I hate Indiana Jones: Day 66

Day 66: Indiana Jones and the Ancient Architects

Today I want to look into the motivation, or rather the lack thereof, that went into the building of the actual temple of the crystal skull.

Yes it seems that when the uncharacterized and ill-defined natives that inhabit the Valley decided to build a place of worship for the aliens who so impressed the them, they build it directly on top of the thing they were trying to worship. This seems a little puzzling to me. I mean I can't speak for the natives here, I'm obviously not a shirtless South American trying to figure out how to invent religion before starting with something simple, like pants, but it seems like if I was going to build a temple to celebrate and honor a thing, wouldn’t it make more sense to build the temple next to, or around the thing?

When the Aztecs wanted to build a temple to worship the sun they didn't dig a really deep hole in the ground and hold their ceremonies wearing blindfolds during eclipses. They built their pyramid as high as their knowledge of construction techniques would allow them, and then had ceremonies at noon so the thing they were worshiping would be directly above their altars – making them literally as near to the sun as they could possibly get.

Heck, even the meteor that’s so key to the Muslim faith is right there in the middle of the city. Sure, there’s a dome built over it, but so long as you’re Muslim you can walk right in and look at the thing.

I can understand the need for a temple if it were right next to the spaceship. Built all up around the huge metallic edifice, a row of stairs leading to the bridge doors, maybe a line of representative statues that kind of looked like the aliens that are inside of it. That would all make sense. Covering it up I just don't get.

Let's consider possible motives for this. The carvings we see in the graveyard and in the caves leading to the valley make a pretty clear statement of the fact that the natives of the valley are worshiping the aliens as gods. Yet this temple - despite the fact that I keep referring to it as a temple - is clearly not a place of worship. What will be the point of a place of worship that no one could ever enter? Think about ancient Egypt – yes, the pyramids are famously closed off but all of their temples are large open spaces meant to be inhabited by multitudes of people at a time during worship.

So what other purpose could it have served? Let’s say that it was a pyramid in the Egyptian tradition. This would suggest that the natives had some basic understanding that their gods were dead, and that they'd built this entire temple complex as an elaborate burial site/grave marker for their gods. Now, their gods are pretty demonstrably not dead - in fact, given the chattiness of that one skull, we have to assume that right up until those conquistadors showed up they were probably still able to communicate with the natives.

Even if there was some assumption that the aliens were dead however, the temple’s design still doesn't make sense: if it was meant to be a tomb, why is there a mechanism for entering it? Let's think back to the Egyptians again - when those pyramids were shut they were shut for good. Those ancient Kings didn't want their rest disturbed or their treasures taken so there were all number of safeguards put in place to keep it sealed along with traps designed to kill anybody who went to the trouble of breaking in which, given the size of the stone slabs they generally used as doors, would have to be a hell of a lot of trouble.

This pyramid, in sharp contrast, has an easy-to-operate, over-complicated to watch entry system. Once you’ve gone through the simple process of letting some sand out of a rock the doors swing wide open, making the temple’s defenses as hard to get past as a doorman. If they didn't want people going into their temple and disturbing their gods why have a door or that provides such simple access? Conversely, if you do want people to be able to get into your temple why do you have a door opening mechanism that only works for a few seconds, and then leaves them unable to easily get back out? And that’s not even addressing just how long it would take to reset the entry system each time the door is opened.

Come to think of it, why did they reset the door? I mean, we’ve got to assume an assumed that the Mayan ninjas hoped to get the skull back at some point and return it to the aliens, right? So why would they make it that much harder for themselves to do that?

This would all be quite different if the temple seemed to serve any kind of a purpose at all, other than the storage space for the alien’s historical collectibles. If it was full of machines designed to support the spaceship that would make a little more sense, or if the temple was somehow necessary to maintaining and the alien’s life support while it’s in crystal skeleton hibernation – really, if there was the slightest implication of any purpose at all I would get the temple. There isn’t, so we’re left assuming that it’s nothing more than a big storage warehouse for the knickknacks they picked up while globe-trotting over a few thousand years.

Of course, if that’s the case, how are we supposed to interpret the fact that the easy-to-open door is immediately followed by a staircase that you have to run down within 20 seconds or risk falling onto a bed of spikes? Is it a trap designed to guard the aliens’ treasures? Because that makes the least sense of all of the possible answers we've come across yet.

Treasure rooms and the trap chambers that guard them are nothing new to the Indiana Jones franchise, but the ones we've seen up until this point all made some kind of sense in that whether they were practical or not, they could have actually been built, or if they couldn’t, at least the people who built them had some motive for doing so. Take, for example, the Hovitos of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now, you can debate all you want exactly how the Hovitos managed to build a set of self-retracting spring-loaded spikes that are activated by breaking a beam of sunlight at a certain time of day. You can't however deny that the Hovitos had something in the cave that was valuable to them and that they feared might be taken by other people. After all, they had made their fertility idol out of either gold or at least gold-plated soapstone or wood - that demonstrates some awareness that gold is valuable, and probably enough knowledge of and outside world to fear intrusion by it, hence the elaborate traps.

The thugee complex in Temple of Doom makes even more sense, since the Thugee know full well that they're an evil organization that many governments will want to eliminate. At the same time, they’re mining under the palace for the lost Sankara stones, and the diamonds that keep their cult financially viable. Of course there would be a warren of secret tunnels and trap rooms to keep people from finding them! It would be unrealistic if there WASN’T a room where spikes pierced your flesh while the floor and ceiling were crushing you. As preposterous as the traps that the knight brothers built out in the canyon of the crescent moon, the motive for doing so is stated explicitly by one of the characters who built those traps, in surprisingly modern English for a guy who hasn't seen anyone since the 12th century.

By comparison, the natives who worshipped the alien spaceship are, by all appearances, a completely closed society. Apart from that one set of conquistadors that one time, there is no evidence that they've ever had any experience with the outside world after the aliens showed up. A society that restricted and insular, in addition to having no real conception of the rest of the world, should have no intrinsic value attached to things like gold and silver and antiques from other lands, nor would they see them as something that needed to be protected from anyone because, basically, they didn’t know there was an ‘else’ from whom they should be protecting things. Of course, after the conquistadors arrived, shot the place up, and stole one of their crystal skulls, the natives would of had something of a rude awakening. Afterwards they would likely have reordered their society into one that jealously protected fair valley and, yes, learned kung fu so they could send a few of their tribesmen every year to act as the monkey zombie guardians of the graveyard where the conquistadors and the crystal skull were buried.

But the temple with its giant treasure room and nonsensical traps was already there when the conquistadors arrived, so again the entire purpose for its existence completely escapes me. I suppose the only possible reason that the natives could have built that thing is because the aliens told them to, although even that explanation fails the most basic logical test: they're apparently all-powerful aliens – why would they need a bed of spikes to protect them? More importantly, who do they need protection from? They already set up their little kingdom packed with human worshipers in a valley so far off the charts that only one group of people found it over the course of thousands of years. And even then, the defenses didn’t stop those guys from severing an alien head and running off with it.

Don't get me wrong - I like mysterious moss-and-vine-covered ancient abandoned temples as much as the next guy, but at some point in writing stories like this someone must actually ask the question: what purpose did these things serve to the people who originally built them? If you don’t then you can’t expect the location and plot that surrounds it to have the slightest bit of plausibility.

It really seems like the only purpose that this pyramid was ever designed to serve was to mildly inconvenience Indiana Jones on his way to meeting an alien for the first time. This contrivance not only succeeds in ruining what should be an interesting location and fun sequence, but undermining the film's premise even further.

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