I Hate Indiana Jones: Day 57

Day 57: Indiana Jones and the Magical Waterspout

In adventure films, it's not uncommon to see the hero wind up in some kind of an evil fortress or ancient temple. If that happens, you can expect, to a 90% degree of certainty that at the end of said hero's association with said locale, the locale will wind up self-destructing. Usually due in no small part to the actions of the hero.

Examples of this can be found in each of the previous Indiana Jones films. Harrison Ford causes the Hovitos' sacred cave to collapse by triggering a trap, then Mola Ram dropped a ridiculously, comically, insanely large canister of water next to a train tunnel, flooding it to an absurd extents. Even in Last Crusade, when Elsa attempts to take the Grail out of the temple, the whole place shakes a little.

The reason all of these sequences appear in films is to amp up the danger of the protagonist's situation just as the audience thinks they've seen everything the film has to offer. If you thought Harrison getting into the secret base was death-defying, just wait until he has to get out of it! (Obviously that embarrassing tapestry sequence doesn't count.)

The effectiveness of these scenes is dependent entirely on just how thrilling the means of escape is in relation to just how imposing the obstacle. By that standard, Indiana Jones and the Valley of the Crystal Skull is woefully inadequate, as well as borderline incoherent.

Allow me to set the scene: Harrison Ford and his three surviving friends (oh, wait - four. I keep forgetting MacArthur 'Mac' MacHenry) flee the aliens' silver ship before it leaves for its new home in the sun. A combination of earlier and later scenes establish their location as directly below the temple of the Crystal Skull, some three hundred yards from the cliffs that encircle the temple. Once they start across the treasure room that surrounds the top of the aliens' craft, the temple begins to self-destruct. Naturally, were this a skillful, or even a competant, film, this would lead to Harrison Ford and his hangers-on dodging through collapsing hallways, leaping across precipicces, and narrowly avoiding being smushed by the weight of an entire South American pyramid.

Apparently the filmmakers had no interest in throwing in one more action sequence, though, since all they treat the audience to is the sight of Harrison and pals running down a rumbling hallway to a dead-end which, in an incredibly happy coincidence (how many does that make now? Is anyone counting at this point?) turns out to be an air shaft leading straight up to the top of the cliffs that surround the valley. Things are still looking bad though, as they have no mechanism by which to climb said air shaft. Once again contrivance rears it bejeweled countenance, and sends a wall of water their way down the hallway. It's not strong enough to crush them against the wall, but it does manage to provide enough power to float them straight up to the cliffside safety above.

So that makes twice that Indiana Jones, when faced with a dead-end proposition at the end of a chase, has found himself attacked by a passage full of rushing water. The first time, it proved quite a dangerous complication to his escape. This time, it facilitated it, allowing Harrison to get out of trouble with a minimum of effort. Really, the thing that saved him this time was the human body's natural buoyancy, and his brilliant decision to not wear any lead weights.

When faced with an escape of such amazing anticlimactism, it's almost possible to overlook the other huge questions this scene raises. Such as, why did the natives have tunnels going hundreds of yards into the cliffs? Where did the water come from, if it's only after Indy and company make their escape that we see the entire valley cave in, letting the surrounding rivers fill it up? And, of course, why on earth would anyone think that people would be entertained by Indiana Jones escaping not through cleverness, tenacity, or skill, but rather through the blind luck of having run down the passage that led to freedom, rather than the one that led to pulverization and drowning?

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