The last Indiana Jones movie was the worst of the set. Or as I like to say, it is The Phantom Menace of the series. Both movies had the disadvantage of being produce after and ultra-long hiatus, thus raising expectations colored by nostalgia to fever pitch. Also, there are many bad film-making habits that both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have developed over the years that they did not have as young men.
High expectations with flawed storytelling led to the general sense of disappointment many felt in the movie. But was this all avoidable?
The corps theme is very strong: life is still and adventure as you get older. Early in the movie Indy reflects that at a certain point life takes away more than it gives you. But the whole point of the story was to show that there is still a lot more left to be lived. This idea would resonate not only with those who grew up with Indy but with audiences in general. So how do we fix it?
Here's a list of ways to fix Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in no particular order.
- Change Mac with Sallah.In the beginning of the movie, Indy finds himself in hot water with an old buddy Mac. But the audience has to take this on faith, since we have never seen Mac until this movie. And then he betrays Indy to the Reds. But you can't feel anything for this betrayal because you've never felt anything for their friendship. If Mac was only in this one scene, that would be fine, but he comes back up over and over, telling Indy he's a double agent, but then betraying him again, until he is sucked up by the “space-between-spaces” guys.Here's why Sallah would be a much better choice:a. There is a history that the audience has seen with him and Indy in two previous movies. When he betrays Indy, the audience would gasp. Not only would this be a big betrayal, but he would be a powerful enemy because he knows how Indy works.b. When Sallah tells Indy that he's a double agent, the audience would believe him and quickly forgive because they have an affection for him from the first movie. And then they would be with Indy, who though conflicted at the constant betrayal would still want to save him.c. Losing Sallah at the end of the movie would give it the emotional weight that it needed for the end of the journey. When Mac dies, we don't care. Which brings us to...
- Make Mac's (or Sallah's) death heroic.Inexplicably, Mac says before he lets go of Indy's whip “I'll be alright” First of all, there is no way that he could know this. Imagine Frodo looking up at Sam and saying that right before he plummets to the lava river below. Second, if he let go of all of his gold, he would have been saved, so he dies simply by greed.Instead, imagine that one of the “space-between-spaces” guys began to pull in Indy and the other heroes but Mac can see that if he lets go he will fly into them and save the rest of the humans. It would give him a poignant last act of heroism.
- Have a different MacGuffin. Indiana Jones deals with the supernatural and the occult. Science Fiction is not a good fit for him. It would be like if the next Batman movie had him fighting vampires. You could do it, but the context is a bit off. Aliens are not Indy's wheelhouse. It is actually an easy fix. Just make the Crystal Skull guys actual pre-Columbian gods who for some reason went into retreat or “died.”
- Skip the Atomic Fridge.After Indy escapes from Area 51, you could cut immediately to him back with Americans. Having him survive the a-bomb pushes the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. And this is from a series that told us that you could survive a plane crash with an inflatable raft.
- Don't do Mutt's monkey swing digitally.I actually don't have a problem with Mutt swinging like a monkey per se. You can film someone swinging through vines and make it look cool, as Arnold did in Predator. If you did that scene as a practical effect, where he wasn't swinging for what seemed like the length of a football field, then it wouldn't be bad. The digital option made it look too fake and out of line. If he just took one or two major swings, like Indy did when he crashed through the truck at the beginning of the movie, it could have been a cool moment.
- Show us what the Crystal Skull sees.Indy is tied to a chair and forced to mind meld with the Crystal Skull. All we see is Harrison Ford looking like he's holding back waves of diarrhea It would have been a lot better if we could see inside Indy's mind and get glimpses of his vision. It would guide the rest of the movie's trajectory
- Have a better introduction for Marion Ravenwood.I love that they bring back the original Indy girl. But on screen, she just kind of shows up. It is a wide shot of her walking through a tent flap. There should have been a much bigger build up and close in with reaction shots between her and Indy. It would have added the emotional weight that the first movie had. Think about how Indy first walks in to Marion's bar in Raiders of the Lost Ark, his shadow looming large on the wall in front of her. Wouldn't it have been great if they had done the reverse with Marion's shadow to give the movies some symmetry But instead, this scene is played for very cheap laughs
- Have Indy do something to save the day.One of my biggest problems with Raiders of the Lost Ark is the same problem I have with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Indy doesn't actually do anything in the end. In both movies, the bad guys tick off the powers that be and Indy escapes after they have their faces blown off. In Temple of Doom and Last Crusade, Indy is much more active in securing his fate. But in half of his movies, he lets someone else do the work for him. He's outsourcing his hero job.
- Make the inhabitants of the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull more of a character.In the Last Crusade, the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword appear early and are peppered throughout the movie as obstacles (and aids) to the hero's quest. In Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the inhabitants of that Kingdom show up at the end and are basically Native American battle droids. They have no personality. They don't even have a clear connection to the Indian Monkey Ninjas from the burial ground earlier in the film.Wouldn't it have been better if for generations these inhabitants have trained and sent out their warriors to keep the Kingdom safe by dispatching those who try and find it? And instead of nameless hordes, wouldn't it be better for Indy to interact with them and understand their culture. Granted at the end of the movie, the pace needs to pick up, but the introduction of such a 1-dimensional threat is boring
- Don't call John Hurt's character “Ox.”I know its meant to be a term of endearment in a series with weird names like Indiana and Mutt. But it means that you can't take this supposedly brilliant man as seriously.
- Don't do the jungle chase on green screen.This is related to the Mutt-monkey swing, but the entire sequence has an artificiality to it that you don't have in things like the mine cart scene from Temple of Doom. Because of the limitations of special effects back in the day, they used more practical effects that felt much more tangible. The digital environment works well in alien worlds like in Star Wars or Avatar, but not in and Indiana Jones movie.
- Put Sean Connery in the movie.This is not the fault of the film-makers, since they reportedly offered him $1 million to shoot a single scene, but he refuse because he was retired. But to see Henry Jones Sr. die at the beginning would solidify Indy's arc and make the introduction of the son character a completion of his circle of life.
- Connect the plot resolution to the themeIndy finds out that life is worth living when he gets older and that his real treasure is his family. But that doesn't play a role in how he wins the day In Temple of Doom, Indy learns that fortune and glory are not the end all be all of archeology and that the stones are not his to take. This gives him insight to call upon Shiva. In the Last Crusade, he only wants to save his father and he is not interested in worldly glory unlike Donovan. This leads him to make the correct choices to get the grail. And he can let his father save him because his treasure is his relationship with his dad. But in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy just kind of stands there and runs away.
- Have a different introduction.In every other Indy movie, the opening adventure is only tangentially connected to the main story (the idol, the diamond, the Cross of Coronado). But they jump right into the main plot with the first set piece. But instead, they should have shown Indy interacting with Dean Stanforth (Jim Broadbent) earlier so that when he comes back and says that he's been fired too, you have some kind of emotional response. But if a total stranger tells you he's been fired, you might have pity, but it doesn’t break your heart. The opening should have shown Indy trying to be out in the field, but failing badly not because he's outsmarted by Beloc or Lou Che, but because he has lost all confidence in himself because of his age. This would give him a powerful arc where Mutt's youthful energy would renew Indy's sense of adventure.
So those are my suggestions.
I know that they are exploring another Indy movie, so I hope they learn from the mistakes of the last one.