What ‘Crystal Skull’ Should’ve Been…(spoilers)

May 31, 2008 at 9:04 pm Leave a comment

After some discussion with people who either liked Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull more, or less, than I did, I began to realize what the screenplay was lacking. The overall premise of the story shouldn’t really matter, be it the search of crystal skulls, magical stones, or holy cups, rather it’s what lies underneath it. The subtext, if you will. I know, the Indiana Jones series isn’t meant to be taken seriously, they’re just fun throwbacks to the old-school adventure serials of the 30’s and 40’s, and I can totally appreciate them for that. The thing is, a sequel needs to be at least as good as the movie that came before it, or else fans of the predecessor will get upset. I think Star Wars, as a series, solidified itself in the pantheon of great films because of The Empire Strikes Back, a film considered to be, story-wise, superior to the original. It was like Lucas was saying, “We know they’re expecting better visuals, but what if we gave them a grander and more personal story, too?”

The Indiana Jones series, I think, faltered a bit with Temple of Doom. While the movie itself was fine, it felt like more of the same, just with a new sidekick (Short Round instead of Sallah), new woman (Mrs. Spielberg…I mean Kate Capshaw replacing Karen Allen), and new location (India instead of the Middle East). While Temple of Doom was darker, I felt it added some real threat to Indy and made him feel less invincible. To this day, I still cringe when he’s tied to that rack and lowered into the pit. I just felt that the movie didn’t advance anything. I personally didn’t feel I learned anything new about Jones.

The redeeming film, for me, was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. On the outside, it was more of the same. Indy’s globe-trotting with Sallah again, and he’s got a beautiful blond German girl along for the ride, in search of the legendary Holy Grail. What made this one stand out was that when they added in Sean Connery as Dr. Jones, Sr., Steven Spielberg really went with it. The last scene where they’re in the Grail’s resting place is pivotal, not just from a plot standpoint, but from a character standpoint. Indy, and in turn the audience, learns a lot about the internal workings of the character not because of the Holy Grail, but through the interactions between him and his father. The filmmakers made us really buy into this relationship.

Now, with Crystal Skull, we’re supposed to buy into these new plot points introduced throughout the movie. I personally don’t have a problem with Mutt being Indy’s son, but it’s not what I wanted the movie’s subtext to focus on. The difference between Crystal Skull and Last Crusade is that more time went by between those two movies, as opposed to just five years with Temple of Doom and Last Crusade. Indy’s older, and though Spielberg and Co. acknowledge this within the first few moments of re-introducing Indy, I don’t think they play it up enough. I want to see a slightly more cautious Indiana Jones, a more reflective one. Again, I understand that these movies are really meant for pure entertainment, but I think that this latest one could have achieved something on the same level that Last Crusade hit: it showed us something about the characters.

Indiana Jones has been through a lot, and at his age he should be more nostalgic. We get a sense of this back at Indy’s house before he and Mutt leave for their grand adventure. However, if the screenplay had just touched upon this a little more, I think it would have a greater impact on future scenes, like when he meets with Marion again, or when he realizes he’s Mutt’s father. When I was mulling this over, I kept thinking about Rocky Balboa the sixth and final film in the Rocky series. I really liked that movie, it was a great bookend to the series and brought everything full-circle. A lot of people make fun of Stallone because he’s old (about as old as Harrison Ford) and he’s still playing these muscle-bound action stars (one of my cousins said he looked like an over-cooked hot dog), but he wasn’t trying to play Rocky Balboa in the final film as an action star. He was very sentimental (somewhat too much), but it brought everything down to earth at a level many of us can relate to. Rocky’s lost his wife, he’s distant from his son, his career is over. He’s now an businessman who’s relegated to re-living his experiences by telling people about them. I think Indy could’ve used a bit of that. It’s not enough to show us pictures of Marcus Brody or Indy’s dad, make us feel sorry for Indy’s loss.

I think that the age should’ve played a factor in some of the action scenes. Maybe then I’d feel more of a threat to his well-being. I know this isn’t the kind of movie where the hero dies, but I didn’t get this sense that Indy was getting hurt. He got pretty banged up in the previous movies, and he was young then. Show him with a black eye, or with a limp, or something that makes me believe that all this violence is taking a toll on his body. He’s sixty years old! I’ll totally buy that a sixty-year-old man is running, punching, swinging, but what I won’t buy is that this old man isn’t going to feel it in the morning. Think of the tension they could’ve built if Indy had some trouble seeing (the character does wear glasses) when he was firing that rocket.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is this: I still enjoyed Crystal Skull. What I believe didn’t work of many people was the connection. Weird sci-fi stuff aside, this film didn’t have a personal connection with people. The audience watching this will be made up of, primarily, people who have seen and loved the originals. What they were looking for was an acknowledgment of that, something more than just a picture or a run-in with a past character. When Indy walked down the aisle with Marion at the end, it should have felt like Han seeing Leia after being freed from the carbonite, not just a happy storybook ending. Again, still enjoyed the movie and, overall, I liked it more than Temple of Doom. It just lost that connect that Last Crusade established, not just the connection between the characters, but the connection between Indy and the audience.

But, maybe it’s not the fault of the writers or the filmmakers. Roger Ebert said this about The Last Crusade:

“If there is just a shade of disappointment after seeing this movie, it has to be because we will never again have the shock of this material seeming new.”

What I take this to mean is that, even if there will be sequels, it won’t feel fresh anymore because an original is hard to follow and an audience’s expectations run just a little too high. Or maybe it’s because nothing can truly live up to our childhood memories.

(images from Yahoo!)

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