Overlooked Movie Monday: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

by Eric Melin on November 29, 2010

in Columns,Overlooked Movie Monday

Justin-PierreToday’s Overlooked Movie Monday column comes from an avid Scene-Stealers reader who also happens to be a filmmaker and the singer/guitarist of Motion City Soundtrack. You may remember when Justin Pierre and Eric did a joint video review for “New Moon” back in 2009. Well, now Justin is back to mount an impassioned defense of one of the most maligned fanboy movies of the last couple years. Here’s Justin…

The bloodshed spilled over the great debate of “Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull” has gone greatly unnoticed by the general public. This is due to the argument being overshadowed by so-called “important” debates such as Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice, or Creamy vs. Chunky, and it being shuffled under the rug by the powers that be. But let me be the first to tell you, this is serious business.

indiana-jones-and-the-kingdom-of-the-crystal-skullMany were killed during the film’s substantial, though non-Academy Award garnering, release in 2008 for standing up to the collective opinions of the masses and proclaiming, “This film rocks!”

I’m writing this now, two years later, hidden safely in a lead-lined refrigerator of my very own design, as I proclaim the same opinion: “Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull” is seriously awesome and those that disagree with me can suck it!

I know that I am in the minority with my heavy praise for Indy 4, but I do not care. The film delivers everything I’ve come to expect in a Harrison Ford/Steven Spielberg vehicle: Action, Comedy, Chase Scenes, Fist Fights, Witty Banter, Secrets Of The Universe Unearthed By A College Professor, Overly Simplified Explanations Of Shit That Makes No Sense To Anyone, Tight Spots That Nobody Except Indiana Jones Could Possibly Get Out Of, and let’s not forget my favorite: INCREDIBLY TERRIBLE SPECIAL EFFECTS!!!

This is what makes Indy 4 no different from any other film in the series that has come before it. The only problem with this film is that the people making it had too much faith in the people who would come to see it.

A few months before Indy 4 opened in theaters I purchased a cheap box set of the first three films along with all the other supplies I was stocking up with for the current tour I was going on. The plan was to watch each film (one per day) in order, leading up to the fourth day (May 26th, a day off—and my birthday).

indiana-jones-and-the-kingdom-of-the-crystal-skull-labeouf-ford-allenI would then take a handful of people out to view Indy 4 in celebration of me growing one year closer to death. While re-watching the first three Indy films, I noticed something I’d forgotten in the 20-30 years that have passed since I’d seen them: These films are stupid.

I mean that with the greatest amount of respect a guy my size can muster. It had been so long since I’d seen them all from start to finish, that it occurred to me that my memory of the films and the films themselves were not in sync. I remember them being a lot cooler than they actually were. If it is starting to sound as though I do not like these films, let me assure you that that couldn’t be further from the truth. I LOVE THESE FILMS. It’s just that there’s a big difference between a 20-year-old memory of an event and the accurate actuality of it.

If I were to guess, I’d say that 98 percent of the people who went to see Indy 4 did not brush up on the original trilogy before venturing into the theater. So to those who had a problem with Dr. Jones escaping a nuclear explosion by way of General Electric’s finest, may I remind you that he previously escaped death by jumping from an airplane with a raft he inflated during the several thousand-feet fall to the safety of a black diamond snow-capped mountain. Boom! Roasted!

nuke the fridge indy 4And to those who thought the whole alien angle in “Crystal Skull” was cheesy, what about the Ark Of The Covenant and The Holy Grail? Because these are so-called religious artifacts does that pardon them from scrutiny? The sought-after items in each film are all equally ridiculous in my opinion.

The idea that these items could actually exist is what makes these films interesting. These films are adventure romps. They are popcorn munch-worthy.They are about escapism, not realism. To truly enjoy yourself, you must suspend your belief. If you want realism, I suggest you watch the silent autopsies on Stan Brakhage’s “By Brakhage” DVD because everything else out there is pretty much make-believe, good people.

Nearly 20 years had passed since the last Indiana Jones film and this newest one. It seems quite obvious that the people involved had so much fun doing them that they wanted at it again. Can you think of any other series that could go on that grand a hiatus and come out on top? Granted, everything that Spielberg touches turns into a pile of cash, but the human race is a fickle bunch.

crystal-skull-alienI know there are a lot of words in this article and not much has been said. I begged Eric to give me a shot at writing something for Scene-Stealers—as I am an avid fan. I appreciate you all allowing me the chance to rant. I really love movies, and I really love the Indiana Jones films. It just bums me out that people would turn their backs on a series as fun and exciting as this one.

If you disagree with me and think that Indy 4 is a steaming pile, you don’t have to suck it. I was angry a few paragraphs back, but some time has passed and I’ve had that cup of coffee I desperately needed. I just want to urge any non-believers to try the Indiana Jones litmus test one last time before passing final judgment.

Watch all of the films in order, one after another. I guarantee you’ll have a better grasp on the reality of all things Indy.

Motion City Soundtrack’s newest album “My Dinosaur Life,” is out now.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jimmy November 29, 2010 at 1:09 am

Justin, please write more of these, I loved reading this.

I, for one, haven’t seen Indy 4 and its been a long while since I saw the original 3. I’ve been meaning to pick them up at FYE used but I’m broke as a joke… and it ain’t funny.

I’ve been hesitant to watch this because everyone and their mom says it’s a load of garbage and I’m glad that someone out there defends it. When I get another chance I’ll yoink it off of someone. Thanks for the words of wisdom.

PS: Also born on the 26th of May. Represent!

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2 :) November 29, 2010 at 8:04 am

I thought the movie was good too,
Worth my time and free movie coupon.

But I don’t agree with you that New Moon was a good movie,
The only part I liked was when Taylor took his shirt off.

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3 jontv November 29, 2010 at 11:01 am

I can see your point. I did recently see the first two Indy Jones movies. Watching the second one for the first time in years was an especially weird experience: almost every shot, certainly every stunt, was profoundly familiar to me, and yet I just couldn’t help but think to myself in almost a mantra-like fashion, “Damn, this is stupid”. In particular, I found myself almost praying for the painfully stereotypical Asian boy sidekick to catch a stray bullet, or something. And praying is something I never do.

The first movie, which I’ve seen more times and more recently, didn’t have quite the same effect, though I agree that it’s certainly got idiocy deeply embedded in it, too. I think this kind of thing is part of what makes reactions to pop culture so subjective. We probably all have a stupidity threshold that can’t be breached if we are to enjoy a particular movie, song, or TV show — but it’s different for everyone. Or maybe it’s not so much a threshold as a need for enough reward from the entertainment commodity to outweigh the “Damn, that’s stupid” response. I’m sorry, but after the first movie, none of the Indiana Jones flicks can tip the scale for me.

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4 Michael Bird November 29, 2010 at 1:17 pm

It is absolutely in keeping with the spirit and temperature of the original run. Those who differ in opinion are employing selective memory of the original trilogy; they only remember the bits they want to remember. Could it have been better? Sure. So could any of them in the series including Raiders (that pacing at the end of the second act is enough to literally send me to sleep sometimes).

More than anything, serious analysis of a boys’-adventure-tale just betrays the wrong-mindedness a lot of critics take to these films. Yes, they CAN be dark and smart and plausible, but to expect them to reach for that mark is like expecting all punk rock to sound like the Clash. Some of it sounds like the Ramones or the Pistols or the Damned or Buzzcocks. So the Ramones are lesser because they don’t sound like the Clash? Well, predicting the retort, yes this Spielberg sounds just like that Spielberg. The song is different but its the same fuzz pedal.

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5 stuartnz November 29, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Whether or not you like the film, you have to admit: Indy ending up in a nuclear test site and then jumping inside a refrigerator only to be blasted out into the desert is SO TOTALLY BADASS.

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6 Charlie November 29, 2010 at 4:12 pm

This movie was so lame…..Aliens, that is all…

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7 Lucy November 30, 2010 at 9:50 am

Shut up Charlie, you jaded idiot. The movie is better than Last Crusade.

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8 Seth December 1, 2010 at 8:52 am

I’ve read alot of the reviews on this site over the past year. I rarely comment because despite differences I might have (I don’t understand posting in agreement) I feel like the critique is fair and most importantly, DISCERNING.

There is no discernment in this review. There is only a lousy attempt to relate the elements of Indy 4 to the first 3. It is not a critical analysis. Certainly, not from the mind of a filmmaker. And a balloon of unfunny commentary.

The first three films were made at a time when the filmmakers had something to loose. Their reputations. This motivation creates an environment where all the fat is cut out: proper actors are chosen, story is tightened up, production quality is the best available, and on and on and on. Most of these things did not occur in the 4th film. There was no motivation to do so. You could say that this film was pure fat.

A few glaring examples might be: Harrison Ford is too f**king old to be running around. No one wants to see his old ass throw a punch because we know his arthritis would prevent him from making a fist, and if he was able to make one, it would break the instant it hit anything. Seriously, were you honestly excited by him? No, you weren’t. He was in peak physical condition for the original movies… why? because that’s what audiences like to see.
But even with the injection of some new (albeit hyped) young blood in Shia LeBeouf, our hero is still a total letdown.

Another: There is no rich cultural history in aliens. I will admit that I actually believe in them, but I don’t want to see them in an Indy movie. Their not a legitimate secret of history. All the elements of the first three contained so much known fact, mixed with possibilities. There is NO KNOWN FACT ABOUT ALIENS. No basis for imagination. Its all just speculation, and therefore doesn’t engage the mind.

Another: I can believe that in an extraordinary situation, an inflatable raft could create enough of a parachute effect that someone could land safely with a drop of just a 100 feet or so. Is it silly? Yes. Absurd? No. To imagine surviving a nuclear blast in a fridge that has been launched an unimaginable distance is ABSURD. There is no basis for suspension of DISBELIEF (note: original article cited suspension of belief). Not even a stage play would make such a stupid choice, and ask the audience to believe its possibility.

Had this film come just a couple years after the original three, with the same problems (an old Harrison is an impossiblity, of course) it would have destroyed careers.

I’m sorry for the harshness in tone, but this review was just terrible. I was not enlightened by a single element of what was said, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Note: I am not a critic, just a fan of the site.

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9 cam December 3, 2010 at 9:56 am

I feel like Justin has a valid point in the audience “suspending belief”, since the movie IS fiction.
You watch them because they’re fun… not realistic.
Watching an Indiana Jones film for rich cultural history is comparable to watching “Up” for the merit of it’s air travel methods.
Yeah, it’s cool and fun to watch. But no, you don’t watch it to learn how to suspend a house by balloons. You watch “Up” because it’s an awesome, fictitious movie whose events could never ACTUALLY occur in real life.
Just like you’d watch an Indiana Jones movie for it’s adventure, cheesy plot and Harrison Ford. Rather than to gain a deeper understanding of culture…it’s still hollywood dude.
Awesome review Justin,
I thought it was hilarious and insightful.
p.s.
Harrison Ford is NOT too old to be running around punching people in the face.
He transcends age.

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10 jack duhamel December 3, 2010 at 2:54 pm

i agree with 99 percent of this post

- Jack Duhamel

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11 Trey Hock December 3, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Cam,

In order for the story to be plausible/believable then it’s the responsibility of the filmmakers to establish the reality within the film(s). When they break their own created reality, they break the trust established between them and the viewers. This is whether the filmmaker strives for absolute realism, or makes their films reality more fantastic, as with “Up.” But once the rules within the film(s) are established, you have to stick to it, otherwise the story starts to fall apart.

In the first film (and as far as I’m concerned the only defensible one), Indiana Jones can bleed and fail, which he does endlessly. In Indy 4, when you’ve established that he’s impervious to nuclear bombs, then you’ve made the character indestructible, changed the reality established by the earlier films, and removed anything that may have been at stake for the character. Just like playing a game with an invincibility cheat is less fun, so too a movie in which our hero is impervious to pain, suffering and death. If I don’t believe he could die, then his survival isn’t a victory.

Ultimately, this entire review is largely an assertion of taste. Great Justin, you love Indy 4, but this gives us little to no insight into why Indy 4 deserves our respect.

The one argument Justin musters is that the earlier films are less than we remember, and therefore Indy 4 measures up to the same standards.

Or as Justin puts it;

While re-watching the first three Indy films, I noticed something I’d forgotten in the 20-30 years that have passed since I’d seen them: These films are stupid.

First, I would like to note that I strongly disagree that “Raiders” is stupid, and before you play your less than adequate trump card of “When was the last time you saw it?” I saw it October 19th, 2010. It is fun, exciting, often silly, sometimes tense, and all of this is due to the fact that within the context of the film there are real consequences at stake for our hero. If you want more on why “Raiders” is a valid, thoroughly fun film, that’s not stupid, you can check out the “Raiders” entry in 1 Year, 100 Movies.

But even if we assume your premise is true, that Indy 4 fits snugly into the canon of Indy films, because it is stupid and so are they, then why on Earth would you need to encourage people to watch stupid films? Shouldn’t we be using Scene Stealers, a remarkable online film resource, to encourage people to watch truly great and under appreciated films, both classic and contemporary? I like some terrible movies, The Beastmaster is one of my faves, but I know better than to argue that it’s a good film. I certainly wouldn’t try to convince people they should like it if they don’t.

I guess I just don’t really see the point you’re trying to make. Indy 4 made a kagillion dollars, Spielberg is effing rich and established beyond the tarnish of one or dozens of awful films, and Lucas is laughing all the way to the plaid shirt store.

Unless of course you’re on the Dreamworks/Lucasfilm payroll, I just don’t understand why you’d even want to try to defend this movie.

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12 cam December 4, 2010 at 4:42 pm

raiders is basically about a college professor taking on the nazis.
nazis who were looking for an ark created by the same jews that they murdered millions of.
what is realistic about that?
in the real world, indiana jones would have been killed.
in the real world, the nazi’s wouldn’t be searching for something not only created by Israelites, but a symbol between their give and take with God.
the nazi’s may have been looking to destroy it, but to believe that a jewish-built creation would grant them invincibility?
let’s not try to make these movies into something they’re not…

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13 Trey Hock December 4, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Cam,

I think you misunderstand me. I’m not talking about the real world at all. What I’m talking about is the sense of reality that exists within the film(s), and which is established within “Raiders.” What takes place in “Raiders” most likely could never happen in the real world, but there are still a set of rules–the physics of the story, if you will–that all of the characters must adhere to. This internal Indiana Jones reality is ruptured completely with the fourth film.

Hope that clears up my point. Can we still be friends?

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14 Cam December 5, 2010 at 8:12 am

How can I say no to a request like that?! :p

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15 Jimmy December 6, 2010 at 2:35 am

I don’t know what’s more believable: a guy ripping a heart out of a man’s chest and live and then slowly dropped into a pool of lava, surviving a nuclear power plant blast by hiding in a fridge and getting pelted in the air, or having a guy drink out of the wrong cup and get vaporized into a skeleton.

Either way they’re awesome and fun to watch. I think that’s Justin’s point.

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16 Thomas December 6, 2010 at 11:03 am

Trey,

Chill out dude. You’re writing a completely unmerited diatribe because you disagree with someone’s review, which was written in a spirit of fun.

You disagree with and/or think the reviewer is not funny. Just move on, then.

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17 Reed December 6, 2010 at 12:08 pm

It seems your main defense of Indy 4 is to disparage the previous three. Yes, if you want to paint-by-numbers and check off the categories of the previous three films, this picture certainly qualifies as an Indiana Jones movie. The problem is not in its concept, it’s the execution.

The first three movies may have been stupid, but they had something that the fourth does not: imagination. In each of the first three movies, the world seemed so large. The idea of adventure was central to everything that happened. Indiana Jones often encountered familiar friends or enemies because he was so well traveled in an age when hardly anyone was doing that. The unexpected laid ahead, and along with a passion for archeological history, was what drove the character.

But this is a small movie. There is little imagination here. The big plot reveal regarding Mutt, Marion, and Indy couldn’t be more pat and played out. It was akin to saying, I dunno, that Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO. This didn’t need to be a “let’s get the band back together” reunion tour. All of these movies have their flaws, but this is the only one that has no ideas. About anything. It felt like they could have filmed it all in a green-screened studio. That means they missed the point of the series entirely.

I came away from the movie not just thinking that I had completely wasted my time, but that my intelligence had been insulted. Maybe there was no further story to tell with Indiana Jones. He’d been everywhere and had all the best adventures he could see. But if this was the best script they could have come up with they should have just shelved it.

Two other (irrelevant) points:
1) The fridge-nuke didn’t bother me in the least. It was the entire rest of the movie that disappointed me so.
2) I’m the guy who defended the second one in this here website:
http://www.scene-stealers.com/top-10s/top-10-unfairly-maligned-sequels/

I will not be giving this movie another shot because I am certain there is nothing to get out of it.

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18 Trey Hock December 7, 2010 at 8:43 am

Thomas, I’m so chill, but in the spirit of fun or not, I thought the review was ill-conceived. I’ve counted a number of people on the page who agree with me. The tone in my response was even, and I used evidence from the film series. Last I checked they allowed comments, and encouraged dialogue. But, baby, if you’ve got a problem with that, then perhaps you should take your own advice and move on yourself.

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19 Kyle Rohde December 12, 2010 at 11:13 pm

I’m surprised nobody else mentioned these specific parts, but for me, it was two parts that made it over the top. Not the aliens or the fridge scene, but the silly jungle scene where Shia is pretending he’s Tarzan, followed by the Jeep being driven off a damn cliff and landing on a tree to soften its fall – right out of a Looney Tunes adventure.

And yes, I think those two things were more over the top than the ripping the heart out scene (though I think Temple of Doom was awful too). The thing that makes Lost Ark/Last Crusade more believable is growing up in a Christian culture that, even if you’re not very religious, makes the Ark opening scene and the Grail scene somewhat plausible, and like the guy above said, it fits with the reality of the movie.

Personally, they’ve made two good Indy movies and two terrible ones (Doom/Crystal Skull). The closest comparison I can make is Crystal Skull is to Indiana Jones as Batman & Robin is to Batman. A terrible, over-fantasized, silly version of a great story.

(I just watched all four over again this weekend thanks to USA, so had to comment still)

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20 Deepthroat Ghoul January 15, 2015 at 12:38 pm

In regards to the “nuking the fridge” scene, the thing about Indiana Jones is that there’s stupid stuff in all of the previous three Indy films, especially Temple of Doom, so it’s not fair to criticise Crystal Skull for having aliens or the fridge nuke scene without also acknowledging all the dumb stuff in the original trilogy, such as Indy either flying off a cliff on a tank and walking away from it without a scratch, or dropping out of a plane on a rubber raft and sliding down a mountain slope without sustaining any whiplash. Obviously, Spielberg and Lucas were inspired by the James Bond books by Ian Fleming, where the main character always escapes near-death situations.

As far the “aliens don’t belong in an Indiana Jones movie” argument goes, Indiana Jones has always been about fantasy and science fiction. I mean, Indy has dealt with ghosts that come out of an ark and spontaneously melt people’s faces, voodoo dolls, beating hearts being ripped out of chests through use of magic, and a seemingly immortal knight from the 12th century guarding the Holy Grail, but it’s not OK to have aliens?

Also, everyone seems to forget what the Indiana Jones franchise was originally about in the first place; it was created as a tribute to old b-movies and adventure serials.

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