Welcome back to another installment of Insomniac Cult Movie Theater, a segment where I watch movies late at night and then write about the results like it’s some sort of perpetual sleep deprivation experiment.
Now, typically with these segments, I have covered older, more obscure films that most people haven’t even heard of. Not so much on this week’s show as I recently had the wonderful opportunity to be on the podcast of frequent guest, collaborator, and overall friend of the show, John from Pint O’ Comics discussing Raiders of the Lost Ark as a part of their Pint Movie Invitational Series. You might have seen that was also the reason I posted the Indiana Jones related comic book I did earlier this week, if you are frequent fan of our website.
Anyways, it was during said podcast that I mentioned one of the major reasons I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark as much as I do is because I love the pairing of Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood. One of the greatest on screen couples in any action movie in my opinion, the rest of the franchise suffered greatly from a lack of this pairing not being in both Temple of Doom and Last Crusade. Especially Temple of Doom as I believe I read somewhere that the movie was originally supposed to have both characters in it, until it was rewritten to be some sort of prequel instead.
That idea was canned by Lucas and Spielberg that thought that Indy should be more like James Bond and sleep with some other woman in pretty much every adventure. The only issue is once you meet Marion in Raiders and you see his chemistry with her and the back story, you realize Indy is not James Bond. He’s a one woman fella, who met his a long time ago, and hasn’t gotten over her since.
It’s why Crystal Skull sort of fixes that whole issue when Indy admits to Marion that there have been a few other women in his life, but they all had one big problem in that they weren’t her. That is the honest to God truth if you really watch these movies close.
Anyways, out of this “OTP” shipping rant came the necessity to do a review of the highly controversial fourth movie of the Indy franchise, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A lot of folks hate this movie, but is that a fair assessment?
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
So just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the 4th installment of the Indiana Jones franchise that started with Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was released in 2008 by Paramount Pictures, despite being wholly owned by Lucasfilm, and as such now part of the Disney book of intellectual properties.
This film broke nearly a 20 year hiatus from Indy’s adventures on the big screen as despite the first 3 movies of the franchise being made in quick succession in the years between 1981 and 1989, various factors among all the important players including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford all from getting back on this box office gravy train, but I will say that Indy still had the power to put fannies in the seats as the movie grossed 790 million dollars.
As I mentioned above, the film reunited the original Indy couple of Ford and Karen Allen for the first time since Raiders of the Lost Ark and gave them a son in Mutt Williams aka Henry Jones III. Sean Connery was contacted to play a cameo as the iconic Henry Jones Sr. but he declined, refusing to come out of his self enforced retirement after starring in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie adaptation.
Additionally, Denholm Elliott who played Indy’s long time friend, Marcus, had passed away in 1992 so he could not appear either. John Rhys-Davies was asked to return as Sallah for a cameo as well the but turned it down citing he should have had a more substantial role.
The bad guy was played by Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko, a sword fighting psychic KGB agent obsessed with delivering to the Soviets the ability to control peoples minds through the vast power of the Crystal Skulls.
The film also featured the late great William Hurt, as Indy and Marion’s old friend, Harold “Ox” Oxley, who had spent his life searching for the Crystal Skulls similar to how Abner Ravenwood spent his life searching for the Ark and Henry Jones Sr. searching for the Holy Grail.
Finally, Ray Winstone appears as George “Mac” McHale, a treasure seeking war buddy of Indy’s who betrays him to the Soviets due to financial troubles.
One of the more interesting facets of this movie’s production is how many script changes it went through before the final version was filmed. Most notoriously of all is the fact that this movie started out as a script called “Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods”, which was penned by long time Young Indiana Jones Adventures scribe, Frank Darabont. The script which was eventually leaked out on to the internet did actually include many of the concepts eventually used in the final film such as the return of Marion, the notion of the Skulls and aliens, and even the fact that Indy/Marion had a kid albeit in the original script, it was a daughter instead of a son.
For whatever reason despite supposedly Spielberg liking the script, Lucas did not and handed the project off to David Koepp instead who used a number of the exact same themes and plot points. This has led over the years to fan speculation that “City of the Gods” would have been a superior Indy film if it had been allowed to be made instead, similar to the way fans believe the Colin Trevorrow script for “Rise of Skywalker” would have been the better Episode IX if it had been produced.
2am Thoughts and Reflections:
For this section of the review, I’d like to try something a little different. I have read over the years numerous articles that decry this particular movie and the major issues with it. I’d like an opportunity to address those and my particular thoughts on them.
A lot of folks have issues with the fact that the major Macguffin in this particular movie vs. previous Indy adventures is more science fiction based rather than the traditional biblical, supernatural, or occult based. They take major offense with the notion of aliens and flying saucers and feel unlike the Holy Grail, this is too far fetched to be in an Indiana Jones film.
To that I say, everything in an Indiana Jones movie is far fetched, so I’m not sure what the issue is. Besides, the whole point of the Indy movies is a re-connection with classic film tropes and high adventures from yesteryear, such as the old pulp novels or movie serials of the 1930s and 40s. Given the vast number of Flying Saucer type movies that dominated the film landscape in the 1950s, I feel it’s only natural for a Indy film based in that decade should have that as one of its dominant themes.
Plus, not everything is about the Judaeo/Christian tradition, so I applaud this movie for branching out and covering another culture’s mythological belief system. Sure, the notion of ancient aliens might be a little new age for some, but there’s a decent number of folks that are interested in the Crystal Skulls and their archeological significance.
I’m going on record saying I’m definitely not the biggest Shia Labeouf fan out there, but I feel like the hatred this guy gets for playing Mutt Williams aka Indy Jr. in this movie is a bit unfair. I say this because I feel like most of that hatred came out of fear that this fella would end up being our new Indiana Jones in future movies. The thing is though, that didn’t happen. In fact, he’s probably not going to be even in the newest Indiana Jones movie (if it ever gets made). So instead, I say what’s the harm in his character ultimately?
Given he’s never depicted as the “heir apparent” even down to the fact that Indy takes his hat from him, he’s nothing more than a sidekick in this. A young inexperienced kid to play off of Indy’s wise old sage. And in that role, Mutt works. He can be the comic relief while still helping his old Dad out with his trusty pocketknife or saying what amounts to “Gee Wiz” every time Indy figures out some ancient thousand year old riddle. Then once Marion as “the mom” pops into the equation, he just becomes a part of another delightful entry in the long line of “adventuring families” that have filled the pages of fiction from the Swiss Family Robinson to The Fantastic Four.
No harm, no foul here that I can see.
Nuking the Fridge:
Okay, so yeah. I don’t really have a defense for this as it is nonsensical silliness that has no business being in this film. I could say that it was originally in the City of Gods script as well, so for folks that think that version of the movie could have been better, not so much. I could also say that the shot of haggard Indiana Jones framed by the fiery hell of mushroom cloud is a pretty fantastic image if you really think about it.
But instead I’ll just say it’s like 10 minutes of the film, so get over it. Like if you did a “Phantom Edit” cut of this film, you could easily trim the entire segment out, and other than seeing Indy getting scrubbed down in decontamination shower you really don’t miss much. So given what a big “who cares!” it is to the overall plot and it doesn’t take up that much screen time, I say just ignore it.
Final Grade: B
Yeah, I went ahead and said it. Crystal Skull is an enjoyable film.
It is absolutely not as terrible or as deserving of the level of fan vitriol that it gets in certain circles. In fact, I’ve enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than 90% of the standard dreck that comes out of Hollywood nowadays, and it not only stands up after multiple viewings but in some ways has gotten better with age.
Now I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s as good a Raiders of the Lost Ark. But given that was my Number 1 summer blockbuster of all time and easily in my top 5 movies ever, very few other movies would compete in that rarefied atmosphere.
Neither am I going to say this movie is as good as Last Crusade. That is easily the second best of the franchise, and although some might incorrectly argue it’s the best of the series, I can admit the overwhelming power of having two of the most iconic charismatic leading men over the past 75 years in the same movie does give that argument at least a little bit of merit.
However, Crystal Skull is far and away more enjoyable and just generally more pleasant to watch than Temple of Doom ever was on it’s best day.
Let’s face it. The only really great parts of Temple of Doom are the opening scenes in the Obi Wan Club and the mine cart chase.
The rest of that movie is a sickening squeamish horror show filled with pretty overtly racist child slavery and ear deafening annoyance which is Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott character. God, if it weren’t for Short Round, that movie would have absolutely no redeeming characters and that includes Indy himself, who is somewhat of a heartless mercenary at times.
But, this isn’t an article on how bad Temple of Doom is. I’m just pointing out the fact that in reconnecting Indy with his soulmate Marion, giving him a younger son to play off of, a buddy to rescue in Ox, and heck even another buddy to punch in Mac, Crystal Skull gives Henry Jones Jr. a family and with that a reason to be a hero.
It’s the same driving force that’s in Raiders as ultimately he just wants to save his girl and Last Crusade as ultimately he just wants to save his Dad. We love Indiana Jones not because he’s the coolest guy in the room with his bullwhip and undeniable charm. We love him because when the chips are down, he’s an insanely decent guy. He punches hate filled Nazis, values knowledge and learning, and most of all he protects his family and friends to his last breath. He does what is right, even sacrificing his life to return the Crystal skull to Akator, and we can’t but help to respect him for these noble actions.
So whether you want to quibble about the CGI monkeys or the aforementioned nuking the fridge, Crystal Skull gives you another great interpretation of Indiana Jones in my opinion. He’s an older, wiser Indy with a lot of mileage on his caboose, but he’s still the same wonderful, wisecracking, two-fisted adventurer that we would follow in to hell and back. And compared to a lot of pale imitations we get in other action movies, I would much rather take the original any day.
I mean I just can’t help but smile every time I watch the below scene when Marion reveals that Mutt is actually Henry Jones III, despite Indy not knowing he had a son for the past 18 years. Without a moment of hesitation, Indy accepts this as truth and immediately pulls out his “Dad” voice with the complaint about finishing school. I mean don’t we all want our heroes to take responsibility so naturally. It’s no wonder Marion loves him so much.
Oh and then there’s the snake gag…that Sears & Robuck line always makes me laugh…