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Bum Rap: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is the least interesting of all the Indiana Jones movies. It's hobbled with the introduction of Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) as Indy's son and heir to the Jones adventure throne and relies too heavily on computer generated special effects for a movie series that previously had been known for featuring death-defying stunts and minimal special effects.
That being said, even if Crystal Skull isn't the best Indy movie of the bunch I wouldn't say that it's a bad movie. Heck, it's actually a good one.

I think what hurts Crystal Skull most of all is that it's impossible to critique that movie without putting it up against one of the greatest films of the last 30+ years; Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). I can't imagine most people don't know of or haven't seen that film or at least aren't aware of certain scenes there like Indy (Harrison Ford) being chased by the giant rock through the cave or Indy and Marion (Karen Allen) facing off against a pit of poisonous snakes in Egypt.
And any movie being compared to something like Raiders, currently ranked as the 31st best movie of all-time on IMDB, is going to come off looking a bit shallow.

The only problem with viewers judging Crystal Skull so harshly is that ALL of the other Indy movies have problems of their own.

In Raiders Indy rides atop a submarine from Africa to an island in the Aegean Sea many hundreds of miles away. Yet the submarine apparently never dives nor Indy never is affected by the elements outside in open seas and arrives alive and ready for action on the island. Much of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) takes place in a cave system over an active volcano, yet Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) is placed just a few feet over the lava and she escapes unharmed/unburned. And in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Indy and Elsa (Alison Doody) survive a fire in a Venetian sewer by diving under the water and surfacing in an air pocket. Except once the air was gone from that pocket, what would they breath since the fire would have consumed all the oxygen in the sewer?

I'm not knocking the other three Indy movies since all of them have these and many more flaws -- but my point is that Crystal Skull isn't the only Indy movie with issues.

What I think Crystal Skull gets right is that, though many don't realize this, it actually fits well with all the Indy movie cannon as a whole.
Raiders, Temple of Doom and Last Crusade all deal with elements of religion; the Ark of the Covenant, Sankara stones and the Holy Grail. And Crystal Skull deals with crystal skulls that are holy relics to the inhabitants of the hidden city of Akator in the Amazon jungle. Where I think many felt that Crystal Skull got wrong, but I think it really got right, was that while the first three films shared a lot in common with the adventure movie serials of the 1930s and 40s, the periods those movies are set it, Crystal Skull instead was influenced by sci-fi films of the 1950s and 1960s with the introduction of Nazca Lines, aliens and UFOs to the mix. Which is the period that movie's set in.

I also liked how the passage of time wasn't ignored in Crystal Skull either. There's nearly a 20 year gap between the story of Last Crusade and Crystal Skull and in the time between the films there are hints at what Indy's been up to. Be it being a agent for the Allies during WWII to being called out with a group of other scientists to investigate the Roswell UFO crash in 1947. Indy's lived a life between those two movies - even if we didn't get to see exactly what happened on screen.
I've never understood why Crystal Skull drew such a negative reaction from the viewers. To me, if George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford would have come back with Indiana Jones IV and had tried to do all the same things they'd done in the previous films again without doing something new that would have been the disappointment.

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