L'homme Qui a Sauté le Requin

on July 14, 2008 by Steve Simels

Okay, I wasn't going to weigh in on this little film nerd controversy, but the fact is some people really need to get a life, or get out of their mom's basement, or both. I mean, this is getting ridiculous.

From the current issue of Newsweek:

Early in the new Indiana Jones sequel, our creaky, 65-year-old hero stumbles onto a nuclear test site, and the warning siren is blaring. Panicked, surrounded by Potemkin houses, he folds himself inside the lead-lined cavity of a refrigerator. Kaboom: the blast sends Indy hurtling across the New Mexico desert, a mushroom cloud rising behind him. He lands and, logic be damned, tumbles out unscathed. The franchise, though, will never recover.

In TV land, this phenomenon is known as "jumping the shark": the moment when a once proud series swan-dives into putridity. It's a reference to a dreadful, late-era episode of Happy Days in which a water-skiing Fonz lofts himself over the fin of a great white. But Indy fans were so demoralized, they coined a new phrase just for movie-franchise meltdowns. Ergo: "nuking the fridge."

The phrase was born on May 24—two days after the film opened—and it went viral on movie message boards. In barely a month, it has blown through several Web. 2.0 benchmarks: YouTube tributes, "fridge" haikus, merch-hawking Web sites, "Word of the Day" status on UrbanDictionary.com. "You're expecting [the movie] to be as great as you remembered it," says Beth Russell, creator of nukingthefridge.com, "and after the fridge scene, it was like, 'Oooo-K'." A new legend is born, for all the wrong reasons.

What's silly about this, of course, is that the people upset about the series swan-diving into putridity seem to have confused the Indy franchise with the ouevre of Marguerite Duras or something. Earth to film nerds: Those films have been all downhill since the last reel of the first one, an homage to the admittedly ridiculous but fun adventure serials of the 30s and 40s in which the climactic deus ex machina literally involved the intervention of God(!!!!). C'mon kids -- we're not talking The Sorrow and the Pity here; we're talking about popcorn flicks in which the same guy who directed Schindler's List lets his main character utter the immortal line "Nazis! I hate those guys!" without subsequently dying of shame.

But specifically about the fridge thing -- yes, it's idiotic, but it's totally in keeping with the serials the Indy films are tipping their Fedora to. In case you've never actually seen a cliffhanger of the period, the typical chapter ending is one in which a speeding car (or horsedrawn wagon, if it's a period piece like a Western) is seen plunging off a cliff (duh), the implication being that our hero is really cooked this time. Inevitably, of course, it's a cheat; in the next episode, there's a recap with a brief shot of the protagonist jumping out the car door right before the fatal plunge. Why kids back in the day put up with this crap is a mystery that may never be solved, like the secret formula that makes Orange Julius so devilishly delicious, but it was an innocent era, and in any case Indy in an Amana freezer is no more ridiculous than any other genre example I can think of.

That said, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the most egregious serial cheat ever, from the otherwise estimable Universal chapterplay Tim Tyler's Luck from 1937. In it, the titular plucky hero (played by Frankie Thomas, better known as TV's Tom Corbett Space Cadet) is being pursued by a ravenous lion, who at chapter's end catches up with him and begins to eat; in the trailer below you can see the actual moment at approximately 3 mintues and 28 seconds into the clip.

Looks pretty bad for Tim, right? How the heck is he going to get out of this one?

Easy -- in the next chapter, the recap ends with Tim running ahead of the angry pussycat and escaping into a tree. That's right, the filmmakers simply pretended the original scene never happened. Like I said, why kids put up with this crap back in the day is a mystery, but let's have a little perspective -- compared to this, Indy in a fridge is a plot twist worthy of O.Henry.

Okay, you can order the whole thing here. Amusing trivia note: In the same trailer above, don't miss a certain natural rock outcropping (approximately 1:45 min in) which should be familiar both from countless episodes of the original Star Trek and from being referenced in a hilarious bit in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

Tags: s ListTim Tyler, Indiana Jones, Marguerite Duras, The Sorrow and the Pity, Schindlers Luck, Tom Corbett Space Cadet

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