Choose Your Adventure Wisely (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989)

Indiana_Jones_Crusade_PosterAfter the criticism of Temple of Doom, Lucas and Spielberg opted to return to Judeo Christian artifacts.  This time was far more myth, in that they search for the Holy Grail, the cup Christ used at the Last Supper and gifted with the power of eternal life.  They brought in Jeffrey Boam, writer of two Lethal Weapon films and the Lost Boys, to provide the Screenplay.

The film opens in Indiana Jones’ teen years.  While out with his scout troop, he stumbles across treasure hunters.  He grabs an artifact and they start to chase him.  While the sequence is fun and generally exciting, it also suffers from a ridiculous amount of fan service.  For reasons I cannot fathom, they decided they needed to explain…well, everything.  Indy’s fear of snakes, how he got the scar on his chin, how he got his whip, how he got his hat.  It is just absurd.  Who really wanted to know how or when he got that scar?  He is an adventurer…he got it on an adventure. They also establish where the name “Indiana” comes from.  It is not great.

The film then jumps to 1938, where Indy has found that same artifact.  He reclaims it and returns to the college where he is employed as a Professor.  There, he is introduced to Walter Donovan, who was working with Indiana Jones’ father, a noted Grail expert.  His father has disappeared, so Jones flies to Venice with Marcus Brody and they meet up with Elsa, who was also working Indy’s father (also named Henry, so his dad keeps referring to Indy as Jr.).  They discover he is being held by Nazis…

Everyone gets divided up, Indy and his father escaping the Nazis, Marcus and a returning Sallah heading for the location of the Grail.  They do eventually meet up in an action packed finale.

And the film does entertain, but then also tries to over compensate with background…wholly unnecessary background.  Sean Connery as Indy’s dad is certainly a fun casting choice.  He is not impressed at all with Indiana’s exploits.  In one scene, they are riding a motor cycle.  After he dispatches Nazis, he looks to his father with a big smile…and his dad is just indifferent.  The look on Ford’s face as his ego is deflated is amusing.

The film really ramps up the jokes.  Where humor complimented the prior films, this one seems almost more of a comedy.  Marcus Brody and Sallah, two fairly dramatic and competent characters in the first film are played for laughs as bumbling fools.

The film does have some nice character moments for Ford and Connery where they try and reconnect after years of a strained relationship.  The twists and reveals, on the other hand, feel heavily telegraphed.

The Last Crusade is often treated as a strong return to form, but I cannot say it is any better than the Temple of Doom.  It is certainly tonally different (and admittedly, a lot of the jokes actually work, especially between Indy and Henry).  But it has its weaknesses.

The Adventure Begins (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981)

Indiana_Jones_Raiders_Poster1981 was the meeting of two titans.  Steven Spielberg had thrilled the world with Jaws and two years later George Lucas had started to take over the world with Star Wars.The two teamed up to create the ode to pulp novels and action serials of yore.

Dr. Henry Jones, nicknamed Indiana is a professor of Archaeology and adventurer.  He is not a treasure hunter, at least not in the traditional sense.  He locates artifacts in the belief that they should be shared with the world for education and discovery.

Jones is contacted by the Government regarding the Biblical Ark of the Covenant.  Teaming up with an old flame, Marion Ravenwood, Indy must stop Nazis from getting their hands on the Ark.  What follows is a series of exciting near misses at getting the Ark.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a roller coaster ride of a film.  It has the adventure, heart, and humor that engages the viewer throughout. Indiana Jones instantly has an iconic feel.  He is rough around the edges, without being a neanderthal.  He is good at thinking on his feet (especially handy in attempts to escape sticky situations.  But he is not alone here.  Marion is the daughter of his mentor Abner, and she is every bit the adventurer.  She is smart and clever, Indy’s equal.

Of course, in a story like this, villains matter.  Indy is really dealing with two foes.  One is Belloq, who is his greedy counterpart.  Belloq is a fortune hunter and seeks the Ark for his own lust for power.  He has teamed with the Nazis, led by the creepy Major Toht.  The Nazis, of course, seek the Ark to consolidate their power.

Lucas tends to be good at ideas, but a bit goofy on execution, so giving the story to Lawrence Kasdan to write and having Spielberg direct brings all their unique skills together to create one of the best adventure films of film history.  It brings the sense of the old serials to a vibrant modern life with terrific characters fighting near impossible odds.

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