My full memory of the following story is somewhat fuzzy, as is where I first heard it, but the cotent is what counts and has to do with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (hereafter: IJ4), which is what I wanted to mention. I’ve read several people lament the direction the series has taken (and from what I’ve read about the movie, I tend to agree), but I’ve also read about a direction it didn’t take. That latter is cited with sighs of relief that “It could have been worse,” but still I wonder.
So, the story: I think it was in On Writing–I’m fairly certain it’s Stephen King’s memory of the moment he was sitting in a movie theater, enjoying the serials before the actual flick, when the house lights came on and the theater manager’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker to announce that the Soviets had launched Sputnik, the first man-made object to orbit the Earth. This was in 1957, after the spectacular failure of a couple of American attempts, and, obviously, a full eleven years before the US managed to get a man on the moon. This in addition came during one of the worst periods of Communist fear in American history (McCarthyism began in 1950, when Joseph McCarthy began his investigations etc.).
I bring this up because both Spielberg and Lucas often cite those serials as the foundation for Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Ark began the franchise in 1981, and became, at first blush, pretty much one of the most commercially successful movies of all time. Its reception was better than I would have given it credit for: for a blockbuster, it was critically received well, and was nominated for a go-jillion awards, to match the go-jillions of dollars it made. Lucas and Spielberg based the story on those old serials, which both had watched when they were children.
And the trilogy did well. IJ2 and IJ3 both continued the tradition of the first, though Temple of Doom is kinda the oddball, darker in tone and scope. The Last Crusade featured Indy’s dad, not to mention: Hitler. The Nazis were the villains throughout those three. There was the face-melting tornado in Raiders, which mostly just affected the Nazis, and who can forget when Indy punched the Nazi on the zeppelin in Crusade.
And now IJ4. I have no inclination to see it; I learned my lesson from the Star Wars prequels, thanks much, and to quote ole’ Dubya, “fool me once, shame on… fool me twice… you can’t fool me again.” The reviews I’ve read have been mostly mixed, and the spoiler material has seemed to hit the two cardinal sins of entertainment: both dumb and boring.
But I’ve also read that Lucas had a different idea for the next installment: Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars, and I wonder if that wouldn’t have been the better direction. Those serials often went from action and Nazis in the forties to suspense and science fiction and Commies in the fifties, didn’t they? By the 50s, we obviously had our eyes to the heavens–we were in a space race, after all, which was why Sputnik came as such a kick in the can. The Day the Earth Stood Still came in 1951.
My point is, it’s obvious the tide was turning, and being that Indy is of that era, the best way to continue the franchise might have been to turn him, too, to his next logical storypoint: out of archaeology and Nazis and into space and Commies. Sure, it’s not really consistent with the character from before, but this movie seems more of a transition, anyway (if Indy doesn’t hand his fedora to Shia by the end of IJ4, I’d be surprised); Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars could have represented the 50s, when we were petrified with the Red Scare (and where better for the red scare to originate from than the red planet?); from what I’ve read, IJ4 is set in the fifties, anyway. And plus, it could have made a parallel between the red scare and the current political climate (PATRIOT act, al qaeda, terrorists, et al.; was it Twain who said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does echo?).
Indy’s world has always been exaggerated, from boulders and idols to madman ripping hearts out and 500-year-old knights of the Holy Grail. It’s always been a caricature, the ideal representation of its world, and really, the best way for it to continue is to follow its own lead by continuing to caricature its world (and not in a bad way; Indy’s always been a caricature, mostly, which is why you can recognize him by his hat alone).
Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that going in that direction could have sucked. But, then, from what I’ve read of the latest installment, it ain’t all that great, and shit, if it’s gonna be bad, it might as well go for broke, no? If you’re going to jump the shark, why not use a jetpack?