Crackin’ crystal skulls

This Tuesday sees the home video release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, an unfairly maligned entry in the greatest adventure series ever put to celluloid. While many were content to write it off as George Lucas (who wrote the story) having somehow lost his movie-making touch, I personally found the movie to be incredibly entertaining. Indiana Jones has always been about paying homage to the classic pulp adventures that Lucas and Spielberg grew up on. When your influences include the Republic Pictures serials of the ’30s and ’40s, and the B movies of the ’50s, it would be wrong not to include outlandish, over-the-top action sequences.

I don’t mind so much that some poor unfortunate souls don’t care for this film, but when they argue that it’s not an Indiana Jones movie at its core, I just have to shake my head. Is it just nostalgia that tints people’s perceptions to think an adventure movie about finding a supernaturally powerful MacGuffin is a complete turnaround from a series where archeological artifacts are discovered that can, you know, melt people’s faces off, allow you to perform psychic surgery, or let you live forever?

At its core, Crystal Skull is an Indiana Jones movie. It may not be as good as as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it fits comfortably into the series and puts to shame imitators like National Treasure or The Da Vinci Code. If you haven’t seen it, go in with an open mind, and I think you’ll have a good time. I was worried before I saw the film that Harrison Ford was too old to be an adventure hero; now I really hope they make another sequel.

34 thoughts on “Crackin’ crystal skulls

  1. I saw the movie three times. The first time I was indifferent towards it, the second time I liked it a lot, the third time I was just bored.

    But I’ll be providing my thoughts on the whole thing in general in a different, uh, plastic form.

  2. I really liked it. Better than Temple, not as good as the other two. I wish there weren’t so many groudhogs, monkeys or invincible fridges, but those are minor complaints.

  3. Anyone who gets all pissed about the fridge-nuking scene clearly has forgotten the scene in Temple of Doom where Indy, Short Round and whatsherface survive falling out of a plane by opening up an inflatable raft.

  4. Guy> In fairness, I think ToD is the only one people consider worse than KotCS.

    Not me, though. Well, I mean, I do, but I like Crystal Skull a lot. That and Last Crusade are my favorites. I think I just really, really like the family elements in each.

  5. Let’s not tiptoe around it here (read: MASSIVE SPOILER WARNING AND ALL THAT). Raiders of the Lost Ark has, well, a magic box that melts faces and proves the existence of the Judeo-Christian god in this setting. The Last Crusade gives us the Holy Grail, giving us immortality and specifically confirming the Christian side of things. Temple of Doom has magic powers being bestowed on someone worshipping Kali, so, at this point it’s fairly safe to say that the gods of every religion in the world actually exist and have magic items laying around. Anything in line with that, you can’t pick on.

    … and then we have Crystal Skull here, where the magic item of the day is… a magically magnetic severed alien head. Now, aliens coming down from space and having people worship them as gods kinda totally conflicts with that. So, it seems we have the right to gripe here.

    … except that we’re specifying that no, these aren’t aliens who came down from space, they’re funky things from another dimension… and we’ve also got the fact that a lot of our traditional “alien” imagery exists specifically because crackpots were grasping at straws trying to prove aliens existed by looking at various weird things from the cooler parts of central america. So… no, we’re totally on track with Indiana Jones’ presented world view, it’s just that UFO nuts cribbed from the same notes.

    Now, we WOULD have a conflict with established plot if we had some serious confirmation of Henry Sr. being dead, because presumably, he and Indy are both immortal at this point.

  6. Nope, the effects of the Grail only take hold within the chamber, as the Knight said when he told Indy not to go past the seal. That’s why the whole thing goes to hell when Elsa tries to take it out of the place.

    Then again, my favorite Indy movie is Temple of Doom, so what do I know? (actually, I know how to have a good time, that’s what)

  7. I remember watching it and thinking “this reminds me a little bit of Uncharted”, and then I thought, “wait a minute, Uncharted would have made for a better Indiana Jones movie plot that this!”. *sigh* It’s not exactly as bad as the South Park episode made it out to be, but I was definitely underwhelmed.

  8. I wasn’t one of the people who said it wasn’t an Indiana Jones film. I simply said that it wasn’t an enjoyable film, in my opinion.

  9. Just wanted to get in here with a voice of, you know, reason.

    The “4th Indiana Jones” movie is not only the worst in the series, it is one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my entire life.
    I saw it opening night with my roomate after watching the other 3 hundreds of times in the preceding weeks.

    We left the theater screaming.
    So yeah, it was exactly like the South Park episode.

    Anyone who thinks back and says it “really wasn’t that bad” should remember the opening shot of a CG groundhog in a movie with “no CG”, or the whole nuking the fridge thing, or Indy’s great line “Knowledge was their treasure…their treasure was knowledge”, or yadda yadda yadda, I could go on for a long time.
    The point is, Indy 4 BLOWS.

  10. Mmm. I saw Crystal Skull without having seen the original films for a long time and remembering almost nothing about them, and I thought…it was okay. What’s the big deal? Then I went back and watched the old ones, and realized, you know…Crystal Skull IS kinda bad. I mean sure, Temple of Doom is bad too, but it’s bad in a fascinatingly insane, orientalist fever dream kind of way. Crystal Skull is just…meh. Not bad enough to be perversely entertaining, but still not exactly good. Superfluous, might be the best word.

  11. I thought Crystal Skull was great. Screw the haters.

    That said, the script could have been much, much better. It’s inexcusable that after all these years they couldn’t hammer out a better one. It was fine until the movie’s second half – the characters (Marion especially) became paper cut-outs venturing through a Disney ride. I don’t expect any deep character-driven drama in an Indy movie, but it was pretty ridiculous. It kind of ruined that epic feel of Raiders and Crusade, where you have a motely band of characters embarking on something big.

    oh well.

  12. Crystal Skull was a good movie that would have been great if Spielberg had only accepted his destiny as mankind’s savior and killed George Lucas.

  13. I agree with Dark Gundam. It doesn’t have anything to do with how it compares to the other Indiana Jones movies — and obviously there’re a lot of people in this thread that don’t agree with me, but anyway — I just thought Crystal Skull was a chore to sit through.

  14. Sorry, but to expound a little more on my point, you know, being all, “It’s an Indiana Jones movie! They’re all like this! It’s rip roaring! You’ve lost your sense of childlike wonder!” lifts the burden off George Lucas of trying to make a good movie, but doesn’t make Crystal Skulls a good movie. It takes a lot of nice touches to make a good movie, you know? For instance, people’ve been quoting incidental bits of Indiana Jones dialog for YEARS, but is anybody going to find recourse to quote Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls ever? Not that the script for Raiders was some kind of literary masterwork, but it had appropriate flourishes. Crystal Skulls, as a movie that is maybe not that different from a lot of other adventure movies, including the other Indiana Joneses, in a broad sense, is just very lifeless by comparison.

  15. Eh, I disagree. It’s not an Indy movie. Heck, it’s not much of a movie at all. Frank Darabont’s script left behind so many ghosts, and so many plot additions and subtractions were made to fit the star-studded cast that the final product was unrecognizable.

    Why is the evil Russian punished for her search for knowledge?
    Why is this story relevant to the Cold War?
    Why can’t Karen Allen act?

    And to make a minor correction, the Crystal Skull’s not a MacGuffin. By definition, a MacGuffin must lack any clear description or resolution, a literal device used to get move plot from intro to credits like the briefcase in Ronin and Pulp Fiction. In Crystal Skull, we learn the power of the Crystal Skull, and we see where it came from.

    I get how people can say Crystal Skull was fun–Sheia, monkeys, rocket launchers, and ants–but it was just…

    …ugh, it was just so crappy.

  16. All I know is, I rented this over the weekend (like Iron Man, we got a DVD release a week before the US) and I still enjoyed it quite a bit. I even looked VERY HARD at the jungle chase to spot the CG, but I couldn’t find it –either they went back and retouched the SFX for the home video release, or it’s not really noticeable on standard-def. Either explanation is fine by me.

    Too bad the original trilogy boxset will now look incomplete next to this standalone release.

  17. I can’t believe people have stooped so low to like Crystal Skull as an Indiana Jones movie. It just doesn’t live up to the standards set up by it’s predecessors.

  18. Come on, this movie had some pretty good stuff. Like mexican music and sombreros in Perú. And mayan pyramids in the Amazon.

  19. Loved it in the theater, but have only seen it once. My wife liked it too (and she thought Ep. III was laughably bad.)

  20. I saw it at the drive-in, which was a perfect venue to watch it. I really liked it, vine swinging and all.

  21. I would have lived with the alien skull thing, if only I saw some crazy human stunts that I’d never do. Not in the “survive a fall with an inflatable raft” way, but real stuntman work performed by real people without a middle man. That’s a staple of Indy movies, leaping from real moving motorcycles to moving trucks and the like.

    It was all CGed to hell here. I guess they decided that CG allowing the actors themselves to do things that seem impossible was better than a real performance of stunt actors doing something totally crazy.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, CG changed the production of this movie beyond monkeys and other critters, but to the point where they don’t have to hire guys to risk getting hurt any more. I’ve seen B-list horror films do more dangerous or elaborate stuff, and that’s a shame.

    Finally, the actual “adventure” itself felt a bit too much like a Disney ride. So much so that I was basically awaiting word that the Jungle Cruise was being shut down to be transformed into the Crystal Skull Chase Sequence attraction.

  22. Aliens? Really? Nah, I’ll pass. If I ever get a hankerin’ for some Indy, I’ll just put on one of the better ones that I already own.

  23. I like to think of it this way: KotCS was a good movie with bad parts.
    In comparison, the Star Wars prequels were bad movies with good parts.
    Consider that, even recently after their releases, the Star Wars prequels were almost universally disliked. KotCS still causes a very mixed bag of reactions even after the public have had some months to sit and think about it. There are obviously good qualities to this movie, or that wouldn’t happen.

  24. neither good nor bad, it was merely forgettable. Instead of buying it, find Fate Of Atlantis, a 486 (or Dosbox) and have more fun.

  25. I completely agree Googleshng. The first three Indy movies were about finding religious artifacts and I liked them all, even Temple of Doom, which made up for silliness by being really funny. Last Crusade was my favorite because it had the great plot of Raiders and the entertainment value of Temple of Doom. Indy 4 was about aliens, only with no real background and explanation. Didn’t we get enough of this with E.T. and Encounters of the Third Kind? I thought the movie was going to be good. I was in such denial that I thought that the CG golfer the movie started with must have been another trailer.

    I will defend Indy 4 on one point: the beginning of it was great. I loved the fridge getting nuked scene, and all the chase scenes in America were great. But once they got to South America, the movie turned stupid. CG army ants that devour people whole? Catching up with a speeding vehicle by swinging through the jungle on vines? And the Australian heel was unoriginal, obvious, and unneeded. The part where natives jumped out of the temple walls was confusing. The ending was complete crap. The movie could have been saved if they had just come up with a more original idea for the mystery behind the crystal skulls and spent more time with the plot and the dialogue. Maybe we could have learned a little about South American culture, like we did for the foreign cultures of the other three movies.

  26. I agree with Alixsar that real action scenes with real stunts by real people is what makes the Indy movies what they are. The action feels real and pulls you more into the movie. I mean an Indy style adventure mixed with a bunch of over the top CG action scenes, haven’t we already seen that done in 3 Mummy movies?

  27. Eh, I didn’t love it, but I thought it was okay. It is somewhere along with Last Crusade for me as I only thought that was “meh” too. Lost Ark and Temple are the two I watch repeatedly.

  28. I still don’t see the issue with t he move from christian/easter mythology to modern day alien mythology in terms of premise. It’s all perfectly unbelievable and perfectly pulp. And I don’t see why god existing and aliens existing in indies world neccesarily conflict.

  29. It’s all perfectly unbelievable and perfectly pulp.

    I think Lucas missed the point of Indy right there.

  30. First off, awesome site you guys have here T-Frog and Co.

    I feel compelled to put my 2 cents in about Indy 4. Personally I thought it was a fun movie, but certainly not what I would call “good.” The biggest thing that bugged me was structural differences between the new movie and the old trilogy, something that I think all of the detractors of the movie noticed at least subconsciously. And with so much inherent discrepancy with a new movie (older actors, CG effects, a senile George Lucas), it seems like the structure of the plot would be a very important part of making it still feel like an Indiana Jones movie.

    The opening sequence of each of the first three movies has nothing to do with the main plot, but it sets up characters and situations that do. Indy 4 begins with the Russians taking the alien, starting right into the main story. In each of the original movies, the power of the titular item is not shown until the very end, when at least one of the main characters’ lives is in mortal danger. However, the “power” of the crystal skulls is revealed in the middle of the movie when Indy is being interrogated by the Russians. Unless you think that the other-dimensional beings powering up their other-dimensional ship is the mystical power of the skull. And even though the bad guys are around at the end, the main characters don’t exactly seem to be in grave peril as they stumbled around trying to find something to do with that stupid skull.

    They did manage to fit in the creepy-crawly scene with the killer ants (like the snakes, bugs, and rats of the originals) but I liked it better when I saw it the first time in The Mummy. Don’t even get me started on all the inconsistencies–especially Indy being unable to die apparently (the refrigerator) while his dad is passed away, and the fact that the entire confusing mess of an ending was justified by man’s inability to even understand what those beings are anyways.

    I second playing Fate of Atlantis!

  31. I just saw this movie today and I REALLY enjoyed it. I’ve gotta say, for once, George Lucas was right about something, insisting that there be *SPOILERS* aliens *SPOILERS* in this one. I thought it was really neat and I love that kind of stuff. I had a really good time watching it.

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