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By Mark Bell | December 21, 2008

Originally ran on on 05/27/08

I’m not about to say anything revelatory; it’s all been quite obvious for some time now. Still, as “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” rolled along, I found myself noting certain bits in my head as “totally a Lucas thing” or “totally a Spielberg thing,” and I figured I would take this opportunity to share my thoughts. Oh, and just to be safe, the following, by nature of where the thoughts occured, contain SPOILERS. On the off-chance that you haven’t seen the film by now (and let’s be honest, if you really cared enough to read this then you likely have seen it by now) and wish to remain spoiler-free, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER! Got it? Good…

1. Lucas has a thing for fast cars…
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” opens on the open road in Nevada, as an army convoy is mocked by, and eventually pursuaded to race with, a bunch of teenagers in a dragster. Before we’ve even seen Indiana Jones, I’m already thinking “I bet Lucas had something to do with this opening” and then thinking about “American Graffiti,” which immediately had me pondering all the racing vehicle exploits from his other movies. What is the difference between a speeder bike chase and a motorcycle pursuit? A light saber duel amongst fast-moving platforms and a fencing duel between two vehicles? The answer: not f*****g much. To his defense, chase sequences in the “Indy” franchise are nothing new, so we can’t pin every fast-moving sequence on the guy, but a dragster full of kids from the ’50s is a pretty big Lucas giveaway.

2. Indiana Jones is full of misplaced skepticism…
Upon hearing Mutt’s explanation of the crystal skull in the film, and then further explaining the legend behind it, Jones immediately begins to discredit the entire affair, treating it as just another legend with no possible basis in fact. This skepticism would be fine in anyone else, but from the guy who found the Ark of the Covenant and (didn’t) watch it take out a Nazi battalion, used a glowing Sankara stone to save himself on a fallen rope bridge and drank from the Holy Grail, it just doesn’t fit.

Sure, if he just believed any and everything he’d be a pretty gullible guy, but to even pretend that he gives no credence to his friends’ efforts to find and return the skull whatsoever, especially after being kidnapped to find an alien autopsy bucket and surviving a nuclear explosion, is just being a dick. And Indiana Jones is NOT a dick. Unless you’re a Nazi or KGB agent.

Oh, and if Mr. Skeptical was half as skeptical about those he keeps company with (Mac, Elsa, Sapito, the f*****g monkey from “Raiders”) then he probably wouldn’t find himself trapped or f****d over half the time.

3. Lucas has a thing for young, maturing boys…
It started with “The Last Crusade,” wherein it was shown that having an old Indiana Jones just wasn’t good enough. The film has to open with a young Indy, so we can randomly explain the scar on the chin, the whip fetish and the fear of snakes. I’d say Spielberg had a hand in this interest, except, thanks to the “Star Wars” prequels and the “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” it became more apparent that it is Lucas who is more interested in (over)explaining the origin of every beloved character he’s ever had a hand in creating (Boba Fett, Darth Vader anyone). More generally, it’s Lucas who needs to see a young boy mature over the course of a film, series, what-have-you in order to become the man Lucas originally envisioned.

In the latest, we have Mutt and the slight implication of a torch being passed along. Just having Indy do his thing is not enough, he apparently needs a young sidekick to grow and mature as the film goes along. This too is nothing new, I guess (thinking back, has Indy done ANYTHING by himself; seems he always has someone by his side who will either need to be saved, or betray him), but the blatant focus on Mutt as action hero as the film goes on feels very “Young Indiana Jones” to me and, therefore, is going at the feet of George Lucas.

4. Spielberg has a thing for aliens…
Sure, Lucas could be accused of this too, but his aliens have their own worlds and mythos. Spielberg’s aliens are always trying to fit into our world as it does, has, or will exist. In the case of “Crystal Skull,” Spielberg went back to his “Close Encounters”-style aliens (of which the evolved robots in “A.I.” also resembled) and made a pretty strong case for being able to root their existence to all the “evidence” we’ve seen in life outside of the movies (if you believe tabloids, Whitley Strieber or “The X-Files”). While it made for an interesting premise, it lacked the power of the previous films forays into world religions, and the implications thereof (“Temple of Doom” at least gave the impression that it wasn’t all about the Hebrew or Christian God) because it went from being an action-adventure to a sci-fi film. Not that they didn’t find a way to make it work, but the focus on aliens in a movie, again, sure feels like a Spielberg move.

Oh, and having John Hurt dealing with aliens caused me to make another connection of a far more violent nature. I kept expecting him to mention something cryptic to Indy and then have a baby alien burst from his chest. THAT would’ve made for an entirely different film, for damn sure.

5. Lucas sure loves his CGI…
Probably the most obvious thing I or anyone could say, I couldn’t leave it out simply because of its obvious nature. Now, it’s not like Spielberg hasn’t utilized CGI in his films, but not to the Lucas “why do we need to film anywhere but in a green wherehouse” extreme. In fact, I wouldn’t be too down on all the CGI in the latest “Indy” film but praising towards all the non-CGI that existed because, when Lucas is involved, real anything is rare. Pluses on the CGI end included the set piece book-ends of the Nevada nuclear explosion and the alien temple destruction, and the negatives were almost entirely jungle-related (Mutt and the monkeys, Mutt fencing, fire ants). I blame Lucas for the fencing, but I’ll give Spielberg blame for anything too cutesy about the endeavor.

Just boys being boys, I guess…
Now, in the end, what did the above observations do or not do for me? Simply, they explained why I didn’t dislike the film. Basically the familiarity of Indiana Jones cross-bred with the familiarity of the themes and styles of his creators all lead to a strong feeling of overall comfort, a feeling of a “friends just being themselves” situation. I don’t always like what they did (the Mutt-Tarzan sequence may go down as the worst sequence in “Indy” history, followed closely by the Mutt-fencing sequence), but it’s just Lucas and Spielberg being Lucas and Spielberg, while Indy gets to be Indy. In that regard, Lucas and Spielberg got it right. See, Lucas tried the whole re-creation / re-invention of a franchise thing and it basically ruined a number of nerds’ childhoods. At least “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” doesn’t ruin anything that came before it and, at worst, is just another Indy adventure that you either do or don’t dig. And as an Indy adventure, it has everything we’ve come to know and love, for better or worse. Well, save the cannon-exploding revolver rounds. Why can’t Indy wield a gun again?

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