The Forgaughtens: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

This is the first in a series of posts revisiting “forgotten” films that were released between the years 2000 and 2009, or the aughts. All films will be discussed in the context of their release, as well as their cultural relevance today, and at the end of each post, a film will be given a verdict of “unfairly forgotten,” “exactly the correct amount of forgotten,” or “appropriately forgotten.”

Secret interdimensional alien civilizations, flesh-devouring ant colonies, Shia LaBeouf doing his best Tarzan impression, and the world’s most durable refrigerator … not exactly what audiences were clamoring for when a new Indiana Jones film was announced. But almost 20 years to the date since Harrison Ford last donned his famous fedora, that’s what we got.

It’s hard to believe Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (OK, maybe not so much the latter) could get this project so wrong, and yet, more than ten years later, watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t quite the chore I was expecting going in.

Today, it’s hard to avoid reboots of decades-old franchises. On the big screen, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo are as visible as Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. The dinosaurs of Jurassic Park/World recently had their turn dominating the merchandise shelves. And on television, just two years ago, Roseanne Barr and family brought the best ratings of the season.

But in 2008, this was an exception to the norm. It was freaking insane that we were getting another Indiana Jones entry with Harrison Ford and other original cast and crew members in tow and it was hard not to place it among the most anticipated films of the summer of 2008.

The film expels Nazis from the original trilogy’s equation and replaces them with agents of the Soviet Union, led by Cate Blanchett’s Irina Spalko. Instead of searching for an artifact of ancient Christendom, this quest is for the secrets of a lost Mesoamerican civilization. After being fired from his job at Marshall College, Indiana is approached by a young man named Mutt (LaBeouf) with news that Jones’ former colleague Harold Oxley (John Hurt) is missing in Peru with an artifact known as a crystal skull in his possession. Mutt’s mother, Mary, is being held captive and hopes Jones can rescue her and find Oxley. So Jones and his new young sidekick (a step up from Short Round, but not by much) travel by map to the jungles of South America with Spalko right on his tail.

The set-up – minus the truly inexplicable nuclear test sequence – is pure Indiana Jones, but the choices made therein are just bizarre. It’s like a gymnast going out on the floor for a routine, doing a couple successful flips and twirls, and then doing the chicken dance. It’s … a choice, but not one that makes very much sense when everyone watching is expecting something comfortably familiar and wholly entertaining.

Its failure on this front led to a pretty uninspired box office run, relatively speaking. While Crystal Skull opened with a $100 million weekend, it barely scraped over the $300 million mark domestically. For comparison, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a film with a similarly long wait between installations, cleared that mark in five days.

But still, it is only a total trainwreck if you insist on comparing it to the three far superior films that preceded it. Otherwise, it’s a moderately engaging action film with a handful of fun set pieces. It moves really quickly once the crew is on the ground in Peru – from darkened ancient dwellings to a chase on a boat-car and lastly toward the final hidden destination. Some of it is stupid. If not for the nuclear blast, the gang’s surviving three gigantic waterfalls would be the film’s silliest moment. But most of it is passable and the Jones/Ravenwood (surprise!) banter is actually quite fun.

Ultimately, though, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull failed to move the pop culture needle even a bit, and the fedora was hung up. And it’s a film that hasn’t inspired so much as a cursory glance since those disappointing few weeks in May ’08 when it popped on the box office charts.

It’s hard to call the film “forgotten” because it made so much money, because it’s part of an iconic franchise, and because some of its dumbest moments are the stuff of dumb movie legend – have I mentioned that Indiana Jones SURVIVES A NUCLEAR BLAST BY GOING INTO A REFRIGERATOR?!?!?

But as a “forg-aught-en,” my first, I say Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is somewhere in between rightly and unfairly.

Verdict: Exactly the correct amount of forgotten.

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