By now, I assume that anyone who was really in love with the Indiana Jones movie would have gone to see #4. If you haven’t seen Indiana Jones and the Crystal
McGuffin, er, Skull, there be spoilers here. The entire blog. I would warn you away from if you haven’t seen the movie yet and still wanted to, but I am doing you a favor. (And let me just stop for a second and to say to those of you who
enjoyed this film… I love you, you know I do. I think you’re smart
and funny and all kinds of great and your hair is really cute today, but I want to know where you got the
crack you used while you were enjoying this film, because clearly, I
This movie was so classically bad, so widely panned, it generated a phrase — "nuking the fridge" — a new way of saying "jumping the shark" — which occurs when a series has "passed [its] peak, since [it has] undergone too many changes to retain
[its ]original appeal, and after this point critical fans often sense a
noticeable decline in the show’s quality."
Near the beginning of the film, Indiana Jones has escaped from the Cold War Russian Bad Guys with Bad Accents in the dessert at area 51, and has managed to find himself in a small town… he goes to the trouble of climbing over a fence, if I remember correctly, and breaking into a house–his plan? To use a telephone to get help. I will go along with that. The initial sequence was bad, the whole magnetic skull thing bad (if you put a cloth over something strong enough to pull coins to it, the magnetization is not going to stop because of a cloth. Or a piece of wood, like the lid to a box. And if the box is lined with something blocking the strong magnetization, then you can’t use magnetization to find the box.)
So okay, I’m going to forgive the opening. Fine. Indy’s inside the house and he then sees that there’s a family sitting in the living room, and on closer inspection, realizes they are mannequins. Indy runs outside, only to have the camera pull back and show that there are plastic people on the lawn, mimicking real people–a child pulling a wagon, I think someone’s mowing or watering a lawn, whatever, all plastic.
Supposedly, the town is filled with mannequins. I’m not entirely sure how he missed all of those as he was making his way to the center of that town, nor why he didn’t choose to break into the house on the very outskirts of town (maybe only the center of town had phone service back then). A loud siren blares, with some sort of loudspeaker announcement that the nuclear blast is imminent.
You know, because those mannequins needed to be told to brace themselves.
So Indy runs back inside (after bumping into one of the nicely painted mannequins–and they needed to be pained… why? exactly who was supposed to be around to care if they were lifelike?)… anyway… he’s running back inside to try to find a solution (because saying, "I am so fucked" at this point in the movie is probably a bad thing) (which is what most of the audience was thinking)… and Indy’s great solution? He climbs into a lead-lined refrigerator (thank you Speilberg for that shot of the "lead lined" on the refrigerator, because without that? your credibility might have been completely questionable) and closes the door just as the nuclear warhead detonates, melting all of the mannequins and destroying the houses.
Whereupon we cut to a scene supposedly far outside the blast zone to see that refrigerator (and no other furniture or real debris) flying through the air and landing and rolling and then Indy popping out of the fridge. Safe.
I’ll be the first to say that story logic? Sometimes can out-maneuver a writer. Sometimes a writer will put in months of work and revisions and the story has evolved in their head to the point where they will give a character a reason for doing something toward the end of the book or movie that is completely illogical when taken in context of the beginning. Sometimes in the process of writing, a writer will figure out a better person "whodunit" or a better villain or a better piece of dialog, whatever, and they’ll have to backtrack, rewrite or polish… and when doing so, small threads or hints from the original plot may be left behind which can screw with the ultimate, final logic. Occasionally people don’t catch it, and it can make a reader not really trust that writer if they are yanked out of the story with conflicting information that’s never resolved; however, most of the time they will forgive the writer a bad sequence or flubbed clue if, ultimately, the story makes sense. If, in the final moment, the emotional journey they traveled on was worth the price of the toll, the reader will be okay.
But there are two kinds of logic at work in any story. There is the immediate plot structure (which can be told out of order, but at some point, has to have a cause-effect sensibility), and there is the logic of the world created (these kinds of things happen in this world, these kinds of things don’t.) That latter kind of logic skips hand in hand merrily down the street with tone.
If logic is skipping to a samba beat and tone is skipping to an aria, the audience is going to see the result and feel everything is off-kilter, out of focus, and feel like the world in front of them has been violated, out of sync.
I’m not sure what kind of movie Indy 4 was supposed to be; once they set down the road of hyperbole, someone somewhere decided, and then a whole lot of other people agreed, that the logic of the sequence of events–the set pieces–was more important than overall story logic. If your sequence works, but violates the point of the world, the audience is going to feel it. They’re not just watching that sequence–they’re watching it in the context of the entire frame of the story. In addition, the tone has to match. If Indy 4 was madcap camp–completely intended to be something like Airplaine or any spoof? It would have totally worked. But we were not lead to believe they were spoofing themselves.
There are rules to the world a writer creates. Always. Worlds built on reality, worlds built on hyperbole. No matter the genre, the writer has to take the rules of the world seriously and honor the characters they’ve created.
And in the world of Indy 4, Indy is supposed to come upon incredible obstacles and then outsmart them. The solutions may be outrageous, but they are within the bounds of the bigger-than-life world. He’s supposed to be this affable, sort of smart ass professor, who in secret, is really a kick ass archaeologist.
He is not supposed to be the kind of guy who could walk into a town, climb over a fence and not notice that all of the people he’s scurrying from have not moved even a fraction of an inch. And are plastic.
I maybe couldda forgiven them that, if the rest of the movie had made some sort of sense. The McGuffin: must return the crystal skull of super smart alien to its body. Don’t really have a reason, other than it told Indy to. Okay. Fine. When he finds the location that he’s to return the skull to, there are 13 crystalline skeletons in a circle, one with its head missing. The one that is all of the way across the room from the door. The way the skeletons are sitting there, all intact except for the one missing head, the implication is that the skull was stolen after they were all on their thrones.
Um, how, exactly? When the skull is returned, they all come back to life and merge into one. If they were so smart, why wouldn’t they have noticed that someone was tiptoeing across the room? Were there aliens strippers distracting them? What? And I’d love to give the storytellers credit at this point that the skull was stolen before the beings were all sitting on their thrones, but that’s not how they told the story–and that’s not how the scene is shot.
The movie was not only ruined for me, because the tone and logic were so out of hand, but the series* in retrospect just looks silly now, instead of the cool iconic hyperbolic heroic kind of story that it was: where intelligence was sexy and capable of adventure.
So, story logic: vital. Don’t leave home without it.
Instead of us all skewering specific writers (I feel like Speilberg and Lucas can handle the rant)… what are your pet peeves that break you out of the story and ruin the experience for you?
*I will admit to sort of loathing the second one, but it really wasn’t this bad.