You all know how the Indiana Jones movies are written, don’t you? Let me recreate for you the day Steven Spielberg sat down with his head writer to put together the outline of what would be the fourth installment in the franchise.
Spielberg: Guys, here it is: the secret formula for a successful Indiana Jones movie. [Spielberg waves a tattered 3×5 index card around] Take this, and let’s get to work.
Writer: Steve…this is just a scribbled sentence with some blanks.
Spielberg: Right. Haven’t you ever played Mad Libs?
Writer: OK, but don’t you kind of have this memorized? Why go through the motions?
Spielberg: I’ve forgotten everything on that card, so don’t worry, it’ll be new and fresh. Hollywood does this to you after a while—first it sucks the creativity out of you, then the memory goes, and you become a creature of short-term instinct. Go ahead, ask me questions to fill in the blanks, and we’ll get this picture started!
Writer: Umm, name a “villainous group”.
Spielberg: Easy. Naz…no, wait. I think we did that one. Let’s see, uh, Communists. Yeah, we’re already thinking out of the box!
Writer: Good one, sir. It reminds me of the second Indy movie, when you made the bad guys a mostly forgotten and entirely neglected Indian religious cult. That one surprised everyone with its freshness.
Spielberg: Right! We’re on a roll! Next!
Writer: Name a “famous historical artifact”.
Spielberg: This is always the hard part for a shark-like mind with no long term memory. Hmmmm. OK, Crystal skull.
Writer: “Crystal skull”? What’s that? I’ve never heard of it.
Spielberg: I think I saw something about it on late night cable. It sounds cool, anyway, and it’ll look eerie on film.
Writer: But it does say “famous historical artifact” here…
Spielberg: I‘ve heard of it, so it must be famous. Besides, I bet you never heard of sankara stones before, either, and we made them famous. Now everyone talks about them.
Writer: Oh, right. That second movie again. We really are treading in the footsteps of greatness, this movie is going to be fabulous. OK, last one: name a “dangerous power”.
Spielberg: Yeah, let me think. This is getting hard, I’m just about burnt out here. Are you getting hungry? No? I think I need a little nosh, let me call out for something.
Spielberg [to his office intercom]: Carol, get me a quick bite. An arugala salad, I think. Yeah, that’s what I said. Write it down. You heard me, write it down, an arugala [writer starts scribbling]. Thanks.
Spielberg: Now where were we?
Writer: We’re done! It’s going to be a blockbuster!
Spielberg: Read it back to me.
Writer: “Indiana Jones must race evil COMMUNISTS to acquire the fabulous CRYSTAL SKULL before they can use its power of ARUGALA to rule the world!”
Spielberg: Wow. We have outdone ourselves. I want to see this movie already.
Writer: We’ll be packing ’em in. I’ll just plug in some of the usual plot devices and flesh it out in the script a little bit.
Spielberg: Yeah. But you know, that last bit might be a little…weak…
Writer: Now that you mention it…
[Spielberg and Writer stare at 3×5 card for several seconds, brows knit in thought.]
Spielberg: Aww, screw it. Don’t worry about what the crystal skull does, or why anyone would want it. We’ll just go with the flow.
Writer: Second movie?
Spielberg: You got it. We made that whole damn thing, concocted an all powerful religious cult using thousands of child slaves, all in order to acquire magic rocks that had the power to set leather handbags on fire. And nobody cared! Any MacGuffin will do if you’ve got Harrison Ford.
Writer: Right. I’ll get you 200 pages by, say, tomorrow noon?
Spielberg: Great. Oh, and remember to stick in a couple of scenes with insects crawling all over people. And show Indy with some human weakness with a snake scene. And, oh yeah, that face-melty thing in the first movie was really popular — could we have someone’s eyeballs burst into flame?
Writer: Love it, boss.
I think you can guess…I was a little disappointed. Ford was great, I think he’s become a real icon of the swashbuckling hero genre, and I enjoyed his performance. The movie kept things moving with lots of action, but ultimately, it was the writing or the lack thereof that crippled the movie. There was no point to all the frenzied scurrying, and the ending was a mess, a great big gooey splort of special effects with no relationship to anything else that preceded it.
All right, everyone else who saw it can have at it in the comments. Be warned, everyone: spoilers may emerge herein. Click through only if you are prepared to be disillusioned, if you aren’t already.