Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

At the beginning of the film, I thought to myself. 'Why 1957?' With Indy the subject of a barely-credible FBI investigation of Reds Under the Bed, and the author of a barely-credible escape from a nearby H-bomb test in a lead-lined Fridgidaire, I wondered why the film wasn't set earlier in the 50s (despite Ford's apparent superannuation). In the hallowed phrase of Toy Story 2's Stinky Pete: 'Two words: Sput Nik.'

Where the original Raiders conjured with World War 2 films and adventure serials with the Nazis as villains, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull plays with an amusing series of Cold War science-fictional pop-mythologies: the so-called 'Area 51' at Groom Lake, Nevada (where it transpires that the Ark of the Covenant is stored, revealed in a visual aside); the Roswell crash; the Soviet experiments in parapsychology, ESP, psychokinesis and so on; von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods; and of course the 'Rooshians' as ubiquitous baddies and competitiors in the Space Race.

Of course, the Indiana Jones franchise has always played its colonial adventurism (cum archaeological investigations) against some kind of threat, the Nazis in films 1 and 3 or (more problematically) the Thuggees in Temple of Doom. What's interesting about the fourth film isn't its father/ son dynamic (mirroring that between Indy and his own father in The Last Crusade), or rather creaky chase structure, or Cate Blanchett's campy, black-bobbed turn as the over-reaching and amoral Soviet scientist Irina Spalko: it's that the film stitches Close Encounters onto the Indiana Jones franchise by way of George Lucas, who co-wrote the film. It's a 'sci-fi' Indy, complete with real flying saucer at the end, but this film insists on the perils of seeking knowledge of the transcendental, rather than the wonderment experienced by Roy Neary in Close Encounters.

The ending, which reveals that the aliens aren't tourists or invaders but inter-dimensional archaeologists, collecting artefacts from ancient Terran cultures, is the ultimate validation of Indiana's expeditions in search of 'lost civilizations' and their artefacts. It's not exploitation, but the pursuit of 'knowledge' that is key, disinterested, benign, and NOT imperial. Indiana is not only set against Blanchett's hubristic desire to 'know everything', but also against the venality of former friend and double-agent Mac (Ray Winstone). Both antagonists come to an inevitably sticky end while Indy is rewarded with marriage, a son and the restoration of his fortunes.

Science fiction is used in the film as an ideological alibi for the archaeological/ ethnographic discourses of the First World scientists abroad (the Middle East, Indian subcontinent, South America). While we have the old chestnut that Blanchett would use the parapsychological power of the alien crystal skulls as the ultimate weapon in order to differentiate her from Indy, in fact very little seems to separate them: they both place the acquisition of knowledge above material or political concerns. Indy knows when to look (or run) away, however.

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is, in many ways, a very silly film, full of narrative non sequiturs. What happens to the FBI investigation? There is no-one to tell the story of the defeat of Spalko except Indy, his son, wife-to-be Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and fellow archaeologist Oxley (John Hurt), and all evidence is destroyed in a flood. What puts Indy back in good odour with the FBI and the University of Chicago? Who knows. The ending is sealed with a marriage, and the suggestion that the son will follow in the footsteps of the father, just as we saw in the third film. The really transsformative knowledge in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that 'Mutt Williams' is really Henry Jones III, and the son's aspirational, conservative path is beginning to be mapped out in his change from biker garb to preppy slacks and sports jacket. The quiff stays in place: but it's probably held there with hair pomade rather than Coca-Cola.

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