Reporters fawn, onlookers create gridlock

Cannes obviously has a jones for “Indiana.”

The Sunday night premiere of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” met with a 3½-minute standing ovation — nowhere near a festival record, but a reaction of respect, appreciation for the film’s craftsmanship and its nostalgic sensibility and style.

Paramount’s gamble in bringing the film here seems to have paid off and the pic avoided what has become known as “the ‘Da Vinci’ syndrome.”

The mood — a cross between goodwill and acceptance of the pic’s inevitable success — began Sunday afternoon at the press screening, as jaded media members whooped when the lights dimmed. Later, reporters asked fawning questions at the press conference and hundreds of onlookers began gathering early in the day in front of the Palais, eventually creating an enthusiastic gridlock that far surpassed the energy of any event so far during the 61st festival.

Even Mother Nature seemed primed for the preem: Though torrential rains were forecast for Sunday evening, clear sunshine greeted the filmgoers, while a nearly full moon shone as the exited.

The crowd went nuts at the arrival of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford. Some photographers went a little nuts too. Before the film had ended, the festival sent out an alert that it would be reviewing tapes of the hordes of photographers on the red carpet, and revoking the closing-night credentials of those responsible for “inacceptable incidents.”

Apparently some got overenthused and crossed the physical boundaries of the designated fotog space, though the stars and filmmakers entered the Palais without being hassled.

Most of the audience was hustled into the Palais to allow the stars and filmmakers, including Par’s Brad Grey, to make the big final entrance.

But earlier, Par’s John Lesher, Nick Meyer, Brad Westin and Rob Moore schmoozed at the foot of the Palais steps, while CAA partner Richard Lovett snapped photos (including DreamWorks’ Stacy Snider).

Other major film honchos included Jim Gianopulos, Brian Grazer, Christian Grass, Peter Rice, Harry Sloan and Harvey Weinstein. Agents on hand included Endeavor’s Patrick Whitesell and CAA’s Emanuel Nunez.

A huge throng of fans — many wearing faux Indy fedoras — whooped for celebs including Salma Hayek, Michael Moore, Adrien Brody, Goldie Hawn, Dennis Hopper and Christian Slater made their way up the steps.

At a press conference following the afternoon screening for the media, Spielberg said bringing the film to Cannes seemed the right thing to do. The pic was developed and filmed in secrecy, so they wanted to unveil it to the world’s press all at once, rather than giving a series of regional review screenings.

Coming to Cannes, he said, seemed “the fair thing to do and the fun thing to do.”

Though critical reaction is not likely to be unbridled enthusiasm, it won’t matter. The film is critic-proof and the brickbats thrown at “The Da Vinci Code” two years ago didn’t dent that film’s box office.

At the press gathering, Ford shrugged off thoughts of the critics’ reaction. “I’m not afraid at all. I expect to have the whip turned on me.” It’s not unusual for something popular, he said, “to be disdained by some people.” But this film is “a celebration of the movies and I feel inured to professional criticism.”

The press conference began with a lengthy question in French asking Spielberg if he’d received any communist pressure to create the movie. (He assured that he hadn’t.) One Japanese correspondent pointed out that atomic bombs — the film takes place during the ‘50s Cold War — are still a very sensitive subject to the Japanese.

Those were the only hints at negativity in the 40-minute sesh, with most of the time taken up with softball questions. Ford was asked to compare Spielberg’s directing now to the 1981 original (Ford’s answer: “As brilliant as he was 20 years ago, he is even better now”) and if he is flattered by the fans’ enthusiasm (“I am very gratified”), while Spielberg was asked if Ford is his “secret weapon” (the filmmaker said he’s so good, he’s a secret weapon for any director).

Spielberg was also asked about a fifth edition and he said it depends on reactions to this film (“We will keep our ears to the ground”).

Queried where they were during the press screening (i.e., the first public showing), Spielberg laughed. “We were all doing press. … We were doing the Cannes waltz.”

The bulk of the questions were directed at Spielberg and Ford, with George Lucas as runner-up (he was asked if he believes in crystal skulls and to talk about other action films that have imitated the “Indy” series).

Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen and Shia LaBeouf spoke briefly, while Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone and John Hurt sat smiling and mute, ignored by the press.

The Cannes critics and journos love to discover filmmakers, like Romanian Cristian Mungiu, whose “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” arrived with minimal advance buzz last year and went on to win the Palme d’Or. In contrast, these lovers of high art are often grumpy about overhyped biggies, with Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code” two years ago falling victim to blockbuster backlash as festgoers’ skepticism during the opening credits turned into hostility by the end of the film.

(Sharon Swart contributed to this article.)

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