I Hate Indiana Jones: Day 18

Day 18: Indiana Jones and the Incredibly Cheap Prop

There's a common failure, when creating props, to consider the realistic properties of the things being recreated in prop form. People carry rubber guns that weigh a fraction of what a real gun does, they can't even be bothered to fill a fake coffee cup with water to keep actors from waving their arms around unrealistically. It's yet another example of filmmakers just not paying enough attention to the movies that they're making, and it goes a long way to destroying the illusion of reality that a film attempts to create.

This is a sin the Indiana Jones series has committed before, right at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in fact. When Indy gets to the treasure room of the temple, he finds the golden fertility statue sitting on a pressure plate. Eyeballing the statue, he calculates its weight, then tries to switch the statue for a bag of sand he'd brought along. It's a wonderful sequence, but one with a pretty glaring problem. A solid gold statue that size would weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty pounds. The bag, although slightly larger, is full of loose, dry sand, which weighs 1/10th what gold does by volume. So while the trap would definitely be set off, it probably wouldn't have been set off by the bag being too heavy, as the film implies.

Despite the logical problem, it's a small error that doesn't really affect the film as a whole. Sure, Alfred Molina doesn't catch the idol with the same heft one might associate with a twenty-pound weight, and people are easily able to lift it with one hand, but it's a small item that appears only at the very beginning of them film, and is forgotten about soon after.

The same can't be said of Crystal Skull's prop problem, because it concerns the titular skull. When the audience gets its first look at the Crystal Skull, it's extremely impressive. Smooth, transparent with little hints of imperfections deep inside, it's a beautifully constructed prop. Then Harrison Ford picks it up, and the illusion is completely broken. Apparently, somewhere during the prop-making process, the filmmakers failed to consider just how heavy a crystal skull that size would actually be.

According to my (very rough) math, if the human skull were solid, it would take up about 6000 cubic centimeters (cc) of space.This means that, were it made of water, it would weigh six kilograms. Solid quartz weighs about two and a half times as much as water, so a quartz replica of a human skull would weigh 15 kilograms. The skull featured in the movie is, conservatively speaking, twice as large as an average human skull, which would mean its weight would clock in around 30 kilograms, or around 65 pounds. Could a human lift it? Absolutely. Could it be easily lifted over the head, carried in a burlap sack, and thrown from person to person as it in the film? Not so much. By comparison, the metal ball used in the sport of shot put is only 16 pounds, a quarter of what the crystal skull would weigh.

Obviously the film's skull didn't need to be so heavy that the actors would have trouble manipulating it (although Pierce Brosnan's briefcases full of money in the Tailor of Panama were extremely convincing), but I wish the filmmakers had done something, anything to keep the skull from looking so incredibly fake. It's tossed around, carried by an emaciated stick of a man... basically they do everything but juggle it, and every moment it's painfully obvious that the thing they're carrying is a cheap plastic prop.

Or, in lieu of making it out of something heavier, they could have just asked the actors to, you know, act like it was heavy. That might have worked too. Sadly, the laziness that permeates this film wasn't restricted to the people behind the camera.

1 comment:

Alexander Z. said...

While I concur with the importance of making your props as real as possible I wanted to counter-point this article by stating that The fertility Idol was not necessarily solid gold, it could have been hollow, just like the Crystal skull was a real alien (sorry 'inter-dimensional being') skull that could have been made of something hard and textured as quartz but as light as say bone or plastic.
That being said they sure do throw around an irreplaceable potentially fragile artifact a lot.