Most people will be surprised to hear such vehement nonsense coming from me.
That is unless of course you have had the misfortune to see me in the week since I saw, what I can only pray to be, the last installment of the Indiana Jones franchise.
For those unlucky dozens I have unsolicitedly assaulted with my feelings, I apologize.
This document is for those I have yet to reach. And to you, as well, I offer my sincerest condolences. Especially to those of you I haven’t reached in time.
Let me begin by saying simply this:
DO NOT WATCH “INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.
I suppose most, if not all, of you will ask, “Why?”
What follows will with all certainty contain what is known in the vernacular as SPOILERS. But rest assured, reading my berating and scathing commentary will not “spoil” this movie any more than the Crew & Cast of Spielberg’s latest steaming hot… wait, let’s not get angry.
It has been a week now and I am still a little miffed. So I will try to be as calm as possible and not let “nostalgia” cloud my judgment.
Let’s begin with the broad strokes.
This script has been legendarily toiled over for at least ten years. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford have all consented to the filming of this long awaited version. All three of them were touting how wonderful it finally had become.
They were wrong.
This dialogue makes The Phantom Menace look like Citizen Kane.
Every single word that comes from every single character is poorly written. And, rest assured, the actors know it. It seems as if every actor had taken Harrison Ford’s “How to Make Making Faces Look Like Acting” Course.
The only person who even really seems engaged by his character’s actions is Shia LaBeouf. This poor kid is completely convincing, in what he had hoped to be the role of his career. I never doubt for a second that he is a high school dropout whose only marketable skill is a preternatural gift for fixing motorcycles. He is certainly more convincing than my mechanic.
It is no wonder that after countless drafts and contributors, only one screenwriter agreed to attach his name to this. I can only hope that in ten years this will mark the one dark spot in a long list of award winners. But I seriously doubt it. Sorry, David Koepp, but I don’t hold much hope for your remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, I’ve seen Panic Room. You should stop while you still have money.
The dialogue is not even remotely the only problem with the film.
The director, as well as the screenwriter, seems to have forgotten the formula that made the other three movies work so well. The pacing and overall setup of the original three movies had a rhythm and an ordered system that simply worked.
The opening sequence is “just the beginning”, except in this movie where we find out the “surprise ending” of the film two minutes into it.
In the previous three movies, we were introduced to a man that made Archaeology look exciting and dangerous, and most importantly, cool.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit that this is not an easy task. This is a difficult science that is time consuming, research-heavy, and only rarely produces tangible results, let alone sexy ones. But this man, this “Indiana Jones”, changed that forever in the minds of people around the world. And he did it in the first fifteen minutes of the first movie. And the first fifteen minutes of the second movie, which included a musical number in a foreign language. And he even did it as a teenage boy scout in the first fifteen minutes of the third movie.
So let’s take a look at the opening sequence of the fourth movie.
First I must offer a warning to whoever came up with the Paramount logo dissolve in this film. I won’t come looking for you, but if I ever happen to meet you and discover that it was your idea to make me think I had mistakenly sat down in the theater showing Caddyshack 3, I will flay the skin from your flesh and roast you on a pit in my backyard. I swear by all things holy, I was expecting a Kenny Loggins’ song to swell up and the prairie dog to start dancing. Luckily that didn’t happen until after the nuclear blast.
So once I got past that, I was immediately reminded of George Lucas’ involvement in the picture by the hot-rod “race” scene. Not only did this not serve any purpose, other than to evoke a sense of nostalgia for American Graffiti, but it wasn’t even a believable race. The hot-rod kids pull up next to the lead car in this caravan of military vehicles and rev their engine. The lead car returns in kind, and they’re off... in close up. Every interlaced wide shot of the caravan with the hot-rod next to it had no discernable change in the distance between the lead car and the rest of the vehicles in the caravan. What happened to the race?
Did all of the trucks accelerate along with the lead car?
Is this formation driving?
Of course the whole premise is negated two minutes later when we learn that the driver of the lead car, along with every other uniformed person in the caravan, is Russian. Was drag racing a big draw in the Communist Soviet Union?
Was Rebel Without a Cause even released over there?
Were Russian kids racing their farm animals in the snow up there?
How do you supercharge a goat?
But I digress. We then break from the exciting fun of fifties “hop” music, to turn onto a Military road.
The Atomic Café sign was a nice touch, but the sign for the base says “Hangar 51”.
Firstly, the correct terminology in this fictitious lore was Hangar 18 of Area 51.
Secondly, no Air Force base has a gate that leads to just one hangar.
No airbase has just one hangar, and no other buildings.
And if the hangar itself was restricted, where is it? It’s not even visible from the gate.
Chances are that this restricted area would not have a publicly acknowledged numerical designation at all.
It would simply say, “Restricted Area – Government Property”.
Okay, my nitpicking aside… what about suspense?
Why do you have to tell us where we are?
Why not just have it be some undisclosed location in the desert?
Surprise me. Lord knows, you’ve given away enough stuff in the trailer.
But now we have our first spark of hope. We have bad guys.
Or at least we think they are, because they just shot a handful of U.S. servicemen. And we pull up to the “one” hangar and we open the trunk to reveal – Ta dah! Indiana Jones!
Why is he in the trunk?
He doesn’t look cool. He looks old. And he’s already been captured… without a fight… at least not one we saw.
But wait, he’s got a friend! And it’s someone cool… but this guy is acting like an idiot. And we see that the “heavy” who just shot a bunch of people, isn’t the main bad guy… who can it be?
A hot girl, perhaps? Yep, it’s Cate Blanchett! Proving that her Kate Hepburn accent was a fluke! But she still looks good! Black wigs on hot blonds have been working since Bardot in ’63, and it doesn’t fail here. Plus, she’s mean, right?
I mean, she’s wearing a sword. That makes her look mean, right?
No. It makes her look like a Musketeer. Or maybe a Mouse-keteer… either way, twenty eight years ago, Indiana Jones proved how useless a sword was against the might of his revolver, and his wit.
So why are we seeing a modern bad guy with a sword?
Don’t worry, you’ll see later. Can you feel the suspense building yet? Yeah, me neither.
But wait, she says she’s clairvoyant. She’s going to read Indy’s mind! Not this time, doll! He’s got a mind like a steel trap! That’s the last time you try that gag! No. Really. That’s the last time she tries that gag.
So maybe she’s not clairvoyant…but she still has that sword!
So now we find out what she’s looking for…oh, wait we already knew when we got to the gate for “Hangar” 51. She’s looking for an alien that fell from the sky ten years ago. She says Indy was a consultant brought in to research something that fell from the sky?
All of his digging experience, years of studying mummified human remains, will no doubt be of immeasurable use on something inhuman that was alive yesterday and was never buried…no, really, this guy’s that good. Go, Indy! Not only that, but he gets to do this cool trick with gunpowder and shotgun shot.
I know. I know…suspension of disbelief. But, really?
Gunpowder fights gravity to be pulled towards this thing, and yet the nails in the crate right next to it are still perfectly sunk into the wood, after years of this proximity?
The Ark burned through the Nazi symbol on its wooden crate in one night, but this things been in a box for ten years and hasn’t dislodged a screw from two inches away?
Plus, you have to be the guy carrying the gun/sword two feet from it to have any difficulty handling your weapon?
Because that’s how magnets work. And oh, yeah, I forgot to mention it’s an alien corpse that provides this enormous magnetic field. I tried to avoid mentioning that any sooner. I don’t want to give away the ending with the aliens... unlike the director. After all this is an Archaeology movie, right?
So it’s all going to be a hoax that will turn out to be something really cool, right?
Don’t hold your breath.
You’ve got two hours until you reach complete disappointment.
So then we get Indy angry, and he takes a gun! And he gives it to his buddy! But wait! The cool guy who babbles a lot…you mean he’s “bad”?
But Indy only gets betrayed by women. All the other bad men are always bad. And the girls always regret it.
Who does this guy think he is? Ray Winstone? Yes. He thinks he’s Ray Winstone. He is mistaken. Ray Winstone is better than this. I’ve seen The Proposition, Ray. You’re better than this.
But don’t worry, folks, Indy can still get out of this in a really exciting way. Like finding a rocket-chair test facility, and holding on with the “heavy” as they speed through the night towards infinity… or at least toward the slow-down pool that doesn’t cause them to be thrown clear despite the fact that neither of them are strapped to anything. In fact, they both just get off and stumble away without seeming too affected. Then of course he is able to walk unseen through the open desert, hunted by several people in cars with lights, until the next morning when he comes to a small quiet town. But it’s only quiet, because all the people are dummies.
At this point, I’m beginning to wonder if that doesn’t include our hero.
Then we hear the loud speaker announce the one minute remaining until they test-drop a nuclear bomb on this town.
Which of course makes me wonder, what the point of this warning could be? To whom are they talking?
Wouldn’t they want the warning to be, on the short side, at least ten minutes?
You know, because a minute is really not very much time to outrun a nuclear explosion, right?
Unless, of course, you’re Keanu Reeves.
And Indy definitely would have heard a ten minute warning as he was wandering aimlessly through the town, right?
But okay, Steven, you’re setting up a gag, so let’s see it through.
Indy’s going to, in the 60 seconds he has, remember that refrigerators are lead lined and radiation won’t penetrate lead, find one, show us the tag showing the lead content, empty it, climb inside, and start praying, so… let’s gloss over the fact that lead may be a brilliant deterrent for radiation, but not necessarily for a five megaton blast from, say, one mile away. Yeah, let’s just skip that “lead has a low boiling point” bit and cut to a still-shiny, white-washed (it’s a lead-based paint after all) refrigerator hurtling through the air, the lone surviving lead-lined refrigerator in a town full of kitchens. And what happens when it comes to a stop in the sand, five miles from its original divots in the now-melted linoleum?
Indy opens the door and who is there staring back at him?
Kenny Loggins’ friends!
That’s right folks, even Steven Spielberg can write an animal slapstick gag! Oh, wait, he already proved that with Jaws.
But let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
What’s really wrong with this, from a formulaic standpoint?
In each of the previous movies, there was an archaeological event that was unrelated to the main storyline.
Even though the second one had us picking up after the actual archaeological recovery, there was still the ashes of an eons-old Chinese guy, Indy dug up. It may have been implied, but it was still Archaeology.
This wasn’t. Sifting through a warehouse (excuse me, Steven, a “hangar”) to find a box labeled “Alien” is not Archaeology. There’s no digging. There’s no human remains, or glowing trinkets, unearthed after thousands of years. There are, instead, aliens. And don’t expect this to be a ruse, folks. That’s what we get for the whole movie.
The other films’ opening reels were designed to introduce us to Indy and how he could get out of tough situations using only his ingenuity and a whip.
Of the first two and only two times (unless I couldn’t see the other times through my tears) we see him use the whip in this movie, it only works once.
This is not “good use” of a trademark move, Mr. Spielberg.
Granted, he does escape with the ingenious idea of hiding in a refrigerator. But I don’t think he’s cool for doing so. He outruns a giant boulder in Raiders. That’s cool!
In Temple when he runs behind a rolling gong to avoid getting shot by machine guns… that’s cool. When he grabs onto the water spout of the railroad tower to kick the bad guy in front of him and spin round to a car further back on the train, in Crusade… that’s cool.
Hiding in a refrigerator and talking to prairie dogs… not cool.
In none of the other movies are we brought face to face with the main bad guys in the opening scene. Even if you count Belloq in the first movie, the Nazis were the real bad guys of that movie. Anyone watching a Steven Spielberg movie knows that Nazis are the real bad guys.
But the point is that the opening bit is supposed to be stand-alone. It should be unrelated to the crux of the film. But we will meet no new bad people in this film.
So now we have the aftermath scene where Indy is debriefed by the CIA spooks. These are intelligence men, right?
So why is the janitor from Scrubs cast in a role requiring credibility (at least in the context of the film)? Everybody knows this guy, and for him to have a role where he takes himself seriously when nobody else in the film seems to, is just plain dumb.
Sorry, Neil Flynn, but you and Ray Winstone should have traded roles in this movie. I probably would have believed both characters more. These CIA agents get upset because this “Jones” person may have jeopardized national security by letting the commies have the alien.
This scene fails for several reasons.
First they overuse the “we can’t really talk about what we are talking about” bit.
Then we have intelligence men who don’t know that Indy was in the OSS until he mentions it. The CIA came from the OSS. They claim to be an intelligence agency. Wouldn’t their records have carried over?
This seems pretty bush-league. Even for the CIA. Sorry, Langley, but as you can see, no one is safe from my wrath in this movie.
So it takes some random General to waltz in and save the day by convincing the agents that Indy is one of the good guys. He doesn’t completely convince them, though. They still seem pretty skeptical. So why is this general even in the room?
If he is supposed to be a credible character witness, then why is his information being ignored? And who the heck is this guy
I’ve never seen him before. Will we ever see him again?
He seems to be pretty close to Indy. Maybe he could join the rest of the old fogeys and help fight the not-so-bad guys.
Nope, he’s done. No mention of his character ever again. But he’s in good company. We never see the CIA again, either.... Ever. They seemed pretty peeved.
You would think they would at least follow him around. Is he no longer suspect?
When he comes back from the jungle with nothing to show, do they care?
Nope, he just goes on with his life. We never have a resolution for this scene.
Why not? Isn’t the government an important player in this anti-Communist “Cold War” movie?
Why is this scene in this movie? To find out that Indy was in the OSS? Who cares?
I cannot answer any of those questions.
Next, we have the classroom scene.
This should be the standard “young girls think Indy’s hot” scene that we love in the first and third movies. But unfortunately, again, we have another purposeless scene. We have Indy getting yelled at by the Dean, who is played, unconvincingly, by Oscar-winner, Jim Broadbent.
Indy is fired because of the government. And this Dean, in a show of solidarity, quits. Who cares? I’ve never seen this character before in all my life!
First he’s yelling at our hero, then they are sharing a drink? What just happened? What does it all mean?
Why does my head hurt?
I asked my friend if he could divine a valid reason for this scene.
His guess was that they had originally written this part for Denholm Elliot.
However, knowing he had died fifteen years ago, can this possibly be true?
And if it were true, then why not have Broadbent simply play the Elliot character?
No, apparently, Elliot’s memory is too sacred. So instead, we hire an award-winning actor to show that Indy can still make friends after Denholm Elliot dies.
But just to make absolutely sure we don’t confuse Broadbent with Elliot, we are bombarded with an onslaught of memorial materials: a painting, a photo, and a statue of Elliot’s character, and ONE headshot/production-still from the third movie (?) of Sean Connery!
All of this to remind us that it has taken so long to make another one of these movies that the comic relief of the good movies is either unable or unwilling to appear in this film. Pointless.
Now we are introduced to the real reason this film was made.
We meet Indiana Jones’ son.
Oh, sorry, we’re not supposed to know that yet.
I’m sorry, but that had to be the worst kept secret in “movies” since, I don’t know, maybe since Sean Connery was cast to play Indy’s father. But, you know what?
That didn’t ruin the third movie, why should it ruin this one, right? Wrong.
The actor playing the character was a surprise. We didn’t meet Connery, only to find out two hours later he was Indy’s dad. We just don’t see him until halfway though. So it doesn’t affect how the movie’s plot twists work. We aren’t surprised to learn Indy had a father. We know he’s got a father.
But we are supposed to be surprised he has a son. But it seems that the only person surprised by this information during the two hour running time of the film, was Indiana Jones. Not so witty, Indy.
We are introduced to Shia’s character as he rides up and down a railroad platform on a Harley looking for Indy.
Let’s begin with the fashion statement.
It’s not even an homage. It’s probably the actual costume worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild One. It’s probably also the same bike.
And then there’s the name. “Mutt”.
Anyone who doesn’t get the reference to Indy being named after the dog was asleep at this point in the movie… which wouldn’t be too hard to believe.
He even reiterates it by saying, “It’s the name I chose.”
Just like Indiana chose to name himself after a dog.
Hi, I’m irony. I play no part in this film.
He says his mother, Mary/Marion (I’m a little fuzzy as to whether or not he says her full name… we know who she is, badly kept secret, remember) has been kidnapped. Okay, we get it, he’s Indy’s and Marion’s son. I saw the previews. I know already.
Somebody nudge Jones. I think he’s asleep, like half the audience. Nope. Not yet. He has to wait another hour to find out. He is completely oblivious. Not cool, Indy. Not cool.
Oh yeah, and there’s some other guy, we’ve never heard of who happens to be a close friend of Indy from “who knows when”… who the kid also knows… who is missing as well. Cue the travel?
Not so fast. Indy notices they’re being followed. But by whom? Indy boldly guesses the CIA. Why would you even think that? We aren’t going to see them again! They were the red herring! Didn’t you read the script?
Okay, so it’s the Russkies following them. Seeing the “bad” guys can only mean one thing. It’s time for a fight and a chase. And that’s what we get. A fight and a chase.
Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s bring a “crew-cuts” vs. the “greasers” to evoke some Francis Ford Coppola. He’s “our” friend, and can’t make a good movie anymore, so let’s remind people of the last time he did make a good one. After all, it is the fifties.
Now some fun stunts on a motorcycle to show it’s not just there to evoke Brando… it’s also functional. But Indy’s not driving the cycle, he’s just a passenger. No whip. No gun. Just along for the ride. Still not cool, Indy.
Then we get on a plane to South America to rescue “Mutt’s” mom… oh yeah, and that guy we’ve never heard of, who happens to be connecting Indy to the kid.
We have the obligatory red line moving over a map, which gets everyone ready for a cool location shot somewhere in South America that only a few people in the audience are likely to have been… but, not so fast “movie goers”.
I probably forgot to mention that there are no location shoots in this movie.
Excuse me, I’m mistaken. The college campus scenes were filmed on a real ivy-league campus. So for those of you who can’t drive to New Haven, you actually get to see Yale. Bully!
But the jungle sequences and anything else resembling the outdoors are not.
In fact, the whole thing was shot in such bad blue/green screen, that the whole thing might as well have been a cartoon.
This may be the only thing that redeems any of the acting in this movie.
The fact that there were probably just five or six people in a big green room screaming at each other with nothing else to react to may make their contribution seem bigger, but it stripped away everything was supposed to deliver.
Exotic locations were one of top three reasons to go see an Indy film.
We get to actually see someplace cool that we can’t afford to take a trip to anytime we feel like it. In the first movie they filmed on location in North Africa.
In the second movie, they went to South Asia.
In the third movie they filmed in Petra! Or at least they filmed the front gate of Petra.
That is just a given in an Indiana Jones movie. They have more money to make this movie than they had to make the first, so why skimp on shooting in faraway locale? Besides, it’s got to be cheaper to film in South America than in L.A. Why do you think all the TV shows are shot in Canada now? Did you guys at least go to Canada? And the outdoors shots always have some weird purple sunset or some other wholly unnatural colored sky.
The whole thing just looked fake. If there were indeed location shots, they were digitally altered past the point of recognition. And if you’re going to skimp on travel costs, why not put the money into better effects?
The miniature effects shots in the second movie were more convincing than the color of the sky in this movie. Twenty years later and now you’re screwing up color palettes? What’s wrong with you guys?