Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL….A lot of people didn’t like the latest Indiana Jones movie. I did.

Here’s a review that I think makes some fair points. Much of the less formal criticism (for example) revolves around believability, particularly of the computer-generated effects.

I must admit that I’m not cognizant of the criteria for believability in a movie, whether it’s in relationships or chase scenes. When the convention of the hero being shot at and inevitably missed first sprang up, it took only five or six shots to convince us that he must be dead and the bad guy out of ammo. As we’ve become desensitized, we require thousands of rounds from automatic weapons for the same effect, but even though we know how the scene will end, those shots still raise our anxiety. So why not computer-generated ants?

A movie, particularly a genre movie, is a balance of convention, surprise and what the viewer brings to it. I bring a penchant for seeing symbols and subtexts where others tell me they are not, a dollop of New Mexico, and a tiny bit of shared history with Harrison Ford.

The movie’s first scene was shot down the hill from here (you can see the distinctive Ghost Ranch cliffs in the distance in my photo), leading to the “Nevada” test site, which I think was located on the other side of these mountains. That gave me another of those disconnections that come from being too familiar with the scenery, so I’m not sure that the guys in the trucks in the first scene were the Russians in the next. But that was okay, because the gate really did look like the gate to the Alamogordo test site in New Mexico, where the first nuclear test was done, and my friends who have seen nuclear tests tell me that this one was very accurately portrayed. (Is that a spoiler? Maybe I should put a jump here.)

They also tell me that Indy needed about a foot of paraffin in that refrigerator to protect against neutrons. I can quibble with the best of them.

Another movie I really enjoyed was “The Matrix.” I’m not sure that any of that movie was believable, but it was enjoyable, playing on that adolescent (and never quite gone for some of us) suspicion that we are merely players strutting on the stage (oh, sorry, that’s from a play). “The Matrix” gives us a key to any movie: it’s a simulacrum. So the questions become what we like in simulacra and how the similacra engage our realities or vice versa.

I almost always enjoy the cartoonish action picture if it’s creative enough. I share the opinion that this latest Indy film could have been more creative, although I have to say that I can’t come up with any better ideas. But that’s not all there is to Indiana Jones movies. They also are sendups of their own genre, plus whatever else falls into their maw.

The bad guys were Russians. I am hearing that today’s real Russians don’t like the way Russians are portrayed in this movie, but that shows that they don’t understand the nature of similacra, or that this simulacrum didn’t fit their preferences, possibly both. The Russians in the movie are the 1950s American stereotype of Russians, which, it turns out, was what some of the more dedicated Communists were like back then, which is probably what stings. I suspect that Russian young people, born after the death of the Soviet Union, have a better feeling for simulacra and will not be damaged by the film.

I also enjoy the unfolding of mysteries, of which the temple mechanism was an intriguing if nerdishly complex example, progressing to its Indy-conventional destruction. The transformation of the site was impressive, climaxing with an evocation of Atlantis. If you’ve got Roswell, Area 51, and Peruvian pyramids, why not Atlantis?

The fifties nostalgia was fun, all the way to the wedding scene at the happy ending. If this is going to be the last Indiana Jones film, it needed to end that way. And, in another Indy-convention, of course the treasure was returned.

In college, I was not very good at uncovering symbolism and subtexts, but as I get older, they seem to be everywhere. “The Crystal Skull” provided a plethora of aggressive Nietzschean abysses, into which people (including Indy) kept staring. Other symbolic and mythological references soared through, which I found amusing at the time but don’t recall just now. This Indy adventure, it seemed to me, owed more to Dr. Tyree than the earlier ones.

Unlike Harrison Ford, I never took a course in philosophy from Dr. Tyree at Ripon College, but it was a small enough place that most of us knew about most of the professors. It seemed to me that Ford’s performance as Indy-in-the-classroom owed something to Dr. Tyree, who, yes, is a real person, and yes, he taught philosophy, but I doubt he would have ever characterized it as “the truth.”

With all that, plus a lovely working-out of a metaphor I’ve used often for a project that ultimately was done in by office politics (“I knew the cliff was coming, but I wanted to go over it at full speed…”), how could I not enjoy another Indiana Jones movie?

Cross-posted at WhirledView.

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