Skull Bull

So, I finally saw “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” this weekend. I’ll admit, I was expecting it to be terrible. “Phantom Menace” terrible. All the reviews I’d heard ranged from slightly sub-mediocre to “worst movie ever.” Personally, I enjoyed it; it wasn’t nearly as good as the other Jones flicks, it relied way too much on CGI (the whip? You needed to CGI his whip?), and there were a few bits of terrible Lucas-dialogue (“I like Ike”) and over-the-top camp (“grab the snake!”). But overall, it wasn’t an awful movie (and I know awful movies).

Then again, “Temple of Doom” was always my favorite of the original trilogy (as a kid, anyway, and I haven’t really re-evaluated that yet), so your mileage may vary.

But damn there was a ton of woo. Let’s see how much I can remember:

  • Crystal skulls
    • Unearthly properties
    • Strange powers
    • Alien origin

  • Aliens
    • Ancient Astronauts
    • Roswell UFO crash
    • Alien autopsy
    • Flying saucers

  • Ancient civilizations with highly advanced technology
  • Psychic powers
    • Government psychic programs produced results
    • Untapped human psychic potential

  • Magic magnets
  • Government cover-ups and conspiracies

I think there was a “science can’t explain everything” in there as well, and I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff. On one hand, it bothered me; on the other hand, it’s no more unbelievable than immortality-granting Grails, face-melting Arks, and canvas-burning rocks. It’s just a different kind of unbelievable. I think we tend to envision this wall between sci-fi and fantasy (symbolized by the “/” between the two on the labels at Borders), and it’s pretty well universal. Even in stories that mix sci-fi and fantasy elements (Masters of the Universe, Star Wars), they’re either totally compartmentalized (the technological types consider the Force backwards and quaint, etc.) or one is explained in terms of the other (magic is just sufficiently advanced, insufficiently understood science). So it’s strange to see a single universe embracing both hard fantasy and hard sci-fi so completely, even though there’s no real reason to separate them. I think it really stems from the same mindset that science can’t study/touch/coexist with magic/religion/etc.

But that’s a dissertation for another time. This is what’s nagging at me since before I saw the film: Do movies like Indiana Jones lend credibility to their woo subjects?

I’ve blogged about this sort of thing before with regard to comics. While comics have always had questionable science content (I’m looking at you, Stan “Transistors = Magic” Lee), for most of the last several decades, comics have usually made an effort to provide actual (educational!) science content, and have usually tried to make it clear what was “science” and what was “comic book science.” In more recent years, that trend has largely dried up, and some of those same “making it clear that this is real science” tropes have been used to promote misinformation (“we only use 10% of our brains”) or pseudoscience (Masuru Emoto’s magic water, for instance). In that, I’m lamenting the loss of good science in comics and its frequent replacement with pseudoscientific bunk.

But movies have never really had that legacy of education and attempted accurate science, so that complaint wouldn’t really hold. People understand that movies are fiction and fantasy, why would they latch onto movie-woo as some kind of reality?

Unless, of course, they think that reality is unrealistic.

It’s no question that flicks like “Crystal Skulls” spawn a bunch of unofficial tie-ins on the various cable networks and in cheaply-produced books and credulous magazines. I know there was a credulous History Channel special on the Crystal Skulls in the lead-up to the flick. I remember a bunch of stuff on Spartans around the time “300” came out, and I don’t think I even need to mention “The Da Vinci Code.”

And I think it’s even safe to say that some of this stuff gets more popular due to movie representation. I’d never heard of EVP before “White Noise” farted its way across the big screen, and now it’s a standard trick in all the ghost-hunting shows. But they’re about as credulous as you get, so that makes them terrible candidates for demonstrating whether or not these movies actually give this stuff more credibility.

I’ll ramble on about this some more in the comments, or a later post, but let me know what you think.

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5 Responses to Skull Bull

  1. Dunc says:

    Good news for once! Over here in the UK last week, there was a Crystal Skulls tie-in docu (“Legend of the Crystal Skulls” or something), on Channel 5 of all places, that actually got it right! They dredged out the auction documents for the Mitchell-Hedges skull, they showed the electron microscopy results that prove it (and all the other crystal skulls they talked about) was made using modern rotary tools (with comparisons with tool marks from known Mesoamerican crystal artefacts), and they even traced it all back to the 19th C French art dealer who kicked the whole thing off. Oh, and they demonstrated that the source rock for the British Museum skull came from either Brazil or Madagascar…All in all, a really good, thorough debunking – I really wasn’t expecting that!As for whether the movies lend credibility, I really don’t they do – directly at any rate. However, they do provide a perfect promotional tie-in opportunity for the bullshit artists, and that’s worth a lot (just ask McDonalds). The flip side of that is that they also provide a promo tie-in for the forces of reason.

  2. Akusai says:

    That is a good point.It seems that the woo-meisters are quicker to jump on the tie-ins. More money to make, maybe?

  3. Bronze Dog says:

    Looks like I’m a little late to this thread, but oh well.I described it as ‘fun and vapid’. Worst scene that comes to my mind was the ‘Tarzan’ act Mutt did.What I would have done differently: Instead of going sci-fi, I’d have the skull be some cursed magical artifact, and I’d have it look rougher, with obvious tool marks. Maybe include a reference to the modern fakes and how fake they are and why.

  4. Doubting Tom says:

    That was such laudatory spam, but it was spam, so it got DELETED!

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