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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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248. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Indiana Summer 2021 (#124)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Tony Black and Darren Mooney, with special guest Deirdre Molumby, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Indiana Summer, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

When academic Henry Jones goes missing, it is up to his son Indiana to solve the case. However, as the intrepid archeologist digs into his father’s disappearance, Indiana finds himself confronting Nazis, unresolved family issues and the quest for the Holy Grail. The father and son forge an unlikely alliance and embark on an epic adventure, while struggling to rebuild their dysfunctional relationship.

At time of recording, it was ranked 124th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I’ll admit that Raiders of the Lost Ark is probably the most technically magnificent of the Indiana Jones trilogy, but Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has all the heart. It’s a surprisingly sweet, sensative and funny film, all wrapped inside the trappings that made Raiders of The Lost Ark so fantastic in the first place. That’s awesome of it itself. And then Spielberg goes and adds Sean Connery to the mix. Even more awesomeness ensues.

Harrison Ford and Sean Connery are on fire...

Harrison Ford and Sean Connery are on fire...

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