In my many, many, many revisits of KOTCS, I've come to decide that the majority of the third act is the biggest, most devastating flaw of the film. When it should be upping the intensity, it makes everything seem sillier. When it should be fast and thrilling, it starts and stops like a car that's almost out of gas. When it should be at its most emotional and profound, it plays it safe and goes through the motions.
So...my question is: how would you folks have re-written the third act? The thing is, you can't alter a single thing from before that. The movie up until then needs to be exactly as it was. But you can redo the third act as much as you'd like, to remove its flaws or even give new context to earlier scenes that work better. For the sake of this experiment, I am going to have the moment that Marion appears act as the starting point of the third act (as IMO, that is where the flaws begin in earnest with this section of the film).
I'd love to hear the various creative ideas. And keep in mind, this section had the Dovchenko fight, in my opinion the major saving grace of the third act. So, whatever you come up with, don't neglect to give Indy his deserved fistfight setpiece!
When it should be fast and thrilling, it starts and stops like a car that's almost out of gas.
I agree it's the worst part (of a film I generally like) though I don't quite agree with that sentence. I thought that the film was so determined to make this portion of the film a rollercoaster ride that it cut out important scenes (as I understand it, the discussion between Spalko and Mac, for instance) in an effort to keep things moving.
I always felt that the film started out like Last Crusade - following in the footsteps of a missing person - then by the end wanted to be Temple of Doom - one action scene after another - and it didn't quite work.
And of course, it's the part of the film that makes the least sense, what with their unclear purpose and Indy's line about the skull talking to him.
For the record, I thought the climax of City of the Gods, although trying a little too hard to out-Indy the previous films' climaxes, made a lot more sense, thematically.
I have to agree with everything that Kong says, in fact I watched it again last night as it was on one of the BBC channels again.
I would have to have a good think about it overall as my problems with the film lie within there being too many characters at the end, too much comedy and a very poor macguffin and ending to the film.
Have one of them dramatically die during the jungle chase, giving Indy a personal motivation to complete the quest to honor them? Ox is really the most sensible option that spring to mind here. And what if Mac remains on Spalko's side, so he's not around as much? That leaves just the family unit of dad, mom and son heading for Akator, which sounds more appealing. And you can always create a big tonal shift for a "Stuff Just Got Real" effect, or come up with a shocking twist that makes the skull more interesting.
And Toht's Arm, I mostly meant that we were given scenes like the exploration of the cave with the paintings and the look around the treasure room. Those scenes felt like they dragged and existed just for exposition, IMO. With some rewrites and re-editing, they could have felt a little more engaging to me.
Nuke the vine swinging. Spalko's stabs Mutt and is about to off him, but Mac steps in and joins the fight, and is killed by Spalko. Makes the russians more of a credible threat, gives Mac a little more depth and meaningful depth, and starts the third act with higher stakes. Also gives Mutt a little more room for growth - it's not just a game. This also eliminates some of the dead weight - the gang of Indy/Marion/Mutt/Oxley/Mac is more Goonies than Indy.
Remove the most glaring cartoony elements of the ants, and don't treat them like a serious threat - they're not Red Hot Lava (TM) - but do let them swarm and kill a soldier. Do something like have one of the russian vehicles crash, spill gas, and burst into flame, trapping the gang and the soldiers between the ant swarm, wall of flames, and the cliff. Keep the story moving without stopping for the requisite bug scene!
Give the gang more urgent motivation to return the skull. Perhaps it's starting to control Oxley, speaking through him. Maybe start to get all glowy-eyed and appear as a threat to the gang, driving them forward. Obsessively muttering then shouting "Return!" and causing little earthquakes, which scare the natives back into hiding.
In the temple, have Oxley (or the skull speaking through him?) confront Spalko, so the whole "knowledge" thing is less abstract. And he's fully awake when the skull is restored, telling the others "we'd better go... now..."
Of course, in the above, it's still not giving Indy much agency, which is one of the big flaws of the film. As in the big chase scenes in Raiders/Temple/Crusade, he should be constantly improvising, succeeding briefly, then having a new challenge dropped on him ("sheez!"); rinse and repeat, constantly building the tension. Any set piece which doesn't include that should be reworked; contrast the spike room escape from Temple with the water escape at the end of Skull. In both he's hapless, but in the later he's literally just swept away; with a few tweaks, though (flip a lever? break down a door? improve something!) he could be responsible for saving the gang.
On that note: as they're escaping the treasure room, have Marion slip and Indy rescue her from the vortex using his whip. And as they're looking back before ducking out the door, Indy can quip "at least it's all going to a museum..."
Hmmm. An interesting idea. As a amateur screenwriter I have thought about re-writing the whole movie. I don't think it was so much a poor macguffin as a poorly set up macguffin. In the previous films we find out what indy is looking for and why he must find it by the end of the first act (generally 15 minutes in).
Raider- The Ark or the Nazis would be invincible
Temple- Retrieve the stones and children from the thuggee
Crusade- Find the grail and his father (we don't find out why until the middle of the second act that is involves Nazis so we know it bad.)
In Crystal Skull we have no idea what this thing is or can do until just before the third act denoted by kongisking were Spalko explains her plans.
By the time we hit the third act the time for exposition should be over and should be non-stop action but as mentioned above by kongisking this appears to be were the try to cram in even more. Mac being the biggest talker.
So to sum up this long winded post- I think that the problems that culminate in the messy and drawn out third act begin earlier in the film. It is probably easier to start here and work backwards though.
*Just saw InexorableTash's post. Excellent stuff there.
So to sum up this long winded post- I think that the problems that culminate in the messy and drawn out third act begin earlier in the film. It is probably easier to start here and work backwards though.
In my humble opinion, I do think everything before the third act works pretty much fine, but the third act should have made some vastly different choices. This could have been where the stakes get real, the character development reaches its moments of truth, and some twists come to light that give new, interesting relevance to the prior scenes.
I do really like many of Tash's ideas. Especially Mac giving his life to save Mutt and this triggers Mutt growing up more, and Indy saving Marion from the vortex.
To make the ending better then some of those supporting characters would need to go. But in order to get rid of Ox then you'd have to go further back in the film to write him out or maybe he was a prisoner of the people protecting the temple.
Mac dying earlier is a good option and adds a bit more weight to his role. I would also have been tempted not to include Marion and have had Mutt as a pupil of Indy possibly.
Despite a lot of great story elements, the movie needed a page one rewrite. That said, if you could only change the third act of the movie, there are a lot of improvements you could make.
The main problem with the third act is that it's got zero tension. The characters uncover a lost city, which was a massive opportunity for intrigue, spooky atmosphere, spectacle and great set pieces. None of that potential is delivered on. In its teaser, Raiders did more with one single cave than Crystal Skull was able to do with an entire lost valley and a lot more money. Hell the first fifteen seconds of the TRAILER for Crystal Skull was more evocative than the entirety of the movie.
The other crippling issue with the third act is the way it's initiated, which is in the lamest way ever. The characters are basically like, "Well, we came this far!" Laziness. Have Indy go as insane as Oxley (who shouldn't even be in the movie), leading the others with no choice but to follow him into danger. There's not enough propelling the action, which just kind of happens in non-threatening, suspense-free bouts.
The third act of the movie also reveals how useless the supporting characters ultimately were. Oxley was a plot device. Marion proves to be in the movie for her introduction and the wedding scene despite appearing in half the runtime. Mac and his whimsical allegiances ended up being a big pointless distraction. They should have pruned the cast and given the ones that made the cut better material.
The third act should have been full of payoffs, but the script never set up anything that it was interested in doing anything with. The Red Scare stuff was just set dressing, the ambiguous powers of Spalko were just an undeveloped idea, the theme of confused loyalties of a double agent was introduced for nothing. A reflective Indy ends up with a family because soap opera logic demanded that everybody in the movie be ****ing related to him somehow. So, so much potential squandered.
I actually agree with nearly every specific point you make about the climax Udvarnoky, with the exception of the claim that the movie needed a page one rewrite. I really think the third act is what probably kills the movie for most, even if they don't realize it. Because there was no satisfactory payoff, everything before felt like a waste too.
Many times I've seen otherwise good or average movies crippled by a poor third act. Its the most crucial section of a story. Even if you have a lame beginning or middle, if your end is spectacular, it can have a huge positive effect on the overall work. I think Crystal Skull is one of those movies that started just fine and was building to something that could have been much better handled than it was. That's really the biggest disappointment I get from the film.
You can't agree with all my points and also think the problems are limited to act three, because at least one of my points pointed to bad setups, which would be the province of earlier parts of the script.
"Page one rewrite" means starting the script from scratch, but it doesn't have to mean jettisoning major ideas. I think for the most part, the script doesn't do the ideas justice.
All right, I'll try to share what I'd do. And prove that indeed, a better third act could have easily made all those 'poor setups' matter in the end. Here goes:
Shortly after Marion is revealed and Spalko threatens to shoot her if Indy does not help them, Indy speaks with Ox, who gives them the autowriting clues to Akator's location (without the whole 'three times it drops/the way down' bit, because I'm scrapping the waterfall scene). Mutt, angered at what has happened to Oxley, initiates an escape while Indy is wrapped up in his excitement solving Oxley's riddles, and they flee into the jungle. I'd keep the dry sandpit scene, but alter it so that only Marion was trapped in the pit, and both Mutt and Ox run off to try and find something to pull her out while Indy stays to comfort her.
As she sinks, Indy is faced with the possibility they might not save her, and so tells Marion he is sorry for having left her before their wedding. Marion, touched, is about to say something, but then Mutt appears with a snake, and Indy forces himself to overcome his fear to help pull Marion out, showing just how devoted he is to her. That is when Ox returns with the Russians, and we're now in the back of the truck as in the original film.
Now, Marion is reluctant to say what she was going to in the pit, causing frustration from Indy, while Mutt is befuddled as to what it could be. They both try to get the answer out of her, but Marion angrily tells them 'it doesn't matter anymore'. Dovchenko loses patience with the bickering, and tries to gag Marion. Indy and Mutt knock him out, Mutt gives Indy his knife to cut them loose (scrap the pointless gag that I STILL can't understand), and so the jungle chase begins. But now, Indy's main contribution is to try to sabotage the jungle cutter.
He leaps atop it, trying to commandeer it, and Dovchenko tries to stop him. Meanwhile, Mutt and Marion try to retrieve Oxley and the skull, and in the process Mutt duels with Spalko on the moving trucks. Meanwhile, Indy is able to knock Dovchneko into the cutter where he is shredded to bits.
But then Indy looks over to see that Mutt and Spalko's duel has gone badly, to where Mutt is about to be killed by her. Marion intervenes, struggling with Spalko, and Indy makes his way to them by leaping across different vehicles.
He gets there just as Marion is about to be stabbed, but then Oxley heroically leaps in front of her, getting fatally stabbed. Indy manages to shoot his gun at Spalko, it hits her in the shoulder, and she falls off into the brush. Their duck reaches the end of the jungle, and they stop the vehicle. Ox regains his old personality, recognizing all of them, and seems overjoyed, before passing away. All three are devastated, most of all Mutt.
Meanwhile, Spalko is found and helped by her remaining men, including Mac, who witnessed her killing Ox. Spalko uses her psychic powers to probe his mind, and finds he deeply disapproves, and threatens to kill him if he thinks about betraying her. She patches up her wound, and they all get in their vehicles, and start again.
Last edited by kongisking : 10-06-2014 at 01:38 PM.
Later, it is nighttime in the jungle, and the heroes have made a small camp. They are still reeling from the loss of Ox, and Indy most of all is now conflicted, in that Ox was their clue to getting to Akator and returning the skull. He expresses to Marion a reluctance to continue the quest, but then Mutt appears, and pleads with him to do it, to honor Ox. Indy agrees, and after Mutt leaves, Marion finally reveals her secret: Mutt is Indy's son, who she was pregnant when he left her. Indy is overcome with emotion, and Marion says they can tell Mutt when this is all over.
The next morning, they wake up and walk through the jungle to follow Ox's autowriting clues. They find the mountain that looks like a skull, and enter. There, they are attacked by the Ugha tribesman, but Indy uses the skull to spook them after a brief scuffle, and the Ugha allow them to proceed. Meanwhile, Spalko's group reaches the skull mountain, and she senses the heroes are close to finding Akator.
The heroes get to the obilisk, and Indy uses his own smarts to solve the puzzle to let them inside the pyramid. They get past the disappearing staircase, and find the treasure room, where they also find the paintings showing the aliens having taught the Ugha (just pragmatic to combine the two scenes). They then enter the throne room, and Indy is about to reunite the Skull with its body when Spalko appears. Her men hold the heroes at gunpoint, as Spalko demands the skull.
Indy hands it over, but he tells her that he hopes she gets her knowledge, because 'whatever happens after that...is what you deserve.' She puts it on the skeleton, it comes to life, and it actually speaks to them, telling them it is grateful and will give Spalko a gift. She demands the knowledge, and as the pyramid starts to fall apart and the portal opens, the heroes flee, as does Mac, while Spalko is transfixed and her men sucked into oblivion.
The heroes try to escape the pyramid, but the suction of the portal begins to drag Mac back. Indy sees this, and finds he cannot bring himself to abandon his old friend. He tries to reel Mac in with his whip, but Mac sincerely apologizes for his betrayals and says he did it out of desperation and cowardice, and his friend deserved better. Mac therefore lets go, yelling for Indy to flee, and he disappears. Indy runs off, and meanwhile, all of the alien skeletons stand up and surround Spalko. They grow flesh, becoming living aliens, and as she is bombarded with knowledge and begs them to stop, all of the aliens speak to her saying in unision 'this is what you deserve,' echoing Indy's warning. Spalko then disintegrates.
Indy, Marion and Mutt manage to escape the temple, arriving on the mountaintop to watch the kingdom be destroyed as the saucer vanishes into the other dimension. Indy tells an amazed Mutt the truth about the Ugha word for gold. He is clearly affected by Mac's loss, but Marion comforts him, saying that they can now go home, and be a proper family. Mutt is confused by this, and both Indy and Marion awkardly say 'we have something to tell you'.
Cut to Indy and Marion getting married, and after they say their vows, Indy sees General Ross, who tells him how he has pulled strings to get the FBI off Indy's back and so he's cleared of all suspicions, and Indy also has a nice moment with Sallah who gets to playfully tease Mutt. Mutt is still reeling from the revelation about his parenthood, and that's when the fedora blows through the air to his feet. The whole hat gag is exactly as it is in the movie, and everyone leaves the church, as we see Mutt chuckle to himself and mutter something to the effect of 'Maybe this aint so bad.' Then we fade out as he leaves himself.
I am definitely interested in feedback of this little write-up.
The part with Sallah at the wedding may have actually been in an early draft of KOTCS. John Rhys Davies was here at Phoenix Comicon a few months ago and said he thought the character deserved a bit more than just a cameo at the end.
A lot better overall though Kong, I like your parent reveal much better.
Here's some of my ideas:
Have the Spalko/Mutt sword fight take place during the Camp escape rather than the vehicle chase. The characters don't get spread so thin later and the escape has more action than just a burning a tent. Also have Marion actually go under during the sand scene (briefly) so that we can see how much Indy really cares about Marion rather than stupid squabbling.
No dumb jungle cutter: have a chase scene through a River Delta where the Amphibious vehicles use both sand banks and water-ways to chase each other. Think "Venice meets Ark Truck chase". Plus the skull can get dropped in the water and float downstream for more chasing.
Oh, yeah, I'd known about the planned Sallah cameo that got scrapped. I really wish it had happened. He'd be so thrilled Indy now had his own family. I guess in my mind, I now imagine Sallah died before KOTCS, because if he was alive...it would just feel wrong he wasn't there.
Those are some neat ideas, HenryJunior! I admit I was trying to still keep the basic existing structure alive, but alter things to give it all more weight. I particularly tried to make Indy the main focus of the last act again, and give Spalko her Donovan moment where she proves she is a cruel monster that deserves her nasty fate. And delaying the reveal about Mutt could have probably felt like toying with the audience that already suspects it, but I think it works dramatically better. I wanted the sandpit scene to really be about Indy having to consider he might lose Marion for good, and let that be his moment of clarity that he should have stayed with her in the beginning, and that inspired him to marry her upon returning.
But your alternative chase scene also sounds awesome. I just love the visual of the jungle cutter and think it could totally have been used to give us a LC-esque cool fight atop it.
I agree with an earlier comment - leaving the son reveal to the end might have been pushing it a bit. I mean, cinemagoers were suspicious Mutt was his son from the get go anyway, right?
But the worst part of your rewrite (hang on a sec, I'm not being mean) is that it highlights just how simple it would have been clean up the third act of KotCS. I mean, for me, the elements of the film were almost in place! It's like they gave up on a puzzle before putting in the last three or four pieces.
The worst part of your rewrite (hang on a sec, I'm not being mean) is that it highlights just how simple it would have been clean up the third act of KotCS. I mean, for me, the elements of the film were almost in place! It's like they gave up on a puzzle before putting in the last three or four pieces.
Aint it sad how that works?
It occurs to me though that I neglected to keep the army ants in the rewrite. Crap, then the movie would be without a proper critter threat.
And Inexorable Trash, somehow I never saw your post of your ideas. Many of them are very smart and would have indeed helped greatly. Reading them, I actually came to some similar conclusions as you did in my own rewrite.
Edit: I apparently DID see them, as I commented briefly on it earlier. What's with my memory nowadays? Too little sleep...
Last edited by kongisking : 10-13-2014 at 10:56 AM.