The Problem of Mutt
December 26, 2010, 9:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Had a chance to look at most of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a second time, and got to wondering what exactly made it miss the mark. When I wrote about it before my main complaint was the CGI, and that criticism does hold up. But if I can forgive CGI in fully green-screen film like Sky Captain, I can deal with it in Indy.

I’ve decided the real problem is just Shia LaBeouf. Everything else, on paper, is fine:

The most iffy part is the ‘ancient aliens’ storyline. But this basically worked fine and is pretty consistent with the other Indy movies, all of which featured the cheesy supernatural.

Having the bad guys be the Soviets? Refreshingly fine.

It’s totally fine and, in fact, makes total sense to set the story far later than the others and give Indy a grown kid. Harrison Ford is pushing 70 after all.

The story (therefore) takes place in the late ’50s, so the kid is kind of a rebel, with a leather jacket and switchblade, etc. Ok sure. Totally makes sense.

It’s totally cool that the kid is with Marion Ravenwood, but adventuring Indy didn’t know about him, and I’m totally on board with bringing Karen Black Allen (heh – thanks George!) back.

Even some of the details about the kid: dropped/kicked out of several schools, but highly intelligent, hangs around with the academic set, and also trained in stuff like fencing, but with a disrespect for authority. Yes, yes. That’s Indy’s kid.

And the general notion of grooming Indy’s kid to be the next Indy is totally fine. Indy’s got to pass the torch at some point.

All of that is fine. If you had described all of that, and nothing more, to me I’d have said you had the ingredients of a perfectly workable Indiana Jones movie. Some of the set pieces are pretty good, while others are irritating (and the movie at times is just a string of set pieces), but even that is well within the Indy tradition.

The only real problem I can see is that as Indy’s kid Mutt, the next Indy, the rebel misunderstood greaser to which Indy needs to pass that torch, they cast Shia LaBeouf. Indiana Jones is a swashbuckling adventurer played by the man’s-man actor of our time. Harrison Ford may be a shorty (and, I think, a bit of a weirdo) but he is almost universally beloved as a strong, rugged ugly-handsome hero type, a cowboy with a bit of Bogart in him. And whatever else you may think of him, you just don’t look at Shia LaBeouf and think, “chip off the Indy block” or “the next Harrison Ford”. You think, “Disney Channel superstar”. And that’s a problem.

Why exactly did they do this?

I’m not even anti-Shia, as such. I think he’s fine for the role he plays in those Transformer movies, for example, because he’s supposed to be a dweeby, overlooked everykid. But for Indy, Jr.? Seriously, what were they thinking?

Does Steven Spielberg like Shia LaBeouf because he sees in him a younger, cooler version of himself, or something? Because that’s the only explanation I can think of.

4 Comments so far
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While I agree with you about Shia LaBoeuf being a problem, he’s not the whole problem.

He certainly makes anything he’s in worse (though yes, it worked in the first transformers movie); but in the case of crystal skull, his presence wasn’t necessary to make the movie awful.

That was well handled by George Lucas, for writing the plot of the movie.

All the points you mentioned COULD work as part of the movie if competently executed… maybe even been very good.

What you didn’t mention is what ruins the movie utterly.

1. Plot holes you could barrel roll a C5a galaxy through
2. Complete lack of sense, logic, flow, motivation, or realistic dialogue
3. Nuking the fridge (really, how can you open a movie with that and expect it not to suck)
3. Aliens

Ok you did mention the ancient aliens, and I suppose if it was well handled it could work… though I’m not a fan of the idea at all… but it was not handled well.

Comment by Chris Byrne

I had no problem with nuking the fridge. Actually, I’m not sure what the objection is exactly. It was fun! :-)

Can’t speak to Shia in Transformers 2 as I never saw it, but I can’t imagine he’s any better/worse than in 1 (by all accounts the problem there is more that the film itself is just awful)

On the ancient aliens. What all the MacGuffins of these movies have in common is that they are comic-book-ized versions of myths/religions. What sets the ancient-aliens thing apart from the others is not that it’s ‘unrealistic’ or something (the faces melting, pulling out beating hearts, and Holy-Grail-restoring-life things were all equally unrealistic). It’s the fact that there is no real basis in religion or mythology for ancient aliens or crystal-skull aliens, because the whole thing is built on a sort of recent fad made-up/popularized by people like von Daniken etc. Thus Indy isn’t treading on holy or ancient ground at all here, he’s treading on made-up cartoon/pop-culture ground.

This naturally gives the action/plot a lighter feel than Raiders or Crusade, in fact here it seems to create more of an X-Files feel than an Indy feel. But at worst I’d just say this (and the illogical/chain-of-set-pieces construction you and I have both mentioned) caps the film’s plot at Temple-of-Doom level. There was nothing all that weighty or timeless about having Indy go up against a sect of Kali-cult revivalists either – that too was made-up and used mostly as a frame to have Indy pay homage to classic adventure movies, just as this one tried to pay homage to ’50s saucer movies.

So when I think about what went wrong with Crystal Skull, I guess my question is just: howcome it didn’t at least attain Temple of Doom-level quality? I think that with a more appropriate actor than Shia in the Mutt role, it would’ve.

Comment by Sonic Charmer

[…] some interesting ideas come from the Naked Villain about the True Grit remake and the Sonic Charmer about the baleful impact of Shia LaBeouf (or as I like to call him, in my hommage to Daffy Duck, “Sleepy […]

Pingback by For Your Consideration… | Professor Mondo

uh, Karen ALLEN !
I just saw this for the first time the other night. And, after reading your assessment, I concur. I liked his character, but he’s not IJ III. And remember Last Crusade? Sean Connery is 12 years older than Harrison Ford.
(1930 v. 1942) but Sean was supposed to be his father! I do like Harrison explanation, “Well, you know Sean.”

Comment by George

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