Trying Times for Indy

A week before his obsessively anticipated Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opens in U.S theaters, George Lucas has a reason to bite his fingernails--and not just because Iron Man seems to already have become the blockbuster darling of the summer.

On Monday, the film will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. To refresh your memory, the last Hollywood Goliath to attempt this kind of introduction was Ron Howard's adaptation of The Da Vinci Code two years ago. Cannes critics almost universally abhorred the film, and, unfortunately for Lucas and Spielberg, some early comments by unnamed Hollywood players have already deemed Crystal Skull a flashy failure as well.

"With all the perils and with the film guaranteed a huge opening, why is Indiana Jones entering the Kingdom of the Critical Knives?" wrote Timothy M. Gray in yesterday's Variety.

He went on to argue that at arguably the world's most artistically self-important venue, Lucas and Spielberg can remind their peers that they, in fact, are right at home alongside the great cinematic names of Europe. Most importantly, he wrote, these mass-audience darlings can afford to take the risk. The Da Vinci Code did, after all, gross more than $750 million worldwide.

That Indy, unlike Da Vinci, got its first slamming feedback well before its festival screening may have been its saving grace, Gray writes. Word travels instantly in the blogging age, and the dust may have already cleared by Monday.

"Like The Da Vinci Code, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not a film aimed for critics. Negative reviews can't hurt," he writes. "But after The Da Vinci Code, Crystal Skull proves exhibit B in the ongoing battle over whether critics matter."

The cultural magnitude of Harrison Ford and his whip may thus be the film's saving grace. A film this widely awaited is almost bound to return the costs of its colossal budget. Such is hardly the case for an array of small films making their debut at the festival this week and next.

As Manohla Dargis and A.O Scott wrote in The New York Times yesterday, this is just the beginning for an increasingly challenging distribution process. Warner Brothers recently shut down its two distribution channels for independent and foreign films, and with the shrinking of U.S newsrooms, fewer small-scale titles are likely to make it to public consciousness.

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