So far in the “In Defense Of” series we have looked at why Lando Calrissian was the most morally astute character in the Star Wars saga, and the necessity of the over-the-top Batman voice in the Dark Knight trilogy. Today we look at a more controversial topic. One that I am sure will draw some ire from friends and enemies alike – a defense of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull takes place nearly two decades after the events of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade during the rising tensions of the Cold War. Indy gets entangled with Russian KGB, that kid from Holes, and SPOILER ALERT – Aliens (two of these things makes sense, the other was in Transformers).
To be fair, my argument is not that this movie is a great movie that stands toe-to-toe with the originals, but that it is a fun adventure movie that pays homage to the originals while attempting to introduce Dr. Jones to a newer audience. For some reason or another, this movie drew an inordinate amount of fury from several groups of people. This would be the third time Indiana would face off against a large group of hateful fanatics (not counting the books, video games, and the Young Indiana Jones series).
From what I can tell, there are two primary reasons fans rejected this film: Aliens and Absurdity. We will look at each of these “problems” individually.
The previous films in the series all dealt with the power of religious artifacts. In Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark we follow Indiana Jones trying to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazi’s are able to. In the Temple of Doom we see him trying to recover the Sankara Stones, powerful stones that burst into flames when placed together, much to Mola Ram’s dismay. The Last Crusade follows Indy as he tries to locate the Holy Grail. These artifacts are based on Judaism, Christianity, and possibly Hinduism.
Then seemingly out of nowhere, BOOM, aliens! With this decision Stephen Spielberg Kali Ma’d the collective heart of fanboys everywhere.
How could aliens possibly fit into the narrative after the focus has been primarily on religious artifacts? Well, if you have watched History Channel at all over the last few years, or are a fan of Internet meme’s, you will know exactly how they fit.
Ancient alien theory, also known as the paleocontact hypothesis (this is possibly the name of a Big Bang Theory episode as well), suggests that in prehistoric times aliens made contact with humanity. This contact not only affected our cultural evolution and technology, but also our religions. This theory suggests that most, if not all, deities were actually extraterrestrials whose advanced technology was mistaken by primitive man as evidence of their divinity.
Regardless of the plausibility of the theory, it certainly provides the necessary context for the use of aliens in the film.
Does it work? Yes. With the use of the ancient alien theory, they were able to stay true to the franchise and use a “religious” artifact, while not having to resort to another Judeo-Christian artifact, which would have undoubtedly led to just as much criticism.
Now let us look at the second criticism – the absurdity.
“You know why this movie sucks? Indiana Jones survived an atomic blast in a REFRIGERATOR! People used to die in those WITHOUT nuclear holocausts!”
I have heard this argument frequently over the years. Detractors point to this particular scene to show just how ridiculous the series has become, and they appear to have a point. Except they totally don’t.
The Indiana Jones films grind their teeth on ridiculousness, and that is what makes the series so enjoyable. If you are the person who felt that the atomic refrigerator was so unrealistic that it was a departure for the series, then how do you feel about the scene in Temple of Doom when Indiana Jones and company jump out of a plane in an inflatable raft? The Mythbusters covered this myth, and you know what? They totally would have died, and that’s without sliding down a treacherous mountain and going over a Niagara Fallsish type waterfall after the fact.
The absurdity doesn’t stop there though!
There is Indiana Jones hanging out with a knight that is over 700 years old, and no one bats an eye!
Out of those three scenarios guess which one is actually possible? Surviving the nuclear blast in a lead-lined refrigerator is totally doable. The guys over at Reel Physics break down how it is possible that Indiana Jones survived the blast in the refrigerator using some sort of witchcraft known as “mathematics,” and the only part of that scenario that is completely impossible is the refrigerator flying over the car.
Think about that for a second. The one scene that has literally generated a term for how ridiculous something is (“nuking the fridge” is now the same thing as “jumping the shark” from Happy Days), is physcially possible.
I think the problem with the film isn’t the film itself, but how freaking cynical we have become. We don’t want fun action/adventure films; we want hyper-realistic films. Think about our superhero films. Those are impossible stories, and we want them to be as realistic as they can be. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Dark Knight trilogy, but not all movies have to have that sense of realism, and not all movies have to be Oscar worthy.
The Indiana Jones movies are not supposed to be a realistic look at the exploits of an academic archeologist, they are supposed to be light-hearted adventure tales, and we used to get that. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is cut from the same cloth as the originals, we are just too cynical as a society to be okay with that anymore.
So what do you think? Have I drank too much of the Blood of Kali? Am I now in need of a torch to the side to snap out of it? Sound off, nerds!