“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” came out almost two decades after the previous installment. Fans entered the theater, excited to see Dr. Jones take up the whip and fedora once again, and left the theater cursing George Lucas. “Nuked the Fridge” even replaced “Jumped the Shark” in the lexicon, referring to a moment in a franchise that marks its lowest point and often signals the end of what was once a great thing.
Indiana Jones has always been a great thing, and despite “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” definitely being the weakest in the series, it has a lot going for it that goes unappreciated because of the expectations set by the first three. Here are the top 15 reasons “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” didn’t suck.
15. HARRISON FORD
There’s no replacing Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, and at 68 years old by the time production started, it was entirely within the realm of possibility that Lucas and Spielberg would choose to replace him. Therefore, walking into the theater, fans wondered if Ford would still be able to handle the physical demands of the role. By the end of the opening action sequence, however, it was clear that not only could he still handle the action and adventure, but also he was still quintessentially Indiana Jones in every way.
Of course, that was in 2008, and Harrison Ford has signed on to play Dr. Jones again for “Indiana Jones 5” in 2019, and he’ll be 76 by then. The physical demands may restrict him from continuing the role in the future, but if “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” proved one thing, it’s that playing the character takes more than just an action star. Indiana Jones has a distinct personality that Harrison Ford slipped back into effortlessly after almost 20 years.
14. SIR JOHN HURT
The late Sir John Hurt won over 21 awards and was nominated for 14 more including two Academy Awards over the course of his 55-year career as an actor, and he’s a bright spot in every movie he’s ever appeared in, even if he’s the only bright spot. In “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” Sir John Hurt plays Professor Harold Oxley, a senior Professor of Archaeology who studied alongside Indy at the University of Chicago.
When Jones finds Oxley is a captive of the Soviets, he’s reduced to a mumbling incoherent mess, driven mad by the power of the Crystal Skull. Though he seems to not really be aware of what’s going on, he recognizes “Henry Jones Junior,” and when they discover the origin of the Crystal Skull, he regains his sanity. Sir John Hurt is able to play an amnesiac old mad man, and then later a refined Professor with equal believability, a testament to Sir Hurt’s acting prowess.
13. MARION RAVENWOOD
Over the course of four films, Indiana Jones had three major love interests. One was a secret nazi spy, another was possibly the most annoying person in the world and the third was Marion Ravenwood, the love of Indy’s life. It was no question who the best love interest was throughout the franchise, so when Spielberg and Lucas started planning “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” it was also no question who should return to be the mother of Indy’s son and the future Mrs. Jones.
Karen Allen returned to reprise her role as Marion and slides back into the role again as easily as Harrison Ford became Dr. Jones. She’s still the tough-as-nails, strong-willed, fearless woman who takes no guff from anyone that we last saw in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” traits which she seems to have passed on to her son, Mutt Williams, though she seems to have kicked the alcohol problem that was hinted at in the first film.
12. THE REAL CRYSTAL SKULL LEGENDS
Many people criticized “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” for having a silly MacGuffin, the Crystal Skull itself. However, the Crystal Skull actually has a basis in reality and the legends surrounding it are just as strange and supernatural. One of the most infamous crystal skulls in history was discovered by Anna Mitchell-Hedges, who claimed that the skull could induce prophetic visions, cure cancer, kill people with magic and in one instance, she even claimed the skull gave her a premonitory vision of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
One legend claimed that there were 13 authentic crystal skulls created by the Mayans that, when reunited, would forestall the apocalypse that was allegedly supposed to take place at the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012. Historical author Richard Hoagland has even made the claim that the crystal skulls and the Mayan culture may have links to alien life on Mars. We’re not claiming there’s any truth to that, but at least George Lucas didn’t just come up with aliens out of nowhere.
11. OLD MAN INDY
Harrison Ford was 68 years old when the film began production, and Spielberg and Lucas had a choice to either show Indy as strong and fast as he ever was, or to show him as a bit slower because of his age, but still able to keep up. In his old age, some of his superhero-like dexterity is starting to slip, like in the first scene where he attempts to swing onto a truck and misses, landing in the one behind it, leading him to say, “I thought that was closer.”
In a story of fantastical supernatural elements, inter-dimensional aliens and indestructible fridges, the acknowledgment of Indy’s old age humanizes him as a character and grounds him a little more in reality, even if the plot isn’t. The fact that he’s gotten a little bit slower in his old age is often played for humor in the movie, but it’s never enough to keep him from saving the day.
10. JOHN WILLIAMS’ SCORE
When you hear that Indiana Jones theme start up and your adrenaline begins to rise, that’s John Williams. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg each have a long working relationship with John Williams. Seeing as he’s one of the most recognizable film composers of the modern era, as the creator and composer of the score for every film in the Indiana Jones franchise, every film in the “Star Wars” saga, every “Harry Potter” film, “Jaws” and much more, it’s not difficult to see why.
At the age of 76, Williams composed a completely original score of 19 tracks for the film, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media in 2009. John Williams is set to return to score “Indiana Jones 5,” in 2019, at which point, he will be 87 years old at the time of release, proving once and for all that age is just a number.
9. HISTORY MYSTERY
Indiana Jones has been a tomb raider since the very beginning. The series has many elements which have always captivated audiences, and while some are quick to point out the whip, the smooth bravado of Harrison Ford or the draw of a bookish professor who punches nazis in his spare time, the “Indiana Jones” series has always at its core been about historical mystery adventures. It’s a difficult task to balance historical mystery with adrenaline-fueled action sequences, but each “Indiana Jones” film has managed to pull it off, including “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
What makes Indiana Jones more than just another action franchise is the quest for legendary relics, using clues (often from real-life historical texts) to travel to exotic locations and break into tombs and excavate caves for fortune and glory. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” continued that tradition, seeing Indy and Mutt follow Professor Oxley’s clues to the tomb of Francisco de Orellana to track down the Crystal Skull.
8. THE POISON DARTS SCENE
When Indiana and Mutt first travel to the tomb of Francisco de Orellana for the Crystal Skull, they encounter a tribe of guardians trying to keep them out. While a lot of the action sequences in the film have heavy C.G.I. and don’t feel like they belong in an “Indiana Jones” movie, the poison dart scene is one of the few that felt like it could have been shot for any of the original three films and fit perfectly.
It doesn’t last very long, but it has all the elements of a great Indiana Jones action sequence. The natives are kind of scary and far more quick and skillful than either Indiana Jones or Mutt. They pounce from the shadows with no notice, catching both the audience and the heroes off guard, and in the end, Indy manages to scare them off by blowing a dart back into one’s throat and threatening the other with his revolver. Interestingly, the first native is the only person Indy directly kills in the film, an act that he never had a problem with in any of the originals.
7. SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS
Some have criticized “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” for being too unrealistic and relying on magic and supernatural elements to move the plot forward. However, supernatural elements have been a big part of every Indiana Jones movie. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the Ark of the Covenant literally melts people’s faces off as it releases spirits into the air. In “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” an Indian cult pulls still-beating hearts out of people’s chests and turns them into zombies, while worshipping magic stones that can burn through a canvas bag when a specific incantation is spoken out loud.
In “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” the holy grail keeps a man alive for hundreds of years and instantly heals Henry Jones Sr’s gunshot wound. A crystal alien skull with the ability to deter dangerous animals and insects, hypnotize people or drive them mad isn’t that far out of the realm of possibility in that universe, it’s just a jarring change of tone to introduce the concept of aliens into the story.
6. IT’S NEVER BORING
One risk of coming back to an action-adventure series about a college professor nearing his 60s was that the movie could have been really boring. George Lucas had already made the mistake three times with his return to the “Star Wars” saga. If Lucas could make a story about laser-sword wielding, super-powered space knights boring, then the return of an elderly history professor could have been easy to ruin.
Luckily, “Indiana Jones” has always been a collaborative effort with Steven Spielberg, and Spielberg knows how to make a compelling action-adventure film. Though the film had silly plot devices, awkward dialogue, cheesy jokes and an overabundance of C.G.I., imagine how much worse would it have been if Indy spent 70% of the movie in a library studying the history of the Crystal Skull and negotiating with the university to cover his travel expenses. The historical side of the movie is balanced well with almost non-stop action from the opening sequence in the hangar to the depths of the jungle to the pyramid of El Dorado.
5. THE HANGAR 51 OPENING SEQUENCE
Up until the point where Indy locks himself in a fridge to save himself from a nuclear bomb, there’s nothing that would indicate to audiences that this wouldn’t be an amazing Indiana Jones movie. In fact, the entire opening scene hits all the marks of the franchise perfectly. Indy employs a clever trick to find the box, using the gunpowder to track the magnetized skull, he takes on over a dozen men by himself when he steals a soldier’s gun, he uses his whip to disarm a soldier and to swing like Spider-Man onto a truck, leaps from a moving vehicle and gets into a fistfight with a man much younger and stronger than him.
It even gives us a quick glimpse at the lost Ark of the Covenant from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” bringing us full circle. The whole opening sequence is so quintessentially “Indiana Jones” that it makes what happens immediately after so much more disappointing by comparison.
4. THE MOTORCYCLE CHASE
In another one of the film’s fantastic action sequences, Indy and Mutt are confronted by two KGB agents and he starts a bar fight between the jocks and greasers to get to Mutt’s motorcycle. The KGB agents follow by car as they zip through traffic, alleyways and the college campus square. It feels like one of the classic chase scenes from the original movies and uses mostly practical effects with a minimal amount of C.G.I. to remove safety harnesses and wires from stunt actors.
The chase ends with Mutt and Indy losing control of the motorcycle in the campus library. A student asks Dr. Jones about an issue he’s having with his assignment, and he recommends a different author to the student saying that he spent most of his life in the field. He tells the student, “If you want to be a good archaeologist, you gotta get out of the library.” This is a callback to “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when he tells his students, “70% of all archaeology is done in the library.”
3. INDY’S WAR HERO PAST
Within the universe of the films, we last saw Indiana Jones in 1938 for “The Last Crusade.” “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” picks up 19 years later in 1957, so audiences were going to wonder just what Dr. Jones has been up to this whole time. World War II began the year after “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” takes place, and Indy was already well known for being a warrior against the nazis, so it only makes sense for the character that he enlisted to take down the Fuhrer.
When he’s being interrogated by the C.I.A. after his friend and fellow soldier Mac is revealed to be a spy, his former superior officer arrives to vouch for him. The C.I.A. agents tell them that Indy’s association with a spy brings all of his activities into question, including those during the war, and Indy’s superior officer becomes upset, asking if they have any idea how many medals Indy won for serving his country. The backstory of joining the war fits with the character, but knowing the kind of man Indy is, it’s no surprise that he was a medal-winning war hero.
2. SOVIETS INSTEAD OF NAZIS
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” takes placed during the height of the Cold War, so Indy has moved on from fighting the nazis to America’s next great authoritarian anti-American enemy, the Soviets. The main leader of the Soviets that Indy faces off against is Irina Spalko, who introduces herself by saying that she knows things before anyone else does, and proceeds to attempt to read Indy’s mind.
This might seem silly at first, but it also has a basis in historical fact. During the Cold War, both the U.S. and Soviets studied paranormal powers to gain an advantage over the enemy. The Soviets reportedly performed experiments in an attempt to induce these powers in volunteers, with a focus on mind control, telepathy and the ability to move physical objects with one’s mind. Although very little comes of these abilities in the movie, some believe to this day that the Soviets had limited success with their experiments.
1. THE PYRAMID OF EL DORADO
The final act of the movie takes place in the lost city of gold, El Dorado. Indy and the gang are again chased by the Mayan guardians of the skull, but when they see that Indy’s group is already carry the skull, they bow down and allow the group to proceed to the pyramid. The pyramid itself represents the last puzzle that they must solve to find the resting place of the 13 crystal skulls, and lucky for them, Professor Oxley has already figured it out.
Inside, they rush down a rapidly receding set of platforms and through rooms of treasure to get to the throne room of the crystal skulls. Everything about it feels like an “Indiana Jones” movie, until moments later when the aliens and the spaceship show up. If a person were to walk out of the room at the right times during “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” they would likely think it was a pretty great movie, because other than a few rough spots, it really is!
What was your favorite part of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?” Think the film had any redeeming qualities? Be sure to tell us in the comments!
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