Saturday, December 22, 2012

Indiana Jones and the Use of Supernatural Foreshadowing


An argument could be made that "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is really a perfect movie. It's exciting, it's beautiful to look at. Harrison Ford is perfectly cast, heck everyone is perfectly cast. And as the years go by, it's becoming universally recognized as a classic. No one remembers the one or two lukewarm reviews it received at the time.

And all the pieces come together at the end.

Or do they?

In all the reviews I've read, I haven't seen what I perceive to be two story holes, one minor, one gaping.

The minor: Where's Abner Ravenwood? The first third of the movie, everyone discusses Abner Ravenwood. He would be Marion's father with whom Indiana had a falling out with several years earlier. This guy has a backstory, everyone talks about him, and as a viewer, you sit there and think, "This is a lot of foreshadowing, that Ravenwood guy should be showing up any minute."

And though Marion said "Abner's dead," I was still waiting for him to show up at the end and save the day.

And he never does.

Then, in the third movie, Sean Connery shows up as Indy's dad. Indy's dad! I didn't even know he had a dad. In the two previous movies a dad is never mentioned. Wouldn't it have been better (from a continuity point of view) that Sean Connery play a character already established in the Raiders universe? Someone who it had already been established had a falling out with Indy? Like Abner Ravenwood?



(There is a similar problem in "The Crystal Skull." Ray Winstone keeps saying, "Indy, I've known you for 30 years." And the viewer keeps saying, "No, I've known Indy for 30 years and I've never met you before." Exactly who was that character written for, Sean Connery, John Rhys-Davies?)

Now, the gaping hole.

Ninety-nine percent of Raiders takes place in the real world, or as real as any early-40s Republic serial. Beating up Nazis, exploring scary caves, etc. But then, something happens at the end. Supernatural doings!

Supernatural doings? Where the hell did those homicidal phantoms come from? Picture watching Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and in the last five minutes, ghosts of dead gold prospectors come out of nowhere and kill the bad guys.

Compare this to possibly the best Raiders clone, "The Mummy." The whole movie has supernatural doings. It's established from the beginning that in this universe, the supernatural exists. It's freaky, but it's there. So when there's a supernatural climax, it's not so jarring.

Not so much for Raiders. Sure they say things like the ark is "A radio to talk to God." But even Indiana pooh-poohs this. Then there's the beginning exposition where Indy shows the feds the Bible illustrations of heathens opening the ark getting smited. I suspect at some point Spielberg thought that that wouldn't be enough foreshadowing. This would explain that one tiny scene in the middle where the ark is in a ship's cargo hold, and the mice start freaking out and the swastika stamped on the side of the crate gets scorched.

This was Spielberg's way of preparing you. He is saying, "Crap, as I'm editing this film, I'm just realizing that giving you a supernatural ending without enough foreshadowing is really unfair, but I've sent the cast home for the shoot, so in post-production I'll make a scene with the ark's crate spontaneously doing something supernatural."

The crazy thing is, all the Indiana Jones movies are guilty of this. The first hour and 55 minutes take place in a realistic world. The last five minutes: A supernatural climax! I think the "Mummy" has the better idea. If you're going to make a movie that takes place in a universe where the supernatural is real, then the whole movie should have supernatural doings.


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