nuking the ‘fridge

by Toni McGee Causey

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
needed some.)

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.


19 thoughts on “nuking the ‘fridge

  1. R.J. Mangahas

    So, you didn’t care for Indiana Jones and the Close encounters of the Third Kind, eh? Me neither. It was too cartoonish. Particularly where Mutt is sword fighting between the two jeeps, gets caught up in the trees and starts swinging through them like George of the Jungle or something. I’m practically waiting for him to hit a tree. However, I still like the original three movies (maybe not so much Temple, but hey).

    To answer your question, two things that always take me out of any story that I read, bloated description (we don’t really need paragraph after paragraph describing someone’s wardrobe) and unrealistic dialogue, particularly if it doesn’t fit the character. I read one book (that shall remain nameless) that was set partly in an inner city neighborhood. Yet everyone, including a couple of gang members, spoke using metaphors and colorful description. If there weren’t any dialogue tags or scene descriptions, you would think that the whole story took place in some hoity-toity upscale neighborhood in Connecticut or something.

  2. JT Ellison

    I agree with RJ, be true to your character and setting, unless you’re trying to make a point.

    And Toni, SO there with you on the Indy movie. I hated it. And the second was pretty sucky too. : )

  3. JDRhoades

    Well, lest we forget, the first one had Indy gong halfway around the world on the OUTSIDE of a Nazi submarine, without being discovered, dying of thirst or exposure, or drowning. Then when he gets to the super secret Nazi sub base, he apparently just hops off unnoticed. And don’t even get me started on the whole “we can reconstruct the inscriptions on the headpiece from this guy’s burn scars.”

    And yet, I agree…Indy 1 was a classic.

    A bonus question would be “what is it that some stories have that allows the reader/viewer to forgive absurd plot points like that when you wouldn’t otherwise?”

  4. Louise Ure

    If I love the character then I will forgive all. All leaps of logic. All suspension of disbelief left hanging. All “we can reconstruct the inscriptions on the headpiece from this guy’s burn scars.”

    Without it, you’re outta here.

  5. Becky Hutchison

    I thought the refrigerator toss was a little unbelievable (along with a lot of other things in the movie), but I don’t think it’s much different than the absurd stunts at the beginning of a Bond flick. However, I viewed the movie as fantasy from the Area 51 takeover and search for the magnetic box, and so I found the film fairly enjoyable.

    I guess my biggest pet peeve is lots of typos. The more there are, the less I believe in the story.

    Another pet peeve is when a reference is made to a person, place or event that is totally out of sequence from the correct time frame…like having someone meet Mozart before he was actually born (unless it’s a paranormal book, of course).

  6. Rae

    As you say, Toni, I’ll put up with a fair amount of illogic for a satisfying journey. But the thing that absolutely drives me out-of-my-tree nuts is clunky, unrealistic dialog. It’ll absolutely kill an otherwise good book for me.

    Dusty’s question is a good one, too: I think it’s the overall quality of the writing and the believability of the characterizations that makes me willing to suspend my disbelief. I can put up with mediocre writing if the plot’s good, and a thin plot if the writing’s great; but mediocre writing and thin plot? Gak.

  7. Terri Molina

    So, Toni…what did you *really* think of the movie? haha

    I so totally agree with you! My family and I went to see it on opening weekend–we even did an Indy marathon the weekend before–and I was so disappointed! Until I read this review, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was as a whole that ruined the movie. The things that ruin a movie for me, aside from the logic, is the wrong cast. The wrong actors/actresses in a role can kill a movie for me because they just come across as unbelievable.

    Thanks for the great start to the day. Btw..I sent you a note at Bksp.

    See ya in a couple of weeks!

  8. Dana King

    My Spousal Equivalent and I differed on this movie. She liked it; I thought it was a mess, for all the reasons cited above. We even had the same argument–er, discussion–JD mentions above: Indy traveling along the outside of the submarine in Raiders. To me the difference there, and in other spots in Raiders and Last Crusade, was we didn’t have to watch him do the physically impossible. The demands on our suspension of disbelief were not as great.

    To answer Toni’s question, that’s what really takes me out of a movie: asking me to suspend too much disbelief. The eternal sci-fi rules apply to any movie: you can set up any world you want, but stay with those rules. The Enterprise can travel greater than the speed of light because that’s part of the premise. Spiderman can web-swing his way through the city because he’s Spiderman. If you’re willing to believe the whole “bitten by a radioactive spider” bit, you can go for that.

    It’s when movies expect us to accept some things as they are, and bend the rules of physics in other, arbitrary and convenient, areas that I lose interest. Like I did about the time they nuked the fridge.

  9. Mark Terry

    I actually don’t know enough about nuclear physics to know whether or not you could survive a nuclear explosion from the inside of a lead-lined refrigerator. Anybody tried?

    Anyway, I thought CS was the least of the 4 movies, but I enjoyed the movie fine. My wife and I agreed that the most disconcerting things about the movie was that Indy got old and his friends and family died off. And to me that was sad. Heroes of the Indiana Jones type, I think, just shouldn’t get old.

  10. J.D. Rhoades

    “I actually don’t know enough about nuclear physics to know whether or not you could survive a nuclear explosion from the inside of a lead-lined refrigerator…”

    Mark, sounds like a job for Mythbusters. Kari with a nuke…brrr….

    I don’t think it’s nuclear physics as much as it is plain ol’ physics. I’m thinking that kind of acceleration would turn anybody inside the box into strawberry jam. Not to mention the fact that the lead only protects from radiation. AND you’ve still got incredible heat and blast compression to contend with that would smash the box flat and melt it with Indy inside.

    When it comes to action films there’s a fine line between awesome and stupid.

  11. Tom Barclay

    My pet peeve (“Here, Igor; walkies! Good peeve!”) is marketing people think they can persuade us a movie like this is the Second Coming of Crust when it is merely the fourth (and freezer-burned) chunk of a cash-cow.

  12. Catherine

    I haven’t seen this movie on the advice of my daughter. She’s pretty articulate normally. However this movie pretty much enraged and reduced her to, grunts and squeaks, and muttering, ‘It was so wrong Mum, so wrong.’

    A pet peeve for me regarding some library books, doesn’t directly come from the author, or the publisher. It comes from some previous reader who decides to EDIT the story in ink. This may be in regards to the spelling of a word or, I’ve seen another word altogether ‘suggested’.

    I find the arrogance of someone using a shared resource in taking up a pen, and striking out the printed word and substituting their own, does break me out of the story. It doesn’t ruin the story, but it certainly jolts me out of where the author was taking me.

    Is this a world wide thing, or is this nonsense confined to Australia?

  13. J.D. Rhoades

    Catherine: I’ve never seen this in a library book…I have seen the annoying editorial comments some people will write in the margins: “HOW TRUE!” or “NO!” or “GOOD POINT!”

    But as far as changing the book itself? Jeepers.

    My friend Lori G. Armstrong once wrote that a reader had sent her an e-mail saying that said reader loved her work except for the ‘naughty words” and to prove that Lori didn’t need to use such harsh language, the reader had gone through the book with a black pen, blotting out all the “shits” and “fucks” before reading the book again, no doubt nodding in satisfaction at how much “better”the book was.

    My take on that: Bitch be crazy, yo. The reader, not Lori. Lori’s a sweetheart.

  14. Catherine

    J.D I’ve come across that annoying margin commentary too. It’s like being tapped on the shoulder in a cinema by some complete stranger who wants to share their viewpoint on the story unfolding.

    There are so many flavours to crazy.

  15. toni mcgee causey

    I ended up out all day, and wow, came home to a great discussion.

    Dusty, you’re right — that is a great question. I remember thinking that was totally nuts during the movie, but we didn’t actually see the whole trip–they used the map dohicky thing to show point A to point B, and it went by in a blip and it was back to fun characters / story. But you’re right, I was totally willing to buy that and go along with it, mostly because of the character. They hadn’t violated it yet.

    Same thing with Bond or even the Die Hard stuff (well, the first one), as well as Bourne–the world is set up and within the context of the world, certain things can be done.

    Louise, you nailed it (as usual) — if I believe in the characters, I can forgive a lot. A certain amount of logic flaws won’t kill me if I’m in love with the people and the world.

    Saw Dark Knight (Ledger totally amazes, and that’s after hearing the hype and me thinking no way could he be that good, it was just because of his death, but no, he made you forget entirely who he was, any role he’d had before, and that he wasn’t really the Joker.) Saw Wanted, thought Morgan Freeman was great casting. Pretty good action flick, including the twist. This was definitely a case where the writers built a premise and stuck to it for that world. (Movie is based off a graphic novel series.)

  16. Becky Hutchison

    I’m with you there, Tom,T.O. I’d rather see only half a telephone number then see the 555 at the beginning.

  17. Jake Nantz

    As far as a book, typos (I’m sure it’s the publisher, not the author) are the one that really drags me out. Wooden dialogue is a close second.

    In films, it’s someone who is so over-the-top in their performance that I sorta feel bad for them, and completely forget the movie and story. Jack Nicholson as the Joker was like that for me. Same with The Shining. Ledger’s Joker, on the other hand, was flawless. Jack was a slightly crazy (and I mean Ed Wynn crazy, not psychotic crazy) thug boss. Ledger’s Joker was true to the character. Truly masterful work.

    And as with everyone prior, I just can’t stand things that strain credibility, even if it’s a world where phenomenal things can occur. Example: I can go along with pretty much anything Jason Bourne does (film or novel version). However, even after everything else I was willing to buy into with “Frank” the driver in TRANSPORTER 2, when he barrel-rolls his car perfectly so it lands still intact but the bomb on the bottom has been knocked off by the crane he happened to jump under, I burst out laughing. I really like Jason Statham, but whoever let him make Transporter 2 (let alone Crank) should be dragged out in the street and shot in the face.Twice.

  18. J.D. Rhoades

    The reason they do the 555 thing is that no actual exchange uses it except long distance information. If they use a real #, thousands of idiots call it. Remember that song “867-5309”? That was the number for the Wake County, NC school board. They had to change it.


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