Just say it’s a rope!

This started off as a response to Roku’s blog post about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but it got rather long (and potentially convoluted), so I decided to make a whole post about it. This isn’t a review, more a musing on the ending. So, SPOILERS!

The response of the guys I saw the movie with was rather polarised. One response was, “BEST INDY EVER. The aliens were the best part!” and the other was, “Aliens in my Indy film? What were they thinking!?”

My response is somewhere in between. My initial reaction to the aliens was similar to the latter. They were too modern, too sci-fi. Indiana Jones has never made any claim to realism, obviously; it is totally aware of its campy excess and the presence of ghosts and Holy Grails and truth behind Christian myths is accepted as part of the Indy world. But its mythical components before have been about the past, about Judeo-Christian relics and things like that, and aliens give it a futuristic feel that didn’t sit very well with me. I know the arguments about the Maian alien stories, and I think that does give it more credence when you’re aware of that history, but the fact remains that in the mainstream, aliens do not fit in with a historical, adventure-fiction narrative, which is what the Indy series is about.

But I have an idea of what Spielberg and Lucas were trying to do, and I think it’s an understandable move to make, even though I’m not convinced by how well they pulled it off.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is positioned as a 1950s film, compared to the 1930s-40s era that was the original trilogy. The original films had concerns that fit in with that era: Nazis, the Middle East as exotic, Nazis, Tarzan, and Nazis. The 1950s had other concerns: the nuclear age, communists, paranoia, Roswell, fear of aliens (outsiders). It makes perfect sense for Spielberg and Lucas to move away from the issues of late-1930s Indy into all new issues for 1950s Indy, and aliens were a big part of that. As I understand it, aliens were a big cultural boogie-man for America in the 50s, as they were an easy shorthand for an outside threat of something… other.

In fact, my problem with this film, in retrospect, wasn’t the aliens but more the plot. It had everything Indiana Jones needed: the actors, the crazy action sequences, the over-the-top villain (Cate Blanchett is amazing, as always), the one-liners, the mystical climax (whatever you make of it)… and yet the plot made no sense. It was never adequately explained why the skull had to be returned. Apparently it was to “receive the power of the golden city”, but no one did and the aliens destroyed the city instead. Cate Blanchett stepped up to receive the “gift” and got vaporised. It all just seemed very messy; what did the aliens want? Who took the skull in the first place? Why? How?

I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was fast-paced, it was funny, it had all the components of an Indiana Jones movie, and there are many parts that are absolutely wonderful, some of the best parts of any Indy film, and yet they don’t seem to come together, in the end. I’d definitely see it again, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the DVD, but in the end it was just a bit too messy to become the best in the series.

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