Not long after its release in the summer of 2008, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull usurped Temple of Doom as the most fan-loathed entry in the long-running Spielberg-Lucas adventure franchise, thanks in part to a host of corny/unbelievable moments. Most infamously: the scene where Indiana survives a nuclear blast by hiding out in a lead-lined refrigerator. So notorious was the gag that it spawned the oft-cited “jump the shark” variation “nuke the fridge,” used to denote the moment that marks the creative decline of a popular film franchise or TV series.
So whose idea was “nuke the fridge,” anyway? And while we're at it, who should we blame for the rest of Crystal Skull's most controversial elements? Below, I've provided a full accounting of five of them, followed by an indictment of the guilty party(ies). (Note: HitFix was unable to verify the authenticity of the unused Indiana Jones 4 scripts by Jeb Stuart and Frank Darabont that serve as evidence for the below. Lucasfilm declined to comment.)
Nuke the Fridge
Outrage broke last week when it was revealed that Crystal Skull screenwriter David Koepp had signed on to pen the forthcoming fifth Indiana Jones installment, and while some of the criticism is certainly warranted — Koepp was, after all the sole credited writer on the film that made it to theaters — “nuke the fridge,” at least, was not his creation. For that, you have to go all the way back to February of 1995, when original screenwriter Jeb Stuart turned in a draft of the script (then titled Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars) that included an early version of the scene that sees Indy surviving the atomic blast by hiding out in a crawl space and using the refrigerator as a “lead-lined turtle shell” to protect him from the explosion.
While it's impossible to know whether “nuke the fridge” remained in subsequent drafts written by Jeffrey Boam — unlike Stuart's, those aren't readily available online — the bit does appear in Frank Darabont's November 2003 draft of the screenplay, entitled Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods. There, the scene plays out more or less the same way it did in the version that ended up on the big screen (minus that pesky CGI gopher).
Though Darabont departed the project soon thereafter following creative differences with producer George Lucas (“It was a tremendous disappointment and a waste of a year,” Darabont told MTV), the “nuke the fridge” sequence remained intact thanks to the insistence of either Spielberg (“That was my silly idea,” he claimed in 2013) or Lucas, who maintains that his creative partner was “protecting” him by taking the blame for the idea. Since both parties are willing to take the “credit,” we'll go ahead and split it evenly between Spielberg and Lucas this go-round.
Guilty: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas
Shia LaBeouf's Tarzan moment
No mention of swinging monkeys can be found in either Jeb Stuart or Frank Darabont's respective versions of the Indiana Jones 4 script, which was seemingly the invention of the project's final credited screenwriter David Koepp. That said, while it's impossible to know whose initial idea it was to have LaBeouf's Mutt go full Tarzan, Spielberg was seemingly bound and determined to keep the moment in the finished film. From a June 2008 interview with Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) visual effects artists Pablo Helman and Steve Rawlins in AWN.com:
Interestingly, Spielberg wanted the monkeys swinging on vines; however, in looking at reference and speaking to the animal trainer, Rawlins discovered that's not what they do in the wild. “They jump from branch to branch. The initial animatics contained different breeds of monkeys and a variety of motions, but Steven still preferred them swinging, so it ended up being about 60% swinging and 40% jumping from branch to branch. What we found that made it more difficult is that often when you do a CG-intensive character such as Davy Jones, there is a large amount of development work that goes into getting a character of that level working, and that investment of time and resources pays off over the course of hundreds of shots. But Indy was full of one-offs and the hard part was that they put a lot of effort into it yet there wasn't the time to refine the work. With the monkeys, there also weren't enough of them to run a crowd simulation, so they all had to be keyframed. Shots were swapped back and forth or bridged as needed.
Translation: even after hearing that monkeys don't actually swing on vines, Spielberg decided to keep the ridiculous scene in anyway. Busted!
Guilty: Steven Spielberg
The Aliens/Inter-Dimensional Beings MacGuffin
At least “nuke the fridge” was an isolated moment. The film's extraterrestrial/inter-dimensional beings constituted the plot's entire MacGuffin, which many fans saw betraying the foundations of a franchise that had previously dealt with mystical/religious artifacts. On this front, the guilty party is undeniably George Lucas. While one could certainly heap some blame on the shoulders of Spielberg for allowing such a thing to persist — hell, he didn't even like the alien idea in the first place — it's clear the Star Wars creator deserves most of the blame for being so damn stubborn.
“I sympathize with people who didn't like the MacGuffin because I never liked the MacGuffin,” Spielberg told Empire in 2011. “George and I had big arguments about the MacGuffin. I didn't want these things to be either aliens or inter-dimensional beings. But I am loyal to my best friend. When he writes a story he believes in – even if I don't believe in it – I'm going to shoot the movie the way George envisaged it. I'll add my own touches, I'll bring my own cast in, I'll shoot the way I want to shoot it, but I will always defer to George as the storyteller of the Indy series. I will never fight him on that.”
Guilty: George Lucas
All due respect to Cate Blanchett, but her Soviet villain was by far the least well-received of the franchise's baddies. The majority of complaints revolved around Irina's broad/cartoonish qualities, which caused her to fall short of the lofty standards set by Rene Beloq, Mola Ram, Walter Donovan and Elsa Schneider (although, okay, Ram wasn't exactly a “grounded” character). If you're looking for who to blame, Koepp seems a logical place to start since he created the character. But Blanchett, who Spielberg credited with “invent[ing]” the character, certainly made a significant contribution. Hell, she did play her. And yet it's also a director's job to rein in a performer who plays things in a manner not consistent with his/her vision, and since Spielberg didn't, one can only assume that's what he intended the character to be from the very beginning. This one's complicated, so I'll go ahead and splitthe blame three ways here.
Guilty: Steven Spielberg, Cate Blanchett, David Koepp
Marion Ravenwood, shell of her former self
The idea of bringing Marion back 27 years after Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn't a bad idea, but unfortunately the feisty, independent, hard-drinking woman we came to know and love was merely a shell of her former self in Crystal Skull. Indy's inaugural love interest was given almost nothing to do in the film, and for that much of the blame must go to Koepp, whose final script drained Marion of what made her so vital in the first place. It's hard to know what Allen could have done with the character if she'd been given more to chew on, but she was effectively hamstrung by what was on the page.
Guilty: David Koepp