I Hate Indiana Jones: Day 28

Day 28: Indiana Jones and the Non-Sense of Location

Ah, it seems we're drawing close to the end of my series of articles about Indiana Jones and the Interminable Jungle Chase. If you're wondering just how long and tedious that chase scene actually was, imagine this: If one were to read all of my articles about the chase scene aloud, it would take two minutes less than actually watching that selfsame sequence.

Today my plan is to discuss a place where the film's direction and editing completely parts ways with every rule of decent filmmaking there is, creating an action scene that makes no sense while seeming to take place nowhere.

At the end of the jeep chase there are just a few vehicles remaining. The jeep which Cate Blanchett is driving, the jeep Karen Allen is driving, and a truck full of Russian soldiers. For Cate Blanchett, Harrison Ford, John Hurt, and the large Russian thug the chase ends as the jeep they're all riding in collides with a giant anthill, which then proceeds to spew forth millions of giant flesh eating ants. Cate Blanchett runs off to the side somewhere, while Harrison Ford, John Hurt, and the Russian are faced with the prospect of being devoured by the giant ants.

They have varying degrees of success with this.

Harrison Ford and the Russian have a fistfight intended to remind viewers of some of the wonderful fistfights they seen in previous Indiana Jones films. The fight fails to accomplish this, for reasons I'll get into another day. What's important to note is for the duration of this fistfight absolutely no consideration is given to what's going on in the world around the fistfight. Time seems to stand still for everyone not surrounded by a sea of ants, either that, or the ants provide some kind of cloak of invisibility to the people they're about to eat.

I'll explain, as per usual, using examples drawn from other Indiana Jones films. In each previous Indiana Jones film there was at least one fistfight that managed to cleverly juggle the audience's attention between Indiana Jones's attempt to beat up someone larger and stronger than he while making it clear that something terrible was going on around them, and keeping us abreast of the the other characters' actions.

In Raiders of the lost Ark there were two of these sequences. First, Indiana Jones fights the Sherpas and Nazis in a burning bar while Marion attempts to retrieve the head piece of the staff of Ra. Later in the film there's the beautiful sequence where Indiana Jones fights the bald Nazi while Marion is busy breaking into a Nazi plane and then using its machine gun to thin out the ranks of the approaching Nazis. In Temple of Doom there;s Indy's fight with the giant Thuggee during which short round helps out by attacking the voodoo doll-loving Maharaja. Finally, in Last Crusade, there's the fistfight with Dietrich on the back of the tank as Sean Connery and Denholm Elliot attempt to flee before they all drive over a cliff.

Every scene is a masterpiece of direction and editing as the audience both is aware of exactly what Indy's doing while never losing a sense of the overall environment, the other characters, and stakes involved in the fight.

The fight scene in Crystal Skull is both far less ambitious than previous fight scenes and far more poorly filmed. It begins with Indiana Jones and John Hurt about to be overrun by the encroaching ant hordes. Thinking quickly, John Hurt takes the crystal skull out of its burlap sack and, despite his status as a frail and malnourished old man, he lifts it above his head and then places it on the ground in front of the ants. This causes the ants to detour in a wide path around the skull, creating a small, circular ant-free zone. Whether the skull has this ability because the ants know what it is and are afraid of it or simply because its super-magnetism deters them is never made explicitly. Luckily, the ant-free zone encompasses John Hurt, Harrison Ford, and the giant Nazi, so the two younger men are free to have a fistfight.

And fight they do, in a battle which, like so much else in the film, quickly wears out its welcome. I remember, in the theatre, watching this sequence, which goes on for far too many minutes, by the way, I kept wondering why Indiana Jones and John Hurt weren't being shot by the Communists in the truck. Although the editing of the chase scene wasn't that great to start with, I was a relatively sure a truck full of armed Communists had survived the chase. By my calculations, the anthill was right next to the cliffside, and the Commies couldn't have been more than a few meters away from the fistfight.

So why don't the Communists did you shoot Harrison Ford, John Hurt, and the big Commie? Were they trying to preserve the big Commie's life? Is so, it would be uncharacteristically kind of them, and it would also foil the film's chance to make yet another callback to a previous Indy movie, this time the 'Shoot them both' line from Raiders. Even if it were the case that they didn't want to shoot their friend, the fight ends dramatically when Harrison Ford throws the Commie into the sea of ants, who promplty drag him into their anthill so he can be eaten alive. So Indiana Jones successfully murdered their friend whose life they were presumably trying to preserve by not opening fire. So what's keeping them from shooting him now?

I have no idea, and apparently neither do the filmmakers either, because after the fight scene finally ends they cut to a wide shot and, lo and behold, my calculations are correct, the truck full o' commies is just a few meters away. Even if they needed Indy or John Hurt alive, which their actions up until this point certainly haven't suggested as a motive, what's stopping them from just aiming their assault rifles at Indy and demanding that he surrender and turn over the skull?

Apparently they've just forgotten Indy exists, and rather than attempt to catch him, they've elected to sling their rifles and start hanging ropelines down the cliff face. Why on earth are they doing this? At this point, the Russians have the following set of priorities: Capture John Hurt. Get the Skull. Force John Hurt to lead them to valley of the Crystal Skull. What could possibly motivate them to rappel down the side of the cliff ahead of Indy? It's not a race! There is nothing to be lost by capturing Indy and everything to be gained. It's not even like it's going to be much of a challenge - at this moment, like in the vast majority of the film, Indy is unarmend. But instead, they just hook up their lines and start climbing down the cliff, oblivious to the fact that they're letting the target of their quest escape. Actually not even escape - you can't call it an escape if your captors get confused and wander off.

So what caused a mistake this huge? Simple. In the filmmakers' minds, the Russian Soldiers weren't onscreen until the fight was over, so they didn't exist until the fight was over.

This lack of an overarching sense of location plagues even competent films. With action scenes being shot in tiny pieces over days and even weeks it can be easily to lose track of the overall picture. It's far too easy to just cut corners and pretend that nothing exists past the edge of the screen, in fact, it's the epiotome of lazy filmmaking, a sin this film commits over and over again. The previous Indiana Jones films have established that the same filmmaking team has the ability to deliver coherent, exciting action scenes. The fact that they didn't do so here is just one more piece of proof that this time around, either they didn't really care, or they've lost whatever ability they once had.

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