'Indiana Jones' Another Hit for Spielberg Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull made an estimated $126 million when it debuted over the weekend. One author says there's a method to Spielberg's success: He draws from his own family experiences to create characters that will resonate with audiences.
NPR logo

'Indiana Jones' Another Hit for Spielberg

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90841009/90840955" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Indiana Jones' Another Hit for Spielberg

'Indiana Jones' Another Hit for Spielberg

'Indiana Jones' Another Hit for Spielberg

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90841009/90840955" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull made an estimated $126 million when it debuted over the weekend. One author says there's a method to Spielberg's success: He draws from his own family experiences to create characters that will resonate with audiences.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" earned more than $150 million in just its first weekend at the box office, another in a long string of Steven Spielberg hits. NPR's Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr talked to a scholar of Spielberg who's come up with one explanation for why his movies succeed.

JEFFREY FREYMANN-WEYR: Lester Friedman is chairman of the media and society program at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and wrote the book "Citizen Spielberg."

Professor LESTER FRIEDMAN (Chairman, Media and Society Program, Hobart and William Smith Colleges): Almost all of the Spielberg films are about a breakup of some sort within a family and the ability of someone to put that family together.

FREYMANN-WEYR: Friedman says that Spielberg points to his parents' divorce and his own as the two worst events of his life, and bringing the onscreen family back together is just as important as the special effects and explosions.

Prof. FRIEDMAN: Spielberg is as interested in those characters as he is in the roller-coaster ride he's about to provide you. And that's what his imitators lack, quite frankly.

FREYMANN-WEYR: Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr, NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

With Indy in His 'Kingdom,' What Could Go Wrong?

With Indy in His 'Kingdom,' What Could Go Wrong?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90605633/90736287" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Crack addict: Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) may be older, but his taste for thrills makes you wonder if he's wiser. David James/Paramount Pictures hide caption

toggle caption
David James/Paramount Pictures

Crack addict: Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) may be older, but his taste for thrills makes you wonder if he's wiser.

David James/Paramount Pictures
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Genre: Action
  • Running Time: 124 minutes

The son also rises: Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) is Indy's new sidekick — a Harley-riding greaser who seems to have inherited a jones for adventure. David James/Paramount Pictures hide caption

toggle caption
David James/Paramount Pictures

The son also rises: Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) is Indy's new sidekick — a Harley-riding greaser who seems to have inherited a jones for adventure.

David James/Paramount Pictures

Once upon a time, there was a hero named Indiana Jones, who tracked down a Lost Ark, conquered a Temple of Doom and went on a Last Crusade to find the Holy Grail. Now, nearly a generation after all that, he's off to the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

It's the Cold War '50s, not the pre-war '30s, and just to make that clear, director Steven Spielberg puts Elvis Presley on the soundtrack, a hot rod in the desert and a slightly grizzled Harrison Ford in Indy's fedora.

Grizzled but still agile, let's note. In his first 20 minutes on screen, Dr. Jones — he's an archaeologist-professor, remember — survives a free-form drag race, a shootout, a battle of wits, a magnetized shootout, a swing through the roof-rafters of notorious Hanger 51 and a skin-blistering jet-train ride across the desert.

And an atomic blast.

Having returned with a suitable bang, he can finally take a moment to acquaint both the audience — and a motorcycle-riding, leather-jacketed sidekick named Mutt — with a few plot details.

"Legend says that a crystal skull was stolen from a mythical lost city in the Amazon," he explains. "Supposedly built out of solid gold, guarded by the living dead. Whoever returns the skull to the city temple will be given control over its power."

So the old grave-robber's going to return something, eh? Well, isn't that enlightened. Actually, who cares why Indy is doing anything, as long as he does it at high speed — and at enormous peril to everyone concerned?

It's family-friendly peril, of course: Spielberg may be the only filmmaker around who, after a character is saved by stuffing himself into a refrigerator, would dispatch another character to say, "Don't you know climbing into refrigerators is dangerous?" Gotta love him for that.

And for getting Shia LaBeouf to stop playing with Transformers and start mimicking Brando in The Wild One, for encouraging Cate Blanchett to make her Russian agent a sort of proto-Bond Girl, and especially for bringing back Karen Allen, still as spunky and radiant as she was in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

All of this as they traipse off to have Close Encounters of the Rube Goldberg Kind in a temple where towers snap together, doors pull apart and staircases retract into walls at the very sight of a bullwhip. With Spielberg preferring real stunts over digital ones, it must've been great fun to film all this.

If it's a bit less fun to watch, well, expecting Indy's derring-do to have the urgency of what he derring-did almost 30 years ago may just be wishful thinking. Particularly considering the form of these movies, which are themselves a little like Rube Goldberg contraptions — all gears and stunts and plot points clicking preposterously into place. This time, the clicking seems more efficient than joyous, but Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not unlike the other two Raiders sequels: It's inventively conceived, capably managed and amusing enough to please the folks — and this includes legions — who are already hooked.