Warning: This post is inspired by my viewing of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. I’ll try not to reveal and salient plot points or spoilers per se, but I will talk about themes and characters. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t read movies reviews in the paper, come back and read this after you see the movie. Otherwise, continue.
The gods of fanboyism are angry and fickle, and nowhere is this truer than in my thoughts today. Having seen an opening night show of the latest Indiana Jones installment, I’m full of strange feelings and memories, but I can’t seem to nail down any specific emotion as either joy or dismay.
This has been happening to me a lot recently. I finally got around to seeing Rocky Balboa a few weeks ago, and while I certainly didn’t love it, I couldn’t bring myself to hate it. What is it about the narrative of our youths, re-imagined as fan fiction, that causes such an emotional stir? Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull is a solid, action packed, and fun movie, a summer blockbuster to be sure. But it didn’t recreate that same feeling I had as a kid when my dad first showed me Raiders of the Lost Ark on VHS, and it would have been unfair and unreasonable for me to expect that. So why the hell did I?
Is it the pedigree of the creators? I doubt it. No objective observer could doubt that Spielberg and Lucas have declined as filmmakers. They’ve become far too dependent on special effects and clearly put less effort into the finding those great shots and crafting the iconic moments that make their creations the stuff of legend. But I made my peace with that after Revenge of the Sith, and neither of the previous Indiana Jones sequels matched the filmmaking brilliance of Raiders, so my expectations on this front were reasonable.
Is it the character himself? As the ongoing Indiana Jones epic migrated out of the pre-World War II era of declining colonialism and Nazi occult fanaticism and was recast in the light of the Cold War and McCarthyism, my knee jerk, fanboy instincts kept telling me, ‘This isn’t Indiana Jones.’ But as a friend said to me, ‘This movie takes place at a later point in time. He’s not the same guy.’
Now, that’s a hell of a good point. Newton’s Laws apply cruelly to narrative; characters in motion stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force (see: Spider-Man: One More Day). Even the ones that don’t age in any real way still accumulate experiences, loves, lost loves, joys and tragedies. And it’s all just more bricks and mortar into the monument of pop culture mythology, and if it’s a good story, maybe it’s more concrete in the foundation. Sometimes, Superman has to die and Batman has to break his neck. It may not be the story we want to see or read, but it’s canon and only erasable by forces outside the panel.
But I understood all that going in. I knew I wasn’t getting a do-over of Raiders and an Indiana Jones frozen in time. Harrison Ford is no spring chicken, and all the CGI in the world isn’t going to change that. Truthfully, I think my issue has less to do with the changes to Indiana Jones and more to do with the changes within myself. By most measures, I’m a full-grown adult, and that wide-eyed wonderment with which I beheld all things as a child has given way to a necessary cynicism about the world. Spielberg didn’t make another Indiana Jones movie to help someone who was barely a year old when Raiders came out travel back in time and feel like a kid again. He did it, firstly, to make money, but also to give Indiana Jones to a generation of kids who weren’t around even 19 years ago when Indy ‘chose wisely’ in the Last Crusade. It’s for the same kids for whom the Star Wars prequels, anathema to Gen X-ers, have opened up whole universes of joy and imagination.
I was back home not so long ago at a large family gathering, and the kids were running around with light sabers. They weren’t pretending to be Luke and Darth Vader. They were pretending to be Annakin and Count Dooku. I was reminded of the countless adventures I experienced in my own mind as a kid, when I would tag along with Indiana Jones to rough up restless natives, Nazis, or, for one particularly geopolitically aware youth, Iraqis. No matter how many Indiana Jones or Star Wars movies they churn out, that’s a place to which I can never return. My dissatisfaction is not with the quality or content of the movie but with the unbearable fact that it will remain, for all time in my consciousness, just a movie.
So fanboys and fanboyettes, here’s some advice. When you go to see Indiana Jones, which if you’re reading this blog is very very likely, know that it will most likely not unlock your imagination like the previous installments. But look around the theater and see how many kids are in the theater with their parents, and, for a moment, imagine the way the synapses must be firing for those kids. Think about the places their minds are already taking them, and remember for a moment that while we can still enjoy Indiana Jones on the big screen, the biggest screen of all is those young imaginations.