"I'm getting a familiar feeling about this!"
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD
Moviegoers everywhere are seeing Steven Spielberg's new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and noticing its dozens of film and cultural references. The agitated action thriller may have more film references from the 1950s than any other picture to date. If the '50s to you means hula hoops, poodle skirts and Elvis Presley, the chances are you aren't going to catch all of them: the movie shapes up as a nostalgic memory game. Spielberg and George Lucas are "Movie Boomers," members of the first generation raised on television and movies.
Spielberg's notion of, say, a wild airplane ride comes not from experience but from scenes in films like Lost Horizon or A Guy Named Joe. Almost everything Lucas has done has attempted to recreate his childhood matinee thrills, and the Indiana Jones series of course began as a loving tribute to the serials of the 1930s and 1940s. Superman: The Movie may have reintroduced comic strip characters to feature films, but Raiders of the Lost Ark inaugurated the comic book style of movies: spectacular fun all the time, and no annoying introspection or redeeming social content. All the boring stuff is left out in favor of action, action, action.
In Crystal Skull, narrative is a secondary concern. The film instead hops to the next film reference or cultural icon as fast as it can, introducing outrageous new ideas at a dizzy pace. Many (too many) of the references are simply retreads of situations in earlier Indiana Jones movies. Among the whimsical new ideas is a Russian buzz-saw tractor that makes its own road through the rain forest, like an icebreaker. Every eight-year-old has imagined that one!
But the bulk of the movie resurrects situations and images straight from great matinee thrillers, especially those of the 1950s. Some of these are obvious and some will seem pretty darn obscure, unless you've spent the last two or three decades scouring the genre aisles in the video store. Are the film's generic references really generic? A glimpse of a neon sign reading "Atomic Cafe" points right to the 1982 documentary of the same name, and an awesome nuclear mushroom cloud seems inspired by the colorful facsimile nukes in 1954's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Hell and High Water.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm sure I've missed forty or fifty purloined cinema riffs, but here's my best shot at a list of references -- most of them easy to find in any Spielbergian or Lucasesque film buff's methodically fanatical DVD collection.
And remember, this is a list of deadly spoilers that is definitely not recommended before seeing the movie!
Rock 'n' rollers tear up the highways: Dragstrip Riot (1957), Hot Rods from Hell (1965), The Lost Missile (1958).
Sexy Russian super-agent: curvaceous Janet Leigh as a Soviet air ace in Jet Pilot (1957).
Crazy magnetism indicates the presence of powerful unknown element: The Magnetic Monster (1953).
An individual with telepathic talent can read the minds of others: The Power (1968).
Secret base is also a space medicine/rocket sled testing lab: The Right Stuff (1983), Gog (1954).
Secret base is also conducting a nuclear test in a fake "small town": Doom Town (1953) and other docu footage of actual atom tests.
Fake small town built for nuclear test is setting for slapstick comedy: Mickey Rooney in The Atomic Kid (1954).
Criminal intruders must flee nuclear test: Split Second (1953).
A person hides from nuclear blast in refrigerator: Ladybug Ladybug (1963).
Comic Red Agents pursue college professor: The Red Menace (1949) and other rabid anti-commie movies of the early 1950s.
Fistfight in soda fountain: Back to the Future (1985).
Local teens brawl with bikers: Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (1958).
Ancient catacombs reveal secret treasures: The Spiders (1919), King Solomon's Mines, Secret of the Incas (1954).
Scientists find strange cocoon-like things in secret underground
chamber: Them! (1954)
Marauding killer ants menace jungle adventurers: The Naked Jungle (1954).
Ancient extraterrestrials guided man's evolution; dead alien communicates telepathically with human with help from a brainwave amplifier: Quatermass and the Pit (a.k.a. 5 Million Years to Earth) (1967).
Giant pictograms on the Peruvian plain are landing markers for aliens: Chariots of the Gods (1970) and other Erich Von Däniken frauds.
Ancient skull hypnotizes humans: The Skull (1965).
Ancient stone construction uses "sand power" to reconfigure its own architecture: Land of the Pharaohs (1955).
Alien creatures have communal mind that multiplies their mental powers: Village of the Damned (1960).
Underground explorers ejected to the surface through a stone chimney: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959).
Huge section of jungle terrain rotates as if in a mixing bowl: The Mysterians (1957).
Anti-gravity zone tosses people into the air, demolishes structures: First Men in the Moon (1964), Battle in Outer Space (1960), Crack in the World (1965).
I'm sure there are plenty more references I've missed ... and maybe even better examples for the ones I've found. If you've caught some I didn't, perhaps you'd care to share them in this article's comments section below.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may be the perfect matinee movie, especially if you can see it with its ideal audience of action-oriented 10-year-olds. Harrison Ford now qualifies for a senior citizen discount but can still withstand more punishment than Wile E. Coyote on a bad day. Sci-fi miracles and Cold War paranoia are just excuses for crazier chase scenes. As for political correctness, Skull shows no mercy for stereotypes of Russian Army goons and Cate Blanchett's sinister telepath, Irina Spalko. Spalko wields a mean CGI sword, spouts world-domination blather and uses sub-Jedi mind tricks to pry information from her captives. The character is so cartoonish, we keep expecting her to demand that Indy lead her to "Moose and Squirrel!"
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