Chicken Run as Indiana Jones


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

            I avoided the weekend rain by watching Chicken Run and the second Indiana Jones movie back to back.

            Chicken Run is an inside joke.

            Although supposedly a parody of The Great Escape or Stalig 17, it is really about the Holocaust, and deals with the change of Nazi strategy for the Final Solution.

            Exterminating Jews was never a firm policy, but something that evolved over time and so in the movie, we have a work camp, where chickens (a metaphor for the Jews), which later becomes an extermination camp – as the owner decides to shift from collecting eggs to making chicken pies.

            One of the little known facts is that Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer-SS, chief of the German Police, who instituted the order to slaughter the Jews, started out as a chicken farmer, and during the off years when the Nazis appeared to lose power in the late 1920s, he actually went back to his chicken farm.

            In some ways, Chicken Run – released in 2000 – is an update of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) and we get so many Spielberg references in Chicken Run, you have to wonder again how much influence he had over the content. We even get the lists – where chickens are checked to see how many eggs they have produced – and the selection of those chickens for slaughter who do not produce. Similar to the selection process seen in the earlier film and part of the horror of the Holocaust in which unproductive or unessential workers are exterminated.

            The story line of Chicken Run follows this thread – Ginger, the hero,  who is constantly trying to escape and is constantly punished for her efforts, encounters Rocky the American who she believes can fly, and so she seeks his aide in a plan to teach the other chickens to fly so they can all escape together.

            He, of course, cannot fly, but takes advantage of his wounded wing to stall, while he hides from the circus. He is blackmailed into becoming a flight instructor, and gives pointless instructions until finally, the head of the farm brings in the equipment for making chicken pies, and he in a series of stunts that more than resemble an Indiana Jones movie – saves Ginger and wins the respect of the entire flock – at which point he flees and leaves behind evidence that he lied about his ability to fly.

            The sequence in the pie making machine are straight out of any of the Indiana Jones movies – where we could interchange the coal car scene from the second Indiana movies, right down to when they slip through a closing door and Ginger grabs her hat at the last moment.

            Since I’ve recently watched Schindler’s List, the Last Crusade as well as the Temple of Doom in a short period of time, I’ve begun noticing some of the patterns in Spielberg’s films that go beyond the usual themes. He even duplicates his shooting techniques from film to film.

One of the most curious of these duplications involves cross cutting between two characters. In Schindler’s List, he shows us Schindler shaving, and then the Nazi Amon, and we see this again in Temple of Doom with Jones and his potential lover, looking at clocks, looking in mirrors, etc. We also get this in the Last Crusade.

            In Empire of the Sun, we get a shot looking down at the water as a boat passes by as part of the opening sequence. We get a similar shot in Jurassic Park, and another similar shot from above as Jones is dragged out of the back of a car in Crystal Skull.

            In the past I simply studied some of Spielberg’s themes, but it is clear that he warrants this shot by shot comparison of all his films.



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