So, a new Indiana Jones movie is out. It is likely the last one, given Harrison Ford’s age and the sense of finality around a lot of the film’s release. However, with the buzz around the newest installment, I’ve noticed something pop back up: people complaining about the previous Indy movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
It’s routine to discuss Skull and the audience’s reaction toward it at this point. So many discussions and jokes have been made about it that it’s basically cliché. The fridge, Shia LaBeouf, the monkeys, the aliens, the CGI. All of these elements have become punchlines at some level in pop culture and film discussion from the moment the film was released 15 years ago. And at this point, is there anything else to add? Well, I think there is. You see, I am a rare specimen in that, while I don’t think Skull is that great of a film, I have never really disliked it either. With this in mind, over the years, I’ve started to get the feeling that while the backlash and criticisms were never unwarranted towards the movie, there’s been something about it that has rubbed me the wrong way. It’s not that people can’t dislike the movie. If anything. I completely understand where people come from and recognize that I am just not as bothered by what other people can’t deal with. It’s just that by this point, the talking points and conversations brought up with this movie feel like beating a dead horse. Not only that but through this observation, I’ve grown to realize that this type of film discussion is not only prevalent with this film in particular but with many genre franchises as well.
When it comes to the way, people talk about Crystal Skull, a lot of it feels less like a discussion that is genuine towards its merits and faults and more one that is passive-aggressive and cynical towards the mere existence of the film. Many people say things like “What 4th Indiana Jones movie” or “There was never another movie” as sort of jokey statements regarding Crystal Skull. There is a broad perception that feels more lousy faith in terms of the criticism lobbied at the film. The fact that a lot of the discussions feel more pre-determined around jokes about disliked elements rather than genuine conversations around what people don’t like about the film is something that happens a lot within film discourse.
There is also the notion that whenever someone talks about Crystal Skull, even in a more analytical sense, it is mostly done in a depreciative or negatively exaggerated manner. For example, it’s not enough to criticize the nuke sequence in the film, one has to coin the term “Nuking the Fridge” due to their perception that this single sequence was so bad that it derailed their entire perception of the movie and maybe even the whole franchise. The conversation is less focused on why that sequence doesn’t work and more on an exaggerated negative emotion that’s both direct and broad. One would say they don’t like the scene but bring it up in a way that feels geared to only tear it down indiscriminately. Plus, there is a prevailing feeling that the criticism and the jokes have just gotten mean. It’s one thing to be critical of someone’s work, it’s another to act like the author of said work personally hurt you because they made something you didn’t like. This is honestly a problem with a lot of fandom, and it’s gotten to the point that people claim that it is the personal fault of the creators that something was bad and that it’s a fundamental flaw that is targeted towards fans deliberately.
One of the most egregious examples of the broad conversation around Crystal Skull, in my opinion, was the South Park episode “The China Problem,” where the show compares Lucas’s and Spielberg’s involvement with the film to Deliverance and other infamously explicit films. Given how Lucas has basically become disaffected with his own film studio to the point of calling his sale of it like a divorce, it just feels like it’s going too far to compare him in that manner or even have it as a joke of sorts. To reiterate, he and Spielberg are not free of criticism, and it’s not wrong to feel disappointed by some of their work. However, even if the South Park episode is meant to be an over-the-top satire, it still embodies a perception that views films in kind of a selfish manner. It’s not enough to just dislike a movie. Some people make it personal and act like the film hurt them emotionally because it wasn’t what they wanted.
I understand that for a lot of people, film is a deep passion, and the enjoyment and analysis of it is something that people love doing to the point that many have made careers out of it. But from that passion, there is the potential that one can create a sense of detachment from the artists when viewing their work. It’s not that being critical of a film like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is fundamentally wrong, it’s that people view it in a manner of personal attachment and that it should be the defining factor. And like I said before, when you look around, Skull is just one of many films and series that have this type of environment when it comes to how many perceive and talk about it. Discussion around DC has been punctuated with conflict over the failed Snyder era. Many debates over certain sequences or even entire movies in a manner that acts more like they are fighting for the honor of what they love rather than simply about why they prefer one thing over another. The Star Wars Prequels, like Skull, were constantly mocked and ridiculed for their flaws and oddities for decades. They framed George Lucas as someone who “destroyed” Star Wars simply because he made a few movies that failed to meet impossible expectations, and his oddities and faults were exacerbated when talking about his work. For many, criticizing film has basically become a game of how much complaining can be squeezed out of a single frame of a movie. At some level, people have allowed the inherent aspect of criticism and cynical negativity to overtake the overall discussion of media.
One of the more recent and aggressive examples is the 8th mainline Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. The online conversation around the movie has practically become a war ground of discussion, with it sparking raging debates over its quality and claiming that Rian Johnson desecrated holy texts or something (I always thought the film was a mixed one overall). Like Lucas before, many claim the film “destroyed” what they loved and treat their dislike of it very seriously. Rather than addressing that they simply disliked a film, they process their emotions in ways that only focus on tearing things down and have their emotions continue to flare aggressively.
Investment in things brings out deep emotions, especially if it is something one is passionate about. Sometimes, we let that passion get the best of us, and we perceive our relationship with something in a manner that takes things too far. So, the next time there’s a less-than-satisfactory movie or show from a series you enjoy, I advise taking a less intense approach toward your dissatisfaction. Be vocal, but not to a level that feels unnecessary or imbalanced. Allow for a balanced conversation with others who share different opinions than you if you can. Try to rewatch something that you had this type of reaction to. Maybe you’ll like it better now, maybe not. There’s a part of me that thinks that this type of conversation and cynicism has already gripped the discourse around Dial of Destiny as well. I hope that more people will take a balanced approach in how they perceive this movie and other movies going forward rather than continuing the discourse in the manner it has remained. Allowing yourself to have a perception towards a movie not driven by extreme emotions and shaped by a larger discourse is beneficial to your experience and the overall conversation around it.