Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a 2008 American adventure science fiction film. It is the fourth film in the Indiana Jones franchise, created by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg. Released nineteen years after the previous film, the film acknowledges its star Harrison Ford’s age by being set in 1957. It pays tribute to the science fiction B-movies of the era, pitting Indiana Jones against Soviet agents—led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett)—for a psychic alien crystal skull. Indiana is aided by his former lover Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf). Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Jim Broadbent are also part of the supporting cast.
Screenwriters Jeb Stuart, Jeffrey Boam, Frank Darabont and Jeff Nathanson wrote drafts before David Koepp’s script satisfied the producers. Shooting began on June 18, 2007 and took place in various locations: New Mexico; New Haven, Connecticut; Hawaii; Fresno, California and on soundstages in Los Angeles. To keep aesthetic continuity with the previous films the crew relied on traditional stunt work instead of computer-generated stunt doubles and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński studied Douglas Slocombe’s style from the previous films.
Marketing relied heavily on the public’s nostalgia for the series, with products taking inspiration from all four films. Anticipation for the film was heightened by secrecy, which resulted in a legal dispute over an extra violating his non-disclosure agreement and the arrest of another man for stealing a computer containing various documents related to the production. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released worldwide on May 22, 2008, and was a financial success, grossing over $786 million worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing film of the franchise, the second highest-grossing film of 2008 and the third highest-grossing film ever produced by Lucasfilm when not adjusted for inflation, after Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
In 1957, World War II hero Indiana Jones and his long-time partner George “Mac” McHale are kidnapped by a group of Soviet agents led by the mysterious Colonel Dr. Irina Spalko. The Soviets infiltrate a warehouse labeled “51” in Nevada and force “Dr. Jones” to find a crate containing the remains of an extraterrestrial being that crashed ten years prior near Roswell, New Mexico. After finding the crate—its contents possessing magnetic properties—Mac double-crosses Indiana, having been bought off by the Soviets. After a fight with the Soviets, Indiana manages to escape into the desert (though not before the crate containing the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark is revealed in the same warehouse); he then stumbles upon a nuclear test town and survives a nuclear explosion by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator. He is later debriefed by the FBI because of Mac’s Soviet ties. Shortly after returning to Marshall College, Indiana is offered an indefinite leave of absence to avoid being fired because of the incident.
At a train station, Indiana is stopped by greaser Henry “Mutt” Williams, who tells him that his old colleague Harold Oxley was kidnapped after discovering a crystal skull in Peru. Indiana proceeds to tell Mutt the legend of a crystal skull found in the mystical city of Akator, in which whoever returns the skull to the city would be given control over its supernatural powers. Mutt gives Indiana a letter from his mother, who was also kidnapped, containing a riddle written by Ox in an ancient Native American language, which leads them to the Nazca Lines in Peru. There they discover that Ox was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital, having suffered a mental breakdown from the powers of the skull, until he was kidnapped by the Soviets. In Oxley’s cell, they find clues that lead them to the grave of Francisco de Orellana, a Conquistador who went missing in the 16th century while searching for Akator. They discover the skull at the grave, with Indiana reasoning that Oxley had hidden it there after finding it.
Shortly afterward, Indiana and Mutt are captured by the Soviets and taken to their camp, where they find Oxley and Mutt’s mother, who turns out to be Indiana’s old love, Marion Ravenwood, and reveals that Mutt is Indiana’s son, Henry Jones III. Spalko believes that the crystal skull belongs to an interdimensional being and holds great psychic power, and reveals that the specimen stolen from the warehouse is also a crystal skull. She also believes that returning the skull to Akator will grant the Soviets the advantage of psychic warfare. Indiana, Marion, Mutt and Oxley manage to escape from the Soviets into the Amazon; however, they are recaptured after Indiana falls into a swamp and Oxley fetches the Soviets for help, and with their hands tied taken to the city temple through the Rainforest. Marion and Indiana argue so much that the Soviet guard finally gags Marion with a cloth. However, Indiana and Mutt manage to overpower him while he does this. Indiana frees himself with a hidden knife of Mutt’s. He ungags Marion, then Mutt frees her while Indiana throws out the driver. A fight ensues (displaying Spalko’s fencing prowess), but only after evading the Soviets again during a brush with bullet ants, negotiating three waterfalls in a duck, and nearly being killed by an elusive tribe living in the long-abandoned city, are they able to enter the temple. Mac, who claims to be a double agent (to Indiana’s bewilderment, questioning his loyalty), secretly leaves a trail for the Soviets to follow.
Inside the temple, they find artifacts from several ancient civilizations. Indiana deduces that the creatures were kindred spirits; they too were “archaeologists” studying the different cultures of Earth. The five enter a chamber containing the crystal skeletons of thirteen interdimensional beings seated on thrones in a circle, one missing a skull. After the Soviets arrive, Spalko places the skull onto the headless skeleton. They begin communicating to the group through Oxley in an ancient dialect, promising to reward them with a “big gift”; Spalko approaches them and demands to “know everything”. The skeletons grant her request and psychically transfer their collective knowledge into her mind, activating a portal to another dimension. Indiana, Marion, Mutt and the now-sane Oxley escape the temple, but Mac and the other Soviets are sucked into the portal. The skeletons, meanwhile, combine to form a single living interdimensional being which overwhelms Spalko, causing her to disintegrate; her scattered essence is then drawn into the portal. The temple crumbles and reveals a massive fast-spinning flying saucer slowly rising from the debris (thought to be buried for millennia, the aliens “instructing” the human ancestors to build a city on top of it to hide it from plain sight); the survivors watch as it hovers in the atmosphere, defying the laws of physics and disappears into the cosmos in a split second, the “space between spaces”. Indiana, amazed by the spectacle but also overwhelmed by the sudden turn of events, is now happily reconciled with his new family.
Not long afterward, Indiana, now reinstated and made an associate dean at Marshall College, marries Marion. At the wedding’s conclusion, a sudden wind bursts through the church doors and blows Indiana’s hat onto the floor at Mutt’s feet. Mutt picks it up and is about to place it on his head, only to have his father grab and put it on as he and his wife walk down the aisle.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this film: