Feb 6, 2020
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), a recap (part 2 of 8)
Previously on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Nobody nuked a fridge. And that’s the best that can be said about that.
Indiana is walking through the Nevada hills after his jet/monorail/made-up-thing ride. He spots a town in the distance. It looks like a nice little place with painted clapboard houses, fenced in yards, and laundry hanging to dry. He picks a house, yells, “Hello,” and then wanders in.
Much like the neighborhood, it’s a pleasant home. It looks very much like that one from Little Shop of Horrors or the much better known Family Guy parody of Little Shop of Horrors.
Indy tries to get a drink, but the sink doesn’t work. The TV, however, is tuned to Howdy Doody. But when Indy tries to alert the family, they turn out to be mannequins… watching a real TV. Why would the army hook up real TVs?
Doctor Jones catches on pretty quickly that he’s about to get fissioned. There are fake kids in the street, and a fake guy watering his car with real water. The army ran real water lines to a fake town in the desert. That’s dedication.
The weird thing is that this isn’t too far from the truth. The government built such a town full of dolls, dressed up and engaged in regular activities, in order to nuke them and then study their charred, irradiated, plastic corpses.
By the way, they didn’t just nuke plastic people. They put real livestock in there as well.
Indy hears a warning siren. He runs frantically in search of somewhere to hide. From the Nuclear Bomb. At the last moment, he shoves himself into… well, you know.
Steven “let’s drop everything and save Matt Damon” Spielberg takes the time to show us that the refrigerator is lead-lined. Yes, there were such things as lead-lined refrigerators in the 1950s. They were small and specialized for laboratory use. They never have been and still aren’t available for consumers. Also, the lead lining wouldn’t block enough radiation. Indy would get a dose that would be, at best, inconsistent with him remaining in any way alive.
Even so, Indy wouldn’t die of radiation poisoning. There are about a dozen other things that would compete to kill him first.
The bomb goes off and everything gets blasted to hell. A huge shock wave flattens all of the houses. The heat causes the mannequins to die. Everything that wasn’t destroyed is now on fire.
The refrigerator goes bouncing across the desert. I counted, and the refrigerator hits the ground twelve times. That’s the initial acceleration of the fridge plus sudden deceleration to zero, a dozen times in a row.
Indy crawls out of the refrigerator with neither a concussion nor paralysis. He also hasn’t been baked to death. For some reason, he comes face-to-face with the prairie dog from the beginning. Or, at least, I assume it’s the one from the beginning. I’m not great at identifying computer-animated rodents. Jones climbs a hill and watches the huge mushroom cloud.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that literally billions of tons of ink have been spilled dissecting this scene. I don’t have the scientific background to meaningfully add to it. This person, however, does. Dr. David Shechner tallied the research and found all the ways Indy would die, including two types of suffocation and three types of heat death.
So let my contribution be this small observation: The army set off an atomic bomb within one jet/monorail/made-up-thing ride away from their secret warehouse.
Incidentally, George “Jar Jar” Lucas has taken responsibility for this scene. In 2012, a New York Times writer reported:
In fact, it was Spielberg who “didn’t believe” the scene. In response to Spielberg’s fears, Lucas put together a whole nuking-the-fridge dossier. It was about six inches thick, he indicated with his hands. Lucas said that if the refrigerator were lead-lined, and if Indy didn’t break his neck when the fridge crashed to earth, and if he were able to get the door open, he could, in fact, survive. “The odds of surviving that refrigerator — from a lot of scientists — are about 50-50,” Lucas said.
And that was the last bad decision George Lucas ever made.
We smash-cut to a military base, where Harrison Ford is being hosed clean in a decontamination room. Call me a skeptic, but I’m pretty sure this scene exists just to show Harrison Ford’s abs. And he is effing ripped. He was 64 years old when he made this movie and he looks like Zac Efron.
In any case, it’s nice to see the army caring at least a little about the radioactive dust on his skin. Too bad they couldn’t get to the dust he’d been inhaling nonstop since the blast. Still, it’s a pretty thorough scrubbing.
We dissolve to an interrogation room. Two FBI agents are grilling Indy. And, hey! One of the FBI agents is Neil Flynn from The Middle! That’s the kind of cameo that’s really fun and also really just destroys a movie. I’m not thinking about anything on the screen. I’m busy shouting, “Neil! Neil Flynn! Over here!” at my Hulu account. This is, by the way, the second movie Neil has made with Harrison Ford. He played the subway cop from The Fugitive.
They question Indy for a little while, but he doesn’t know anything. An army general of some sort busts in and vouches for him. General Ross is here to kick ass and dole out some exposition, and he’s all out of ass.
The general explains that Spalko was Stalin’s favorite scientist, “if you can call psychic research science,” and she appears to be traveling the world to find artifacts she thinks might be paranormal. Man, Stalin is going to be pissed when he finds out she missed the Ark. Neil Flynn interrupts to threaten Indy some more, saying he doesn’t care how many medals he won in WWII.
The scene dissolves into a nice exterior of the fictional Marshall College, or the real Yale University, depending on your perspective. Indy’s all cleaned up, wearing what I think was Sean Connery’s suit in Last Crusade and teaching whatever class he’s teaching.
Dr. Jones lectures for about a sentence and a half before he’s interrupted by the dean. The dean brings him outside to tell Indy he’s on double secret probation. Actually, it’s worse than that. He’s being placed on a leave of absence—an indefinite leave of absence. The school has come under pressure for having a person on staff who consorts with communists. It doesn’t seem to matter that all the consorting Jones did was at gunpoint, because people in the 1950s were in the 1950s.
Wormer Stanforth is being played by famed English character actor Jim Broadbent. If there’s an British indie sleeper hit movie, he was in it. Archmaester Ebrose tells Indy that he was so upset by the university’s decision that he resigned.
Cut to the Jones household. Indy is packing while Jim Broadbent drinks. Steven “I’m the one who told Peter Coyote to jingle those keys” Spielberg takes time to remind us we’re still in the 1950s when he has Broadbent complain that “the government has us seeing communists in our soup.”
Indiana takes time to reminisce about the people he’s lost. I always hate when they do this in movies, because really all it says is, “We couldn’t get this actor.” That’s true of Sean Connery, who had retired by 2008. It’s doubly true of Denholm Elliott, who died in 1992, just three years after Last Crusade. The point of this scene, I’m pretty sure, is to show us that Indy’s getting older and he feels his glory days are behind him. Then this movie will prove to him that he’s still got some adventuring left to do. They’re the same story beats as How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
In the next shot, Indiana boards a train amidst just a stupid amount of dry ice fog. Two very Russian spy-looking men with shifty eyes hop on the train after him. And then, through the fog roars a young, motorcycle-riding Marlon Brando. Wait, it’s child actor Shia LaBeouf dressed for Halloween as a young, motorcycle-riding Marlon Brando. LaBeouf has said he wanted his costume to be an homage to Brando’s in The Young Ones. It’s not. It’s the same damn thing.
LaBeouf is riding his motorcycle on the train platform. That can’t be safe for anybody. He rides along next to Indy’s window as the train is moving. He yells, “Are you a friend of Dr. Oxley’s?” Indy responds, “Harold Oxley, the archaeologist?” No. Gary Oxley, the ophthalmologist. Of course he’s an archaeologist. A guy is riding his motorcycle on a train platform. He’s probably asking you about a fellow archaeologist.
Shia responds quite dramatically with, “They’re gonna kill him.” That was actually a pretty cool line.
I want to tread lightly when it comes to LaBeouf, and not because he’s a crazy person and I’m afraid he’ll cut me. Don’t get me wrong; he is a crazy person and I am afraid he’ll cut me. I don’t, however, think his downward spiral was caused by people hating his performance in this movie. It started before, and lasted long after.
LaBeouf’s legacy is far more complicated. He’s honestly a decent enough actor. He at least tries to treat acting like an art, going so far as only appearing in art films these days. He clearly has a mental illness, but so do a lot of entertainers. His real problem is that he’s a pain in the ass. LaBeouf admitted in an interview that his behavior has cost him work. He told Variety about one project where “I went in to meet, and they were like, ‘Nah, you’re crazy. You’re a good actor, but not this one.'”
The fault also has to go to Steven “I can make not having a close encounter seem interesting for two hours” Spielberg. If you’re the most popular living director, people should be able to say better things than this quote from the same Variety article:
“You get there, and you realize you’re not meeting the Spielberg you dream of,” LaBeouf says. “You’re meeting a different Spielberg, who is in a different stage in his career. He’s less a director than he is a fucking company.”
So, let me be clear: I only partially fault Shia for making the acting decisions he did in this movie. Equal blame goes to Steven “Let me give John Belushi a dump truck full of coke and then film it” Spielberg for not using his actors correctly.
The next thing we see, Harrison Ford (who spends most days baked out of his mind) and Shia LaBeouf (who spends most days just out of his mind) are sitting in a diner. Ford is looking at a photo of an old man and a digitally enyouthened Shia. He says he hasn’t seen Professor Oxley in twenty years. Hey, wait a minute! Shia’s character’s age is about twenty years! I smell intrigue!
Tune in next week for Part Three: The Stench of Intrigue!