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Alienating Indy: Why 'Crystal Skull' is better than 'Temple of Doom'

"Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" had its faults, but it's still better than "Temple of Doom"
"Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" had its faults, but it's still better than "Temple of Doom"
Courtesy of LucasFilm/Paramount Pictures

It's been six years since audiences finally got to see the long-awaited Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While there are those who did enjoy the new exploits of Indy, a great deal of critics, bloggers, and other fans of the original franchise felt that this fourth film is a tarnish on Dr. Jones' good name. This hatred towards Crystal Skull has often spurred many to maintain the series is a trilogy, pretending, to a varying level of seriousness, that this fourth installment simply does not exist.

However, upon watching the films again, I couldn't help but raise my eyebrow at the second film in the franchise, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. While the film, in many ways, has become iconic in its own right, I can't help but feel it's this installment of the series that tarnishes the image of Indy, and not Crystal Skull. As much as I understand how controversial this stance is to take, it's one that I take in confidence.

Before anyone begins calling for my head, let me make a couple things clear. I'm not saying that Crystal Skull is better than Raiders of the Lost Ark or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. As much as I enjoy the fourth installment, I still understand that these two installments are superior to it. However, I am saying that Crystal Skull is vastly superior to Temple of Doom. Yes, yes. Boo. Hiss. I invite you to read my reasons before calling for my head to be dipped in gold and placed in a booby-trapped temple.


While this doesn't seem like something which should be a big deal, it's the reason why I never felt Temple of Doom to truly be in canon. Raiders and The Last Crusade both pitted Indy against the Nazis, in 1936 and 1938 respectively, when the Nazis were starting to become a true threat to the world at large. Sure, Temple of Doom takes place in 1935, but, since the Third Reich began in 1933, they could have easily pitted him against the Nazis again.

The fact that Temple of Doom is technically a prequel aside, Crystal Skull pitted Indy against the Russians – during the Cold War in 1957. Again, the political tension from the era shows up. Say what you will about the story and plot of Crystal Skull, what made Raiders and Last Crusade so awesome is the twofold adventures – the fight against the villain of the era, and the fight against time to uncover whatever mysterious relic the film was covering.

Instead, Temple of Doom pitted Jones against the Thuggee, a band of Hindu assassins. While the Thuggee did exist, they were extinct by 1870, 65 years before the events of the popular installment, which makes them virtually irrelevant to the time period.


Raiders of the Lost Ark not only solidified that Harrison Ford was a badass, but also proved that archaeologists don't have to be stiff, rigid dullards. In this first film, Indy was crude, unkempt, and as far from suave as can be, yet somehow managed to capture the heart of Marion in the end.

So, if Indy was already great on his own, why the hell was it necessary to try and turn him into either Han Solo or James Bond?
The initial sequences of Temple of Doom is proof enough. Instead of starting out in a classroom or out in some remote location hunting treasure, Doom starts out in a lavish casino and night club, putting Indy in a god awful white tuxedo bargaining with stereotypical Chinese gangsters in Shanghai. Tell me that's not a plot out of a Bond film. What happens shortly after that? Indy, the love interest (the Jones babe, perhaps?) and the annoying sidekick find themselves needing to escape a quickly plummeting airplane with no parachutes. What's the solution? Grab the inflatable raft, inflate it in midair, and jump out, riding the raft down a mountain range and finally into a river. You know, kinda like James Bond riding down a mountain in a cello case in The Living Daylights.

Unfortunately, the loss of Indy's identity from Raiders doesn't end there. All throughout the film, instead of merely being sardonic and frustrated, as he often was with Marion, Indy blatantly insults Willie constantly, often telling her to “shut up” and otherwise treating her rather poorly. Does Willie find this unacceptable? Of course not! While she finds it appalling at first, she eventually finds the condescension enduring. You know who else got away with this? Han Solo and James Bond.

If I wanted to see Harrison Ford play Han Solo, I would just watch Star Wars. But I want to see Indiana Jones act like Indiana Jones when I watch a film that has his name somewhere in the title, and guess what? Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gives us classic Indy in spades.


As much as these films aren't exactly known for their strong female leads, at least both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were smart enough to bring back Marion for Crystal Skull. While Marion is certainly no Ellen Ripley, Willie Scott conceivably sets women back by a few decades.

Marion may not have kicked a lot of ass in Raiders, but she was clearly not one to be trifled with either. She managed to keep up with Indy in his exploits, could drink anyone under the table, and, even when she was tied up and subdued, she at least could put up some sort of fight. Willie, on the other hand, pretty much did nothing but bitch about everything from the bugs to elephants, bemoan her broken fingernail, and act like a wet blanket for the entire run time of Temple of Doom – that is, of course, when she wasn't throwing herself at Indy like a Grade-A floozy.

At least Last Crusade had Elsa Schneider. She wasn't the strongest of female characters either, but Elsa was at least a mysterious and cunning double agent, and trying to figure out just where her allegiances lied only added to the fun of the film.
The fact that Marion gloriously returned in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull only solidifies why that film is stronger that Temple of Doom. While Doom and Last Crusade attempted to give Indy a new love interest with each film, there is simply no substitute for the best.


Just by writing that heading made me hear the sounds of teeth gnashing and fanboys angrily blogging. But guess what? It's the truth.

Yes, both Mutt and Shortround are annoying in their own unique ways. But Mutt's hothead and hair-trigger temper are both preferable to Shortround's Jar-Jar Binks-esque voice and equally grating uselessness. Aside from driving the car at the beginning and moving the plot along at the end, does Shortround actually do anything but say annoying things for supposed comic relief? No.

At least Shia LeBeouf's Mutt Williams managed to add to the story and hold his own. Even if you hate the movie, you have to at least give Mutt's sword fight scene with Cate Blanchett's Irina Spalko across the jeeps was awesome. Can you imagine Shortround doing that? Of course not.


Indiana Jones was always looking for some sort of religious relic. The Ark of the Covenant in Raiders. The Stones of Kali in Temple of Doom. The Holy Grail in The Last Crusade. Really, what was left for Indy to find? What religion was left to tackle, for that matter? Mormonism? Would anyone have flocked to the theaters to see Indiana Jones search for Joseph Smith's golden tablets? I doubt it. It seems too comical to even conceive.

While I will concede that aliens was a little bit of a cheap way to go, in all honesty, was it really the shock everyone makes it out to be? No. Think about it. What did George Lucas really become known for? Star Wars. Before this franchise, what was Steven Spielberg best known for? E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. What's the common link among them? Aliens!

You may hate the fact that aliens was used as a plot device, but think of it this way. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was made after the dreaded Star Wars prequels, and Lucas was still allowed to pen this. At the very least, be grateful it wasn't Ewoks.


While Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may have been polarizing among fans, Temple of Doom truly angered a lot of people. Specifically those living in India and those practicing Hindu. The film paints their culture in a very poor light. Sure, the film was made in the 80s when no one really cared much about political correctness, but this fact alone should at least make Temple of Doom the worst Indy film.

Bringing the Thuggee back from extinction aside, the main villains give human blood sacrifices to Kali, one of the Hindu gods. Not even the historical Thuggee were known for human sacrifice, and they sure as hell weren't capable of ripping still-beating hearts out of men. Where Lucas got this from is purely beyond me.

Sure, the image of the Thuggee chief holding the still-beating heart is an iconic image from the franchise, but it's wildly inaccurate and hurtful towards the Hindu culture. It's essentially the equivalent of showing all Muslims as terrorists – it's ignorant and irresponsible.


Do I really need to elaborate further than this?

Okay, so Shia LeBeouf said Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was garbage, and that Spielberg should have known better than to make it. Big deal. Steven Spielberg is among several members of the cast and crew of Temple of Doom who look at that film unfavorably. Honestly, whose opinion holds more weight: Shia “I'm Not Famous Anymore” Lebeouf's? Or Steven Spielberg, one of the greatest directors of all time?

I now leave the evidence in your hands.

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