Every so often a discussion about INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS arises and I find myself the lone defender. I loved the movie the first time I saw it and continue to love it. Many, however, don't share my enthusiasm for it and whenever these conversations pop up I am finding myself regurgitating the same thing… again and again. I wrote about INDY 4 back in 2005 but that was before FakeShemp.Net came to be and so I am writing this piece to have it at my beck and call for future discussions.
My favourite types of movies are the ones that evoke the inner child in me. As a kid of the 80s INDIANA JONES was staple viewing, as were the countless other knock-off movies that followed. I've always had an eye for adventure and Indy took me out of my lounge room and into a world of whip-cracks and treasure hunting. It didn't matter how far fetched the antics were, I couldn't get enough. Whether he was kicking Nazi ass, taking on Thuggee cults or drinking to immortality… I lapped that shit up.
By the time INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL came to be, a lot of time had passed. The world had changed and audiences were different. The children who grew up with Indy were now adults and their acceptance of fantasy was different. Their ability to suspend disbelief was far less forgiving and reserved for the blatant fantasies like LORD OF THE RINGS. In the years leading up to the release of INDY 4, our excitement had worked itself into a frenzied state and our expectations were high. There were two decades separating the film from the others that proved to be the movies undoing. I wonder what everyone would have thought about KINGDOM if they were still kids? It’s really only the adults who hated INDY 4 and from my point of view as a movie retailer, the kids of today seem to embrace it.
The first notable difference with INDY 4 is that Harrison Ford is now an old man. This was a point of contention with a lot of people and many thought that the role should have been recast (that’s a conversation for another time). It didn't bother me at all and the film uses his age as an ongoing theme. The storyline is set in the 1950s and it’s all relevant. His age is a non-issue. The other major difference, of course, is the advancement of technology and use of CGI. I am usually the first person to criticize the overuse of CGI and I do concede that too much of it was used in INDY 4… but I wonder how many people realize that so much of the film was practical? The nuclear explosion for example… Spielberg used miniatures to amazing effect. The chases, the stunts, the physicality… mostly practical. My overall love of adventure can compensate for whatever overuse of CGI the film exploited.
From the conversations I've had with people it seems that most of the negativity and dissatisfaction with the movie lays within it’s absurdity. “Far fetched” is a common argument. The important thing to reflect on at this point is what INDIANA JONES is supposed to be. In the late 70’s George Lucas had a specific intention with the franchise and had mapped out a timeline for the series. Right from the get-go he intended to make 5 instalments. The first 3 would represent the high-adventure serials of the 1930s (influenced by titles like DARKEST AFRICA and THE PERILS OF PAULINE) whereas the final 2 films were going to represent the schlocky B-serials of the 1950s (influenced by titles like INVADERS FROM MARS and ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE). In fact I wonder how many people realise that THE LAST CRUSADE was originally written as a haunted castle adventure with ghosts and ghouls? Or that George Lucas desperately wanted Indiana Jones to battle against flying saucers in a 1950s-inspired alien invasion film? It was all part of the original concept, some of which found its way into the YOUNG INDY TV series).
So with that in mind is the alien concept in KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL really so bad? I would argue that the plausibility is still greater than subterranean zombies in India, a supernatural ark of the covenant or a holy grail (which grants eternal life). ALL of the films are nonsensical but the reason they work for me is because each of those concepts is founded upon historical context. The story of the Mayans and the crystal skulls lends itself to something otherworldly (or interdimensional), which allowed George Lucas to indulge in some of his original intentions and concepts. The child in me was happy to go along with it.
Many of the other criticisms levied at INDY 4 have identified specific scenes such as the epic refrigerator escape, the waterfall plunge and the monkey-swinging (amongst others). I will grant you the monkey scene. That had no place in the movie and only fed the trolls… but I do have to admire the sheer audacity to conceive and execute that scene all the same. As for everything else I would point you back to the first 3 movies. Was the fridge any more ridiculous than the giant boulder from RAIDERS? Was the waterfall plunge any more insane than the rubber-raft scene in TEMPLE OF DOOM? Or how about that rocket sled? That copped a lot of flack too but was it any more ludicrous than the mineshaft roller coaster of TEMPLE OF DOOM? And of course consider all of the far-fetched adventures of Indy in the various novels and comic books. Again I would ask you to re-evaluate the film from the perspective of your youth. What would your 10-year-old self think of it?
Other things that have pissed people off include the casting of people like Shia LaBeouf and Cate Blanchett. Yeah they would have been better to cast unknowns in these roles but so be it. Their presence is easily compensated with some very fitting additions to the cast including Jim Broadbent, John Hurt and Ray Winstone. But at the end of the day I don’t think that the casting was actually an issue… it just seemed to be an easy target for nay-sayers. Minds were made up to hate this movie from the outset and such gripes seem unreasonable to me. I think Spielberg and Lucas brilliantly captured the aesthetic of the original trilogy and updated to a 1950s era wonderfully. This is still very much the world of INDIANA JONES that we loved as children. It still captures the imagination of young’uns and represents the same high-adventure that made the pop-culture of the 30s, 40s and 50s so exciting.
I have watched KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL at least a dozen times and I get more pleasure from it with each viewing. I have also watched it back-to-back with the other three and it’s really not as far removed, as the critics will insist it to be. So this is how I feel about the movie and I really can’t be bothered defending it any more or justifying my position. It’s just a movie, eh?
Now perhaps we can have a conversation about rebooting the franchise with a new lead actor? The property has the potential to make transitions just like James Bond enjoys rejuvenation every decade or so. I want INDY to live on and it doesn't have to be Harrison Ford under that Fedora.