I Hate Indiana Jones: Day 25

Day 25: Indiana Jones and the Awkwardly Foreshadowed Ability

Foreshadowing is always tricky business. The fact is, especially in an action-adventure film, characters are going to have to perform some amazing feats, and if these abilities materialize suddenly without any explanation, you risk losing believability with the audience.

So it's important to establish that characters can perform certain actions so it won't seem awkward later on, but it's equally important to make sure that foreshadowing is as seamless as possible. At its best, foreshadowing is demonstrated through actions, with characters performing a task on a small scale at the beginning of the story, then on a large, impressive scale right at the end. If that's not possible, the next best kind of foreshadowing is to fit it seamlessly into dialogue. Find a way to have characters discussing a related topic drop character information into the conversation. It's a little worse than the first way, but if done correctly, it can be worked into the film without being too noticeable.

I mention this because Crystal Skull contains one of the single most jaw-droppingly awkward examples of terrible foreshadowing I've ever seen in a film. The kind of out-of-the-blue non-sequitor that stops the film dead and makes anyone in the audience who's paying attention pause and think 'Wait - why did he say that?"

The scene in question involves Shia LaBoeuf and Harrison Ford walking through a Peruvian market, talking about their respective lives. It's an utterly superfluous scene anyway, since we already know everything we need to know about Indiana Jones, and no amount of talking about his childhood is going to endear Mutt Williams to us, but then, right in the middle of an otherwise pointless conversation, drops this bombshell: Shia LaBoeuf is talking about how he had no time for the fancy schools he went to as a child. In fact, the only thing he did enjoy about school was the fencing, which he was really good at.

And now, my thoughts upon hearing that line:

"Gee, that was awkward, wasn't it? Why on earth would he mention a thing like that? More importantly, why did the filmmakers leave the line in the movie? Unless... Cate Blanchett's carried around a sword for no reason whatsoever, didn't she? Maybe they'll end up fencing?"

I figured it wouldn't be that hard for Shia to get a sword. After all, they were on their way to the grave of a conquistador, there have to be a few swords lying there, right? It would be a bit of a stretch for him to take a five hundred year old sword with him and have it work, but at least it would make the slightest bit of sense.

I'd forgotten, though, that making even the slightest bit of sense wasn't anywhere on the filmmakers' list of priorities. So how does Shia get a sword? It turns out Cate Blanchett, in addition to wearing one on her belt for no reason, also carries a some extra swords around in a box for no reason at all.

Now that' s a believable thing for a character to do.

Sure, I could come up with an explanation for it - she likes practicing fencing against opponents, and thought she was going to have a lot of spare time during her trek through the uncharted depths of darkest South America. It's not a good explanation, but it's more than the film offers.

Now take a look at Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the entire introduction, Indy does nothing more violent than whipping a gun out of someone's hand in self-defense. When faced with danger, his first response is to run away as quickly as possible. So it's important that the film establishes his tough-guy cred before moving on to the main action. How is this accomplished? A quick scene of Harrison Ford packing for his trip as Denholm Elliot explains the stakes of the film. At the end of the scene, Harrison Ford tosses a gun into the suitcase along with his clothes. That simple action conveys to the audience that Indy can probably handle himself in a fight. And it does it without needing to have someone comment on Indy's famously great marksmanship, or his history as an amateur boxer.

That is, it accomplishes the goal with some amount of class. Yet another thing Crystal Skull is lacking.


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