Thursday, June 5, 2008

Five Questions Not Answered In ‘Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull’

Week of Geek: Indiana Jones

Spoiler Alert: This article will deal with details about the plot of Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, reader beware. You might learn some things you don’t want to know just yet.

For Indiana Jones fans, a new movie has been a long time in coming. A fourth film was originally suggested by George Lucas nearly 18 years ago. The idea has re-surfaced several times since then but the principal creative partners (Mr. Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford) could not agree on a script until David Koepp completed a version sometime around 2005. Other screen writers attached to the project over the years include Jeffery Boam, M. Night Shyamalan, Frank Darabont, and Jeff Nathanson. Drafts by all these writers have centered around the idea of Indy searching for crystal skulls.

Given the time in development and the abundance of top-notch screenwriting talent, it is surprising that the screenplay of Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is a bit of a mess. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is far from awful. Parts of the movie play out simply as set pieces however, in part because of a lack of tight internal logic in the script. The movie left me asking questions about how or why certain things happened. After 18 years and several screenwriters, shouldn’t all these questions be answered?

Here’s the top five unanswered questions from Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

  1. How did we get to a happy ending? I don’t understand how Indy not only gets his job back, but a promotion at the end of the film. He’s forced out of his job for suspicions about his loyalty because he’s been in contact with both Russian commandos and a Russian secret agent. He then shakes his FBI tail, leaves the country for South America, and meets up with both the Russians and the Russian agent. This is what the FBI might call “suspicious behavior.” When the city of Akator is finally destroyed, anyone/anything he might be able to bring back to placate the FBI (e.g., Irina Spalko or Mac McHale) is lost or killed. Does he return the alien body to the government or something? How does he prove his loyalty?
  2. Is Irina Spalko really psychic or merely crazy? At the start of the film, Irina Spalko seems to attempt to read Indy’s mind and apparently fails (with comment “Your will is very strong.”) Does she really have psychic abilities or not? We never see her attempt to do this again anywhere during the film. She babbles on a lot about how Oxley’s mind has been warped by the skull and is unreadable, but we never establish that she can successfully read another mind.
  3. Where did all the roads in the middle of the jungle come from? When Indy, Mac, and Mutt set off with the Russians through the un-mapped jungle, they are following what can only be called the “Model 37 ‘Josef Stalin’ Glorious People’s Jungle Road Maker and Farming Collective Grain Harvester.” This is making the road they are driving on. Indy destroys this vehicle with an anti-tank weapon (an always useful item to bring to the jungle). A protracted high-speed car chase follows where, a) cars and trucks are able to travel two abreast, and even along the edge of a cliff, and b) they are able to travel pretty much where they want to go. This makes less than no sense.
  4. Had anybody heard of the term “multi-dimensional beings” in 1957? Once Oxley regains his sanity in the temple of Akator, he says “they are multi-dimensional beings.” This is a pretty standard science fiction term in the 21st century, but the notion of parallel universes had just been proposed in quantum mechanics in 1957 by Hugh Everett. Fictional notions of parallel universes had been around since 1941, but were still only infrequently mentioned in sci-fi stories of the 1950s. The explanation sticks out like a sore thumb.
  5. Why bother with the Akator natives? They appear. They are afraid of the crystal skull. They get machine-gunned off screen by the Russians. Why bother? You might as well at least make a joke of it and give them all red shirts or something.

I liked a lot of things about the movie, I really did. I think Harrison Ford was great in it. It was certainly lovely to see Karen Allen return as Marion Ravenwood. The visual of Indy confronted by the mushroom cloud is one that will stay with me for quite a while. It’s just that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg claimed to be in search of the right script. Would it have killed them to take a step back, take a deep breath, and figure out if they had missed any holes in the plot?

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