Shia LaBeouf: We Botched Indiana Jones
It’s rare for someone in Hollywood (or even in life) to own up to a mistake. That’s why I find it somewhat refreshing to read Shia LaBeouf’s candid remarks at Cannes last week regarding the fourth Indiana Jones film.
Fans waited almost 20 years for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And in spite of a 77% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing, it’s safe to say that a lot of fans and critics felt disappointed by the latest chapter in the franchise.
Whenever I think of Indy 4, I can’t help but think of the hysterically tasteless episode of South Park in which George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg literally rape Indy. It was by no means a fair comment on Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But it was funny. And it summed up the way a lot of people felt about the film.
Personally, I consider Indy 4 to be a disappointment and a missed opportunity. But not a crime against cinema. When I saw the film opening weekend in 2008, I had a good time. Mostly, I just enjoyed the thrill of seeing my favorite action hero back on the silver screen. It was a treat seeing Harrison Ford back in the role almost as though no time had passed at all.
But even though I had a good time watching Indy 4, I don’t think I will ever watch the movie again. I was very aware of the film’s flaws even as I was enjoying it. As soon as the audience was expected to buy Indy crawling into a refrigerator to survive a nuclear explosion, I knew we were in trouble.
By the time Shia LaBeouf was swinging through the trees with a family (is that the right term) of monkeys, I turned to my friend and said, “They had almost 20 years to right a script and THIS is what they came up with?”
For years, I remember reading about the development of Indy 4. Over the years, several talented screenwriters were attached. Most famously, Frank Darabont turned in a draft which George Lucas shot down. I can’t help but think that whatever Darabont may have written must have been superior to the final film based solely on the fact that it probably did not include the refrigerator scene or the monkey swing.
The biggest complaint against the film is the change in tone. Rather than taking inspiration from the serials of the 30’s and 40’s, Indy 4 takes on the feel of a 1950’s B-movie complete with flying saucers and aliens. There’s always been a fantasy element to the Indy films. But the sight of Indy and a flying saucer was a bit jarring.
Also, the casting is problematic. Sure, Ford is still great and Dr. Jones. But the rest of the cast leaves something to be desired. The biggest issue with the cast was Shia LaBeouf as Mutt Williams. Mutt is of course revealed to be the son of Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood. The implication is that he will one day follow in his father’s footsteps. But he lacks Ford’s charisma. As an action hero, Mutt came up short.
The other bit of tricky casting was Cate Blanchett as the villain, Irina Spalko. Blanchett is a terrifically talented actress. But as Spalko, she lays on a soviet accent so think it would make Boris and Natasha giggle. Indiana Jones villains have a tendency to be caricatures to some extent. But it was impossible to take Blanchett seriously as a threat to Indy.
Getting into the supporting players, Ray Winstone played a double agent who shifted allegiances so many times you could never tell whose side he was really on. And you stopped caring. John Hurt was a burn-out surrogate dad to Mutt. Every time he was on the screen, the movie came to a screeching halt. And unfortunately, Hurt’s character was rather key to the movie’s ending.
Finally, you had Karen Allen reprising her role as Indy’s first love interest, Marion Ravenwood. I loved seeing her back on the screen. I had waited for an Indy/Marion reunion since the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc. But while Ford slipped comfortably back into the whip and fedora, Allen feels way too bubbly to be Marion. She smiles so much, I felt like she was just happy to be working again.
I think the primary reason that Indy 4 is viewed as a failure by some is the incomprehensible ending. I haven’t seen the film since 2008 and I have no intention of watching it again even in the name of research. About all I can remember from the climax of the film is the aliens, Cate Blanchett freaking me out with some kind of psychic powers and a feeling that the movie had completely run out of gas.
I think the reason that fans get so passionate about Indy 4 (angry even) is that you can’t help but see it as a missed opportunity. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greatest action/adventure films in history. And Indiana Jones is one of cinema’s great action heroes. The two previous sequels were enjoyable but not completely satisfying. After nearly 20 years, fans weren’t going to be satisfied with anything less than a return to greatness.
How amazing would it have been if the Indiana Jones franchise had received the kind of send-off it deserved? Instead, we got a movie that was less fitting as an ending than the previous film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
I don’t think Indy 4 is the travesty a lot of people make it out to be. If you can work around the flaws, a lot of the movie is still enjoyable. No doubt in my mind, it is the weakest of the 4 films. And as I said before, I have no desire to ever watch it again. But as a 1-time nostalgia trip at the movies, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was okay.
However, I agree with LaBeof that the makers of the film “botched it” and I applaud his willingness to own up to it. If only George Lucas had the same humility. Maybe we could squeeze in one more rousing adventure for Indy before Ford really is too old to play the part.