Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not a very good movie. Actually, it’s less of a movie than a horrific catalogue of everything that is miserable and boring in modern Hollywood: The urge to sequelize into infinity, the paycheck-gravitas of great British actors, the redefinition of “plot” as “a series of digitalized set-pieces signifying nothing,” the notion of Shia LaBeouf as an action hero, the notion that Russians still make interesting villains, the limits of Cate Blanchett’s greatness, but, most of all, the TV-ification of movie stardom, whereby every movie star is only really a star when they’re sleepwalking through reheated incarnations of their most iconic roles. (See also: Renée Zellweger, Sylvester Stallone, everyone who has ever starred in a superhero movie besides Christian Bale, the cast of Fast Five, the cast of Twilight.)
But Crystal Skull was directed by Steven Spielberg, who has almost certainly earned the right to strike out every now and then. Spielberg has been producing great, complex, entertaining Hollywood fare for 40 years now. You don’t just pick out your favorite Spielberg film; you pick out your favorite Spielberg phase. Do you prefer the “Classic” era, from 1975 (Jaws) to 1982 (E.T.)? Or perhaps the underrated “Weird” period, from 1984 (Temple of Doom) to 1991 (Hook), which also includes Spielberg’s work as the producer of Gremlins, The Goonies, and Back to the Future? Some people dig the “Revival” period, when he made the “important” trilogy (Schindler’s List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan) and mixed in a couple Jurassic Park movies, why not? Personally, I dig Spielberg’s “Bleak” period, from 2001’s totally weird Kubrick mash-up A.I. through a brilliant post-9/11 Tom Cruise duet up to the incisive thriller Munich.
That’s a great run that ended with Crystal Skull, but in a new interview with Empire, Spielberg sounds pretty serene about the Indiana Jones fourquel. That’s not to say he doesn’t understand that people have a gripe with the central plot point of the film, which you’ll recall forced Harrison Ford to run around the jungle waving a Crystal Skull and yelling “Crystal Skull! Crystal Skull! Crystal Skull!” for 90 minutes. “I sympathize with people who didn’t like the MacGuffin because I never liked the MacGuffin,” says Spielberg. “George [Lucas] and I had big arguments about the MacGuffin.” Ah, but don’t think for a moment that Spielberg is joining in the popular Internet sporting event of Hating On Lucas. “I am loyal to my best friend,” he says. “When he writes a story he believes in — even if I don’t believe in it — I’m going to shoot the movie the way George envisaged it.”
So basically, this is a classic example of an awesome filmmaker deferring to a decidedly less awesome filmmaker, purely out of friendship. (Sort of like whenever Quentin Tarantino works with Robert Rodriguez, or when Alfred Hitchcock took some peyote with William Wyler and Wyler was all like, “Yo Hitch, man, you should totally make a movie about dreams, man!” and the result was Spellbound.) Spielberg happily admits that the most infamous scene in Crystal Skull belongs to him:
What people really jumped at was Indy climbing into a refrigerator and getting blown into the sky by an atom-bomb blast. Blame me. Don’t blame George. That was my silly idea. People stopped saying “jump the shark”. They now say, “nuked the fridge”. I’m proud of that. I’m glad I was able to bring that into popular culture.
Anyhow, the point is that Spielberg feels your pain, and now we can all have a good laugh, and while we’re laughing, we can take a good hard look at the first decade of the new millennium, and ponder the fact that we lived through a moment when George Lucas’ silly ideas were regularly turned into $200 million movies.
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