Posted by: movieotaku | June 1, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Movie poster

I’m an old Indy fan from way back, and I always gave the movies a free-ride because after all: divine wrath melting Nazi faces is not scientifically accurate. But while I did enjoy the roller-coaster that is Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it’s got some science blunder doozies. (Spoilers below the fold)


The crystal skull is magnetic. Oh, not your everday garden variety magnetism. It’s strong enough to attract gunpowder to itself. Yes, gunpowder. You know, the stuff made of charcoal, salt peter and sulfur. Apparently it’s paramagnetic. What the heck..? Gunpowder is not paramagnetic. Gunpowder in the presence of a strong magnetic field… does nothing.

Next, Indy uses buckshot to narrow down the location. Unless the Soviets used some sort of iron-based buckshot, I’ll assume it’s lead. Small problem: it’s diamagnetic. That means lead is not only not magnetic, it’s slightly repelled by magnetic fields.

When they finally dig out the box, the magnetic field seems to have very odd strengths. It’s strong enough to pull on dog tags and Kalashnikov’s, but yet not so strong that it pins people by their belt buckles.

Then it gets funny. Later, we see the skull can attract gold coins. Guess what, kids? Gold is also diamagnetic. And what’s funny is that the screen writer specifically gives a line to Shia LeBeouf stating that gold is not magnetic. So the take home message is: the skulls attract metals, but in an arbitrary way, and everyone calls it magnetism.

Flora and Fauna

Beware of learning about biology from movies. The first one was scorpions: apparently the big scorpions aren’t dangerous. I can’t find any specific rule of thumb, but most scorpions aren’t deadly. Their sting is compared to a bee string, but some like the bark scorpion, have very strong stings that won’t kill a healthy adult. See this wikipedia article for more details.

There are some vicious army ants in South America, but not anything like in this movie. They’re huge! We’re talking the size of your whole thumb. And apparently, they will sting you and drag you into their hive (presumably for laster feasting). If you believe such ants exist, I’ve got a rock to sell you that will protect you from them.


A commenter said the movie identified the ants as siafu. An ant native to Africa and ranges to tropical Asia.  Definitely not South America.  They can bite and sting, but they prefer to attack, not eat, people.

How to Survive an Atomic Blast

Indy is escaping from the Commies, and stumbles across an idyllic community in the middle of the desert. He calls for help only to discover a) it’s a fake community with dummies, and b) a nuclear test is about to go off in 1 minute. How does Indy survive? By hiding inside a lead-lined refrigerator. The blast occurs and the mannequins melt, the houses are blown off their foundations and shrapnel everywhere. And Indy? His fridge is thrown clear of the house and he stumbles out and looks up at the huge mushroom cloud.

Where do I begin…?

Reference: Effects of Nuclear Explosions


Overall, it’s a fun movie, but it was really hard to ignore this reality problems which impaired my ability to enjoy this film. I can suspend disbelief like the rest (Hell, I enjoy Star Wars!), but this was a little too much.



  1. I see a lot of analysis of movies, and comments about how they are not accurate. However, have you seen any movie with good physics? If such movies exist, it would make sense to look for some gem among all the rocks. And, from your comments, this movie does not do much justice to physics either.

  2. “However, have you seen any movie with good physics?”

    Yes, 2001: A Space Odyssey. 🙂

  3. While I to love the Indy movies I think that this movie could have been made better. I think the scene when he is being interrogated right after the bomb goes off is just plain stupid. I think they should of cut that. I also think that the part when he is looking for the skull in warehouse was totally messed up. So thanks for your insight on the movie and I totally agree with you.

  4. Indy doesn’t really need to be realistic. I mean, movies were created for the sake of telling really fantastic movies right? Indy 4 above all was an exaggeration of 50’s stereotypes, like Commies, UFOs, nuclear weapons, greasers etc.

    It’s a great movie, and if you think realism judges a movie, go watch documentaries instead.

    [Obviously you didn’t notice what this blog is for. 🙂 –Travers]

  5. How on earth could Indy live when it’s a nuclear bomb? A lot of things do not make sense in the movie.

  6. I was just so excited to have Indy back in the theaters that I just chalked up the errors for what they were – pure entertainment. Of course, I’m a biased Indy fan 🙂

  7. Siafu (the ants in the movie):

  8. […] was a thrilling ride to watch but I found some blunders in the movie and found out another blog has written about […]

  9. It’s PULP! All these misconceptions occur in the pulp novels from which Indy is derived (and pays homage to).

    Anyway, if the heat didn’t kill Indy in the fridge, the fall would’ve. Just like the falls off the many waterfalls would’ve probably killed everyone in the vehicle.

    But again, Indy has WAY more excuse to get these things the way they were gotten because it’s pulp fiction.

  10. The gold was not pure gold, check it out. Everything else seems accurate.

  11. Many South American tribes used gold alloys of about 20% iron. The nuke scene was a test device in the desert. We are taking about a much smaller device than what was dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki so the only part of that scene that is truly unrealistic is the part where the regrigerator is thrown and Dr. Jones takes no serious damage (no to mention the regrigerator itself). A 50’s style heavy refigerator (true none that I know of were lead-lined) would even without lead lining protect quite a bit from heat and ionizing radiation. Not to mention that many people who have been killed in a real nuclear blast are actually ripped to shreds by debris which the refrigerator would also protect against. He should have in reality come out of that test blast with broken bones and a concussion or possible skull fracture.

  12. Regarding the scorpion bit:

    “Big ones aren’t dangerous” is kinda-sorta true, but it’s not really a rule, and doesn’t work both ways. Most scorpions, as noted, aren’t dangerous to humans. Their venom is a weak neurotoxin that causes little more than intense pain and possibly nausea. The **very** large 7″+ species, like the ones in the movie, are all harmless. However, some of the most dangerous species (Leiurus, Androctonus, Parabuthus, etc) can reach 4-5″, still quite large.

    A better general rule would be that thick tail and thin pincers = more likely to be dangerous, but even that isn’t true in all cases. You’re best off just learning to identify the species in a given geographical area, which isn’t difficult at all.

    Movies almost always use either Pandinus or Heterometrus species, which, in reality, live in the jungles of Africa and Southeast Asia, respectively, as they’re very large, harmless, and easy to handle without being attacked. It gets ridiculous seeing them in the desert, though. In real life, they’d dry up and die in the desert. Some movies also like to use Sonoran species (Hadrurus, typically) in “Egypt”. Then again, they love putting cacti in “Egypt” too.

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