Day 10: Indiana Jones and the Two-Dimensional World
Despite the best efforts of Friday the 13th, Jaws, and, to a far, far, lesser extent, Freddy's Dead, films still reside solely in the realm of two dimensionality. No matter how well-composed or vivid an image might be, the viewer only ever experiences it as a flat plane. This phenomenon gives the filmmakers a wide set of tools to play with in tricking the audience. Without two dimensionality, there would be no forced perspective, background matting, or rear-projection, and the dark past of pre-computer effects would have been a very different place.
With this ability comes the temptation for filmmakers to abuse the goodwill of their audience and use two-dimensionality to manipulate what they see in an unrealistic and unfair fashion - by attributing the inability to see in three dimensions to the characters within the film. While not as dire a practice as the similar filmmaking failure, offscreen invisibility, two-dimensional reality is still the hallmark of lazy direction and editing.
It's a failure that has plagued the Indiana Jones series since the second film, and since, if I remember my Sun Tzu correctly, lists are the opiate of the masses, I'm going to list the three most stupidly egregious examples of two-dimensionality in the series.
3: The Living Mural in Temple of Doom
It's a simple enough idea. Indiana Jones' bedroom has a giant mural on the wall depicting life-sized Thugee cultists involved in some kind of a fight. Standing against the wall is an absolutely still Thugee cultist, blending perfectly with the background. As a result, Harrison Ford doesn't notice him until he leaps down from the wall and attacks.
This rates a low 4 on the stupidity meter. Although it's entirely possible that someone could stand still against a wall and kind of blend in, even a cursory glance at him should make the fact that he has depth and shadow while the wall doesn't plainly clear. So why is it just a 4? During the scene, Harrison Ford never does send a cursory glance in the cultist's direction. He's too busy pacing and wondering whether he's going to get to have sex with Kate Capshaw or not. Between the room's dim lighting and Harrison's preoccupation, it's entirely possible that he wouldn't have seen the cultist. So while the cultist hiding there in the first place is still incredibly stupid, the fact that Indy could have plausibly not seen him keeps this from being super-stupid.
2: The Invisible Bridge in Last Crusade
Again, it's a pretty simple idea. In an attempt to keep people from crossing a chasm, a trio of knights painted the narrow bridge across it to match the edges of the background exactly, so it would appear invisible to someone looking down from the edge of the chasm.
This gets a much higher 8 on the stupidity scale, for a whole passel of reasons. The first is just how unbelievable the creation of this trap is in the first place. The other two traps in the cave, a metal buzzsaw and a trick floor, are relatively simple to conceive and execute. This one just seems like more trouble than it's worth. The optical illusion only works for the person standing on the entrance side of the chasm, so the knights had to paint it bit by bit, constantly moving back to the entrance to check their work. According to the film, the knights spent a hundred years in the desert, I'm guessing at least ninety of those were spent working on the bridge.
But why waste all that effort? Like all optical illusions, it only works in an incredibly specific set of circumstances. The bridge is only invisible to a person - of a specific height - standing right at the entrance. If they crouch, lean a little to the side, or are even a couple of inches taller or shorter than the ideal, the illusion is broken. Even worse, the illusion has no practical use, as it isn't like someone could miss the bridge - the passage leading into the chasm chamber is incredibly narrow, and opens right in front of the bridge, which moves in an exactly straight line to the hole in the wall on the other side.
It even gets a few more stupid points for the way the filmmakers depict Indiana Jones' reaction to the puzzle. A practical man who always looks for the logical solution first, Indiana Jones is all too ready to just step out into the chasm, hoping that his 'leap of faith' will be rewarded. Why do this when the simplest tapping of a foot over the edge to test the chasm would have given him his answer? One could say that this would be Indy not demonstrating faith, but, to quote the character, he's a cautious guy, and since the first two traps have been entirely mechanical in nature, why would the third suddenly have a magical component?
1: The Narrow Formation in Crystal Skull
As with most things in Crystal Skull, this example is notably more terrible than the other two, and rates a 10 on the stupidity scale. Yesterday I mentioned just how ridiculously easy it was for those Commies to infiltrate Area 51, but I neglected to mention just how they accomplished the task.
A large Commie dressed as a Major walked up to the gate, and was told by one of the four guards at said gate that the base was locked down. Then the large Commie stoops down to tie his shoe, revealing a line of Commie soldiers behind him, brandishing tommy-guns. They fan out and open fire, killing all the guards.
This one is almost insanely stupid. Yes, to the camera, the line of Commies was invisible, but that optical illusion could only happen at the narrowest possible angle of sight. Even if the Commie Major was only walking up to a single guard, he's have no expectation that something as simple as the man shifting his weight wouldn't destroy the illusion. But he wasn't walking up to a single guard, he was walking up to a guard post manned by four guards, who were spread out across the entrance.
There's no possible way that those guards couldn't have seen the other Commies climb out of their truck and advance on the gate - given how suspicious the guards at the gate already were (mysterious Army convoy arriving at a top-secret Air Force base during a lockdown) - seeing a group of soldiers carrying automatic weapons coming at them, they would have no reason not to open fire, let alone sound the alarm.
There's fooling the audience with a visual trick, and then there's just abusing their goodwill. This falls squarely into the latter category.
P.S. - The Stupidity Scale goes up to 10. I should have mentioned that earlier.