The James Clayton Column – Nuke the fridge 2009

Is Nuking The Fridge the new Jumping The Shark? James looks forward to more mad moments in 2009...

So it’s now Boxing Day and, with Christmas passed, people turn their attention to New Year and try and digest all the end of year lists alongside the leftover-turkey sandwiches. Because such things have already been done to death and because everything is too much of a blur to start getting anal, I have nothing I wish to add beyond acknowledging the standout scene that sticks out and explodes into my mind when I try and backtrack over the past that has been and gone.

Though I have The Joker’s pencil-trick from The Dark Knight imprinted in my memory and similarly can’t forget the shocking sight of Jet Li peeing on Jackie Chan in The Forbidden Kingdom, the most mind-shatteringly astounding moment in film 2008 is to be found in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Finding himself in a mock-up plastic town that – uh oh – turns out to be a nuclear test site, Dr. Jones dives into a fridge to save himself from atomic obliteration and, thanks to the kitchen appliance, survives. You see: they were built to last back in the 1950s.

Indy’s lucky escape through an indestructible consumer electronics product is now widely viewed with derision by fans as just another painful example of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg staining a great legacy alongside …the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s alien plot, monkey-swinging and Shia “Mutt” LaBeouf’s Tarzan impressions. “Nuke the fridge” is now a pop cultural phrase with a similar meaning to “jump the shark”, but to be honest, I thought it was cool.

Indy survived an atom bomb by hiding in a fridge! Ha! Let’s not forget that in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the ace archaeologist lands safely in a life raft despite leaping from a certain-death plane crash scenario over the Himalayas. He also escapes the fearsome Thuggee cult in an epic rollercoaster minecart race; by comparison, does his preservation from atomic incineration through the power of a lead refrigerator really take suspension of disbelief to hitherto unreached limits?

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There’s no harm in having an odd spontaneous swerveball in a summer blockbuster once in a while to keep things fresh and shock the viewer. I eagerly look forward to the movie moment over the next 12 months where something totally outrageous happens when I wasn’t expecting it in the same way Indy IV did last year. But what will be the ‘nuke the fridge’ sequence of 2009, and in which big blockbuster release will it be found?

Looking over the list of upcoming features, Terminator Salvation is possibly the most likely to emulate the fridge nuking of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Like the latter, it’s the fourth instalment of a much-loved action franchise that first emerged in the 1980s and is vulnerable to fanboy backlash, especially with the widely-maligned ex-MTV video director McG overseeing affairs. The fact that the man’s most outstanding contribution to cinema is Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle does not ease the anxiety over the return to the big screen battle between humans and cyborgs. Though with all the tech-heavy, full-on post-apocalyptic war stuff going, there’s plenty of room for something to get nuked. I’d say that the Hall of Shame moment is more likely to stem from McG’s music video history. Fingers crossed that at no point will an android version of the Pussycat Dolls emerge from metal wreckage to terminate the surviving human soldiers with their body-popping and unbearably repetitive, overproduced dance tunes.

An even bigger sci-fi franchise finding itself back on screen over the next twelve months is Star Trek. J.J. Abram’s eponymous movie addition has the potential to spark fresh life into the Trek series, or alternatively. could anger and cause global unrest as Trekkies rise up and riot in disapproval. Not being a Trek head, I’m not sure what kind of step would constitute a ‘nuke the fridge’ moment for fervent franchise fans and I’m not even going to try and guess. In my ignorance, it’d be an even further insult to the Trekkies who suffer enough social stigma and can do without further worry from someone who’s not in the know as they gnaw at their fingernails in the anxious lead up to Star Trek’s May release date.

Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood’s emergence from a self-imposed acting hiatus has been proclaimed by critics as being haunted by early works in his oeuvre (most notably Dirty Harry) with Squintin’ Clint drawing on the personas of The Man With No Name and Harry Callahan characters we all love. It’s to be hoped, though, that in harking back to earlier, infamous roles, Eastwood doesn’t end up embarrassing himself for the sake of cheap, knowing-but-not-funny gags by uttering some line about a punk asking himself if he feels lucky. Remember the scene where Robert De Niro painfully parodied his “you talkin’ to me?Taxi Driver monologue as he played Fearless Leader in The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle? If not, forget about it and move on: quickly…

Setting my sights ahead and speculating then, I think, ultimately, I’ll put my trust in Robert Rodriguez to be the one who nukes the fridge in 2009. Should it find its way into theatres, I tip the Red Sonja revival/remake/re-imagining to be the film that will reach stratospheric heights of silliness and coincidentally could make fanboys and girls cry. Rodriguez doesn’t do subtlety and is responsible for such spectacularly fun material as From Dusk Till Dawn and Sin City, so I wouldn’t expect his vision of Red Sonja to be a quiet affair. I’m looking forward to a suitably OTT film and eagerly anticipate that it’ll contain that cathartic standout sequence that screws itself into the collective subconscious of pop culture. What form shall it take? I predict – shock horror – that at some point Red Sonja will become Black Sonja or even Bald Sonja as she leaves die-hard comic-book fans crestfallen and confused by dyeing or shaving her trademark tresses at the climax in order to go incognito. 2009’s ‘nuke the fridge’ episode would thus be a ‘nix the fringe’ moment…

James’ previous column can be found here.

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26 December 2008