Indiana Jones and the Great Debate: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

In 2008 I returned to the cinema nine times to watch the same movie, a thrilling and hugely satisfying tale of action and adventure that resurrected an acclaimed cinematic icon for a new generation and provided a long overdue encore for loyal fans: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The rest of the planet, however, had quite a different experience, an aversion to Indiana Jones’ new direction that resulted in a disengaged sense of betrayal. As her plane approached Greece and the in-flight movie flickered to life, ALONGCAMEAGINGE fought boredom while I fought the urge to go again.

The Argument For: Too Much Of Life Is Lost In Hating.


Upon its release in 2008, there was a different attitude towards Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull entirely – Hell, even Empire gave it four stars – its extra-terrestrial McGuffin might have been scoffed at even then, but it was by no means considered the travesty it has come to represent today.

So, what changed? Within weeks of the film’s cinematic release, another summer blockbuster tumbled into cinemas amid unprecedented fanfare and high praise. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was dark, serious and even darker still, it boasted a realism and maturity that made everything else on offer look like one of Mitchell Brook Primary School’s skits for The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year – our favourite tomb raider included.

By comparison Kingdom of the Crystal Skull must have looked insubstantial and silly, with its dodgy Russian accent, neverending title and aping Shia LaBeouf. I’m not contending this – the only concession I’ll make is that Harold Oxley is a bit of a pain in the poncho – but embracing it. Nobody really wants a dark Indy, the character is just as famous for his cheesy grin as he is for his bull-whip and ophidiophobia. Each film ends with our hero holding some increasingly far-fetched religious icon, why should this one be any different? Just because it has an alien slant, and fails to conform to the Judeo-Christian belief-system, doesn’t make it any more or less realistic than if it had been about excavating the bones of the fish Jesus used to feed the five thousand.

Yes it’s silly, yes it’s cheesy, yes it’s got CGI gophers – but look closer and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has so much more to offer than embarrassed laughter. Let’s start with Indy himself, a character who arguably gave birth to the action adventure genre, to be later parodied and homaged by Rick O’Connel and Lara Croft but never topped. That character has been distilled, recaptured almost twenty years after his last cinematic outing, no small feat in the light of the changes the world has inevitably seen in the intervening years. Rather than hide from this fact, and pretend that nothing has changed other than it’s star’s age, the creative team of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have incorporated it, updating the setting from the 30’s to the 50’s and adapting the story to suit. The image is sharper, the world less mysterious, and the sought treasure from a different world entirely. Indy, however, hasn’t changed at all, just because the series’ fan-base has grown weary and cynical doesn’t necessitate that Indy should too.

And that’s Indiana Jones’ great success, whereas other franchises were too busy worrying about realism, teasing The Avengers or bringing Carrie Bradshaw to the big screen, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull never lost sight of character. My favourite moment from the movie isn’t the overblown action scenes, the flying fridge or the bonkers ending, but a scene which takes place moments after Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood have finished gushing at the sight of one another, having found themselves stuck in a tar pit, alone after having sent a nutty John Hurt to look for help and our budding replacement in search of rope. The result is an absolute delight, as the actors play the scene for laughs and pathos. For the first time that summer – Mamma Mia! hadn’t been released yet – entertainment was just that, joyously entertaining.

This is a universe in which a gold box melts the heads of Nazis, in which you can do just about anything with an umbrella and in which the laws of physics subside to permit a mine cart chase. If the Indiana Jones franchise is about excavation and having faith, then how does that preclude aliens as a viable plot device? The plot makes about as much sense as any of the preceding mysteries, the argument that Indiana Jones just isn’t about aliens failling to hold any weight. This is Indiana Jones seducing ladies, crawling through holes in the ground and thwarting a foreign evil, who cares what’s behind the mechanics: God or interdimensional beings.

For, if Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had really only been about George Lucas flashing a few pixels and spanking his inner Gungan, why is it that the aliens are so, well, normal? The film doesn’t waste any time setting up the extraterrestrial culture or counting tentacles, it simply picks a McGuffin that fits the story and gets on with it. Our alien is straight out of Roswell, our flying saucer as unremarkable as they come, it harks back to the era in question just like the previous instalments did with the Nazi’s preoccupation with the occult, and just as the film-makers had intended all along.

I’m sorry, I realise that this fourth instalment might not have been everything that you and hoped and dreamed it might be, just like Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace before it. But show this to any Indiana Jones layman along with the original trilogy and any differences they spot will be on the most surface of levels. This is a pedigree action adventure movie, as intrinsically Indiana Jones as any other, just like Lucas’ prequel Star Wars trilogy is as much a meditation on the Saturday morning science fiction serials of old as the rest of the saga.

Have you even watched the film since its initial disappointment? How can you hope to compare it to movies you have seen a multitude of times before? Familiarity breeds contempt and you are doing yourself a disservice by giving up so easily. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a fantastic movie: it’s moving; exciting; funny; and asks for little more than a second chance and an open mind.

The Argument Against: This Is Why You’re Wrong.


Your resistance to my argument is futile, for the whole world knows that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (or Indy 4 for those of us who can’t be arsed with that mouthful of a title), is lame. Crap. Awful. Laughable. A travesty to the dynasty of Indiana Jones. A mockery of every set designer who painstakingly painted polystyrene cups to look like goblets, and cardboard walls to look like caves. A boot to the face of every sparsely-paid extra who learned all the choreography for the fight scenes, just to be cut from the film at the last minute to save a bit of screen time for some more swinging about on ropes.

I’m not the biggest Indy fan, to be quite honest with you. Just like I’m not the biggest fan of vanilla ice cream: it’s okay, but I’d rather have mint choc chip. Know what I’m saying? Not really? Mmm… ice cream…

Anyway, that whole first bit with the loud, angry words like ‘travesty’ and such were a bit of a farce. Really, my complaints about Indy 4 are more to do with not liking the film as a stand-alone venture, rather than thinking it’s crap compared to the original films.

Popcornaddict compares Indy 4 (Yes, I’m calling it that the whole way through this, I’m too lazy to even copy and paste the full title every time.) to other films released that same year:

By comparison Kingdom of the Crystal Skull must look insubstantial and silly, with its dodgy Russian accent, neverending title and aping Shia LaBeouf.”

Well, it IS insubstantial and silly. There most definitely are terrible accents. And don’t get me started on Shia LaBeouf and his aping abilities. The guy could replace one of the Gorillas in London Zoo and nobody would notice for weeks. Though, maybe that’s really a compliment to his acting skills.

So far, Mr. Popcornaddict, you’re doing my job for me!

When I first saw Indy 4, I was on a plane to Greece with some friends. I’ll admit it: I was a bit drunk. So, I thought that maybe I didn’t get the best first impression of the film ever. Perhaps the beer-goggles and the fact that I don’t fly so well got in the way of my enjoyment of the film.

I watched it again yesterday. It was better the first time.

My second impression of the film was that it was pretty much the same formula used in the previous three films. But with aliens at the end. Like one of those moments when someone slips something weird into conversation to check that you’re still listening.

Then, there were the special effects. I’m not a fan of special effects. Even the best film would lose mega points for having crap effects. It just brings the whole thing down. With Indy, the effects were too much, too often. Spielberg, I’m disappointed in you!

Thirdly… that scene with the fridge. What the actual fork was that all about? The storyline in this film was non-existent. It’s like someone asked a twelve year old to make up a story about Indiana Jones for a homework assignment. That would certainly explain the aliens.

It seemed like they were trying to make Indy cool, up to date, down with the kids. However, at the same time, attempting to keep the older generation who grew up with the films happy. It just didn’t work. There just wasn’t enough substance to the film to make it enjoyable.

And the ending made me wonder whether someone had slipped some LSD into my breakfast cereal.

Indy 4 is basically a kids film: Right from the beginning with that… what was it? A gopher? The film has barely any plot, over the top action sequences dotted roughly every fifteen minutes, just when people start to lose concentration. Overacting. Explosions. Cheesy dialogue. A five year old would love it, but adults need a film to have a bit more to it before it’s enjoyable. Well, generally.

Overall, Indy 4 is several yawns and a couple of “eh..?” moments. If you love the previous three, don’t watch it. You’ll want to commit mass murder. And if you’re not an Indy fan, don’t watch it either. It’ll still make you want to commit mass murder, unless it bores you to sleep first.

Who wins, you decide.


About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

3 Responses to Indiana Jones and the Great Debate: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

  1. Pingback: April 2011 – Pickled for posterity. « popcornaddict

  2. Pingback: Six Fads That Are Arguably Stunting Cinema « popcornaddict

  3. Krazy Joe says:

    The winner: POPCORNADDICT.

    Right on the money, my man! Indy 4 is a fantastic film. When I hear people complain about it, I often think that they must hate the other Indy films, too. Because Indy 4 is so in line with what we’ve seen before. It’s really a great throwback.

    The only place you’re wrong was your mention of CGI Gophers. Number one, I think they were Prairie Dogs. Number Two, that wasn’t CGI. Those were real Prairie Dogs. If they were CGI, then CGI has really advanced to the point where it’s impossible to tell the difference because they were photo-realistic.

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