Monday, 14 July 2014

Against the Crowd Blogathon: Is Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Really that Bad?

So it's a bit late to participate in Wendell Ottley's Against the Crowd Blogathon but I've only contributed half of what he asked for. I did a long-winded rant about John Carpenter's Halloween, but I also needed to find a movie everybody else hated that I actually liked. I could certainly find a few just by browsing John Carpenter's filmography. Even if they had their flaws I personally enjoyed Escape From L.A. and Ghosts of Mars and I even found thought The Ward had some good scares. Still, I wanted to find something a bit different.

I recall I was just getting back into the Indiana Jones franchise when I heard the news of a fourth movie in production. LEGO was producing sets based off the films and I had started to watch the original trilogy for the first time in years and quickly got hooked. There was a lot of hype for the plans to make a fourth Indiana Jones movie but like The Phantom Menace and Prometheus it received a whole bunch of negative backlash upon release. The strange thing is I actually kinda liked it, and I don't think a lot of the negative criticism is entirely fair.

First off, it was definitely a smart move to change the time period. I mean even if Harrison Ford agreed to dye his hair brown I don't think there would be any way they could make him look exactly like he did 33 years ago, so updating the setting to reflect the actor's aging makes perfect sense. Furthermore, the original trilogy was based on 1930's adventure serials. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull updated the time-frame to the 1950's, by which point those had gone out of style and been replaced by science fiction serials, so it's not too great a stretch to look at those for inspiration instead.

This gives me the perfect opportunity to address one of the biggest complaints about this film: the aliens. A lot of people have criticized the film for featuring aliens for various reasons. The biggest one is that supposedly it conflicts with the previous installments, specifically because of the presence of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark which implies the Judeo-Christian God exists in this universe. 

The part that they overlook is that three different religions are "validated" in the original trilogy: Raiders of the Lost Ark draws from Judaism, The Temple of Doom draws from Hinduism, and The Last Crusade draws from Christianity. The films have never been fully consistent about what (if any) religious figures exist in this universe, so really there's no reason aliens couldn't be present either. You could also make the case that the "religious" artifacts featured in the previous films were also the products of these aliens and they're just sufficiently advanced as appear "magic" and inspire various religions.

I will also go ahead and address the other big criticism, which is the infamous "nuclear fridge" sequence. It is a bit of a strange choice on the part of Spielberg and Lucas but a lot of people insist that this scene is too unbelievable to be taken seriously. While I can see where they are coming from, I feel it is worth pointing out that the previous films weren't exactly grounded in reality.

Raiders of the Lost Ark had Indy getting dragged along a road by a fast-moving truck and still being able to beat up a bunch of armed men with only a few bruises to show for it. The Temple of Doom has an equally unrealistic scene where Indy his companions escape from a plane by jumping out in a life raft while at a high altitude (the Mythbusters even tested this and proved it to be impossible; it could be done with an escape slide but that's not what was used in the movie). 

That same movie also featured a man ripping out a prisoner's still-beating heart with his bare hands. The Last Crusade had Indy stop a pursuing Nazi by jamming a flagpole into the wheel of his motorcycle causing it to flip into the air (also tested and proved impossible by the Mythbusters). While it's still a strange idea, by Indy's standards the fridge scene really isn't that far-fetched.

A lot of people also complained about Indy having a son, but I didn't think Shia LaBeouf was that bad in the role. (Yes, I'm defending one of his movies. You can start pelting me with rotten fruit now) The idea of giving Indy a son was actually an interesting choice, especially given the last film was about Indy's relationship to his father. 

That's actually another thing, a lot of people have criticized the choice to kill off Henry Jones Sr. because it supposedly conflicts with the events of The Last Crusade, even though it was addressed in that movie. While the Holy Grail has healing powers (even healing what might otherwise have been a lethal gunshot wound), the only way to get eternal life from it would require you to remain in its presence (as that knight had done), which means staying in those ruins because the grail isn't allowed leave.

Now one choice that I think was a very good one was the decision to bring back Marion Ravenwood, Indy's original love interest, instead of trying to find him a new one like The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade did. Marion was probably the best of the various love interests. She had the right balance of qualities. Willie Scott was too much of a damsel in distress, always screaming and finding ways to cause lots of trouble (even Indy got fed up with her at times). Elsa being a femme fatale was an interesting turn but Marion was the most complex. She was strong and certainly capable of being tough but also had her limits, and that made her the best fit for Indy. 

Now, is Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark? I don't know if I'd go that far, but I personally think it's a fun little adventure movie that really doesn't deserve a lot of the backlash it's gotten since its release. It's got some great action, takes the franchise in a few interesting new directions, and even addresses some of the issues of the previous installments.


  1. Thanks for finishing this up for me. Interesting choice and very well explained. I'll update the links post as soon as I can get to a decent computer.

  2. Great post Hitch :) Crystal Skull is nowhere near as bad as some would have you believe (I've seen some magazines dub it 'the biggest letdown in movie history') but I, like you, quite enjoyed. Certainly the weakest of the series, but not god-awful film some make it out to be :)

    1. Well, if I ever had to rank the films, Raiders of the Lost Ark would still be the best of the series, but I'd say all the films have something or other that makes them worthwhile. Even Temple of Doom had some creative action scenes (that great big mine cart chase for one thing).

  3. I like it, apart from the final act.