrap things up further and explain some of the scripts final unresolved loose ends, which is helpful and gives the book a satisfying resolution, helping to make you see the films story in a new light. Oh, and at the wedding finale, Indy kisses Marion first rather than the other way round (though I preferred the film version-I loved the look on Indy’s face as Marion takes the initiative!!). So, ya see, there are differences even in the last few pages!!

So, another epic, out of breath adventure for Indiana Jones comes to an end. And I really want to see another one now!!!  And, not only do I want Harrison Ford back, but I’d also like to see James Rollins return to the literary universe of his adventures as well- given the chance to let Indy use his trusty bullwhip against the baddies once again!!


AFICIONADO RATING: A lot better than most film to book transfers these days, this adventure, brought to well-written life by James Rollins, deserves it’s place in the pantheon of Indy film adaptations, though the lack of a decent accompanying colour photo section in its middle is a bit of a shame... 4 out of 5

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