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“Let It Go, Indiana”: “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, and the Necessity of Growing Up…

This August, the podcast that I co-host, The 250, is doing a season looking at all four Indiana Jones films as part of our “Indiana Summer.” This week, we’re looking at Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and I had some thoughts on the film.

The clue is in the title. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was clearly intended to be the last movie in the Indiana Jones series, the title character’s last adventure.

By the time it came to release Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, both Lucas and Spielberg were clearly drawing down the shutters on the franchise. “Three is a nice number,” Lucas remarked. Contemporary reviews noted that the film was positioned as the “last romp” with the daring adventurer. Shortly after the film’s release, Harrison Ford donated the character’s iconic bullwhip to the Institute of Archeology at University College London. Spielberg would later reflect, “I thought the curtain was lowering on the series, which is why I had all the characters literally ride off into the sunset at the end.”

Hang in there.

There is a sense that the reaction to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom might have been a key factor here. After all, the basic premise of Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn’t something that demanded a neat three-movies-and-done structure, particularly when the second movie had actually be a prequel rather than a sequel and adopted a completely different style than its predecessor. As much as it drew from the same kinds of adventure serials that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had loved as children, this franchise was not Star Wars. It didn’t set out to adopt the mythic triptych structure.

Indeed, contemporary critics made a point to read Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as something of an apology for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Opening his review, Randy Lewis joked that Pauline Kael was “probably the only person on the planet” who preferred Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Early reports talked about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as something of a rebound after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom had “turned off many critics.”

Bring Your Dad to Work Day was going great.

Certainly, it’s notable that the five year gap between Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was appreciably longer than the three year gap between Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Raiders of the Lost Ark. It seems that there was enthusiasm to make the movie. More than that, while Spielberg had made Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom following the critical and commercial success of E.T., he only returned to the franchise with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade after the critical and commercial disappointment of Empire of the Sun.

This perhaps explains the conservative nature of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. If there is a criticism to be leveled at the film, it is that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade feels like a retreat back to the comforts of Raiders of the Lost Ark as much as it feels like anything new. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was bold and novel, but Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is safe and familiar. Once again, there are Nazis. Once again, there is Sallah and there is Brody. Once again, there’s an erudite man selling out to work with the Nazis. Once again, there is a Judeo-Christian artifact with unlimited power.

Everybody eventually finds themselves at a crossroads in their lives.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a very conventional and very straightforward sequel, at times even feeling like something of a remake of the first installment. In that way, it recalls Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, which was similarly predicated on reacting against a darker and weirder middle entry in a trilogy by instead serving the audience nostalgia for an original film that they loved. It’s vaguely disheartening, and it perhaps explains the sense of closure at work here. It often feels like Lucas and Spielberg are trying to end the series with a reminder of a widely-accepted past triumph.

It’s notable that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade arrived in a summer dominated by the sorts of blockbusters and sequels that movies like Jaws and Star Wars had enabled, and which Raiders of the Lost Ark had helped to codify. It seemed somewhat appropriate that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade arrived the same summer as movies like Lethal Weapon IIGhostbusters II, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, License to Kill, Karate Kid III and Batman. In many ways, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was positioned as a victory lap for Spielberg and Lucas, a standard-bearer in a blockbuster era that they both helped create.

Eternal life or not, you should probably thoroughly disinfect any cup you find here before drinking from it.

Still, what distinguishes Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade from those other films is its not of finality. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is not a movie that begs for a sequel. In fact, with due respect to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the movies seems structurally designed to all but rule out any substantial subsequent adventures. This is probably one reason, along with casting concerns, why the franchise’s next major film or television project was The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Allowing for occasionally appearances from an older Indiana Jones, the only way forwards was backwards.

There’s an endearing and surprising grace to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a sense of the franchise making peace with itself and deciding to call it a day. There’s an interesting maturity in this, which feels arguably of a piece with where Steven Spielberg was at this point in his career.

The original Getting Even With Dad

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Sword of Kahless (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

The Sword of Kahless is the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to focus primarily on Worf.

The character arrived on the show (and the station) in The Way of the Warrior, but his development since then had largely been confined to secondary plots. In Hippocratic Oath and Starship Down, Worf learned that life on Deep Space Nine would not be the same as life on the Enterprise. However, he had not really been the centre of any given episode before this point. (Even in The Way of the Warrior, Worf’s arrival and crisis of conscience was just one facet of a larger political situation.)

Sword of destiny...

Sword of destiny…

This is quite remarkable, and a result of a number of unique factors. Most obviously, Worf was not just any new cast member. Worf was a character who had arrived over from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and so was something of a known quantity to fans. There was less of a need to establish who Worf was, because most fans already knew. More than that, a lot of the early fourth season episodes had been in development before Michael Dorn had been confirmed to be joining the ensemble. As such, they tended to focus on other characters.

Nevertheless, it is remarkable that the fourth season is almost one-third of the way through its run before the production team devoted an episode to the newest member of the cast. It is a testament to the production team that the show had the confidence and restraint to adopt such an approach to such an obviously popular character. More than that, The Sword of Kahless is undoubtedly a Worf-centric episode, but it is a Worf-centric episode that makes it quite clear that Worf is a Deep Space Nine character now.

"Thank you, sir. May I have another?"

“Thank you, sir. May I have another?”

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Millennium – Anamnesis (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

In Arcadia Ego and Anamnesis form a strange late-season duology, exploring the roles of important female Christian icons.

In Arcadia Ego was the story of a (possibly) divine conception and birth, one evoking the story of the Virgin Mary. Initially, it seems like Anamnesis is another story about the Virgin Mary, when a bunch of high-school girls claim to have seen a religious apparition in their local church. However, after a bit of investigation, it quickly becomes clear that the religious figure at the centre of Anamnesis is not the Virgin Mary, but is instead the other major female character from the Gospels; it is Mary Magdalene.

Holy Mary...

Holy Mary…

Appropriately enough for an episode built around a female character who is often ignored and overlooked, Anamnesis is an episode largely driven by two of  the series’ three most prominent female characters. Anamnesis follows an investigation into this hysteria led by Catherine Black and assisted by Lara Means. As a matter of fact, Anamnesis is the only episode of Millennium that does not feature Frank Black. According to an interview with Back to Frank Black, writers Kay Reindl and Erin Maher had considered including him via phonecall, but quickly dropped that idea.

Anamnesis is a fascinating piece of television. It is a script written by two female writers, driven by two female regulars, investigating a case built around a mostly female guest cast. It is a testament to just how far Millennium has come in its second season that it can do a show like this. The first season had no female writers and had only Catherine Black as a prominent female character. It is the great that show can something like this, but do it so casually and effortlessly. Anamnesis is an underrated and overlooked second season script.

Going around in circles...

Going around in circles…

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Doctor Who: Partners in Crime (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Partners in Crime originally aired in 2008.

Would you rather be on your own?

No. Actually, no. But the last time, with Martha, like I said, it, it got complicated. And that was all my fault. I just want a mate.

You just want to mate?

I just want a mate!

You’re not mating with me, sunshine!

A mate. I want a mate.

Well, just as well, because I’m not having any of that nonsense. I mean, you’re just a long streak of nothing. You know, alien nothing.

There we are, then. Okay.

– Donna and the Doctor sort out the ground rules

From the outset, Partners in Crime makes it clear that the fourth season of Doctor Who is probably going to be lighter going than the show’s third year. To be fair, it was heavily foreshadowed by a Christmas special that drew heavily from the work of Douglas Adams, whose influence is keenly felt across this entire season – right down to repeated references to the bees disappearing.

Casting Catherine Tate, best know for her work on The Catherine Tate show, as the season’s female companion was a bit of an indicator, but Partners in Crime makes it quite clear – playing more as an affectionate spoof of a classic Doctor Who run-around rather than something equal parts witty and terrifying.

Then again, given that the end of the third season featured the death of one tenth of the world’s population, the assassination of the President of the United States, the destruction of a companion’s life and the Doctor’s crushing realisation that he’s so lonely he’d retire to serving as the Master’s warden, one might argue that “lighter” was the only way to go.

Things are looking up...

Things are looking up…

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