Why Indiana Jones and Aliens Make Sense – Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Ten Years Later
By Zak Kneipp
When George Lucas announced his intention to bring Indiana Jones back after nineteen years fans around the world ran through emotions anywhere from elation to utter fear. The year was 2008 and Lucas had just finished the Star Wars Prequel trilogy. Faith in Lucas had waned mostly due to the lackluster reception of the aforementioned trilogy however Indiana Jones was a different animal entirely. As long as Harrison Ford was wearing the fedora, with Steven Spielberg directing, and George Lucas writing what could go wrong? Well…. A few things apparently. Now ten years later I welcome you to go on a journey analyzing the reasons why this film works, and doesn’t work, within the Indiana Jones universe.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released on May 22, 2008. Fans gathered prepared to see their favorite archeologist swing into action albeit at the spry age of fifty-eight. For the most part ol’ Indy didn’t disappoint. Harrison Ford did many of his own stunts and we got plenty of fan service from the opening reveal of our hero and his escapade through the classic secret Radiers warehouse, last seen as the Ark of the Covenants final residence in Raiders of the Lost Ark, to the final moments of the film in which Indy and family witness more other worldly phenomena akin to past Indy adventures. Peppered in-between the classic Indy goodness was what would become the dividing factor in the question of just how good the film really is. While any film can be analyzed and nitpicked to the moon and back; for the sake of clarity and time we will only focus on a few big points that fans dislike about this film.
The Opening - Mole Hill Paramount Logo Dissolve – Many fans critical opinion of Lucas’ heavy use of CGI and catering to children is put on blast within the very first scene of the film. While the CGI prairie dog and dirt hill look silly and childlike it still follows the classic Indiana Jones trope of dissolving the Paramount Mountain logo into a similar looking object. This has of course been seen in each film starting with Raiders and its iconic dissolve into virtually identical mountain peaks before revealing a silhouetted Indiana Jones. While, in the prequel Temple of Doom, the image of mountains on the gong struck at the opening serves as the dissolve. And of course the rocky formations of Arizona in The Last Crusade rounded out the first three iconic opening dissolves. All three of these examples have become memorable in their own way. While the fourth film opens on a CGI dirt mound of which an equally CGI prairie dog emerges before being run over by hot rodding teenagers.
This is only a brief moment and what follows could arguably make up for it as we are thrown directly into the adventure. Russian’s posing as Americans hot rodding alongside the kids for a spell before pulling off and back to their true mission. Plus we get an homage to Lucas’ “American Graffiti” with the whole scene it self. We also get a little National pride with an ever popular at the time American Flag shot before witnessing the merciless arrival of the Soviet badies that will serve as the defacto Nazis of this film. Then we are greeted with a classic Indy reveal. And of course some backstory, character development, and an epic chase scene through the Raiders’ warehouse now revealed to be Area 51. That then leads to the next point of geek contention.
The Nuked Fridge – A call back to a different script and honestly the first legendarily ridiculous moment of the film, in what would otherwise be a pretty cool set piece regardless, was the nuked fridge. Indy is being chased by his Soviet captures and stumbles into a nuclear testing site complete with small completely functioning town full of mannequins. The sirens begin to air and Indy is left to be dissolved in the explosion. However in a move of genius or utter stupidity Indiana Jones gets into a lead lined fridge and is hurled hundreds of feet into the air and even further away before crashing down to the ground and falling out to a stop virtually unscathed. Indiana Jones just survived a nuclear bomb. The resulting shot of Indy standing silhouetted against the mushroom cloud of mass destruction only briefly makes up for the lead up to the shot.
Ok I’ll give it to you that one was pretty bad. Like… Die Hard 4: A Good Day to Die Hard bad. The idea of him stumbling onto a site like that was, however, cool. The whole situation up until the fridge and afterwards with the silhouette was great actually. But like I mentioned; this nuked fridge concept was taken from a completely different script to a completely different film. That film was in fact Back to the Future. In the original screenplay for the film Doc Brown creates the time machine not out of a DeLorean but a lead lined refrigerator that sets off a nuclear explosion every time it is used. Both of these concepts were thankfully stricken from the final film and what we got was Steven Spielberg greatness. But the whole nuked fridge thing found a way into this film after all those years. What comes next?
Shia labeouf as Henry “Mutt” Williams-Jones – Many were disheartened to learn that Sean Connery would not be reprising his role as Henry Jones Sr. However the inclusion of an illegitimate son to mirror the relationship between Indiana and his father from the third film would be a key factor in this films story. It’s not a bad idea. But many would complain that the choice of Shia labeouf was one not as well thought out. At the time he was mostly known for the Transformers film series and his three year starring role on the television series Even Stevens. But he was already generating mixed reviews in the world of public opinion. The implementation that he would take up the mantel at the end of the film only fanned the flames for fans who want nothing to do with the man. Plus he swung with monkeys from CGI vines like Tarzan in this film. And I give it to you I don’t like the guy that much either. With a fifth film announced I push for the character to be aged up a bit and recast with Chris Pratt. Who has already previously been linked as a replacement for Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. That is the only way to make lemonade out of that lemon in my opinion.
The MacGuffin – The crystal skull that the film is centered around is also one of the bigger issues with fans. It’s otherworldly supernatural power stemming from an alien race of “inter-dimensional” beings somehow didn’t sit well with the fans of an archeologist that previously searched for fabled biblical relics like that Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail... not to mention a made up cults strange magic rocks. But the idea that aliens might exist is just too much for some I suppose. What people seem to dislike the most is the heavy CGI intergalactic beings and the very Close Encounters of the Third Kind ending with their ship emerging from a mountain and flying away. The remnants of the event are quickly covered up by mother nature against another silhouette of Indy looking on. However this is the exact point that makes this film an Indiana Jones adventure. Why you ask? Because every Indiana Jones adventure is a product of the time period it is set and includes historically relevant references.
Let me explain. With Raiders it was 1936 and the Nazis were searching for biblical/occultist relics that could prove their superior race ideals to be true. This is of course a factor in the real life history of the time period believe it or not. Hitler and many members of his political umbrella were reported to be occultists. In Temple of Doom we find Indy in 1935 India battling a different kind lot of occultists who had enslaved a small tribe and had an affinity for removing beating hearts with ones bare hand. While The Last Crusade returns Indy to the Nazi riddled adventures of 1939 fashion. These films draw upon popular culture and historical / mythological facts and theories of the time they are set. Obviously if you fast forward twenty years to the 1950’s you get Indiana Jones in the correct time period for his age, while battling the correct bad guys for the era, while including popular culture references like the science fiction elements, area 51, early nuclear proliferation and the CIA... blending them into classic Indiana Jones tropes.
We now have four films in the Indiana Jones universe. All of which stand on their own ground in their own ways. Temple of Doom has long been the majority pick for worst of the three by many accounts. But it would seem that with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s release Temple has some competition. We can only hope that the fifth and final Harrison Ford led Indiana Jones film, currently on the 2020 horizon, sends our favorite adventurer off in epic fashion. This final film will likely right any course changes and go out with a nostalgic bang with a promise of more to come from a new cast of characters. Or perhaps a recast Indiana. Because as we know Han Solo has been recast for younger stories. What the future holds for Dr. Jones is undoubtedly exciting. But dont worry. I doubt we will be seeing our favorite archeologist bite the dust in this final film. Those of us who were around for the 1990's remember that Indy lives deep into his 80’s or 90’s, albeit missing an eye, thanks to the Young Indiana Jones television series. Which is made cannon as one of its adventures, an encounter with Poncho Villa, are mentioned by Indy himself in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. So at least we don’t have to endure another classic Harrison Ford character’s death. RIP Han Solo. Now bring on Indiana Jones 5! What do you think about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and/or the Indiana Jones franchise? Let us know in the comments!