Day 34: Indiana Jones and the Uninformative Map
I believe that audiences, mindful of the restrictions put on filmmakers' time and resources, as well as the fact that a summer blockbuster can only be somewhere in the neighborhood of two and a quarter hours long at most, will accept a little bit of dramatic shorthand. This is especially true when characters travel from one place to another. We don't really ask, so long as restrictions placed on their travel are not a vital part of the plot, just how they manage to get from one place to the next in a certain amount of time. This is why in Raiders of the lost Ark when Indiana Jones announces that they have to go to Cairo and in the next scene they've gone from Nepal to Egypt, we don't bother questioning it even though we didn't see scenes of them purchasing tickets, flying to Cairo, or dodging Nazis at the airport.
A little more questionable is a similar scene from Indiana Jones and the last Crusade, in which Indiana Jones and his father Sean Connery take an emergency biplane out of a zeppelin and land somewhere between Germany and Turkey. The next time we see them they're deep within the Middle East, overlooking the German convoy that had at least a two-day head start on them. How'd they get there? Excellent question.
Crystal Skull has only two of these leaps. One of them is entirely acceptable as filmmaking shorthand, and the other one is considerably less so. First, we witness Harrison Ford and Shia Laboeuf fly from upstate New York to South America without the film ever addressing whether Indiana Jones's current legal troubles in anyway affect his ability to leave the country or get a visa is so he can fly into a foreign country. It's the kind of leap the audience is willing to make along with the filmmakers - we don't need to see all the intermediary stuff, because they're just cutting out things that the audience can assume for themselves, like buying fake ID or sneaking across various borders.
Less forgivable is a scene then later in the film when Harrison and Shia are searching through John Hurt's cell at the insane asylum, hoping to discover where the crystal skull is buried. They find a crude layout of a graveyard etched in the floor of the cell, along with the instruction to return the skull. From this discovery, the film cuts immediately to Harrison and Shia arriving graveyard that night, which leaves the audience with a fairly large question: How exactly did they find the graveyard?
All the characters know at this point is that John Hurt turned up stark raving mad and was committed to the closest available insane asylum. Since they have no idea where he was before the insane asylum, they have no idea where the graveyard might be, beyond 'South America'. Setting that aside, how many people can even recognize a cemetery by a crude drawing of its layout? Had the name of the cemetery been etched somewhere this would have been a believable leap, as is, it's a ridiculous stretch. Considering that it's an ancient cemetery that's been unused for a long time, who would even be likely to recognize it? Did Harrison and Shia just search every cemetery within 100 miles until they found one matching the sketch? These are the questions the film was trying to gloss over through editing, and they're not successful in the attempt.
The really strange part is that this isn't even a hard fix to make. After all, the insane asylum was being run by nuns, whose religious order probably would've been burying people in the area ever since the days of the conquistadors. It wouldn't be a stretch to assume the nuns running the asylum might well be experts on local history, and able to tell Indiana Jones about an ancient conquistador cemetery that's reachable from the city, and whose layout bares a striking resemblance to the crude scrawl on the floor.
You don't even need a lengthy scene with an actress speaking in subtitled Spanish. All you needed was to have Shia Laboeuf announce, upon arriving in the graveyard, "Hey, lucky the nuns were such experts on local history, huh?" Since his entire role in the film boils down to just recapping the plot every five minutes, what would one more instance hurt?
This isn't just one of the laziest flaws they've made in the movie, it's also one of the more insidious. Every time the film skips over something, the filmmakers are assuring the audience that they're skipping over something that doesn't need to be shown. When filmmakers start using the technique to skip over plot holes, the very vocabulary of film is being wielded as a weapon against the audience. More than just lazy, this is a dishonest thing to do, and it once against demonstrates just how little respect the filmmakers have for their audience.