I Hate Indiana Jones: Day 39

Day 39: Indiana Jones and the Pathetic Trap

Trap rooms don't make the most sense, do they? As conceits go in adventure films, they're among the bigger ones. In an earlier post, I mentioned the invisible bridge from Last Crusade as being especially egregious, but the truth is every film in the series suffers from the problem to a certain extent. Questions about what exactly was powering the crushing ceiling from Temple of Doom, or the Behead-O-Tron from Last Crusade don't go away easily, and it takes a little mystery out of Raiders once you start to imagine the Hovitos creeping into the secret temple, crawling behind walls, and turning elaborate crank systems to reset the spears that skewered Forrestal. And though I've committed the entire film Raiders of the Lost Ark to memory, even I don't have the slightest idea what all those snakes were eating.

This is another one of those areas where the audience is asked to suspend a lot of their disbelief, and as a rule, they're more than happy to, so long as the traps involved are interesting, and put the main characters in a some great degree of threat. Which, naturally, brings us to the single trap room featured in the search for the Crystal Skull. Although, in point of fact, it barely qualifies as a trap room, because it lacks such basic elements as cleverness, originality, or danger of any kind.

The room appears just after Harrison Ford and Shia Laboeuf have descended into the ancient Indian burial ground that they've got their hearts set on desecrating. After moving through a few cramped passages, they find a floor that's suspiciously tilted at a thirty degree angle, so that on one side it is flush with the entrance to the room, while the other end touches the ceiling. At first Indy is stumped about where the entrance to the secret Conquistador burial ground might be, but then as he starts to crawl up the inclined floor, his weight causes it to shift, and eventually tilt down, revealing the entrance to the secret burial chamber, and blocking the tunnel they'd entered through. So it wasn't a floor at all... it was a lever!

In a normal adventure film, putting weight on a piece of floor and causing a lever to descend generally starts a Rube Goldbergian series of events in motion that puts the characters' lives in danger. According to the filmmakers, though, sometimes a lever is just a lever. They're satisfied with just having the floor slide down. It doesn't trigger a cave-in, or darts, or even release the giant prehistoric scorpions that live at the earth's core. Nope, all that happens is the floor tips a few feet down, and Harrison is able to continue on into the Conquistadors' grave.

It just occured to me that if the natives had spent a little more time devising a way to hide the entrance to the cave, they wouldn't have had to keep sending kung-fu zombie monkeys to kill anyone who found it. You know what they say about an ounce of prevention, after all.

What makes this utter lack of effort even more egregious is just how familiar the tilting floor seemed to me when I was watching the film. Thinking back to 2007, I realized where I'd seen it before: National Treasure 2. Up until now the National Treasure series had been little more than a series of pop-culture footnotes notable primarily for their craven attempt to capitalize on the perennial popularity of the Indiana Jones franchise, as well as just how awkwardly villains are into their plots. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the big stunt scene at the end of National Treasure 2 had featured - what else - a tipping floor! The main difference between that sequence and the one in this film was that the balance board in NT2 was perched over the mouth of a chasm, so the idea of it tipping provided an element of danger to the characters. You know, that thing that's used to put audiences on the edge of their seats? I won't blame you if you've forgotten what it looks like by now.

So, to put things in the least flattering terms possible, between the Mummy and National Treasure, there isn't an Indiana Jones rip-off franchise that the filmmakers won't stoop to ripping off in return, always being careful to make their versions just a little bit dumber and less interesting than the 'originals'.

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