Indiana Jones and Nuking the Fridge

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay
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In our age, democracy strides triumphant across the globe. No longer do you need wealth to be an obnoxious, pompous moron. Thanks to cigars, expensive lattes and the blogosphere, anybody can now enter Monty Python's Upper Class Twit of the Year Competition. Thus people who can't take a picture with a disposable camera without having a telephone pole sticking out of their subject's head think they're qualified to tell Steven Spielberg and George Lucas how to make movies.

Nuking the Fridge

Someone suggested adding "nuking the fridge" to the lexicon to augment "jumping the shark" as an idiom for a series running out of creative ideas. The latter comes from an outrageous sight gag in Happy Days where Fonzie sees a shark while water skiing and jumps over it.

Okay, you're in the blast zone of a nuclear weapon a minute before detonation. You have sixty seconds to save your life. Go. Hunker down against a wall like the old drills of the Fifties? Not very promising. Under a table? Wave bye-bye. Thirty seconds. In the bathtub? Better, but vulnerable to flying debris. You're in a stick-built house, and nothing close by is going to stay anchored once the bomb goes off. Ten seconds. Inside a fridge is easily the best bet. I doubt the blast would have flung the fridge as far as it did in the movie, and I doubt an occupant would survive if it did, at least without serious injuries. I also wonder why anyone would line a fridge with lead, or whether there would be enough to do any good. But there is nothing at all silly about trying to survive a nuclear blast in a fridge. The worst that could happen is you'd end up no more dead than if you'd tried one of the less effective methods.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark we have an ancient Mesoamerican temple with intricate, fully functioning traps. They're not clogged by tree roots or rotted by decay. In Last Crusade, Indy and the villainess escape subterranean flames by hunkering under an old sarcophagus, then escape through a manhole. The flames didn't consume all the oxygen or flood the passages with carbon monoxide. Then we have another temple, this one in the Middle East, and again there's an intricate trap that still functions perfectly after centuries. Wood and rope haven't dried out and become flimsy after all that time. In Temple of Doom, Indy and his companions parachute out of an airplane in a life raft, then slide off a cliff and plunge hundreds of feet into a river without injury. Later on they're riding a mine car through tunnels with flowing lava, careen off the end of the rails and land precisely on the rails again on the other side of the gap. But surviving a nuclear blast in a fridge is unrealistic? Give me a break.

The mushroom cloud is the best I have ever seen in a film (honorable mention to The Day After, also an Uncommon Sense Award for bothering to consult a map and see that there are two Kansas Cities. Considering how often I've seen Hollywood scramble the geography of anything further away than Anaheim, that's an achievement.) The blast effects replicate real test footage with chilling fidelity. One minor "error," probably a deliberate choice: many films of nuclear explosions show thin jagged parallel lines adjacent to the blast. Many people assume they are somehow caused by the blast, but they were in fact smoke trails of small sounding rockets launched just before the blast. The trails were there to help gauge wind velocities. Since a lot of viewers don't know about the rockets but might expect to see the vertical trails, they're in the movie, but they're trails made by debris falling.

And From Japan.....

Kakumi Kobayashi in Japan Today:

The latest installment in the popular "Indiana Jones" movie series has puzzled some viewers and critics in Japan as it includes a segment showing a nuclear bomb test which they say could give young people the wrong impression about the dangers of radiation and the destructive power of nuclear weapons.

What? Kids will set off nukes in the house after seeing the movie? Track radiation on the carpet?

"The problem is that the scenes have nothing to do with the general story of the movie," said Hiroo Otaka, a Tokyo-based film critic.

As opposed to the great big rolling ball, which pursued Indiana Jones all through Raiders of the Lost Ark? Or the diamond that surfaced in every scene in Temple of Doom? Or the circus train that carried Indy and his father out of Nazi Germany in Last Crusade?

"The story continues without any reference to damage caused by the bomb and Dr. Jones goes back to his adventures without showing any aftereffects," Otaka said.

This may come as a bit of a shock, but people exposed to low doses of nuclear radiation don't show immediate aftereffects. Years later, maybe, but not necessarily days or weeks.

"I was speechless after watching those scenes," said Masako Katagata, a 34-year-old worker at a medical association in Osaka Prefecture. "Scrubbing Dr Jones with brushes to get rid of radiation. What was that? Where is the science?"

The science is that you get radioactive fallout off as quickly as possible to minimize its effect. As in scrubbing. Every handbook on radiation decontamination ever written instructs decontamination teams to have exposed people brush off fallout, remove their clothes, and shower.

Culturally Insensitive But Needs To Be Said

The damage caused by radiation and other matters related to nuclear weapons have been a sensitive topic in Japan ever since the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Understandable. Pretending there was no Rape of Nanking is a sensitive topic in China, too. Pretending there was no forced prostitution is pretty sensitive in the rest of East Asia.

If Japan hadn't allowed a lunatic military junta to take control of the country, then allowed them to pervert bushido into a cult of mindless obedience to the most shameful orders, they wouldn't have been in World War II.

If they hadn't engaged in a genocidal invasion of China they'd have been able to continue buying oil from us. There wouldn't have been a plan to seize the oil fields of Burma and Indonesia, and no Pearl Harbor.

If the Japanese government had expressed an interest in deposing the military junta, those peace overtures in 1945 we hear so much about might have gone somewhere. As historian Richard B. Frank pointed out in No Bomb, No End in What If? 2, there has never been the slightest evidence that the Japanese government ever offered terms that the Allies could have found acceptable. Even after the bombs fell, there was an attempted coup by hard-line officers opposed to surrender. If the U.S. invasion plans had failed catastrophically or, more likely, been abandoned as unworkable, the only available strategy would have been starving Japan into submission, coupled, more than likely, with a Russian invasion from the north. Sometimes a horrible end is preferable to horrors without end.

Karen Allen is Old

That happens to real people. Considering that not one of the Batman flicks has had the common decency to offer Adam West even a cameo role, Spielberg and Lucas deserve a medal, not criticism, for bringing Karen Allen back, wrinkles and all. Were they supposed to try passing off some twenty-something in her place? (Judging from some of the reviews, yes. Maybe Anne Hathaway?)

They Went X-Files

So give me an Indiana Jones movie that didn't go X-files.

First we had Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the Ark of the Covenant is sought by the Nazis for its power and its ability to summon God. So God comes when called, like an obedient puppy. Also, he apparently has no moral compass, because he'll help the Nazis if they get control of the Ark. He won't say, blast Hitler and his flunkies with lightning, or command the closing of the concentration camps. We get a hint that God takes sides when we see the Nazi insignia on the crate char when the Ark is sealed inside. No supernatural stuff here.

Then, in Temple of Doom, the Thugee cult has the ability to rip out people's hearts while keeping them still alive so they can be lowered into a pit of molten lava. Also there are mystical stones that have enormous power if brought together but they burn your hand if you're evil. Nothing at all X-files about this. (Oh, while fact checking, I ran into one especially dimwitted reviewer who called this film racially offensive. Maybe it would have been better if the Thuggee cult had been relocated to Paraguay? Or maybe we were supposed to find out the Thuggee cult was really run by Mother Theresa and specialized in rescuing homeless puppies.)

And in Last Crusade, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper has the power to keep you alive forever, but only if you stay forever within the confines of the sanctuary. Theologians haven't yet decided about the plates, the tablecloth, napkins, spork, etc. Scenarios like this, as well as the da Vinci Code, reveal a view of Christianity as magic. In orthodox Christianity, Christ is special because he was the Son of God - there was nothing whatsoever special about the things Christ used, touched, or ate. Every single person has millions of atoms in his or her body that were once in Christ's body, also Judas, Genghis Khan, Socrates, Confucius and Martin Luther. They're atoms. Nothing more.

Missing the Points

The stuff that critics of the film deride is paltry compared to the other plot holes they miss entirely (because they're ignorant). The fixation on the fridge is downright hilarious when you think of the lacunae in the rest of the film. Lacuna matata?

The film opens with a military convoy entering Area 51 in Nevada. The convoy, we soon learn, is a sham - the soldiers are Russians, and they want Indiana Jones to help them locate a special box from Roswell, New Mexico (wink, wink). Okay, if they're planning to use this box as the basis of an ultra-secret psychic weapon, wouldn't they want to keep the theft secret, rather than massacring a guard detail? Take a minute and think of a dozen ways the KGB, who are very good at that sort of thing, might get in secretly. Like go in at night instead of broad daylight? Or maybe go in with convincing military ID, but scheduling the intrusion when the site is not closed for a nuclear test? (It was, by the way, called KGB in 1957, having been so named in 1954.) We won't specify getting out secretly, since Indiana Jones is along. Of course, they could have just kept him handcuffed the whole time, or shot him once they had the box. The two top KGB villains are a big bruiser (see the Nazi boxer in Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). Gentle, mystical Galadriel has gone over to the Dark Side.

Also gone over to the Dark Side is Mac, an MI6 colleague of Indy who has sold out to the Russians and who keeps popping up in the film as an annoying distraction, kind of like a piece of lint in the projector.

The object they're seeking is intensely magnetic, but nobody brought a compass. Because apparently the KGB just forgot to do any intelligence work before breaking in. So Indy has the soldiers take apart their bullets, using the metal particles in the gunpowder for detection. He tosses the gunpowder in the air and it drifts toward the box. Apparently this kind of magnetism attracts any metal at all, since it later attracts shotgun pellets. So if the magnetic field is capable of attracting metal from hundreds of feet away, why doesn't it attract all the hanging lights in the warehouse? Why don't the soldiers feel a tug on their rifle barrels? Those things only happen when the crate is located and the wooden lid taken off, because apparently this kind of magnetism is blocked by wood.

Technical note: If you had two isolated magnetic north poles (monopoles) they would repel each other with a force inversely proportional to distance squared, just like two electrons or protons. But in the real world, magnetic poles come in pairs (dipoles). That means that, once you're more than a short distance from a magnet, the attraction of one pole is nearly canceled by the repulsion from the other. The force drops off a lot faster than the square of the distance - more like the cube of the distance. So small magnets capable of attracting iron from hundreds of feet away just don't exist. You can have planetary scale magnetic fields, but only if you have planetary scale magnets. And those fields are weak, which is why earth's field affects a compass needle but not the steering of a car.

Indy escapes, takes a ride on a rocket sled (all the Top Secret stuff is at Area 51 for convenient access) and then takes a commuter flight in a fridge (coach class, no in-flight service, rough landing), and finds himself being interrogated by the FBI, during which we learn (surprise, surprise) that he was in the OSS during World War II, and he was also involved in inspecting the Roswell debris in 1947. Mac's defection doesn't help his cause any. Back on campus, he's given a leave of absence, supposedly due to FBI pressure. Now there was still plenty of anti-Communist paranoia in 1957, but Joe McCarthy had been pilloried by Edward R. Murrow four years earlier, and teaching archeology in college isn't exactly a sensitive job. Indy is about to head for Europe when teenager Mutt Williams turns up, doing a nice homage to early Marlon Brando when we first see him. His mother and a friend of Jones, Professor Oxley, have been kidnapped in Peru by people looking for a mysterious crystal skull. Oxley had mailed a letter to Mutt during a brief escape, written in an extinct language, which Jones deciphers because it's related to Maya, which is spoken a mere 2000 miles away in Central America. Of course, it's all a trap - the KGB is following them.

The letter is a riddle indicating that the treasure is located near the famous Nazca ground figures on the coast of Peru. So Indy and Mutt deplane in Nazca and start snooping. Mutt notes that, even though he'd taken Spanish, he couldn't catch a word. Indy replies that everyone is speaking Quechua, and that he'd picked up a little while with Pancho Villa, since a couple of his men spoke it. Nice to see an homage to the Young Indiana Jones series, but what would Quechua speakers from Peru be doing with Pancho Villa's forces in Mexico? Same way this extinct Peruvian language evolved into Maya, which is spoken in Central America. Kind of like the way knowing Spanish will help you speak Hungarian.

Oxley had gone round the bend and been locked up in the local asylum. When Mutt and Indy search his cell, they find enigmatic deformed skull figures all over the walls along with the word "return" in half a dozen languages. On the floor is a map of the local cemetery. So they visit the cemetery, which is high on a hill overlooking one of the Nazca figures. That's just a tad perplexing since the figures supposedly can't be seen from the ground. They fight off a platoon of tomb guardians. Mutt is just about to get nailed by a poison dart when Indy blows the dart back into the attacker's mouth. Am I the only one who wonders why anyone would put poison on the wrong end of a dart? Just checking.

Down in the crypt, they find seven wrapped mummies, supposedly the remains of Francisco de Orellana and his companions who mysteriously disappeared while searching for El Dorado. Since this is 1957 and National Treasure II hasn't come out yet, they don't realize it's behind Mount Rushmore. Francisco de Orellana was a real explorer who lived from 1511 to 1546, just as the movie describes, but he didn't mysteriously vanish. He was part of a disastrous Spanish expedition across the Andes, and he and a few men made the first passage down the Amazon. He died in 1546 on a return expedition. Opening one of the mummies, they discover that Oxley had hidden a crystal skull inside. When brought out, the skull attracts coins, causing Indy puzzlement, since crystal is not magnetic. Neither, notes Mutt, is gold. And apparently this strange type of magnetism is shielded by a couple of layers of cloth.

Indy and Mutt are captured by the Russians, and we next see them in an encampment deep in the jungle. Just to prove they really are Russians, some of the droogs are doing a Cossack dance around the campfire. Mutt meets his mom, who turns out to be Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Mutt is Indy's son - anyone who didn't see that one coming way back during the coming attractions raise your hand. Spalko indulges in a bit of plot exposition by telling Indy that the skull is really that of an alien (they have crystal skeletons) that it unleashes psychic forces, and that the USSR intends to use it to brainwash the U.S. She also reveals that  UFO's have crashed in Russia, too, making me wonder why they needed to get the Roswell crate, and why they didn't bother to bring a compass. In fact, if they had their own skulls, and knew about the magnetism, why did they need Jones at all?  Anyway, if the UFO is all that top secret, why isn't it being studied in a lab somewhere instead of buried in a warehouse? Oxley fried his brain by communing too long with the skull, but Indy is made of tougher stuff. With all his friends taken hostage, Indy helps the Russians deduce the location of El Dorado and the original resting place of the skull.

And of course he escapes along with Oxley, Marion and Mutt. The Russians apparently can't track someone more than a hundred yards before losing them. But Marion starts to sink into the ground. Not quicksand, which Indy lectures is not all that dangerous before Marion tells him to shut up, but dry sand. This no doubt explains why thousands of people disappear every weekend at the beach. Riding out a nuclear blast in a fridge is silly, sinking in dry sand is believable. Duh, yup, yup, yup. So they get recaptured.

To get through the jungle, the Russians have a weed-whacker on steroids, basically an armored personnel carrier with huge buzz saws. I might buy that such a contraption would cut through the jungle, but I find it awfully hard to believe it will leave behind a hard-packed road free of tree stumps. One thing Idon't have a problem with is the Russians getting all this stuff to Peru. One of the background maps between scenes showed the expedition traveling to Iquitos, which, even though it's on the Amazon in Peru, is a deep water port. Any KGB agent worth his borscht should have no problem sailing a freighter to Iquitos with false papers and flag, then convincing the aduana to look the other way while the stuff is offloaded.

Indy, Marion and Mutt are being transported in a truck, guarded by a soldier who doesn't know enough to tie Indy up securely. So Indy hijacks the truck, uses a convenient RPG round to take out the weed whacker, then guns the engine to overtake Spalko and the crystal skull. At this point Lucas and Spielberg figure nobody has questioned the hard smooth road made by the giant weed whacker, so nobody will question the existence of asecond smooth road parallel to the first one. So Indy guns the truck down the parallel road from nowhere, overtakes the lead vehicle, Mutt steals the skull, Spalko steals it back, she pounds Mutt and Indy with martial arts, they have a swordfight (Mutt set this one up by explaining that he took fencing at one of the many fancy schools he was kicked out of), and they have a cliffhanging - literally - drag race. Oh, somehow there's still a road even though the weed whacker was blown up by the RPG round. I'm still scanning Google Earth to locate where in the Amazon lowland downstream from Iquitos they have cliffs. Spalko's vehicle plows into a giant anthill, and the ants drag the Big Bruiser down into the tunnels. But the skull has the power to repel the ants, enabling the heroes to escape by driving off the cliff and using a tree to cushion their fall into the river.

They just happen to be driving an amphibious vehicle, by the way, and are putt-putting happily downstream when Indy realizes that one of the clues in Oxley's letter was "it drops three times." He realizes the clue means three waterfalls just in time to go over the first one. The skull has the power to warp space, in this case warping Iguacu Falls from the Parana River on the Argentina -Brazil border to the Amazon River in Peru. But, hey, I can believe that - it's the fridge I can't believe. I can also believe people can survive multiple drops over waterfalls hundreds of feet high. But not the fridge. Anything but the fridge.

Also, if we have these stupendous waterfalls on the Amazon, how do ships get to Iquitos? The fridge. That's what doesn't make sense. The fridge. Gotta focus.

Using the rest of the clues, Indy and crew locate an ancient stone temple guarded by a hostile tribe who back off at the sight of the skull. (Spalko, we soon learn, has an equally effective but less politically correct method of dealing with the tribe.) Indy figures out that the sculptures on the temple are plugs holding in sand, which runs out once the plugs are knocked out, allowing the temple to open and all sorts of tricky devices to start up. They all work flawlessly, of course. Because not once in thousands of years, in a rain forest, did water seep in and get the sand all wet.

Vast and intricate objects start moving:

It went zip when it moved
And bop when it stopped
Whirrrrr when it stood still
I never knew just what it was
And I guess I never will.

For reasons too technical to get into, the mechanism opens the top of the temple so people can get in, and also starts retracting the spiral stairs so they can't. But the heroes make it to the bottom in the nick of time, follow a passage and find themselves in a treasure room (meaning they're under Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan). Indy deduces the aliens were archaeologists, if getting the stuff fresh out of the showroom counts as archeology. Among the things that catch their eyes are coins. That's puzzling since the artifacts, from all over the world,  are supposed to be thousands of years of years old, but coins only appeared around 500 B.C. The fridge. Remember the fridge. Only the fridge doesn't make sense.

And next door is the throne room where thirteen alien skeletons topped by twelve alien skulls sit waiting. By this time Spalko has caught up to them. She takes the skull, mounts it on the headless skeleton, and the aliens begin to merge into a single entity.

Okay, wait a minute. The thirteen skeletons were waiting for the skull to be restored so they could unite and get out of Dodge. But the skulls all were together before Oxley stole the one skull. So what was to stop them from reuniting, say, 500 years ago? And what was the point of stealing the Roswell objects? Was there a skull at Roswell? Wouldn't the aliens have objected to having the wrong skull put on a body? As far as I can tell the stolen Roswell objects never reappear in the rest of the film.

The reunification of the aliens has brought Oxley out of his dementia. He explains that the aliens are "interdimensional beings," and are a hive mind. Individually they have no intelligence, but collectively they form a mind. Sort of like the blogosphere, or reviewers on IMDb. No wait, the aliens form a collective intelligence.

Anyway, Spalko is enthralled by the aliens and their knowledge, which floods her brain so much she bursts into flame. Indy and friends escape in the nick of time to see the alien - interdimensional - ship thingy take off, flinging some impressive clods of earth and rock as it does. Indy and Marion - finally - get married. At the end of the ceremony, a gust of wind knocks Indy's hat on the floor. Mutt goes to pick it up but Indy beats him to it. Not yet, kid.

And the college punishes Indy by making him a dean. Soon (wheeze) the transformation to the Dark Side will be complete.

Every Indiana Jones Film Ever Made - Past or Future

  1. Indiana Jones is after a priceless artifact, but so are the bad guys, who want its hidden powers for their own - nyah-ha-hah - evil purposes.
  2. Indiana Jones engages in superhuman feats of derring-do to stop them
  3. The bad guys win anyway
  4. And it doesn't do them any good!
    • In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazis get the Ark of the Covenant, open it, and get burned to a crisp for their pains.
    • In Temple of Doom, the evil Thuggee priest Mola Ram grabs the sacred Sankara stones from Indy's knapsack, they burn his hands 'cause he's evil, and he plunges into a river full of waiting crocodiles.
    • In Last Crusade, the evil businessman gets to the Grail first, picks the wrong cup, and crumbles to dust.
    • In Crystal Skull, the Russians get there in time to see the effects of restoring the skull to its place, then Irina Spalko's brain overloads with alien knowledge so badly her eyes burst into flame.

So it is with great pleasure that I announce the plot of Indiana Jones 5:

  1. Indy learns of a priceless artifact, say, Thor's Hammer, which the Vikings hid in a remote fjord in Spitzbergen for safekeeping.
  2. Irina Spalko's clone wants the Hammer because it will give the Soviet Union unlimited power to smash its enemies.
  3. Indiana Jones accepts the quest, then, when he's safely on an expense account and checked into a hotel in Oslo, spends his time hanging out at the hotel bar trying to pick up blondes looking for clues.
  4. Spalko and her minions find the Hammer, give it a test toss, and melt Spitzbergen, burning themselves to a crisp and sealing the Hammer forever under miles of molten lava.
  5. Indiana Jones reads about Spitzbergen suddenly melting, pays his hotel bill, coils the whip, puts the hat on at a jaunty angle, and goes home. Cue the theme music.


Guys, no movie remake is going to recapture the wonder you felt seeing the original Star Wars or Indiana Jones flicks as kids. You put yourselves beyond that when you decided to become phony, superficial pseudo-sophisticates. Go buy a latte and curl up with a Merchant-Ivory flick. (Apologies to M-I fans: if you like those films and watch them without begrudging others the right to their own tastes, I'll spring for your popcorn.)

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Created 18 July 2008;  Last Update 24 May, 2020

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