I recently screened Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on Blu-ray, and a few things struck me, not least of which is how much I really enjoy the film. I posted a bit about it to Twitter, and predictability got some pushback about the film. If Internet commentary is to be believed, it’s not a very good movie. But why should I trust Internet commentary when I have the evidence of my own two eyes? It made me wonder why I like the film when so many other people don’t, and I came to a few conclusions.
First of all, I’m not stranger to liking genre movies dismissed by the fans of said genre. After all, I’m on record as an ardent support of the Star Wars prequels. I used to think that I liked those movies not because of any inherent quality, but because I have a blind spot when it comes to Star Wars that allows me to love it unconditionally. But in light of Crystal Skull‘s reception, I no longer think that is the case.
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I think my appreciation for the recent Indiana Jones movies and the Star Wars prequels comes from the same place as my love of Flash Gordon, Doc Savage, Conan the Barbarian, John Carter of Mars, The Shadow, and Tarzan. Those movies are throwbacks to a different kind of story-telling, one uncomplicated by the trends common to today’s movies. These films are pulpy adventure stories, and I suppose I’m part of the minority that still enjoys that style. Doc Savage could easily survive any number of nuclear blasts — so why not Indy? One of the most maligned bits in the most recent Indy movie is the scene that pays direct homage to Tarzan; that scene put a huge smile on my face. The whole plot of the movie is a nod to the popular themes in the digest Science Fiction magazines of the 1950s, as much as the previous films were inspired by the pulp adventure stories of the 1930s and ’40s.
I’m not trying to change any minds. Genre fans today seem to much prefer the rebooted, darker Battlestar Galactica series over what I think is the superior original. Fandom today has left pulp adventure behind, and with the success of The Dark Knight movie studios seem happy to inject darkness into any and every genre film, no matter how much that might not fit the source material. Do we really need a “dark” Superman movie? The Dark Knight was not good because of its shadowy themes, but because the noirish crime story fit the character and the director’s style so well. I love Batman, but not every character can be as tormented as conflicted as Bruce Wayne. It’d be tedious.
Crystal Skull has helped me to realize that the reason I’m championing it, instead of recent popular genre movies such as 300, is that it’s part of a long tradition of adventure tales that might not appeal to the audiences of today — but that I still love.