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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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Non-Review Review: The Hobbit – Battle of the Five Armies

It has become a stock criticism to suggest that Peter Jackson did not need a full trilogy to adapt The Hobbit for the big screen. That said, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was an unexpected pleasure – a movie not all hindered by the pacing concerns of the trilogy and instead interested in its own central narrative. You could cut the opening scene from The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies onto the end of The Desolation of Smaug and you would have pretty much everything that you need.

While this approach benefited The Desolation of Smaug, it puts Battle of the Five Armies at something of a disadvantage. It is debatable whether there was enough material to support three full films based on The Hobbit – even drawing from other sources in the Tolkien canon – but this is clearly not the best way of structuring those three films. There is a sense that Battle of the Five Armies suffers from the decision to extend the planned duology into a full-blown trilogy.

The not-so-magic dragon...

The not-so-magic dragon…

To be fair to Peter Jackson, he does avoid the ending issues that haunted The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. However, he does that by editing Battle of the Five Armies as a brief epilogue to the previous two films, following by a massive battle sequence. This is quite impressive from a technical standpoint, but there is a sense of fatigue to it all. As the title implies, this is a five-way battle involving thousands of participants; both organic and computer-generated. A lot gets lost in the shuffle, and the plot – as it stands – could be explained in two sentences.

More than that, Battle of the Five Armies is hindered by its status as a prequel. The fact that everybody in the audience has likely seen The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring means that they know all this spectacle is really for nothing. The first two films in the trilogy largely avoided the problem by pitching the story as a working-class version of The Lord of the Rings, allowing characters to engage in quests that are deeply personal even as they ripple to larger events.

A messed-up character orc...

A messed-up character orc…

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Non-Review Review: X-Men – First Class

X-Men: First Class is easily the best thing to emerge from Bryan Singer’s X-Men movie franchise since X-Men II, all those years ago. Jane Goldman’s smart script and Matthew Vaughn’s confident direction help inject life back into the franchise that stirred up this current superhero blockbuster fad, providing one of the finest examples of the subgenre. Although the movie does occasionally veer a little bit too close to (and, once or twice, right into) camp, it’s also a clever, brave, bold and exciting action adventure, which provides the best characterisation of the series to date.

We've got it covered...

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Back to Begins: Is Nolan Bringing The Dark Knight Rises a Full Circle?

As The Dark Knight Rises draws closer and closer to filming, the rumours are just going to grow more and more intense. The latest rumour de jour (succeeding in a long line of debunked suggestions like the Riddler or Robin Williams as Hugo Strange) suggests that the League of Shadows will return to take on the Dark Knight in the final part of the trilogy, led by the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul and her lover Bane. I was initially skeptical of the rumours, perhaps because they so neatly dove-tail back into the first film of the trilogy, Batman Begins.

The birth of Batman...

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Three is the Magic Number: Why Do We Like Trilogies?

Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing all three films in the Matrix trilogy. I sat down yesterday, watched all three back-to-back and wrote reviews of them. As I did, I found myself thinking about how nice the concept of a “trilogy” is. It’s even a nice word – it sounds much better to say “the [insert film name here] trilogy” than it does to say “the [insert film name here] tetralogy” (or, to quote the Alien films, “quadrilogy”) or even the more generic “[insert film name here] series.” So what is it about sets of three movies that we like so much?

Looking for a stellar trilogy...

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Sticking it to the Fan: George Lucas and Fan/Hatedom

By all accounts, George Lucas should be one of the most beloved people on the planet. Ignoring the fact that he was the forefather of one of the most iconic trilogies of all time (Star Wars), he has managed to expand the boundaries of what is possible with special effects (down to companies like Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound) and even in video games (many of the earliest videogames on flopdisk came from LucasArts). Beyond that he’s also the man perhaps most responsible for Indiana Jones and one of the most influential film makers of all time. And yet his name evokes a huge amount of discord when it’s spoken. Just why is that?

Lucas has un-Fett-ered control of the franchise...

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Iron Man 3 Before The Avengers?

A geek bombshell has landed. Apparently Iron Man 3 may be arriving in 2012. Not that it’s coming at us out of nowhere. Iron Man and Iron Man 2 were two years apart. There’s no reason to believe the same wouldn’t be true of Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3. Also, The Avengers was the only major Marvel film planned for 2012… well, before the Spider-Man reboot got moved back to 2012, but that’s a co-production with Sony. Marvel have strived to get a bit of momentum going – Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk were released in 2008 as a double-act and Thor and Captain America will have the same partnership next year. The Avengers is big enough to open by itself, but it seemed likely that Marvel would have some other support feature designed to lead into it a month or two before release (in case audiences forgot about Captain America: The First Avenger in the year since its release). I like the idea of Iron Man3 in 2012.

Looks like Tony might not be taking any well-deserved time off...

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