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Jun 2, 2008

A spoiler-heavy rumination on why Kingdom of the Crystal Skull failed

One of the main themes in my review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was that this installment, unlike its predecessors, lacked any sense of danger or importance. While I maintain that that holds true, I think there might be another angle at play that might have saved the film notwithstanding the missing danger: the lack of drama altogether.

But they were driving on cliffs and pouring off waterfalls in an amphibious car, you might say. Well, this goes beyond that. Even in the first two sequels, the creators managed to take the characters and the audience to places and put into situations that surprised us upon their arrival. Characters turned up and double-twisted not only the heroes but the audience as well. This time around, though, it seems as though the only people in the theater that weren't aware of what was going to happen next were Indiana and gang.

Let's look at some examples:

Before the film even started, there's a good chance that you knew Shia LaBeouf was playing a character that would end up being Indiana's son (those chances multiply if you run a film blog or follow movies with any regularity, I'm guessing; a casual movie fan might not have known or cared). Had Karen Allen not been involved in the project (and really, outside of the sappy ending, did she really need to be?), perhaps the telegraphing of the father/son reveal wouldn't have been so obvious, but with Allen and a young man named Mutt present, it was a foregone conclusion that a fourth-grader could have most likely picked up on.

Then there's the alien subplot. Say what you will about Indiana Jones, professor of archaeology getting tied up in a Twilight Zone plot, but what's worse is that yet another "big reveal" (that the crystal skull belonged to "inter-dimensional" beings) was news only to those onscreen. Once the location of New Mexico and the setting of "Hanger 51" were shown, where else could the plot have been leading, as if the multiple clues along the way weren't enough (the charred remains). Hell, at one point, Blanchett's baddie even shows Jones the contents of that magnetic coffin!

Even a minor twist like Ray Winstone's final flip to the "dark side" was painted with wide brush strokes for the audience. Aside from him never shutting up about money and fame - the downfall of just about every Jones villain before him - were the shots of Blanchett picking up his leftover tracking beacons really necessary? Sure, one might argue that the audience would question how the Soviets found the gang inside the pyramid, but that easily could have been answered after the fact. Instead, we were left with yet another piece of knowledge known by only by us.

All this may seem obvious, pointless and somewhat rudimentary, but think to yourself: how much different might the experience of this latest chapter have been had we in the audience not been the knowing party to all the elements of the story before the characters were? What if things just went along with Indy "making things up as he goes along" with us none the wiser about the possibilities of the story? I'd think that, after almost two decades, that wouldn't be an unreasonable request of Spielberg and Lucas. Apparently, I was wrong.


7 people have chosen wisely: on "A spoiler-heavy rumination on why Kingdom of the Crystal Skull failed"

Daniel G. said...

I chalk it up to a script that was tossed around like a hot potato for 20 years. Spielberg probably just said, "Forget it, let's just go with what we have. People are going to show up even if we make Indy an alien." Turns out he was right.

Rick Olson said...

Why Kingdom of the Crystal Skull failed? It didn't fail, it's already made back its production costs, the rest is gravy.

As Daniel implies, it's a cynical attempt to milk a once decent franchise for every last drop. In this it succeeded and is still succeeding.

Mediocre movie, yes ... failure no.

Nick said...

rick: It depends on what he meant by failing. Failing to do what it set out to do, then you are correct: it made money. But in failing to appease fans... then Fletch is correct (at least with half of them).

Alex said...

All fair points there.

Honestly, they could have cut out Ray Winstone's beacon trail and just left it with Cate Blanchett tracking them by psychic power. I mean, she IS a psychic! Why not just chalk it up to her ability to read his mind every step of the way? It would have made her being a psychic useful.

I found it entertaining when I was in the theatre but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it's not much more than a series of macguffins strategically placed to give Indy and company excuses to travel around and get involved in elaborate (and yet somehow lazily staged) action sequences.

Nick said...

There was one thing that bugged me when I saw it...

If the stairs disappeared when Indy and crew came down... how the hell did Cate Blanchett and her Russian friends get down there (especially so quickly)?

The Fraze said...

They used rope Nick - the same rope they used to get down the mountain side.

I don't think the movie failed - It's a departure, certainly - but not a failure.

I've read the other scripts, namely Jeb Stuart's "Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars" - which was referenced in the film - and really, while the beginning of that script was better - this film is better, and really "Crystal SKull" is just a meshing of that jeb stuart script and the Darabont script.

Indy has always been in the twilight zone - I thought. I mean, the power of God? Being saved by closing your eyes? Having ghosts and voodoo and people having their hearts ripped out and a 700-year-old knight doesn't qualify as supernatural sci-fi but the alien mythology does?

the idea of ancient astronauts have been around long before Christ and the Ark of the covenant. I thought the inclusion of Area 51, Roswell and other iconic alien mythology was awesome.

It could have been a lot better... but it could have been a whole hell of a lot worse.

THey didn't need to show the alien at the beginning - I would have preferred just a close-up of the words "ROSWELL" but then again - that myth may have been lost to viewers not in the know (and the scene didn't really allow for written dialogue to explain - though that's covered a little in the debriefing after the atomic blast.

ceylincohomes said...

I kind of expected it to be kind of weak. It’s unfortunate that that seems to be the case. I would have liked a great addition to the Indy trilogy, but that is ok. My expectations arent very high for this film.

I also would just like to say that I wouldn’t call Iron Man a “homerun”…It was alright IMO. The suits looked great, and it had some pretty good CG, but overall it was just alright..
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