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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) -vs- Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

 Mark Sanchez, Featured WriterThe Smackdown

Movies — unlike real life — give us a taste of life as we’d like it: Dashing heroes, beautiful heroines. That idea bites the dust as the sequels and prequels and wrinkquels downgrade our notions of dashing and beautiful. Some movie franchises stay fresh, despite many years between installments. Bruce Willis first played Detective John McClane in 1988’s Die Hard. The fourth version of his story Live Free or Die Hard was a solid hit ($134 million box office) in 2007.  Now, an even older franchise gives it one more try: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Harrison Ford embodied nearly everyone’s idea of the dashing movie hero. Is that still the case? That’s our Smackdown!: Can Indiana Ford still bring it as well as Bruce McClane after four movies  –  or is this just more empty geriatric heroics?

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The Challenger

In 1981, audiences first met Henry “Indiana” Jones as an adventurous academic. Now, he’s a professor at Marshall College and can’t avoid trouble. It’s the height of the Cold War and Indy has been let go after getting mixed up with some Russkies at Area 51 during an above-ground nuclear test. Indy’s taking a train right out of the movie when young Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) rolls into the station astride a motorcycle. From this encounter an adventure takes them to Peru, where Indiana’s mentor Professor Oxley (John Hurt) and Mutt’s mom, Marion (Karen Allen) have been taken prisoner. Central to the action is a legendary crystal skull Oxley found in the jungle. The Russians want it to rule the world, and Indy wants to know if that skull has a connection to a “lost city of gold.” Mutt just wants his mom and the professor safely back. Along the way director Steven Spielberg stages a series of chases and near-escapes the equal of anything featured in the earlier Indiana Jones movies. By the end of Crystal Skull screenwriter David Koepp lets you know Indiana Jones had more on his mind than archeology and you are thinking about a different Spielberg film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In fact, Crystal Skull will remind you of several movies.

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The Champion

By the time Live Free/Die Hard rolled into the cineplex both you and director Len Wiseman realize time waits for no one. John McClane is divorced from his wife, estranged from his daughter and stalled in his police career. Time hasn’t been kind the past twenty years: McClane is balder, wrinklier, and if anything, his tongue is sharper. A rogue federal employee hacks into computers and problems soon develop along the Eastern Seaboard: federal agencies lose data, Wall Street goes haywire, traffic lights go out of synch! All this and the bad guys kidnap McClane’s daughter, Lucy. Somebody’s going to get their butt kicked and it’s not Detective McClane. Screenwriter Mark Bomback provides the assorted chases, crashes and death defying heroics that are all in a day’s work for our hero.

The Scorecard

Both these movies score well because the heroes have a foil. McClane earns the grudging respect of the kid he picked up for questioning, Matt Farrell (Justin Long). Indy bonds with Mutt Williams. Both second bananas move the action while providing some interest for young audiences who need more than a Yippie-Ki-Yay or a bull whip from their heroes.

Both films have strong leads. Bruce Willis offers a sturdy everyman quality while Harrison Ford gets a lot of mileage from a good smile and a fedora. Both are framed in a series of spectacular special effects, although Crystal Skull has more and better minor characters. Cate Blanchett’s work in Crystal Skull won’t add to her collection of Academy, SAG, BAFTA and Golden Globe awards  –  but she’s great fun to watch as bad Russian Irina Spalka. Karen Allen retains much of the spark that highlighted her appearance in the first Indiana Jones movie. This film has John Hurt and Jim Broadbent in roles that demand little of their great talents. Clearly, when you have a production budget estimated at $185 million you can afford the best.

So. . . is there enough here to draw you to the screen and choose a winner? You bet.

The Decision

Two strong franchises have legs. Both offer movie escape at the highest level, with compelling lead actors and great effects (Bruce Willis kills a  helicopter with a car, Crystal Skull presents a nuclear explosion that is riveting and disturbing in equal amounts).

You’ll enjoy both, but you’ll notice that Crystal Skull has more to work with: A wider-ranging storyline, Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair, George Lucas producing and original music by John Williams.

Live Free or Die Hard is a fine, entertaining movie but falls short against our Smackdown! winner, “Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

About Mark Sanchez 81 Articles
Oregon based media and communications consultant Mark Sanchez is on the fifth or sixth step of his recovery program from his career as a television news reporter. And that’s the way it is. Mark has been an Oregonian since the Reagan administration and shows no signs of leaving. He lives in Portland — a city that is famous for its transit system, its rain, its independent film community and, lately, for the TV series Portlandia, which Mark notes is about half-true, but to protect confidential sources he won’t say which half.

7 Comments on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) -vs- Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

  1. I have to side with those who feel that “Indiana Jones” changed its franchise too much in concept and not enough in character while “Live Free” grew into an evolved film. Interesting to see all these comments, though…

  2. My wishes for this movie: I wish the object of their adventure looked more like an artifact than a plastic skull stuffed with tin foil. I wish the object of their desires had earthly (and therefore, more grounded) magical and/or archeological attributes. I wish it had taken Indiana and Marion more than five minutes and one argument to settle twenty years of issues.
    Fanboy/Fangirl Notations: Do you realize in every single one of George Lucas’ movies someone says, “I have a bad feeling about this?” I had the fact that “Mutt” was “Indiana’s” son once I heard his name. Any obsessive fan, like myself, would know that Indiana (actually, Henry Junior) named himself after the family dog. Mutt…Indiana…Get it?! And, how many times does Indiana lose his infamous hat and have it returned? After the third time I felt like screaming, “Okay! I get it! He can’t lose his hat!”
    And, one last controversial gripe: Having captured the arc for the Jews, the grail for the Christians, I suppose the only thing Indiana had left to find was the aliens for the Scientologists? There wasn’t anything from this planet you could have chosen?! What other choice did he have, really? He can’t exactly find a doctor for a Christian Scientist or a zipper for the Amish. But still, Indiana Jones as a Sci Fi was a little difficult for this critic to swallow. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Sci Fi. But that was another George Lucas/Harrison Ford movie, and you don’t even want to get me started on those!

  3. I love Indiana Jones and I love John McLean. Saw both movies and while both were wonderfully over the top, in the end, ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ was the one that did it for me. The supernatural stuff from the rest of the Raider’s franchise worked, but to go full-on alien in ‘Crystal Skulls’ was really disappointing for me. It changed the formula too much, while Die Hard stayed true to the yippekiee-ness of its franchise. McLean has improved with age. Indy has just aged. I gotta go Die Hard on this one.

  4. Yeah well as “fake” as anyone can accuse Indy 4 of being, it’s still a movie, and as a work of fiction (let me break it to you, Bryce): it’s not intended to be realistic.
    I really enjoyed all the Indiana Jones movies (especially the 1st one, I’d have to say, Crystal Skull ranks in second for me).
    Likewise, I really enjoyed all the Die Hard movies (again, the first one’s the best, and “Live Free” comes in 2nd place).
    But it’s hard to judge which one’s better, cuz honestly, they’re completely different kinds of movies. You’re not gonna see Indiana Jones mow down 12 people with an M16 and then jump off a skyscraper yelling “Ssshhhiiittt!!!!!!” Just like you’re not gonna see John McClane going up against the supernatural, and runnin’ around the desert while getting chased by Nazis who will eventually get killed by opening the Ark of the Covenant.
    My point is, each franchise has a different target audience, but they’re still both fiction, which is why neither is required to fulfill the laws of reality.

  5. I’d have to go with the flawed “Live Free or Die Hard” as the winner in this one. Both are showing their franchise age as the characters get up in years, but at least “Die Hard” made something out of that. Both have that sad/nostalgic feeling of seeing, say, The Drifters singing their old hits at a charity gig. Plus, the “Crystal Skull” action gets amped up to increasingly unrealistic levels (not that it was ever realistic) but the character gets no room to breathe. No real connections between Ford and Allen over their lost love; no real connection between Ford and LeBouf over being father and son. Just chasing a skull over the globe from one improbable event piled upon another and another to the point of who cares. I just didn’t…

  6. I just love Bruce Willis AND Harrison Ford, so I would go see a home movie of them as babies, if it was in the theatre. I can hardly wait to see these flicks.

  7. Great Smackdown! I was a little hesitant to go see KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL but will do so now.
    Thanks for the excellent analysis and insight.
    Robert A. Nowotny

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