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  • Writer's pictureOli Law

Misunderstood Masterpiece II: Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

You're wrong and I can prove it

*Not everything you're about to read is 100% accurate. But why let the truth stand in the way of a good blog.

Long ago (about 15 years), the concept of a sequel to a forgotten franchise was as fresh as the fables first outing. Stallone shocked the world with one last fight as 2006s Rocky Balboa whilst Bruce Willis proved he could get harder still, in 2007s Live Free of Die Hard. Naturally this left Steven Spielberg to believe he could tame the fiery storm that is one Harrison Ford back for one last round as Jack Ryan…

…Until George Lucas came round to Spielberg’s house for a sleepover and convinced him not only that his next project should be about whip-cracking, Nazi-smacking Indiana Jones instead, but the plot should centre around unfamiliar territory for the dynamic director duo…aliens.

Ford growled at the idea. Indiana Jones is about the divine power of God, magic mind control rocks and immortality? Extra-Terrestrials seemed to contest the grounded reality the trilogy had already established. Eager to prove him wrong, Spielberg gave him a sausage and did it anyway.

Various titles were considered based on a multitude of unused scripts since The Last Crusade (the film, not the military expedition).

The Saucer-men from Mars, The City of Gods, The Destroyer of Worlds and the Atomic Ants were all serious contenders featuring various elements of the overall story that would eventually become: ‘The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’.

A time jump was needed to explain the additional wrinkles on Ford’s brow. Setting Skull in 1957 proved a problem, as the Nazis were famously relegated in 1945 and to this day have not re-entered pop culture. This left Russia to graciously step in at the last minute as our template military antagonists.

Lead by Aussie Cate Blanchett, the Russians would hunt a fabled crystal skull from Area 51 and return it to an Aztec city temple in pursuit of a forgotten power that will help them win the Cold War. I should point out that Cate Blanchett is also in character as Dr. Irina Spalko and not a hammy Russian Spy as a side hustle for her prestigious acting career.

It took Ford a while to start cracking his whip at the bad guys, often siding with them in a back and forth cat and mouse game of who needs who to find the lost city of gold. But by god if this isn’t the globetrotting alien-centric Cold-War set Indiana Jones you expected then I don’t know what else could have been.

When you think misunderstood, you instantly think Shia Labeouf. It just so happens the only person who dare play Indy’s sidekick opposite Ford once he’d eaten his sausage was Shia himself. The name itself breeds controversy and doubt, thus shadowing Crystal Skull in a clatter of contentious deeds created by the actor during his many artistic life choices. Outside of that, it’s another excellent portrayal of a unique character by a young actor who was ultimately failed by the Hollywood machine.

A machine that at the time was heavily reliant on CGI, particularly CGI Prairie Dogs and Monkeys. In 2007 a department was established to make sure 80% of upcoming movies had either an unrealistic Prairie Dog or monkey swinging jungle scene so to pacify audiences, Spielberg used both allowing him to think deeper about the visual possibilities he could create.

With the power of CGI and the backdrop of the Cold War, Spielberg sort to create his most controversial scene yet. This is the one boys and girls, the reason for the big toasted 'Misunderstood' branding that forever soiled the Indiana Jones name. Escaping the Russians and arriving at an abandoned Nuclear testing facility, Jones finds himself in the blast radius of an atomic bomb. Fearing vaporisation (as we all would) he climbs into a lead-lined Smeg fridge for safety.

Propelled out of the test site by the force of the blast and waves of radiation, Jones rolls out of his capsule unharmed scaling a dirt mound to come face to face with a mushroom cloud shaped vision of the world if he fails his mission.

The same people that love Star Wars and Happy Gilmore will say this ruined the franchise for them. The fact that lead protects against nuclear radiation is so impossible to them, or that a 50 year old man obviously juiced up on the powers of the holy grail could withstand being knocked about in a fridge like

Johnny Knoxville in Jackass is so absurd to them that this is where it all went wrong.

The internet coined the term ‘Nuke the Fridge’ and thus Skull was tossed into the great misunderstood abyss for tarnishing a timeless trilogy and ending a potential sequel sooner than we are currently awaiting.

But people forget Crystal Skull ticked all the Indiana Jones boxes. Divine power coming into question with a moral mission to protect the greater good; cartoonishly deviant villains and henchmen on the receiving end of exaggerated audible punches; and an angry old man with a whip and a hat that cannot be killed whatever you throw at him.

I applaud the unique approach of presenting the titular Mcguffin in its opening scene and not having our heroes and villains find it in its final moments. Spielberg directed the film with honour and a classic sense of wonder that most modern films lack, never forgetting the intentional B movie appeal that Raiders of the Lost Ark set out to achieve.

With The Dial of Destiny on the horizon, I do not see a need to fix anything, but another adventure for a timeless hero that above all else, deserves another sausage.

Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull available now on NowTV & Sky Cinema

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