A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Indiana Jones and the The Last Crusade

June 12, 2011

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on what it is about this movie that misses the mark for me. I saw it in the theater on opening night with my high school AV crew, and although it was a great time, and far better than Temple of Doom, but I’ve never really felt that the movie lived up to the first one. It’s strange, because this movie is filled with great action, has clever and self depreciating references to the entire Indiana Jones mythos, and even has a couple fantastic and popular actors added to the franchise. So why does it not deliver? I have to think it’s because it’s so carefully engineered to be the perfect Indiana Jones movie. Every detail is carefully calculated to fit a particular pattern and it comes off feeling artificial and shallow to me.

The opening scene very clearly lays out just what kind of movie we’re going to be watching. We join a very young Indiana Jones as he and his scout troop explore in the wilderness of Utah. He and one of his friends come across a group of thieves ransacking a lost treasure and he feels compelled to intercede. In a fun series of short adventures we are shown where Indie got his fear of snakes, his whip and the distinctive scar on his chin. The whole opening act is played with a wink to the audience. It’s fun to watch, filled with humor and adventure, and it pokes fun at Indiana Jones while celebrating him, which is pretty much what the whole movie is about.

The main plot of the movie involves Indie being hired to recover the Holy Grail before the Nazis can. In just about every way it feels as though it’s trying almost too hard to replicate the first movie. Instead of snakes there are rats. The action chase scenes that are the bread and butter of a Jones film are plentiful and thrilling. There’s a boat chase, a motorcycle chase, an escape in a plane and of course the climactic fight between Indie on his horse and a giant German tank. There are still diabolical and implausible booby traps protecting the treasure of course. I can’t deny that it’s filled with everything that was lacking in the second movie – but it all feels so manufactured.

Where this movie shines is with the introduction of Sean Connery as Indie’s domineering father Henry Jones Sr., who has been obsessed with the grail all his life, somewhat to the consternation of his son, who feels that he’s been somewhat ignored. It’s the father/son interaction and the way that they discover each other that brings the most life to the film. Connery plays Henry as bookish and sheltered but wise and very clever as well. He’s somewhat out of place in Indiana’s world of constant adventure, but slowly comes to be a part of it as the film goes on. It’s these interactions, with Henry finding out what kind of life his son lives and getting caught up in it, that I enjoy most when I’m watching the movie.

At the same time there are expanded roles for a couple characters from the first movie. Indiana’s museum curator friend Marcus returns in a much expanded role as he comes along on the adventure. He’s played with an affable sort of cluelessnes by Denholm Elliott, who takes a role that was only in a couple minutes of the first movie and expands him into one of the primary comic relief characters in this movie. There’s also John Rhys-Davies reprising his role as Sallah, the Egyptian excavator who helps Indie out in his hunt for the Ark.

So this movie has everything. It has an origin story (starring the dashing young River Phoenix in the Indiana Jones role – how I regret that his career was cut so tragically short.) It has more action and adventure than the first two movies combined. It has Nazis and a lost religious relic. It has not one but three sidekicks, one of whom is Sean Frickin’ Connery for crissakes! It’s bigger and more impressive than Raiders of the Lost Ark in every possible way. And yet I still find myself slightly underwhelmed.

I’m guessing that the problem is not so much with the movie, although it IS very heavily over designed and carefully crafted to fit perfectly into the Indiana Jones mold, and is more related to my unreasonably high expectations. As I said in my review a couple days ago I have watched Raiders over and over again. I have memorised the entire film from beginning to end. It was so unique, and appeared at such a perfect time in my childhood, and it really was the perfect action adventure film. Any attempt to match up to that experience for me is going to feel cheap, derivative and pandering.


June 12, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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