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Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Allison Doody
Running Time: 2 h 7 m
TMM Score: 4.5 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Pacing, Directing, Character Chemistry, Music
WEAKNESSES: Plausibility (?)
When Indiana Jones’s father goes missing while in search of the Holy Grail, our titular hero takes a trip around the globe in search of his father and the truth about what happened to the Grail.
Let me be up front and honest here in saying that I am totally biased towards this film. This was the first Indiana Jones movie my parents allowed me to watch as a child. I still remember rewinding my parent’s VHS copy to see the part where Indiana thrusts a pole through the front wheel of a Nazi’s motorcycle and watching it flip up into the air in a fiery explosion over and over again because I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. This film has been ingrained into my psyche since before I knew I would love movies, and you know what the best thing is? Having rewatched this last night, I was incredibly pleased to find it still holds up incredibly well. I watched this with a few friends, and during the viewing we were quoting the film, laughing at the jokes, and talking about our favorite scenes before they happened. This film was just as important to all of my buddies as it was to me, and it was made before any of us had been born. I’ve always thought Jones was a classic character who would never go out of style, and my viewing with three friends solidified just how true that statement is.
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
Dr. Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones Jr. (Harrison Ford, “Frantic”) learns that his father (Sean Connery, “The Rock”) has inexplicably disappeared during an expedition to retrieve the Holy Grail, and after discovering clues in his father’s diary, he sets off to Venice, Italy where he hopes to find more breadcrumbs in the trail that might lead him to his father. Accompanying him are his father’s longtime friend Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and Elsa (Alison Doody, “A View to Kill”) a new, beautiful ally. What follows is a wild romp around the globe; complete with humor, romance, and action sequences that’ll make your head spin.
First, the pacing of this film is amazing. We start off with one action sequence featuring River Phoenix (“Stand By Me”) as a young Indiana and go right into another; then, there’s barely fifteen minutes of exposition and groundwork laying (none of which are boring) before we jump right into the expedition. From there, there are chases, action, and intrigue all the way till the end of the movie. Spielberg, as I’ve rediscovered during our Spielberg series, is unmatched when it comes to propelling the story forward. This movie is just north of two hours, but I would’ve been willing to watch another hour of this film.
Second, the music: John Williams is the man. Do I need to say more? No, not really, but I guess I will. The themes that John Williams have developed over the years have stuck in my mind as some of the most iconic themes of all cinema history: “Jaws” (1975), “Star Wars” (1977), “Superman” (1978), “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001), Jurassic Park (1993), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)… Just reading the names of those films, I’m sure their musical themes come to mind. Jones’s theme is one that invokes excitement in me whenever I hear it, and I really doubt that these movies would’ve been the same without Williams waving his magic wand behind the podium.
Third, the chemistry between actors. If you think about it, this is the original James Bond meeting Han Solo; two characters who both command and deserve screen time and presence. Their chemistry could’ve been totally wrong- they could’ve fought each other for control over the screen, but they didn’t. The relationship between Indy and his father is absolutely wonderful. We see similarities between the two estranged family members (their obsession with history and archeology, and surprisingly, their taste in women), while also seeing their vast differences in the way they handle situations: Indy is quick to act and a good scrapper in a fight, while Henry prefers to think things through and study them. The dissonance in their reunion is cause for much humor and excitement, and some of the stunts they pull are essentially slapstick comedy. However, instead of that slapstick nature devolving into a parody of itself, the dissonant chemistry between the two becomes a strange but wonderful harmony.
Finally, lets talk about the fun that this film provides. Indiana Jones is a character inspired by the 1930’s and 40’s serial films like The Phantom, “Dick Tracy”, “Flash Gordon”… his adventures are meant to bring us from one sequence of action to another, never really letting us catch our breath. In films like these, a little suspension of disbelief is required. There are sequences that, if you think about them too much, don’t really make a ton of sense, but the charisma that Harrison Ford provides allows us to forgive the unrealistic nature of the films because they are just such a good time. Sure, you could stand there and pick apart how certain things would never happen, how Jones should’ve been dead like a billion times before the credits rolled, but why would you want to when you’re having such an exhilarating time on the ride? Also, I mean, Nazis dissolved into piles of bloody goo at the end of Raiders, if you really think they’re going to follow the rules of nature in a series that starts like that, then you’re fooling yourself. Jones is a character that will live on for the foreseeable future because he’s in a world where everything is possible, and nigh everything is exciting.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I am totally biased towards this film. Sorry, but also, not sorry. This film is great (in my opinion) and I can’t ever see myself not enjoying the heck out of this. But, watching this with my friends (not all of whom enjoy watching older or more obscure movies) shows me that films like this will stand the test of time because they still attract a wide range of audiences. The Spielberg series that we’ve done in the last week and a half has really made me appreciate the man for the genius he is; even if some of his films fall a little short of the bar he’s set with movies like this (Sorry, “Ready Player One”), even his worst pictures still have moments of brilliance.
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