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We Criticize Because We Love

There are some great moments in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There are also a number of brain-hurtingly bad things that could have been easily avoided with just a quick glance at Google Maps which make someone like me with a bunch of otherwise useless degrees in drinking archaeology get rather fussy. (While we are a tiny portion of the audience, I can guarantee you that anyone with said qualification will be seeing the film and explaining to everyone they meet the ways in which it is inaccurate of the profession — but we’re happy to boost the box office totals anyway). Consider yourself spoiler-warned.

Good: Name-dropping Virchow and Childe – OK, you looked up some archaeologists in Wikipedia. But the 1950s is a little late to be going on about R.L. K. Virchow (although he was important in the development of the field as a scientific profession). V. Gordon Childe, at least, makes sense since Indy is apparently teaching about Skara Brae (even if he can’t pronounce it), which Childe excavated in the 1920s. But if you really wanted to emphasize field methods, you’d have been better off with Mortimer Wheeler, the noted womanizer and popularizer of archaeology.

Bad: John Hurt’s Quixotic (literally) character speaking ‘Mayan’ brings up a host of problems — the first — and biggest — is the location. Mayan languages were confined to Mesoamerica — specifically the areas now known as Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and the southern end of Mexico. We can nitpick further and question exactly which Mayan language he was speaking (and when it is meant to date from, given that the earliest written forms date to around 250 AD, and the culture whose remains they are entering is meant to be ‘5000 years old’ for some reason) but the placement issue looms rather larger. At that point in the film, Indy and friends are in the Amazon. Hey, look — that’s South America! Let’s repeat: Mexico and Peru are far apart.

Speaking of the Amazon, at least they did put Francisco de Orellana in more or less the right place; his (likely imagined or mistaken) description of fierce female warriors gave the river its name. He and Gonzalo Pizarro (half-brother of Francisco Pizarro) bumbled around much of what is now Peru and Ecuador looking for El Dorado, killing any number of horses and native people along the way, before Orellana died while exploring the river and Pizarro was beheaded. All in all, that’s pretty par for the course for conquistadors.

Good: ‘I have a bad feeling about this.’ I can’t help that I have a Pavlovian response to this.

Bad: Indy walking into a room (or ‘chamber,’ as we archaeologists like to say) full of furniture and other decorative items from a variety of world cultures and declaring, ‘they were archaeologists!’ No, Indy, ‘they’ were apparently art collectors, and you should be well aware of the difference by the 1950s. We don’t roll that way.

Good: The Indy/Mutt relationship looks like it could be a lot of fun to explore further — and more Marion Ravenwood, please. Well done with the hat.

Bad: OK, you’ve decided that these ‘interdimensional beings’ (you know, the ones that go all Dark Crystal/Close Encounters at the end) are at the core of your plot, fine. But to make their intervention the only reason the native population learned agriculture (apparently on a Near Eastern model, which is another issue), architecture, etc. is lazy. It perpetuates the notion (made popular by early 20th century academics and morons like von Daniken) that the real locals just weren’t smart enough to do these things themselves. Couldn’t we be a little more creative? It gets old.

Now, you may conclude from the above that I loathed the film — not in the least. It’s certainly not on the level of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but by the same token it’s not a terrible, terrible waste of everyone’s time like Temple of Doom. Sure, it could be tightened up — you could lose about 20 minutes and a few characters and it would be an improvement — but it’s great to see Indy back with the bullwhip*. Count me in for a further installment (but please be a little more careful with how you frame your mythology — this stuff isn’t hard).

Oh, and as to the ‘real’ crystal skulls (you know, the ones that are meant to be from Mesoamerica, not South America — again, these are different places) — they’re fake (at least, those that have been made available for testing). You can bang one out with a Black & Decker at home.

I could even make this relevant and suggest that my criticisms of Big Brown’s connections are all part of wanting to improve racing, just as the next Indiana Jones film could take these points on board and be made even better, but it’s almost a holiday weekend and it would seem rather tacked-on (not unlike the pointless last half hour of AI). So, instead, I’ll simply say, ‘go Brass Hat!’

* Real archaeologists do not use bullwhips. They use beer.

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