25 July 2011

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

I have just started an essay on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. So far I have only written the introduction, which is not necessarily in its final form, and the rest of the essay is in progress. I am posting the intro to see what people think about the essay's central premise, and to welcome any feedback, thoughts, and criticism, but also just to have something to post at the moment. Anyway... here it is.

(I will continue to post pieces of the essay as it evolves. Please note that until the final version is posted my on going draft will be exactly that, a draft, and will undoubtedly have mistakes. Its form and content will almost certainly change repeatedly before the finished essay is completed.)

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

This is not an ideological or blindly dogmatic defense of the most recent Indiana Jones movie. Such an enterprise would be disingenuous and a waste of time. It is instead an attempt at understanding some of the disappointment and criticism conveyed by its fans and critics. This criticism is widely held and consists of multifarious opinions. For the sake of the limited scope of this essay however, such criticism can be concisely described as the sentiment that Crystal Skull is not only less ‘good’ (whatever that means), or of less quality than the previous Indiana Jones films, but somehow unlike those films in a substantive and deviant way. I will argue that such a view is largely a matter of minor differences of form and execution between Skull and its companion films, which are exacerbated by context, perception, and expectation. I agree that Crystal Skull is the weakest of the four films, for reasons that I will later discuss. It cannot, however, be immured from the other three films, and is not only fundamentally similar, but also, aesthetically, often significantly identical.

Before diving into an analysis and comparison of the movies, a summation of the criticism heaped onto Crystal Skull by it’s numerous and vocal detractors are necessary; both fans and critics level such disapproval. In his review for The Village Voice Robert Wilonski criticism of the film is emblematic of the way in which Skull is widely complained about: “From humdrum start to shrugging finish, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull bears almost no resemblance to its three predecessors: It's absent the spark and spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the grown-up menace and slapdash comedy of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and the loose-limbed effervescence and emotional jolts of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Here Wilonski plainly suggests that Skull is to altogether be set aside from the other Indiana Jones films as something other than an Indiana Jones movie. Wilonski then lists qualities inherent to Raiders, Temple, and Crusades which he says cannot be found in Crystal Skull: spark, spirit, menace, comedy, effervescence, and emotionality.

Other criticisms aimed at Crystal Skull include a litany of negativity by fans in Indiana Jones message boards. Here are select quotations from the most popular online message board “The Raven” which represents some of the more ubiquitous complaints. “My initial hatred has mellowed into resigned apathy. I care no more. Anybody else feel that it could be some time before you watch the originals again?” “My feelings went from excitement (before the release) to disbelief (while viewing) to disappointment (the week after) to "don’t care anymore" (now). Let’s pretend the 4th movie never happened.” It is worth mentioning that these comments are taken from a thread called “The Haters Thread.” It is not enough therefore, to label Crystal Skull as anti-Indy, but also necessary to engender apathy and doublethink; in other words to erase the film from existence, or “pretend the 4th movie never happened.”

It is also worth noting that many of the snipes leveled at Crystal Skull are often highly emotional, cynical, and do not at all attempt a level headed close textual reading of the movie. Much of this cynical emotionalism is due in large part to nearly two decades of rabid expectation and anticipation, as well as the significantly changed context within which Crystal Skull was produced. The opening scene, in which a group of American teenagers in a roadster challenge Russian military infiltrators to race on a Nevada desert highway, provides an excellent example of the ways in which context and expectation effect and warp perceptions and expectations. The opening scene is all about context and exposition. Cars from the 1950’s, filled with teenagers and military men dressed in clothes from the 1950’s, race within the context of the immediately recognizable 1950’s popular culture milieu of George Lucas’ American Graffiti. In other words, as far as context is concerned, the youthful Nazi fighting Indiana Jones of the 1930’s is something of the past. Therefore, any expectations and anticipations of Crystal Skull are inherently informed by this altered context. Immediately following the opening “American Graffiti” scene, Crystal Skull delivers what is typically the opening sequence to an Indiana Jones movie. In such a sequence there is a checklist of actions and motifs; Indy is introduced in a dramatic way (usually from behind and in silhouette,) he is involved in at least several daring action shots that require some sort of narrow escape, and finally the McGuffin or object of desire that drives the plot is introduced and sought after. All Indiana Jones movies, including Crystal Skull, have these actions and motifs; therefore, their content is similar if not identical. The only difference between Skull and the other three films in this regard is one of form. Skull, largely due to its altered context, inserts the brief “Graffiti” scene before the typical Indy opening sequence.

Historical change not only operates within the world of Crystal Skull as a ‘text’ to be analyzed formally and aesthetically; it also operates within the altered context of production between the 1980’s and 2008. This exterior contextual difference, acting on the movie from the outside, significantly includes drastic changes in filmmaking technology, most notably computer generated special effects and cinematography.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This article about the movie Indiana Jones were really informative and consistent to details been said. I really love this movie Indiana Jones. I hope I can watch again this amazing movie .