I Hate Indiana Jones: Day 48

Day 48: Indiana Jones and the Midnight Rocket Train

Today we go back to the beginning of the film and look at a sequence that is among the worst edited in recent memory. And by worst, I don't mean that it contains myriad continuity errors or is over cut to the point of incoherence like a Paul Greengrass Bourne movie, no I'm talking about bizarre editing creating huge lapses in time.

As the film opens it's noon or fairly close to it. We can determine this because the groundhog that pops its head up during the opening has almost no visible shadow. To give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt we're going to assume that it's after noon here, somewhere in the vicinity of one o'clock. The main reason I'm giving this benefit of the doubt is that I don't have the necessary information I would need to nitpick any further, such as in which direction the driveway to Area 51 runs. Somehow I doubt googlemaps would be much help on this one.

The convoy arrives, in a series of connected shots that continue from the opening, at Area 51 and attacks it, and the Russian soldiers attack, presumably killing every single person that works at area 51. Now we get to the first big logic hole in the scene: did no one have time to radio for help? Yes, everyone at the gate house was killed, and what kind of secret base would this be if there was just a single emergency radio to be used in case of attack? This would be an excusable conceit if there had been some suggestion that the Russians attacked so quickly and efficiently that they killed everyone before there was a chance to sound an alarm, but the film suggests something very different. In fact, we have every reason to believe that the attack on Area 51 dragged on for something approaching four or five.

We know this because when Indiana Jones is finally taken out of the trunk of Cate Clanchett's trunk he casts an incredibly long shadow. This is the filmmaker's attempt to add a mythic quality to the Indiana Jones' first appearance on screen in the film, an attempt that is hampered somewhat by the fact that Indiana Jones, this film's mythic action hero, was just yanked out of the trunk that he'd been stuffed in for at least six hours.

Were this film taking place in the winter the timeline betwen arrival at the base and Harrison being dragged out of the trunk would be a lot closer, with the sun setting faster. Later scenes of Barnett College, where Indiana Jones teaches, establish that the trees are full of foliage and class is in session, meaning that it's probably either June or early September.

So at this point Indiana Jones has spent at least five hours in the trunk of a car. This probably wasn't the filmmakers' intent, having their hero sitting in the trunk of a car while many government employees, perhaps even the guy who rolled the arc into the warehouse at the end of Raiders, were killed over a five hour span, but that's what we've ended up with. More importantly, though is that while a little awkward, at least this jump forward in time has a logical story reason for existing, something the next time jump can't use to defend itself.

Once Harrison is released from the trunk of the car things move in real time for a while, as Indiana Jones and Cate Blanchet head into the warehouse. There's a small edit here that covers a bit of a time lapse, as Harrison is following magnetic dust through the air towards the alien corpse, but the fact that the warehouse can't be any bigger than one kilometer square, and that every time we see Indiana Jones he's moving an incredibly fast together suggest that they can't have been wandering through the crates for more than half an hour, which is important because now the clock puts us at 6:30 p.m. as the absolute latest Harrison could have found the alien corpse.

Why is this important? Because right after the coffin is found the film moves back into a real-time chase sequence as Indiana Jones tries to steal the alien corpse and escape from Area 51. While he fails at the first goal he manages to get out of the facility just fine riding a rocket train through a secret Tunnel into the desolate wastes of the Yucca Flats. At midnight.

That's right, over the course of a 10 minute chase scene time advances something in the neighborhood of five hours. The film needs this jump so that they can have Indiana Jones hide in the cover of darkness after getting off the rocket sled, but the film's needs of convenience do not excuse abusing the audience's goodwill the way the film so aggressively does.

I went looking for mistakes similar to this elsewhere in the series, and I thought I'd found the one in Raiders. In the scene where the Nazis seized the Ark film establishes the time quite clearly as the break of dawn: it's the early morning light coming over the horizon that allows Dietrich to see Sallah's crew at work. So if Marion is dropped down in the at the break of Dawn and it only takes them five minutes to escape from snake room, why is it broad daylight when they crawl out from behind stone wall?

Just as in Crystal Skull, the edit was used to cover a lapse in time, the difference is that here it's a more honest lapse to make. While we see Indy and Marion escape from the snake room of the well of souls fairly quickly, and then push on through the room of corpses even more quickly we have no real way of knowing just how long it took them to find the exterior wall and then take out enough mortar that they could push a block out. So even though an edit is being used to cover a fairly large amount of time there's a reasonable enough explanation for that passage of time that the edit itself doesn't rise to the level of dishonesty. The same can't be said of Crystal Skull's conceit: the only way to explain the huge time discrepancy there would be if the secret tunnel the rocket train blasted through were hundreds or even a thousnad miles long. Of course, if that were the case it would've let out in another state, rather than just a few miles away by the atomic testing site. Sadly the only explanation possible here is the same one that caused most of the film's problmes, laziness and contempt for the audience.

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