Indiana Jones!

You love it!

Indiana Jones, for me, is one of the all-time awesome movie series. The adventure! Just awesome. I’m not about to launch into some hefty critique of these films, as there are plenty of such things knocking about online. Instead, I’m just going to put some random thoughts together for your general amusement on why I love these films – it’s my blog’s birthday, dammit!

I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw these films, though I do recall a dark period of only having Last Crusade on vhs (for you young kids, that’s physical tape in a plastic cassette, none of this dvd shiny!). Raiders of the Lost Ark was always the more serious film, I seem to remember – you couldn’t just watch it, it seemed to demand your attention, though obviously rewarded you for doing so. As a child, I didn’t really care all that much for Raiders. There was too much going on, plot-wise, and while I did enjoy the truck chase sequence, it didn’t really do it for me. I was also heavily interested in Mesoamerican/Pre-Columbian history, and felt cheated by the film’s opening not delivering on a jungle adventure, but that’s beside the point.

Harrison Ford Raiders of the Lost Ark

As an adult, I can now appreciate Raiders for the masterwork it is. It’s not just a great film, it’s a great experience. There’s a deep sense of history for these characters, and whenever I watch it, I find myself wanting to know more about them – let’s see how Indy and Sallah met! Let’s see more of Marcus!

The character of Marcus Brody is something of a disappointment for me, incidentally. Don’t get me wrong, I think Denholm Elliot is superb. It’s the character that disappoints me. In Raiders, he’s something of a father-figure for Indy, there at the beginning and the end of the adventure. He comes across as a really important figure in Indy’s life. Then in Last Crusade, when we get Indy’s actual father, he’s kinda sidelined into a buffoon. But there has to be more to him than this! What is he good at? We never see him shine the way we do the other characters, except those all-too-brief glimmers here and there in Raiders. I feel Marcus is a lot more than we see in these films, and could be a real force to be reckoned with when you’re on his turf.

René Belloq is another of these characters that I’d love to get to know more about. The darker side of Indy, I’d like to see him on his own escapades, rather than just stealing stuff from Indy, or acting just as a Nazi toady. Let’s see why he thinks he’s as good as Indy.

I’m one of these people who is secretly fascinated by Nazi occultism, and I’m a big fan of alternative histories such as that of Tannhauser or Hellboy (no doubt, future blogs will explore these!). As such, I really enjoyed the business of the Nazis searching for the Ark, and the historian in me has never seen anything wrong with Nazis in film. This period of history happened, after all, so I don’t see why we should shy away from it. But anyway!

Temple of Doom is my all-time favourite Indiana Jones movie, though it has taken this spot only very recently. I’m not sure how I can really get my thoughts across without sitting you down in front of the movie and pointing out everything that is just awesome about it, but let’s try.

The scope of this movie is truly epic. The Temple set is just frighteningly awesome in the very truest sense of the word – it inspires awe. The story has a genuine arc for the character of Indy, going from an almost-mercenary, contract treasure-hunter to someone who can see what happens when relics are blithely taken away from people. Willie Scott may be an annoying character, but she too deepens as the story moves along.

The story is also really quite dark for its genre, which helps to make it much more grown-up than the others. It’s still a great adventure film, but there is a very clear message coming through in this one of archaeological morality, which is a debate that rages to this day.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

The cinematography of this film is absolutely incredible. Douglas Slocombe has been rightly praised for his work, but he really pulls off a tour de force with this one. The scene in the temple, where Indy is forced to drink the black blood and goes through that transformation, is quite possibly my favourite in the whole of cinema, just for the cinematography.

That sense of history from Raiders pervades this film, also. Just what adventures did Indy share with Wu Han? What happened in British Honduras? Inquiring minds need to know!

Of course, the film is not without its faults, not least of which is the blatant racist portrayal of the Indian subcontinent. The banquet scene takes the monkey-brains-metaphor to its extreme in what I assume was meant to be a joke, but instead just falls offensive. Depictions of the Thuggee, and incorrect portrayals of Kali all mount up to a fairly embarrassing film in this respect, and you can’t really brush it under the carpet in the same way you can with the Nazis.

For me, however, it doesn’t detract from what is still a fantastic film.

Last Crusade was, for many years, my favourite of the three. I can vaguely remember it being released, and it was a big deal in my childhood. Something that I particularly liked about the film was just how stylish the Nazis were in this one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expressing admiration! But there is definitely more of the 1930s chic about this film than in the others. It was also interesting, for me, to have a more European flavour to the film, and seeing more of the history that I’m familiar with.

I do enjoy the early history of Christianity, and a film about the holy grail obviously allows us to explore this more. Heading off to the Middle East was both inspired and problematic, for me though. The sense of location has always been a strong point to these films, but long periods in the desert just made it feel like Raiders all over again. Also, that is NOT the Grail Temple, because it’s the Treasury at Petra. That was a big detractor for me, and irritates me whenever I watch the film nowadays.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

It’s not all irritating, of course. Sean Connery as Indy’s father is an inspired move. Lucas famously pitched the Indy story to Spielburg as “something better than James Bond”, so having the original Bond show up is nicely poetic. Connery is also a superb actor, and the chemistry between the two is formidable. Elsa is also a fantastic femme fatale, and it’s great to see Sallah and Marcus once more, even if they are reduced somewhat to comic relief. Even though this is still undoubtedly an Indy movie, there is much more of an ensemble feel to it because of having this strong cast around the lead.

When all’s said and done, however, it just feels too much like a Raiders rehash to me, and falls flat as a result. It’s still head-and-shoulders above a lot of other action movies, but not quite to the level of the first two films.

I suppose there’s also something perhaps a bit more personal to my love for the franchise. As a child, I was always very studious and bookish, and the character of Dr Jones showed, to me, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it actively encouraged me to be more academic at least twice in my early years. Of course, I’m not a globe-trotting professor-cum-treasure-hunter, but a mild-mannered civil servant. But Indiana Jones has made history cool and exciting, regardless of whether that history was accurate, or his methods strictly correct…

This post has so far ignored the fact that there is that turkey, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, also in existence. I’m not about to launch into any kind of critique on that, as I haven’t for the previous films, but I’d just like to say that the film is perhaps the victim of its older siblings’ successes. If you were to remove any reference to the character, and have this as one of the many adventurer-type films that Indy spawned, it’s not actually all that bad. There, I said it!

The internets seem to be awash with rumours lately of a Disney reboot, and I have to say, having had a fair few weeks now to digest this possibility, I don’t actually feel all that bad about this. So long as it’s an actual reboot that brings a completely new experience. I mean, I don’t want to see Chris Pratt (or whoever ends up in the role) rehashing Raiders, because that movie has been done, is awesome, and needs little-to-no work (just an expanded Marcus part, really). It would really need to be a brand new story, though I’m sure it’ll be good to have Nazis back for the ride as well. But I’m not going to speculate this far out, as it isn’t even confirmed this is happening yet…

Let’s just stick with the fact the Indiana Jones trilogy is awesome, with the fourth having the odd moment of goodness. If imitation is the best form of flattery, this franchise is very rich indeed.

Go watch them all today!

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