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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Unintentionally Revealing DVD Special Features

The special features section of popular DVDs has become a place for a film’s creators to advance an argument for the quality of their film. The behind-the-scenes features and exclusive interviews are little more than propaganda, insisting sometimes despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that the film you have purchased or rented is worth your time and money.

Steven Spielberg does more than his share of evading, equivocating and fibbing on the new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls disc. In the special features Spielberg doesn’t seem to realize what he’s admitting when he tells the story of how George Lucas approached him with the idea of “Indiana Jones vs. Aliens” in the mid-nineties. According to Spielberg, he didn’t like the idea, and dismissed it entirely after enjoying the alien-based Independence Day. He was done with the franchise: “There’s a reason I had Indy ride off into the sunset at the end of the third film,” he admits.

Then George came to him with the idea that the beings Indy would be fighting would not be aliens, per se, but “inter-dimensional beings.” “What will they look like?” Spielberg asked. “Like aliens,” Lucas responded. Still, Spielberg wasn’t keen on the idea and it took Harrison Ford’s waning career to get the project off the ground almost ten years later.

The artistic process that led to the creation of Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls was as vapid, nonsensical and cynical as the film turned out to be. This much is clear from the vain attempts to explain away the 20-year gap between films in what was once my favorite franchise. Spielberg doesn’t even seem to realize to what extent he’s mocking himself, coming this close to admitting he never liked the idea for the film.

Lucas’s defense of the film makes more sense, if only because he offers one (though, of course, not specifically as a defense; I just see it as such because I dislike the film so passionately). He wanted a cinematic antecedent for the new Indiana Jones film, just as 30s and 40s adventure serials inspired the first three. The sci-fi/alien craze of the fifties was age-appropriate for Ford, who would now fight Russian Communists instead of Nazis.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that Indiana Jones had its cinematic antecedent: the aforementioned adventure serials. Lucas, Spielberg & Co. prove with this newest film that the two genres are incompatible. Mixing governmental alien conspiracies and adventurous archaeology as they have proves that the two should not coexist, or at least they shouldn’t in the convoluted hodge-podge of Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.

It’s certainly not the film’s only problem (Shia LaBeouf swinging from trees, anyone?), but in important ways the threads of the story(ies) don’t mesh up well. The aliens in old sci-fi flicks were stand-ins for Communists; separating the two and having the Communists chasing the aliens doesn’t mean you have a cinematic antecedent, George, it just means you put aliens in a movie set in the 50s.

The film tries to be both an Indiana Jones film like we know and love and a picture of the socio-(pop)cultural milieu of the 50s, complete with aliens. It’s jumbled, uncoordinated, meaningless, and above all else, not fun. Just because a film is meant to be pure entertainment doesn’t mean you can stop paying attention to verisimilitude, convincing effects, continuity, framing, story, and all the other details that made at least the first and third Indiana Jones films stand out. As they have proven time and time again, Spielberg and Lucas lost their way years ago, and their newest attempt at capitalizing on their audience’s tendency toward nostalgia — and recapturing their glory days — fell as flat as the dialogue in Lucas’s most recent Star Wars trilogy.

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