May 22nd marked the 10th anniversary of the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and unlike many it seems today, I am a huge fan of the movie. When it was released a decade ago, Lucasfilm was still an independent company, Paramount distributed the film, and the idea of more Star Wars movies seemed like a dream. Now ten years later, Dr. Jones is a part of the Walt Disney Company, and it’s time to reflect on and be honest about his fourth movie.
I would say for Mr. Williams to get the orchestra ready, but you don’t tell a maestro like John Williams what to do. Here goes.
The movie opens with the titles and the classic allusion of the Paramount symbol, the mountain dissolving into the first scene of the movie. For Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that mountain is the dirt of a prairie dog hill. It’s almost like this opening shot from director Steven Spielberg is warning the audience that things are not always what they seem. I wonder if it was meant to connect with the 1950’s political climate of the story or that this movie was just done because of the money they were offered?
Starting with teens racing a US Army car, the film has the typical look of everything that is romanticized about the 1950s. But the magic wears off and as the Army troops turn off to what is supposed to be the famed secret base Area 51, we quickly learn that these troops are actually Russian doppelgangers, and they are carrying a very important passenger in the trunk; Dr. Henry Jones Jr., better known as Indiana to his friends.
Pulled out of the trunk, and forced to pick up his hat while casting a wide shadow, our opening clip of Indy is one of a beaten up hero that is looking a little old. His friend and fellow prisoner, Mac, played by Ray Winstone, doesn’t look much younger and the two are in a lot of trouble. The bad guys of the film come in two very different forms.
Irina Spalko, played by Cate Blanchett, is the brains of the covert Soviet group and Colonel Dovchenko is the muscle. One must not doubt the power of Spalko, she is not only intelligent, ambitious, but she carries a sword and no doubt will stick it through you fast.
Spalko brought Indy to the warehouse because she is interested in an item being stored here, that Dr. Jones was a part of in the recovery a few years back in Roswell, New Mexico. The common viewer should know that this entire movie is going to be about aliens. The 1950s setting ties in with the most popular movies of the 50s, alien movies, and now with the connection to Roswell, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is an alien movie. Expect more aliens in this movie. If you don’t like it, time to abandon ship, but I’m not going to because it’s an Indiana Jones movie.
Into the warehouse they go, with Indy leading the way to an item containing a small body that looks like an alien. Spalko is distracted which allows Indy the chance to get a weapon and try to escape, only to be betrayed by Mac. You can’t keep Indy down, betrayed by his friend, he still finds a ways to escape. However, Dovchenko follows him, which leads to an epic fist fight on a rocket sled to the middle of the desert. Indy flees and the Russians rescue Dovchenko. Spalko is happy because she has her item, but she wants Jones dead.
Indy finds another symbol of the 1950s as he flees the Russians, a nuclear bomb labeled “I like Ike.” But beyond the hanging bomb is a town, and for the fleeing archaeologist, it’s a sign of help. Sadly, it’s a mirage. Indy walks through the town which is filled with mannequins. Hiding from the Russians in the Twilight Zone town, Indy can’t help but feel like something is very wrong.
The announcement of the detonation to come sends Indy scrambling to find safety. He runs through to a kitchen where he empties the fridge and hides inside. Before slamming the door we see that this fridge is lead lined, and then the explosion wipes out the town. The destruction of the town is a sight to behold. The scene is a warning about what could happen should a nuclear bomb go off in a small town, but the seriousness of the scene ends with the fridge that Indy is tucked inside gets blown out of the town over the fleeing Russians. The term jump the shark got replaced with nuke the fridge after this scene.
I personally didn’t have a problem with this scene because it’s not the first time Indy has done something impossible and survived. To watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and not question how on earth he could have survived falling out of the plane with an inflatable raft, land on a mountain top, then fall off that mountain into a river, survive white water rafting, and still be in one piece, well if fans get to accept that set of circumstances, why not the fridge? Indiana Jones is not a superhero but this is not the first time that Indy has seemed indestructible.
The fallout of his Russian adventure has led Indy to fall under suspicion by the authorities. Back at his college on the east coast, Indy is asked to take a leave of absence from teaching. The campus is filled with anti-communism protests, with signs like Better Dead than Red show that this is a turbulent time where suspicion and gossip can be more damaging than the truth. Suspended from teaching, Indy plans to leave on vacation but his plans are derailed at the train station. Dressed in stereotypical 50’s greaser garb, we meet Mutt Williams, played by Shia LaBeouf.
He recruits Jones to come with him to find his mother Mary, and their friend Harold Oxley. Indy has no knowledge of the mother but Oxley is an old friend. Together they head to Peru, and the backstory of what Spalko takes at the beginning of the story is fleshed out in the discussion on the plane ride down. The legend of the crystal skulls ties back to Conquistador Francisco de Orellana, who searched for the famous lost city of Akator. Following the trail that Oxley left in Peru, Jones and Williams find the grave to the lost Conquistador and the missing crystal skull.
Single-handedly defeating a local tribal group, and then captured by the Soviets once again, viewer suspicions are finally confirmed at the Russian camp. Mutt Williams is actually Henry Jones the third, and his mother is Marion Ravenwood, famous for her wit and strength from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones is a dad, and now together as a family and with Harold Oxley, they escape from the Soviets and find the lost city of Akator. Not without danger and a battle with Dovchenko that lets viewers see what man eating ants can do with a body, Indy and company plunge over three waterfalls before they can find the hidden entrance to the fabled city.
Spalko is hot on their trail and follows them. Jones replaces the stolen crystal skull, and then the temple they have entered comes alive. The aliens appear to awaken from a slumber and now with all the skulls in the correct place, they plan to leave but not before destroying Spalko. Indy, Mutt, Marion, and Oxley escape to watch the final act of the saucer men from mars.
The climactic scene of Indy and company looking into the valley as the ancient temple transforms into a spaceship and heads toward the sky, is dramatic, but also very symbolic of the movie genre. In an age when alien movies usually had two endings, war, or escape, Spielberg chose to end with escape, because that’s how an Indiana Jones movie would end. This isn’t War of the Worlds.
Back to school Indy goes with a family in tow, and a wedding about to happen. At the church Indy and Marian are wed, and Mutt the young greaser who was trying to be the toughest guy on the street, turns out to be a nice kid, there to watch his parents be married. As the bride and groom walk down the aisle Indy’s famous brown hat comes rolling by Mutt. Admiring the hat, and thinking about putting it on his head, Indy walks by and grabs it from him, placing it on the rightful head. The crown is not to be passed. The great trick of this movie is that so many people thought Shia LaBeouf was going to take over for Harrison Ford. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull makes it clear there is only one Indiana Jones.
I don’t understand the hatred fans have for this movie. Is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a perfect film? No! Is it the worst movie ever and in need of being removed from the series? Absolutely not! That honor goes to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
The series was always based around the serial adventures that played out in the 1930s. The other Indiana Jones movies were set in the 1930s and thus they had that feel and vibe to them that made them special. Since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released in 2008, almost 20 years since the last film, there was no possible way that the story could take place in the 1930s. It had to be moved up and to the 1950s it went, with a much older Indiana Jones. To keep the same feel and vibe that the original movies had, the 1950s focused a lot on aliens in their movies, and thus Crystal Skull had an alien theme.
Now the other complaint that comes up a lot is that Harrison Ford is too old to play Indiana Jones. What a ridiculous argument. Sure his hair might be greyer than in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but in this movie, the action is kept to a minimum, and for most of the film, what Indy does is not inconceivable that Harrison Ford can do. I have already commented on the fridge scene. Yes, it is impossible for him to survive, but it’s a movie.
Where I think the problem that most people have with the film is the character of Mutt Williams. No one wants to see Indiana Jones with a kid, but to assume that he wouldn’t have had a lengthy relationship with Marion Ravenwood is silly, if not absurd. There was chemistry between them in Raiders of the Lost Ark and at the end of the movie, it was clear to any viewer that this was not a one night stand. Indiana Jones was bound to become a dad, why is this so impossible to accept?
Perhaps it’s the fact that Shia LaBeouf is playing Mutt Williams. I think he’s a good actor, with a chip on his shoulder, who has made great films. He was fantastic in Holes! Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has any little problems that could be easily ignored except for one scene that pushes the credibility line for the movie, and this scene involves Shia’s Mutt Williams.
Having LaBeouf pay homage to Marlon Brando when we first meet him at the train station was unnecessary, but believable. The idea of finding an alien crystal skull as being the artifact for the movie was alright, it connected well with the real story of crystal skulls and the search for some form of other life. The legends of ancient civilizations being aided by alien beings to build their palaces is an ongoing discussion that permeates today.
These are small problems that could be easily forgotten except when you factor in the scene of Shia LaBeouf swinging on vines with monkeys during the jungle chase scene. Mutt Williams was swinging around on vines like Tarzan and somehow caught up to the action. The scene looked like LaBeouf was hanging on a vine with a green screen in the background. It looks terrible, doesn’t connect with the other action pieces in the scene and just rubs fans the wrong way. If you take that one scene of swinging like a money out of the movie, fans would never have thought a second about any other concerns, or plot holes. If you delete that scene, nothing else is big enough to ruin the movie, including the fridge scene.
The falling down three waterfalls is a bit of a stretch, but Temple of Doom pushed the boundaries of decency by having hearts being ripped out of a body and made us question the survivability of Indy and company by using an inflatable raft instead of a parachute when they jumped out of a plane. The Indiana Jones movies have always pushed the boundaries of credibility, but don’t let the monkey scene cloud this movie. It’s just one scene.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a good movie that is very entertaining and actually brings a little more depth to Dr. Jones. He finally settles down and has a family, even if it is at an older age. When the movie opened in May of 2008, it was number 1 at the box office and finished with a North American gross of almost $318 million dollars, and nearly $470 million internationally, for a total gross of over $786 million dollars. Not bad for a franchise that was about to turn thirty, and had the last movie in the series come out nineteen years before.
We get an older, wiser Indiana Jones this time. He has a family, but we also get a new timeline for the series. Steven Spielberg gets to play with the timeline and the hysteria about communism. The scene during the chase at the college when the head of the Marcus Brody statue falls into the windshield of the Soviets was a nice nod to Denholm Elliott and allowed his character to be in the movie even though Elliott has been dead for some time.
This world is a paranoid place with bad guys everywhere, and though the times changed, Indiana Jones can still get the job done. The best line of the series comes out with the fight between Jones and the native tribe in Peru. After defeating them single-handedly, Mutt asks in awe of Jones’ work, “You’re a teacher?” To which Jones replies with a sardonic tone of, “Part time!”
If people can find an appreciation for the prequel trilogies of Star Wars, and tolerate characters like Jar Jar Binks, then certainly fans can find a new appreciation for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It’s been a decade since the movie came out, and it’s time to give it another chance. For those that are doubting Harrison Ford’s ability to pull off one more adventure in the fedora for 2020, somehow I bet I will be sitting beside them in the packed movie theatres when the show starts.