2008 in Review: ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’

Reboots and remakes, even sequels, are often lauded by nearly everyone as unnecessary. Calls of “we’ve seen this already” or “it was better when” often prelude paragraphs that go on to compare apples and oranges; decades-old cinema with modern storytelling. The thing is, for beloved franchises, reinventing or revisiting characters from the past actually does not “ruin childhoods” as some would claim – the originals and how they made you feel are completely independent of something that comes after. In fact, the opposite is sometimes true.

As a tyke, I had the misfortune of never seeing a “Star Wars” film until I sat in theaters a couple days after my 8th birthday and pondered to my brother if the pretty blue sphere of Naboo was actually Earth. “The Phantom Menace” thrilled me. It captured my imagination and ignited my first multimedia passion. It was now on me to educate myself on everything that had come before. That much-maligned prequel made my childhood, shaped it into one full of Star Wars books, Lego sets, and orchestral scores. I owe my passion for film and moviemaking to a reboot. Unnecessary, my hairy rear.

So while others postulated as to what sort of sick cash-grab 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was, I waited with bated breath. Because of my “Star Wars” obsession, I had, of course, soaked in anything George Lucas, John Williams, Harrison Ford, and, by extension, Steven Spielberg had done and was already on the Indy bandwagon by the time of this sequel’s release 19 years after the last entry. And as I watched Indy fail a daring rope swing, wander through a “sha-boom, sha-boom, ba duh, duh” ’50s Nuclear test site, and encounter extraterrestrials, I was again captured by the lore and myths brought to life by this archaeologist. Okay, I hated the gratuitously CGI’d murderous ants.

When I Fell in Love with “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”

The opening warehouse sequence was the moment when I was immediately enamored with the fourth entry into this series. It served as a passing of the torch from the original trilogy by immediately putting something familiar but as of yet unexplored. All the treasures of Indy’s past adventures serve as setting to the films first great action sequence. And yes, I mean great. Dynamic lighting (do we expect anything less from Spielberg?), exciting stakes, and classic Jones vs. vehicle action (Indy, I think, more than any other character ever, spends more time on, over, or under a vehicle than actually in it) help reestablish the kind of adventure we are going on. But the single line that most captured the essence of this scene is Indy’s “Damn, I thought that was closer.” Ford is no spring chicken and the wild antics that kept him always two steps ahead of danger before are no longer at his disposal. He has aged and is susceptible to error. It is the perfect way to ground such a character!

Most Rewatchable Scene

In terms of lingering relevance, no scene in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is more vital than the infamous Doom Town/nuke the fridge scene. It is also the movie’s most rewatchable. That does not mean it is a great scene. The CGI has not held up well and it is flatly absurd, but it is not without merit. It is a spooky scene that despite its bright 1950’s neighborhood aesthetic boosts unnervingly smiling mannequins and the always eerie absence of expected sound. The rewatchability, however, comes from the nuclear detonation. The mannequin melting harkens back to the climax of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” which is a fun allusion. Then they nuke the fridge. Yes, it’s ridiculous. No, it isn’t too far a departure from Indy’s other escapades (see also: stowing away on the outside of a submarine, jumping out of a plane on a raft). Fun stuff.

Best Scene

The best scene comes in the film’s final minutes after Indy and Marion are wed. A gentle breeze blows his iconic hat to Mutt Williams’ feet. Mutt is competently played by Shia LaBeouf but not well regarded amongst fans. To many, it was clear that Mutt was being set up to take over his father’s legacy in future installments. And why not? LaBeouf’s star was on the rise from leading roles in “Transformers” and “Disturbia.” Ford would inevitably continue to age. It seemed to make sense. So when Indy’s hat landed at Mutt’s feet, an audible groan escaped the mouths of many a fan. Only to be turned into hearty applause as Indy grabs the fedora, places it back on his head, and gives Mutt a look as if to say, “Not today, kid.” Amongst aliens, nuclear detonation, and Indy’s paternal revelation, this is the twist that seems most unexpected and the most welcome. It’s not a passing of the torch, LaBeouf isn’t taking the reins from Ford, and Indiana Jones lives to see another adventure.

Why You Should Watch It Again

The Star Wars prequels are finally gaining ground now well after two decades in fan’s eyes. In hindsight, they aren’t the atrocities that some claimed them to be. The same is true of this film. While the CGI doesn’t hold up quite as well, there are some solid character interactions, strong action sequences, clever allusions to past films, and typical Spielbergian escapist fun! While certainly not his best effort, the film is better than I suspect most remember it as and the absurdity is right in line with the other installments in the franchise.

What do you think of “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” 10 years later? How do you feel about the franchise now? Let us know in the comments below!

Check out our other retrospectives on 2008 here

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