During the 1950’s, archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones searches for the mythical Crystal Skulls of Akator while being pursued by Soviet agents.
In May of 1977, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were sitting on a beach in Hawaii, taking a long deserved vacation after filming for Close Encounters of the Third Kind had ended and Star Wars had just been released, becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Spielberg discussed his lifelong love for the James Bond franchise and how he wished to direct a movie featuring the British spy.
“I have a better idea” Lucas replied. He told his friend the story of an archaeology professor who is constantly thrown upon dangerous adventures retrieving rare artifacts of a fantastical nature. He mentioned that he envisioned the film to be a love letter for the Saturday morning serials of the 1930’s and 40’s he grew up with.
Spielberg was fascinated with the concept and just like that he world was gifted Indiana Jones. Raiders Of The Lost Ark was released in 1980, becoming the highest grossing movie of that year and was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, taking home 4.
It’s consistently considered one of the greatest films ever made.
In 1989, after two equally financially successful continuations (one prequel and one sequel), Indiana Jones literally rode off into the sunset after having found and lost the Holy Grail. The writer and director duo, along with star Harrison Ford, decided that the professor had nowhere else to go and retired the character.
Until 1992, when Lucas had an idea on how to continue Jones story:
With an older Indiana, Lucas though he could now make an homage to 50’s science fiction B-movies, which he was also fond of as a child.
But Spielberg and Ford were vehemently against this idea, with Spielberg no longer wanting to make films featuring extraterrestrials and Harrison Ford being Harrison Ford mentioning “No way am I being in a Steven Spielberg movie like that”.
Note: He was.
Ignoring his best friends thoughts and advice – as best friends usually do – Lucas went to work on writing the fourth Indiana Jones chapter. But with constant derails and disagreements it wouldn’t be until 9 writers (including M. Night Shyamalan), countless drafts and 15 years of development later that filming actually began.
So 19 years after Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, the film was released on May 22nd, 2008 and proved to be a complete and utter failure… Oh wait… (checks notes) no it wasn’t. It was in fact pretty well received with a very respectable 78% on Rotten Tomatoes.
But it appears that it’s reception and legacy with The Internet has gotten worse and is now considered a low point in the franchise and cinema in general because… well, The Internet said so (Also see; Star Wars, Game Of Thrones, The Hobbit, Star Trek, The Dark Knight Rises and list unfortunately goes on).
Therefore, it’s included here.
However, this is not to say that the film is without it’s issues cause it certainly has those (I’ll just say; vines, monkeys, LaBeouf and CGI) so I certainly understand why people dislike this film.
That being said, let’s get into…
Perhaps one of the most indelible and iconic characters in film history, Indiana Jones is as inseparable from Harrison Ford as Peanut Butter is to Jelly, Batman is to Robin or gaining weight is to Christmas. It’s a testament not only to the character’s strength but also the actor’s that after being out of the spotlight for 19 years and having numerous imitators and rip offs (some better than others), audiences still clamour for more of the archaeologists adventures.
Despite the action going a little cartoony on occasion, both the script and Ford are able to incorporate small and memorable character moments, with the best certainly being the whole warehouse scene (“damn, I thought that was closer”) and the University chase where our hero is captured, dragged into a vehicle through one window, to then punch and kick his way out through the other window… all while the car is still moving.
Punching, running, jumping, crashing, shooting and whipping his way out of danger at 64 years old, Ford is just as energetic, charismatic and charming as in 1981 playing the professor who uses his sly smile, sharp mind and readied fists to remind us he’ll find his way out of trouble.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull presented an interesting opportunity for adventure films as it dealt with an aged action hero, a concept that is now overutilized thanks to movies like this one and Taken.
So it’s even more interesting that they also decided to bring back Karen Allen from Raiders as Indy’s long lost love interest Marion Ravenwood. Allen and Ford still have great chemistry and she slips so comfortably and easily back into the role, clearly relishing bringing back the character.
Just as with Ford, the script smartly acknowledges her age and how her life has changed after motherhood yet makes it a point to show that being a mother and growing older doesn’t stop her from being the tough, no-nonsense adventurer that endeared her to fans the first time.
Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski took advantage of the 19 year evolution in special effects and photography in order to bring Jones into the new century with aplomb and style.
Although I agree that the fourth entry lost some of the grime and grit that the trilogy had by incorporating digital visual effects – which was overused at times – it also allowed the filmmakers to open the visual scope of this fourth adventure with much more intricate camera work and framing.
Truly awesome shots resulted such as Indy witnessing the collapse of the Pyramid and subsequent escape of the Flying Saucer, the nuclear bomb mushroom cloud, the jungle chase, the warehouse fight, among others.
Also, I think the production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas is vastly underrated with the massive sets he created being beautifully intricate and old school, in particular the massive falling pillar, moving door and the throne room in the Temple.
Nuking the Fridge
Yes, the most infamous scene in Indiana Jones history is actually included in a list of “Good” things about it. Now, that’s not to say that the scene is not ridiculous, overblown, unrealistic and more than a little stupid.
Yet…I can’t help but like the scene. More importantly, it’s true to its roots.
But putting that aside for a second, the filmmaking for the scene is solid as Spielberg expertly mixes suspense and comedy via perfectly set up visual gags and fantastic use of sound design, settling audiences into a false sense of comfort when Indiana arrives into “town”, with things becoming increasingly bizarre to finally turn the tension up to 11 once the sirens sound and the professor realizes the predicament he’s in.
As for the resolution of his particular problem? Well…
And after having said all this, of course there’s still gonna be people who don’t like the scene as they consider it goes too deep into the realm of fantasy and/or stupidity, mentioning that it ruined an otherwise spotless saga. That’s completely fair and valid.
And also, partially wrong.
Nostalgia has a way of putting a blanket of ignorance over our eyes and minds when it comes to movies due to the emotional connection we have with them, but “real”, “believable” and “scientifically accurate” have never been a part of Indiana Jones vocabulary.
Might I remind you that throughout three films, our main hero survived the literal wrath of God after the Ark is opened in Raiders, falling out of an airplane landing onto a mountain with only an inflatable raft as protection in Temple of Doom and this trap from The Last Crusade.
So yes, Indiana Jones surviving a nuclear explosion by getting into a lead lined refrigerator IS ridiculous, overblown, unrealistic and more than a little stupid. But it’s also part of its own tradition.
“Aliens… I Hate These Guys“
George Lucas finally got his way and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘s artifact is… “aliens”.
Well, not really. During the development of the film, after Spielberg vetoed the extraterrestrial idea, Lucas was able to convince the Director that they wouldn’t be creatures from Outer Space, but rather “Inter-dimensional Beings” who come from the “Space between spaces”. It worked as Spielberg was finally OK with that idea.
Sure, it’s a pretty cheap explanation to avoid using the word ALIENS in the story but there’s a certain cleverness and refreshing boldness in it’s cheapness and at least attempts to differentiate these characters from every other “alien” seen in movies.
Furthermore, the character design (although not necessarily the CGI) once the Skull comes back to life is great in its simplicity and clear homage to 50’s B-movies using the tall, thin, grey body and big eyed, elongated head from that era.
This entry is actually linked to the previous one. I adore them but to say that the plot device for this one is completely ludicrous when past ones involved a box that explodes and melts heads, some magical stones and a cup that grants eternal life is, well, ludicrous.
Mutt Williams: You’re a teacher?
Indiana Jones: Part-time.
Marion Ravenwood: I’m sure I wasn’t the only one moving on with my life, there must have been plenty of women for you over the years.
Indiana Jones: There were a few. But they all had the same problem.
Marion Ravenwood: Oh yeah, what’s that?
Indiana Jones: They weren’t you, honey.
Indiana Jones: So what are you, a triple agent?
Mac: Nah, I just lied about being a double.
Mutt Williams: What’s he gonna do now?
Marion Ravenwood: I don’t think he plans that far ahead.
- The Departure – John Williams
- The Jungle Chase – John Williams
- Raider’s March – John Williams
- The term “nuke the fridge” was created, referencing “jumping the shark“, a saying that establishes when a long running franchise has gone too far.
- The title character was originally called Indiana Smith, but Spielberg disliked this name and forced Lucas to change his surname. “How about Jones?” Lucas asked. “Sure” answered Spielberg. If only everything were that easy.
- Indiana’s name was taken from George Lucas’s dog at the time, an Alaskan Mamute. This is referenced at the end of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.
- I like Ike.
- The seed to make a fourth Indian adventure really came to George Lucas after Harrison Ford reprised his role for the TV show “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles“.