In Defense of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Warning: SPOILERS ahead (obviously)

I love Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Most people don’t. In fact, the majority of folks seem to loath this film, to the point where they think I’m insane for remotely enjoying it. But I think a lot of the hatred for this movie is unwarranted. No I most certainly did not like how it ended with Indy and his pals trying to flee out of a flying saucer as an Alien with a split conscience between 13 skeletons is reborn and kills a lady using the power of ultimate knowledge. I get it, the scene is stupid. But I think the bad taste this sequence gave people overly influenced their perspective on the rest of the movie. If you look back, not only is Crystal Skull similar in most cinematic aspects to the rest of the Indiana Jones franchise, it is thematically consistent with Steven Spielberg’s original vision for the world of Indy Jones Jr. (I’ll note that this is not a full review; I could talk extensively about every aspect I liked or disliked about the film, but this article aims to address some of the primary complaints about the movie).

If you watched some of the earliest behind the scenes documentaries of the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark, odds are you’ve seen Spielberg and George Lucas discuss where the idea for the franchise came from: a love of classic adventure films from the Golden Age of Cinema. The role of Indiana Jones was primarily based on an amalgamation of classic heroes in these films, from the swashbuckling Errol Flynn, to the dashingly noble Gregory Peck, even the gruff and rough Humphrey Bogart. Raiders was to include aspects from these classic actor’s films, including melodrama, grandiose orchestral music (which re-gained popularity as a result of Star Wars), and most importantly, reflect resonant historical and global themes. Raiders of the Lost Ark incorporated all these factors, which ultimately revitalized the style of 1930s serial films, now with more intense action and far higher stakes. This stayed consistent with the original three Indy films.

Crystal Skull retains the spirit of adventure and high octane action of the original films

Lucas and Spielberg, in my mind, were clever enough to continue this theme through Indy 4. As the 30’s were characterized by a revitalization of archaeology around the world and a growing Nazi power, the 50’s were epitomized by The Cold War, UFOs, and culturally, B-grade Alien movies. However, as fewer people know, the 50’s also harbored the Mitchell Hedges Skull controversy, which was briefly referenced in the movie. Frederick Mitchell Hedges, a pseudo archaeologist, first wrote about and brought light to this skull. He claimed to have discovered it as a 3500 year old artifact from Mesoamerica. Although it was later proven to be a fake, for several decades the skull attracted attention by the growing “new age” occult as having mystical and even psychic powers. Combined with discoveries of the incredible advancements the Mayan civilization made in astronomy and engineering, popular beliefs in alien influence on Mesoamerican civilization took rise from the 50’s through the present day. This is why I thought it was so perfect that the two creators wove all these elements together for the 4th movie, and for the most part, the concept makes a lot of sense.

The biggest road block people face in my argument is the inclusion of Aliens. Artifacts of power are obviously a cornerstone of Indiana Jones movies, but ETs are mostly seen to be reserved for strictly Sci Fi movies. I frankly disagree. Indiana Jones has always included the spiritual realm entering the physical with danger and wrath. In I and III, it was the power of the Christian God, in II, the Hindu Kali. Although I (like everyone else) thought the inclusion of an actual flying saucer and the ridiculous split entity to be out of place, conceptually, I thought the inclusion of a metaphysical ET would be characteristically Indy. If I had made the film, the finale would’ve featured more of a spooky paraphysical edge so it felt less like something out of War of the Worlds, but as for Crystal Skull as a whole, I thought the inclusion of Alien power was executed pretty well. Had it made more overt references to ETs throughout the movie instead of subtle hints (up until the end), I would agree that the movie would loose it’s “Indy” feel.

A bloated, poorly executed finale doesn’t ruin the rest of the movie (although kudos to the production designers for making a thoroughly great-looking film)

The second main complaint I hear is that Indy 4 features too many over-the-top action sequences. People complain about everything from the physics of magnetism, to Indy on the rocket sled, to flying in a fridge, to Mutt Williams swinging from a tree. Yea some of this stuff is a bit silly, particularly in the first and final acts, but I don’t think their lack of realism makes the whole movie bad. The entire Indy franchise is totally absurd. In the previous films, we saw an arrow shoot as a result of Indy blocking light from entering a tunnel, a raft inflate as it falls hundreds of feet from a mountain, then carry it’s passengers down a snowy mountain, and Indiana brave insanely ridiculous challenges in the Grail Temple. I would not say Crystal Skull‘s sequences are any more or less absurd. Sure it has more of them, but does that make the movie worse? I like having fun in the movies, and the franchise as a whole constantly breaks reality with the most over-the-top sequences possible and features plenty of imperfections and hammy performances. Indiana Jones never aimed for realism, and to say Crystal Skull is bad because it is the least realistic of the movies is a bit unfair in my mind.

What some folks call over-the-top absurdity, I call shameless good fun

I could go on forever about all the nitpicking I hear about this film: Shia LaBoeuf’s acting, Kate Blanchett’s accent, the script somehow being “bad”, etc. etc. And sure Crystal Skull is absolutely NOT a perfect film and a lot of this stuff is pretty campy, but so is the entire franchise! It never featured A-list acting or perfect screenwriting. When I question people about these aspects and why they’re any worse than the other Indy movies, for the most part they end up circling back to the whole Alien problem and the movie being “unrealistic”. Again, I understand, the ending is horrible, perhaps even comically so, and I totally get how a bad climax or conclusion can ruin a person’s experience when walking out of a theater. I also agree that the ensemble of characters is not as strong as the other movies. But I’d also implore those of you who loathe Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to re-watch it, and I think you’ll find and appreciate how well it actually fits in with the franchise.