Friday, August 17, 2007

DAY 17: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

For years after the divorce of his parents, Spielberg had a contentious relationship with his father Arnold (the resentment being reflected in his films through the recurring theme of an irrelevant, absentee or even abusive father). Finally, after many years, Steven and Arnold reconciled in what the director has called a “tremendous coming together”: a meeting of the hearts and of the minds between a father and a son. Thus, when the time came to make the third--and presumably final--Indiana Jones adventure, once again, Spielberg’s own life informed his work and he had the idea of including Indiana’s father in the story in a big way. Far from being a mere “gimmick” (as it was in Richard Donner's Maverick) this decision enriched the Indy character by providing more history than had been thus far (although Raiders did reveal some background too) and also creating another significant character in the world/life of Indiana Jones. As a result, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, while it may not have been the best, most balanced or even most exciting of the three Raiders films, was by far the most dramatic, the deepest and, from the perspective of Spielberg, the most personal.

Of course this presented the formidable challenge of casting the role of Professor Henry Jones, a part without whom the film simply wouldn’t work (since the father/son relationship serves as the basis for most of the film’s emotion). Lucas envisioned a fussy, fastidious scholarly type while Spielberg wanted a charismatic character with enough force and power to intimidate the tenacious Harrison Ford. What wound up on screen was a marvelous combination of the two concepts and the actor who ended up being cast was undoubtedly the perfect choice. Spielberg eventually had the inspired idea of asking Sean Connery... who agreed to do it. Since Indiana Jones was, in many ways, the cinematic heir to James Bond, it only made sense that the original 007 portray Indy’s dad. Of course, by this point in his career Connery was also a terrific actor (recently winning a Best Supporting Oscar for Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables), which he proved once again in his performance as Henry Jones. In reality, Ford and Connery are only about 12 years apart in age, but the actors' performances sell their relationship so strongly that it makes no difference. Spielberg also wanted to bring back members of the Raiders cast that he had "missed so much on Temple of Doom." Denholm Elliott returned as Marcus Brody (this time with more to do in the story) and John Rhys Davies played the larger-than-life Sallah.

Since jumpstarting the film with action had become a hallmark of the Indy movies, it was proposed that Last Crusade open with a teenage Indy embarking on his first adventure (replacing an earlier idea of Indiana in a haunted castle). The sequence would lay the groundwork for several future trademarks of the character (the leather jacket, the whip, the scar on Indy’s face, the terrible fear of snakes and, of course, the hat) as well as foreshadowing several important things that would occur later in the film itself. Once again, however, this meant the filmmakers had to find yet another actor to play a seminal role: that of young Indiana Jones. Spielberg had already admired River Phoenix’s work from Stand By Me and was delighted when Ford, having worked with Phoenix previously on Mosquito Coast, suggested him. In the role of the central villain, American egomaniac Walter Donovan, British actor Julian Glover (who had played a small part in Lucas’ Empire Strikes Back) was cast. Finally, as Indy’s leading lady in this particular adventure--an Austrian Art historian named Elsa Schneider--the filmmakers hired the strikingly beautiful Allison Doody (coincidentally, Doody, Glover and Davies had all appeared recently in Bond films; though this was almost certainly not deliberate, it further emphasized the kinship between the two iconic movie heroes).

While Doody's character is certainly a stronger, smarter and more capable woman than Willie Scott, she is by far the "blandest" of the three heroines. She constantly changes sides throughout the story and makes it difficult for Indy (and the audience) to tell whether she is an enemy or an ally. In the end she perishes, having been overcome by greed and a lust for power, but her demise feels less like justice than simply a meaningless accident. Credit should be given to Spielberg and Lucas for trying to achieve complexity in her character, but unfortunately they end up creating a character with hardly a personality at all, always being thrown where the screenplay demands she go. It would have been far more interesting I think if they had simply made her a villain (certainly the real world as well as the "Indiana Jones world" is ready to handle a female heavy for a change). Ultimately, the most substantial relationship in the film is the one between Indy and his father.

As with many Spielberg films, metaphysics featured so prominently into the previous installments that another supernatural/mythological object had to be selected as the item for which Indy was searching (Hitchcock used to call such plot devices “McGuffins:” items about which the details really weren’t that important but which the audience nevertheless had to accept as being significant enough that everyone in the movie would be after them; part of the genius of Lucas and Spielberg is that they always found ways to make their “MacGuffins” actually relevant to the ideas/themes of the story and not just incidental). For a while Lucas had been pushing for a story involving the Holy Grail and indeed it seemed like the perfect artifact for Indy to pursue in this adventure. Firstly, because it continued the practice of focusing each subsequent Indy adventure on a different religion (Judaism in Raiders, Hinduism in Temple of Doom and now Christianity in Last Crusade) and secondly, because it provided the filmmakers with an opportunity to bring Indy’s father into the adventure in a logical, plausible way. If Henry Jones were a Grail scholar who had spent his entire life looking for the symbolic cup, then Indy's search for the Grail was synonymous with the search for his father. This allowed Spielberg an opportunity to share his philosophy on the importance of familial love as Indy finds his relationship with his dad to be more precious to him than possessing the cup of Christ.

Another major element in Last Crusade was the restoration of Nazis into the plot. While they had served as the main opposing force to Indy in Raiders, they were selected primarily because they were the reliable villains in American movies of the 30’s and 40’s. Thus, in trying to make the film closer “in spirit” to Raiders than Temple of Doom (restoring the "fun" as he put it; indeed it's ironic that Last Crusade is the "softest" of the three and yet it's the only one to be rated PG-13), Spielberg decided to bring them back. This time however, there was a different tone to their inclusion. They were still quite far from representing real Nazis—-in fact, they could easily be called “Hollywood Nazis,” nameless, faceless and oftentimes rather comic henchman whose main function was to simply impede our hero from his goal-—but Spielberg’s developing respect and knowledge of WWII, and the many atrocities that occurred during it, seemed to be pushing him (almost unconsciously) in a much darker direction. Indeed, Last Crusade actually takes our main heroes into Berlin (“into the lion’s den” as Indy says) to witness a book-burning rally over which Hitler himself presides. It’s a surprisingly dark event to appear in a piece of escapist entertainment precisely because it is not fantasy: it is historically real and therefore even more frightening than any of the exaggerated dangers of Temple of Doom. Eventually Spielberg’s growing fascination (one could even call it an obsession) with the subject of Nazism and the Holocaust would culminate in his masterpiece Schindler’s List.

"Of all the Indy films," Spielberg has said, "Last Crusade was the one that went off without a hitch." Menno Meyjes (Color Purple, “The Mission”) collaborated with George Lucas on the film’s story and the screenplay was penned by Jeffrey Boam (writer of the Spielberg-produced, Dante-directed Innerspace). As usual, Doug Slocombe, Frank Marshall, Vic Armstrong, Mike Kahn and John Williams added their talents to this latest entry. Principal photography commenced on May 16, 1988, in Almeria, Spain. From there the filmmakers journeyed to Majorca and Granada. Following three weeks in Spain, Spielberg moved his crew to England for an additional ten weeks on the soundstages at Elstree and on August 7, Spielberg packed flew to Venice (a location which presentd some of the same problems shooting a period-set story as the city of “Cairo” for Raiders). Finally, they flew to Jordan to shoot scenes in Petra—-a marvelously ornate structure carved right into the stone—-which served as the long-lost secret temple, the final resting place of the Grail.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade "swung" into theatres in the summer of '89 (still remembered today as one of the biggest and most eventful summers in the history of Hollywood) and earned nearly $200 million at the box office. For the most part the critics, who had responded so negatively to the first sequel, were charmed by this third installment, though many felt that no more could be done with the character or the series. In her New York Times review, Caryn James summarized the reaction of most critics and audiences: "Though it cannot regain the brash originality of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in its own way Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is nearly as good, matching its audience's wildest hopes... Of the three Jones films, The Last Crusade may well become the sentimental favorite, the Indiana to end them all."

Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert observed: "As I watched it, I felt a real delight, because recent Hollywood escapist movies have become too jaded and cynical, and they have lost the feeling that you can stumble over astounding adventures just by going on a hike with your Scout troop... If there is just a shade of disappointment after seeing this movie, it has to be because we will never again have the shock of this material seeming new. Raiders of the Lost Ark, now more than ever, seems a turning point in the cinema of escapist entertainment, and there was really no way Spielberg could make it new all over again. What he has done is to take many of the same elements, and apply all of his craft and sense of fun to make them work yet once again. And they do." Interestingly, in Newsweek David Ansen proclaimed: "This thrice-told tale gives you your money's worth. Now it's time to hang up the bullwhip and move on."


Continuing the tradition of the first two, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade opens with the old Paramount logo and dissolves to a real mountain. This "mountain" is in fact a large rock formation in a John Ford-like desert range. The camera pans over to a wide shot of a troup of riders as the main titles begin to appear and the astute viewer might notice that the lettering is the same used in Raiders, signifying that this film is going to resemble the first Indy adventure more than the second one.


As we cut to a closer shot of the group of uniformed riders we see that they are really Boy Scouts on an expedition. They stop, the leader yells out "Dismount!" and all the young boys climb down from their horses and begin exploring some nearby caves. Two friends in particular slip off from the main group and discover a small band of diggers searching for something in one of the caverns. The leader, whose back is turned to us, wears a leather jacket and brown fedora.


Cleverly playing with our expectations (since we know that this is the normal wardrobe of Indiana Jones when he is on an adventure), Spielberg makes us wonder whether this will be Indy's "reveal" in this movie. When one of the diggers unearths a box and brings it over to the leader, whose face we still haven't seen yet, he opens the box and examines the item inside.

As he lifts the artifact (a golden cross) out of the box, we finally glimpse his face and see that it is not Indiana Jones.

In fact, as the heavy-set boy (Herman) indicates by speaking to his friend, Indiana Jones is actually one of the two boy scouts. It isn't until this moment that Spielberg employs a title card to tell us that we are in "Utah, 1912." Spielberg deliberately waited until the introduction of Indy to do so because audiences might have remembered that the previous two adventures took place in the 1930's meaning this fellow in the fedora couldn't be Indiana Jones, which would have ruined the surprise of discovering for ourselves that it isn't and subsequently meeting young Indy for the first time.

Indy informs his companion that the artifact being handled by the men is the Cross of Coronado. Immediately Indy's social conscience concerning antiquities manifests itself. "That cross is an important artifact. It belongs in a museum." he says. Indy orders Herman to run to the sheriff and tell him that there are men looting in the caves. When Herman asks what he plans to do, Indy's response is similar to his "making it up as he goes" line from Raiders: "I don't know, but I'll think of something." Indy then quietly sneaks down and snatches the Cross. The fact that Spielberg has chosen to make the artifact in this opening sequence a cross is significant because of the symbolic importance of the cross to Christianity, the selected religion of this particular Indy adventure. In fact, crosses will pop up a lot throughout the film.

As he tries to escape, Indy makes a noise alerting the men to his presence and a chase ensues. Indy flees the caves on his horse and the looters pursue him in vehicles (led by an older gentleman in a white suit and hat). As Indy rides on, he approaches one of the most common sights to be found in a Spielberg movie: a moving train. This time the train is a circus train, harkening back to the first movie young Speilberg ever saw (DeMille's Greatest Show on Earth). Then, in a shot very reminiscent of the dismounting from the horse onto the truck in Raiders, Indy leaps aboard the train followed by the looters. Indy runs across the top of the train trying to elude them and eventually ends up in the Reptile car. It is here that Spielberg explains the origin of Indy's phobia of snakes by having him fall into a box filled with hundreds of them. Indy also falls into a car with a lion at one point, but noticing a trainer's whip hanging on the wall nearby, he grabs it and uses it to keep the lion at bay. Not only does Spielberg use this sequence to pinpoint Indy's first exposure to the many uses of a whip but in his first crack of the weapon, Indy accidentally cuts his chin explaining the scar that marks adult Indy's face (In reality Harrison Ford was in a car wreck when he was 20 years old). Eventually Indy eludes his pursuers and as the man in the fedora watches the boy race away from the back of the train, a smile slowly spreads across his face. He might find it a terrible inconvenience to his own purposes, but he likes this kid. He admired his spirit, his passion, his conviction. He likes his "heart."

Indy races home, enters the living room and passes by the dog that we later learn is named Indiana (a reference to George Lucas' own dog that provided the inspiration for his character's name). Indy throws open the door to his father's study to tell him what has just transpired but dad is not interested in whatever his son has to say. He is busy copying a painting into a small book. Seeing his friend Herman out the window returning with the sheriff, Indy gives up trying to talk to his father and exits the room. Although, like the man in the fedora at first, we do not see dad's face we hear his voice as he utters: "May he who illuminated this, illuminate me." Not only will this painting he's tracing, as well as the book he is writing in, be significant later in the movie but it is here that the concept of "illumination" is introduced through the father's words. Spielberg's light theme is again being revisited and, like Close Encounters, it will be used in assocation with enlightenment. In this case it is spiritual enlightenment: the attainment of truth, knowledge and wisdom.

Herman enters the house followed by the sheriff and when Indy tries to tell him what has happened, the sheriff interrupts him asking if he still has the cross (grown-ups never listen to kids in Spielberg films). When Indy produces it, the sheriff takes it and hands it to one of the young looters. Indy watches helplessly as the fellow runs outside and hands the cross to the man in the white suit and hat, who is apparently its "rightful owner." Everyone leaves save the man with the fedora. He looks at Indy and says: "You lost today, kid... but that doesn't mean you have to like it."


He places the hat on Indy's head and pushes it down. Then, in one of those great Spielbergian transitions...


..he lifts it back up and we've now cut to the grown Indiana Jones smiling at someone. A fist flies into frame and punches our hero in the face. It is nighttime and clearly we are on a boat caught in a storm. A title card reveals that we are off the Portugese Coast in the year 1938. The same man in the white suit and hat descends some stairs and confronts Indy complaining: "This is the second time I've had to reclaim my property from you!" He pulls the Cross of Coronado out of Indy's bag as Indy yells: "That belongs in a museum!" Indy manages to fight his way out of the situation, eventually jumping overboard while gripping the cross. A freak accident causes the boat to explode (it's name revealed to be "Coronado" as it sinks) and as Indy clings to a lifesaver the white hat floats by signifying his enemy is dead. Throughout the series it has been a gag that in spite of the life-threatening ordeals that Indy endures, he never loses his hat. In this film, though, Spielberg elevates the importance of the hat. Not only does Indy never lose it, but if he does lose it he will die. When hats leave their owners it is an indicator that they are either dead or about to die.

What is also notable about this opening sequence, besides pinpointing the origin of many of Indiana Jones trademarks, is that it explains quite marvelously the duality we've seen previously in Indy's character. Because he was ignored by his father after the death of his mother, Indy found another "father" figure to admire and emulate. Not a good man, which his father was in spite of his shortcomings, but a "bad" man: a looter, a grave-robber, a mercenary. Thus, when Indy puts on the hat and leather jacket he is manifesting a form of rebellion against his dad, a kind of freedom from his father's way of doing things. And yet, his father's approval still matters to him as he has also became an educated professor in archaeology who wears three-piece suits and spectacles (as his father does). Despite his trying not to turn into his father, Indy is far more like his father than he cares to admit to himself. Likewise, as the film progresses Dr. Henry Jones will learn to do things like his son. Both men will become more like the other and in the process grow closer.

Back in the states, the scholarly Dr. Jones gives a lecture to a group of dreamy-eyed girls. He starts by writing the word "fact" on the chalkboard and telling them that it is the real goal in archaeology and not truth. "If it's truth you're interested in, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall." he says. Indy proceeds to discredit a number of misconcptions people might have about archaeology. "We do not follow maps to buried treasure and 'X' never, ever marks the spot." In fact, Indy's words are untrue. Over the course of the movie Indy will follow a map to a buried treasure, "X" will mark the spot and Indy will discover a great and profound truth. As he speaks, Marcus Brody enters the classroom and when the bell rings and everyone is dismissed, Indy produces the Cross of Coronado and proudly declares that Marcus will be taking him out to celebrate this accomplishment since Indy has been searching for this object all his life. This is significant because just as Indy has finally attained something which he has devoted his life to finding, soon his father will finally achieve his life's work. It should also be mentioned that this entire scene is staged, shot and edited identically to the corresponding scenes in Raiders, once again emphasizing the connection between them.

After checking his mail and discovering a package from Venice, Italy, Indy goes for a walk and finds himself accosted by some rather ominous-looking men. He is taken to a penthouse where he meets a benefactor of the museum, Walter Donovan. Donovan tells him that through the discovery of a tablet left by a knight of the first Crusade they are about to complete a great quest that began almost two thousand years ago: they are near to discovering the location of the Holy Grail, the chalice used by Christ during the last supper, the cup that caught his blood at the crucifixion and which gives the gift of youth to whoever drinks from it. Setting aside that this plot point relies on a serious misinterpretation of scripture (the eternal life that Jesus speaks of in the gospels is not an earthly one) this maintains the supernatural element of the movies and raises the stakes for Indy achieving success. Donovan asks Indy if he would pick up the trail from where his last project leader (who has since disappeared) left off, but Indy tells Donovan that he's got the wrong Jones and to try his father. "We already have," replies Donovan. "Your father is the man who's disappeared."

After rushing to his father's house with Marcus and finding the place ransacked, Indy realizes his dad has gotten himself into a real mess. Seeing that the mail has been opened, and remembering Donovan's statement that the last known location of his father was in Venice, Indy opens the package from earlier only to discover it's his father's Grail diary, a complete record of his search for the cup of Christ. "This is his whole life. Why would he have sent this to me?" he wonders. "I don't know," anwers Marcus, "but someone must want it pretty badly." Deciding to pick up the search for the Grail (with the real intent being to find his father), Indy tells Marcus to call Donovan and accept the ticket to Venice. Marcus tells Indy that he'll take two tickets. For the first (and last) time, Marcus is going to accompany Indiana on an adventure.

On the flight to Italy (during which Spielberg once again uses the familiar red line) Indy studies the diary and upon arriving in Venice is surprised to learn that the Dr. Schneider which Donovan spoke of is a beautiful blonde Austrian woman. Indy tries to flirt with her but to no avail. She seems immune to his charms. Elsa takes Indy and Marcus to the place Henry Jones was when he vanished: the library. When they comment that it looks more like a church than a library, Elsa informs them that is, in fact, the case. They are on holy ground. Indy recognizes the large stained-glass window from a drawing in the Grail diary (the same painting his father was sketching in the film's opening) and realizes that his dad wasn't looking for a book about the tomb of a knight but rather for the tomb itself. The tomb is located somewhere in the library. All they have to do is figure out the significance of three Roman numerals (III, VII and X) and they'll have their answer. They find the "III" and "VII" but don't see the "X" until Indy climbs a staircase and sees an enormous "X" on the floor. "X markes the spot." he says contradicting his earlier words to the class. "X" is also a subtle variation on the recurring cross imagery in the film.

After breaking through the floor and descening into the open hole, Indy and Elsa discover a series of catacombs beneath the library. As Roger Ebert pointed out in his review, the notion of there being and underground in Venice is ridiculous but it doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the sequence. Indy and Elsa wander through the tunnels looking at the artwork scrawled on the walls. Elsa sees one drawing in particular and wonders aloud: "What's this one?" Indy answers: "The Ark of the Covenant." Elsa asks: "Are you sure?" to which Indy replies: "Pretty sure." This is a very funny exchange not only because it references Raiders, but because John Williams once again chooses to underline it with a brief quotation of the "Ark theme" from the first movie. Furthermore, unlike the sword/gun gag from Temple of Doom, this one actually makes sense since this adventure occurs after Raiders (in fact, the humor of the moment is dependant upon the fact that Indy has actually encountered the Ark before in person and not simply as a drawing on a wall). Back at the entrance, Marcus is knocked out and dragged away by unidentified individuals who follow Indy and Elsa into the cavern.

After encountering oil and moving through a passage filled with rats (this movie's equivalent of the snakes and bugs) Indy and Elsa find the knight's coffin. Indy gets the information he needs from the knight's shield, but hears noises coming from behind them. Their followers have lit the petroleum in the water and a huge column of fire is quickly making its way down the catacombs towards them. Thinking quickly Indy overturns the knight's coffin and motions Elsa to dive under it because of the air pocket. While inside Indy tells Elsa not to "wander off" as he searches for a way out. Having found one, he pops up again and tells Elsa to follow him. They each take a deep breath and submerge. Outside a group of gawking patrons are surprised when a dripping Elsa and Indy emerge from beneath their feet.

When the same unidentified followers run out of the library and start pursuing Indy and Elsa, the two of them climb into a boat and a chase ensues. Along the way several of the men are killed and when Indy and the last surviving member of his attackers square off, Indy asks why they are trying to kill him and Elsa. The man reveals that his name is Kazim and he is part of a brotherhood (the Cruciform Sword) dedicated to protecting the secret of the Grail. When Indy assures him that he's not after the cup of Christ but rather is after his father, Kazim informs him that his father is being held in the castle of Brunwald on the Austrian-German border. After telling Marcus, back at his hotel room to have Sallah meet them in Iskendrun, and subsequently having a little tryst with Elsa (which Spielberg naturally doesn't show), Indy decides to go after his dad.

A red line takes us to the castle and upon arrival Elsa asks Indy: "What are you going to do?" Indy repeats the line spoken by his younger self: "Don't know, but I'll think of something." Indy manages to get himself and Elsa inside the castle, where he discovers Nazis at work ("I hate these guys.") and locates the room that he believes his dad is in. Indy uses his bullwhip to swing in through the window where he is promptly hit over the head with a vase, his assailant being none other than his own father (who is introduced stepping out of the shadows, just as Indy was first seen in Raiders). The reunion is not a terribly happy one, however, as Indy is frustrated that his dad still insists on calling him "Junior." Aside from being an amusing running gag throughout the film, this is actually important to the story's themes. Henry Jones sees his son less as his own person and more as an extension of himself. His refusal to call his son by the name he prefers represents this, but before the film is done the two will come to an understanding. Henry will finally acknowledge his son's individuality. One of the things that Spielberg has always said he was grateful for was that his father allowed him to follow his own path of becoming a filmmaker rather than force Steven to follow in his footsteps. Arnold recognized his son's individuality in a way that Henry Jones must still learn to.

After returning to Elsa Indy discovers she is being held hostage by a Nazi Colonel named Vogel. He yells at Indy to drop his gun or he will shoot her. Henry tells Indy not to trust her because she's a Nazi. In a classic scenario where the main character is not sure who to listen to, Indy is forced to choose between his woman and his father. Eventually Indy chooses the woman and, as it is shortly revealed, makes the wrong choice. She is a Nazi after all. Indy and Henry are taken into another room where they meet the mastermind behind all of this: Donovan. He takes the book from them and in examining it discovers some important pages missing (including a map that leads to the Grail's location). Elsa realizes that Indy has given the map to Marcus Brody who, after Indy passionately tells them all that they'll never find him because he's able to blend into any environment all over the world, is seen wandering a train station in the city of Iskendrun with no clue whatsoever as to what he's doing. It's a very funny moment and demonstrates that Brody's character is becoming more comic in this particular adventure. Some have derided this decision saying that Marcus was very much a dignified character in the first Raiders, almost a sort of father figure to Indy, but since this film already has another father figure, Marcus needs to be used in another capacity to justify his presence. Furthermore, he was never seen outside of his comfort zone in the first film, so it is not inconsistent to see Marcus with two left feet when he tries to be the same kind of adventurer that Indy is. Finally, as Denholem Elliott has said in interviews, he could't have had more fun playing Marcus as a more of a buffoon this time around (if it didn't bother him, it shouldn't bother us). After Marcus meets Sallah, he is shortly taken by the Nazis.

Back at the castle, Indy and his father have been tied up back-to-back and left alone in a room (a classic B-movie situation). Indy has his father fish his lighter out of his coat pocket (with a shamrock, or four-leafed clover, on it; yet another variation on the cross imagery) and try to burn through the ropes. Unfortunately, Henry proceeds to set the entire room on fire. Indy and his father manage to escape through a revolving door in the fireplace and effect their escape on a motorcycle. A chase ensues wherein Indy and his father are pursued by Nazi soldiers but using typical ingenuity, Indy dispatches all of them (at one point using a flagpole as a jousting lance; this emphasizes Indy's identity as a "knight" of the last crusade). However, Henry is still unimpressed and Indy's frustration at never being able to satisfy his dad is apparent on his face. When they approach an intersection (a "cross"-roads), Henry instructs his son to go into Berlin to retreive his diary because there is still crucial information contained within (clues to surviving three deadly booby traps guarding the Grail). Indy finds the notion crazy and the two have yet another confrontation (at one point Indy curses and receives a slap in the face by Henry for "blasphemy"). It's one of many scenes between just these two characters and it demonstrates that the real drama of the story is in the interactions between them. They may stop the action for a period of time but they develop character and this is something that I personally think would be nice if more action movies did today.

Indy and Henry journey to Berlin ("pilgrims in an unholy land" as Henry aptly states) and Indy retreives the diary from Elsa during a book-burning rally, but comes face-to-face with Hitler in the process, who thinks Indy just wants his autograph so, ironically, he signs his name to the Grail diary (with his right hand; Hitler was actually a southpaw). Despite the rather serious tone of the scene, Spielberg still remembers that this is still essentially a piece of entertainment and so chooses to end the scene on a joke. Indy and Henry then flee from Germany on a zepplin. This provides an opportunity for yet another father/son interaction where we learn more about each character's personalities and details of Indy's childhood are further revealed. Their dialogue is interrupted, however, when Indy realizes that the zepplin is turning around and taking them back to Germany. Under the belly of the zepplin, Indy and Henry board a small plane (with a cross imprinted on it) and fly to safety but not before engaging in combat with some Nazi war planes. Eventually they crash land and try to escape in a car. When that doesn't work. They end up on foot. Indy stands on a beach looking around but seeing no cover, he pulls out his gun and finds no bullets in it. Up until now Henry's discomfort and lack of experience in this type of adventure has been apparent. Several times he has royally screwed up (setting the room on fire, shooting the tail of his own plane with the machine gun, etc), but he has also been a help at other times (when he sat in a chair and inadvertently triggered a secret door that allowed them to escape the castle). At this moment, Henry is about to prove his effectiveness once again, using his umbrella to frighten a flock of seagulls resting on the beach. As they all fly up into the path of the oncoming plane, they stall out the propeller and cause it to crash. Indy is stunned that his father has saved the day and as he turns to look at him, Henry casually strolls toward his son smiling, with his umbrella still up, mentioning that he got the idea from Charlamagne: "Let my armies be the rocks and the trees... and the birds in the sky."

The look on Indy's face as he turns toward the camera is priceless, because he's seeing his father in an entirely new light now. He is, for the first time, really proud of him and has such tremendous respect, affection and love in heart at this moment. The two are actually sharing something together. They are (pardon the pun) "bonding."


Once Indy and Henry reach Hatay, they meet up with Sallah and learn that Marcus has been captured. They head into the desert after Marcus, Donovan, Elsa, Vogel and a horde of Nazis. Of course three men are no match for hundreds of soldiers (not to mention a tank), but Kazim's brotherhood inadvertently helps Indy out by fighting the Nazis for him. Although Kazim is killed, Indy manages to steal four horses (their car having been blown up by the tank) while his father is captured and placed in the tank along with Marcus. Indy bravely rides out to rescue him and what follows is a spectacular action sequence that almost equals the truck chase from Raiders.

Indy leaps aboard the tank and while battling with Vogel on the outside of it, Indy's father tries to gain control of the tank from the inside. The father and the son are rapidly becoming more alike. Indy's father has stepped up and become almost the adventurer that Indy is. At one point he even uses the tank to blow away a whole truckload of Nazis. When Marcus says (as Henry himself did to Indy earlier): "Look what you did!" Henry responds: "Marcus, it's war!" The sequence ends with Henry and Marcus getting pulled off the tank as Indy angrily batters Vogel. In the fight, Vogel loses his hat signaling to the audience that he will shortly die. In fact, the tank is headed for a cliff and when Indy looks up and the camera moves in on a close-up of his eyes (another common Spielbergian image) his hat also blows off. This is Spielberg causing the audience to wonder if we might lose Indy at this moment too. In interviews everyone involved had said that this would be the last Indy film. Could it really end with Indy's death?

When the tank careens over the edge of the cliff and crashes into the rocks far below, Henry briefly thinks that his son is gone. "Oh God," he says, "I've lost him... and I never told him anything." In fact, Indy got off just in time and after a humorous moment where Indy stands behind the others looking over the cliff (not knowing what he's looking at), Henry grabs his son and warmly embraces him. "I thought I lost you, boy!" he cries. "I thought you had to, sir." Indy responds. Despite his fatigue, Indy starts to smile as he enjoys this rare bit of physical affection from his father. After a few seconds, a slightly embarassed Henry regains his composure, clears his throat and says, "Well,... well done." (in a way, this is like Spielberg trying to restrain himself in his films given that his critics say he is often too emotional or too sentimental). In a nice litte capper to the scene, Indy collapses as the other three walk away and the wind blows Indy's hat right back into his lap.

Indy, Sallah, Marcus and Henry sneak into the temple just in time to see one of the henchman literally lose his head. They are soon discovered and brought before Donovan. In a nice bit of visual storytelling, Indy and his friends (the good guys) stand on one side of the frame while Donovan and company (the bad guys) stand on the other. Elsa stands between them in the very middle, not belonging to either side. Donovan orders Indy to get the Grail for him and Indy refuses. Donovan helps provide motivation by shooting Henry in the stomach. Indy tries to stop the bleeding by removing Henry's hat (indicating, once again, that we could very well lose Indy's father) but it does little good. Donovan tells Indy that only the healing power of the Grail can save his father now. Thus, Indy is forced to brave the booby traps in order to retreive the Grail. Fortunately he has the clues from Henry's diary and by interpreting them correctly, Indy survives them. Throughout these scenes, Henry also tries to decode the clues as he lays dying. Showing once again how alike their minds work, both father and son come to the same conclusions independantly (or it could be viewed as the father figuring out the answers and then, like the telepathic link between E.T. and Elliott, passing that information to his son; it is the ambiguity of this that makes the sequence very satisfying).

Finally, Indy arrives at his destination and discovers an ancient knight who, having drank from the Grail long ago, is still alive to guard it. He assumes that Indy is the knight who has come to relieve him of his duty, to vanquish him and keep the Grail safe. The theme of fate, present in other Spielberg films, now comes to the fore in this scene. Oftentimes in his adventures, Indy is regarded as a predetermined messenger or savior sent to help solve a problem (as in Temple of Doom when the Indian shaman believes Indy was sent by their god). Although Indy is always skeptical about this, in a way the hopes of these other "believers" turn out to be true. This film will end, for example, with Indy causing the Grail to indeed end up in a safe place where it can no longer be sought after for evil purposes. When Donovan and Elsa enter, Donovan looks around at the dozens of shiny goblets and wonders which one is the real Grail. The Knight tells him he must choose. Elsa chooses for him and selects a glittering gold chalice. Donovan drinks from it and (in the movie's equivalent of the melting faces from Raiders) quickly ages to the point that he becomes a pile of dust. Hilariously, the knight dryly observes: "He chose... poorly." Indy then scans the cups and notices one that looks very plain and simple. "That's the cup of a carpenter." he observes. He grabs it and drinks from it. The knight informs him that he has chosen wisely (this goes along with Spielberg's philosophy of the extraodrinary being found in the mundane) and that neither he nor the Grail can pass beyond the great seal at the entrance. "That is the boundary and the price of immortality."

Indy quickly runs back to his father and has him drink from the cup. Miraculously, his wound heals and he stands up. Henry smiles at his son, happy to see him, and then looks down at the cup in his hand. Finally, he has found the very thing that he has been seeking his whole life. When Elsa tries to take the cup from the temple, however, the entire place starts to rumble. The ground opens up and the Grail falls between a crevice. Indy dives for Elsa and grabs her hand as she hangs over the abyss. Overcome with greed, she unwisely reaches out for the Grail with one of her hands (despite Indy's pleading with her to give him both her hands because he can't hold her) and finally falls to her death. Suddenly Indy slips over and is grabbed by his father. Now, the sitaution is reversed. Indy is within reach of the Grail and his father is losing his grip on his son. Indy reaches for the cup, overcome with the same greed, but when Henry calls him "Indiana" for the first time in his life, it gets Indy's attention. He turns to look at his father who says, "Let it go." At last, the two are equals. Indy gives Henry both his hands and is pulled to safety. He, Henry, Marcus and Sallah flee the temple as it is sealed up forever.

In the final scene, as the four men stand just outside the temple, Henry tells Indy that Elsa never really believed in the Grail, that she only thought she'd found a prize. Henry on the other hand, had finally found what he had asked for twenty-six years earlier when he first sketched the painting in his diary: illumination. This illumination, though, is more than just spiritual; it is familial. Henry has now attained some wisdom with regards to his son. He sees Indy in a new light just as Indy sees his father in one. As the two mount their horses, it is revealed that Indy's real name is "Henry Jones, Jr." and that "Indiana" was actually the name of the dog. Marcus announces that he knows the way out and clumsily rides off on his horse. Indy and the others take off after him as the now iconic "Raiders march" swells and, in an actualization of the old Hollywood cliche (and an image reminiscent of a shot in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia), the four men literally ride off into the sunset. It is the perfect ending for Indiana Jones.


So, where does Last Crusade hold up in the Indiana Jones trilogy? Well, that depends on what one expects from an Indiana Jones movie. If one prefers pure visceral entertainment, non-stop thrilling action scenes, then Last Crusade would probably be the least of the three and Temple of Doom the greatest. If one likes more drama and character devlopment emphasized (even if it comes at the expense of some of the action) then Last Crusade would be the best of the three. If, however, one likes a nice balance of the two elements (I happen to be in this category) then one would probably prefer Raiders (as I do). Although I personally love all three films and think that any one of them is superior to most stuff being produced by Hollywood today, I tend to go in the order of Raiders first, Last Crusade second and then Temple of Doom third. I know not everyone shares that sentiment and that's fine. It's just my opinion.



Finally, I should probably say something said about the upcoming fourth film.

Although at the time, Last Crusade was conceived as the final cinematic adventure of Indiana Jones, in the passing years Spielberg, Lucas and Ford all discussed the possibly of doing a fourth one. After many years of teasing people with promises to do it, in June of 2007 principal photography began and the still unnamed fourth (and this time for certain final) installment of the succesful series was underway. While I was skeptical for a long time that a fourth Indy film was a good idea, I have to admit that now I am, like a lot of fans, greatly looking forward to it. The filmmakers seem to be going in the right direction by bringing Marion Ravenwood (the only woman who could ever be a fitting macth for Indy) back into the story. Because Sean Connery has retired from acting, Indy's father will, unfortunately, not be appearing in this one (or so we've been told) but Indy will have a son (played by the talented Shia Lebeouf) and the cast will also include such fine actors as John Hurt and Cate Blanchett. Indy will no doubt be much older and more worn in this one, but as we all know, "it's not the years, it's the mileage." The film is scheduled to hit theatres in May of 2008 (exactly 19 years since the release of the last one and, coincidentally, the same summer that another Batman movie featuring the Joker will appear). Whether this will be a fitting send-off for one of cinema's greatest heroes remains to be seen but I will relish finding out (I'll be there opening night with everyone else). One thing is for certain though... if anybody can make it work, it's the people behind this movie: actor Harrison Ford, writer/producer George Lucas and, of course, director Steven Spielberg.



TOMORROW: Spielberg's love story

36 comments:

Jonathan said...

Wow. I really appreciate what you're doing here and this was one of my favorite reads of yours so far.

Keep up the good work, this was awesome.

Joe Valdez said...

I hate The Last Crusade. Like the majority of action franchises, Indiana Jones just got to the point of parodying itself. This is essentially a comedy adventure almost from the start.

Other than Ford and Connery, there really doesn't seem to be anyone else in the movie. I don't blame Alison Doody or Julian Glover, they were stuck doing what was on the page.

Every action scene in the film is in some ways silly, even the big tank finale, with Denholm Elliot squirting ink at the Nazis. Give me a break.

The fingerprints of George Lucas are more evident in this film than any other in the trilogy. Having Indy bump into Hitler is the height of stupidity, and the kind of thing that The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was based around.

Reading your analysis, Damian, it's clear that Spielberg and everyone else had a blast making this movie. That sort of idle comfort comes across as laziness on screen.

The New York Times rave - declaring this the best of the three - seems indicative of the summer of 1989 though. I'll admit that I enjoyed a good deal of this movie at the time. Looking back, I think it's one of the worst five films of Spielberg's career.

Ugh. None of this bodes well at all for the new sequel.

RAR said...

I have to agree with Joe here. I've been reading for a while and is the is the first point I feel need to interject something:

To me, Last Crusade is the weakest of the trilogy (and yes, I am a big fan of Temple of Doom). While I love the Ford/Connery chemistry (who doesn't) and some of the action, the movie is cartoony, simplistic and an early signifier for the growing problems that would plague even the best of his following movies.

Though you justify the use of Brody as comic relief, it is representative of the movie in everything now is done up as gag. Even Sallah is a broad stereotype instead of the capable resourceful character he was in the first film. Likewise the villains are broad or characterless. It is also the ugliest looking of the three movies. While the first is gritty and the second is saturated with color, the third has a vanilla blandness that makes it look like a studio movie out of the 1960's. This is peculiar considering that the same fantastic director of photography Douglas Slocombe shot all three movies.

Most importantly, the father/child theme is laid on rather thick here. At times, there’s a contradictory seriousness to the theme that plays out of step with the silliness around it. While is movie is one of the better uses of the theme, it gives the feeling that Spielberg is trying to make his blockbusters more important/serious. It's part of his incessant desire to be liked by audience that has plagued his movies for the past twenty years. Nowhere is this more evident in the final act. From this point forth this theme will be pushed into almost every movie the man makes, whether the movie needs it or not. Also, the movie is evidence of the expanding length of his blockbusters. Until War of the Worlds, no film after Temple of Doom would be under two hours.

The movie is still enjoyable after all of these years but these problems makes it no more than a lazy Sunday afternoon distraction for me.

As others have said, keep up the work. I'm pretty well read on Spielberg and you're picking up subtext and details I've never discovered. And addictive read and fantastic work all around.

Noel Vera said...

Oh, there are things here I liked. No, I don't find it ugly, quite--Petra was impressive to look at, the last shot looked lovely, and Venice is always easy on the eyes.

I love certain shots. The flagpole flipped around and used in a surprising manner for an explosive finish; the shadow of the wine glass swinging around, indicating a change in flight plan. The image of a young Indy racing across the circus train--this one in particular seems embelic of what Spielberg (leastwise my favorite strain of his work) is all about, a kind of exuberance, inventively shot, that sends a tingle up one's spine.

(Temple of Doom by comparison--well, I've visited India and seen enough of their films to realize--this isn't the real thing).

And I like the motif of every form of transport being thrown into this chase. Horse, dirigible, biplane, cycle, boat, tank, camel, you name it--I thought they wasted a great opportunity for a poster showing all these things going after Indy, or something like that.

That said, I guess I value Spielberg for the way he shoots and stages his action. Hence, my favorite being Temple of Doom.

Damian said...

First of all, your response fascinated me, Joe, because up until now you've been pretty complimentary of just about every Spielberg film I've written on. I figured that sooner or later we were going to encounter one that you truly hated, but I'm a little surprised it's this one.

As I said in my analysis of Temple of Doom, in reading the various discussions online about the Indiana Jones movies I've learned several things which I didn't know before and which, frankly, surprised me. Firstly, that there's a great number of people who really love Temple of Doom and second, that there's a huge number of people who despise Last Crusade. This was a surprise to me given that most of the people I often talked to myself shared my opinion that Last Crusade surpassed Temple of Doom (with Raiders still being the best). It's also been interesting to hear people's reasons and I kept all of them in mind as I viewed it again recently for the first time in a long time. Having watched and enjoyed Temple of Doom shortly before, I was fully prepared to write an analysis criticizing it as the worst one, but I'm sorry. I just don't see it. Part of me even thought "Are they seeing the same movie I am?"(a question to which the answer is actually a complex one: both yes and no). For all of its flaws, and there are many, I still think its strengths outweigh them.

While I agree that it's not the "tightest" of the three in terms of its pace and its technical filmmaking aspects--in fact it may be the "loosest" one--it still doesn't come off to me as lazy; it just represents a "lightness" of touch (probably to counter-balance what Spielberg considered too "dark" in the second) that keeps it fun. As I said in my piece, it's not as viscerally exciting as the second one either, but it doesn't ever feel rushed or sloppy (which Temple of Doom does to me at several points). A number of the stunts in Crusade are indeed very cartoonish but then again so are many of the stunts in Doom, so that's nothing new. The meeting of Hitler comes off to me as far darker than people give it credit for and while it may have been Lucas' idea (although I don't know that for sure, but for the record I actually liked the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles), I think what we're really witnessing here is Spielberg delving further into the subject matter that he will eventually deal quite heavily in with Schindler's List. Far from being "stupid," I see the scene as evidence of him moving in a very serious direction (even if he does end it on a laugh, which I think was the right decision for this movie).

Though I don't consider it "ugly" by any means, rar, I do concede that of the three it is the least interesting visually (aside from several shots such as the one I bring up of Elsa standing between the two opposing "sides" and, as Noel mentioned, that shot of the shadows moving on the table to indicate that the zepllin is changing direction) but what it lacks in visual "flair" it makes up for in depth and drama. For all of it's striking images, Temple of Doom is a very "empty" film and while there's absolutely nothing wrong with that (I love those kinds of movies as much as anyone else), I guess I prefer art/entertainment that at least tries to have more substance to it--even if it isn't fully realized--over something that merely wants to entertain and nothing more. I realize that I'm revealing my bias here, so take this with a grain of salt. It's just my person opinion, but I think it's better to aim higher and "fail" than it is to aim lower and succeed.

As far as it being one of the worst five films of Spielberg's career (and I'm assuming you mean feature films and not shorts like "Ghost Train" or "Kick the Can"), on that point we shall simply have to agree to disagree. I've already stated that I think his worst movie is by far 1941, but outside of that (and I may be jumping the gun a little here; I'll elaborate on it later when I get to these titles) I would say his other four biggest disappointments are Always, Hook, Lost World and A.I. but I still wouldn't necessarily call them "bad" movies. The rest of Spielberg's work I actually consider good and a handful of them are even great.

Anyway, to end this on a positive note, thank you all for the encouraging words and the passionate feedback. I love discussing Spielberg and reading people's comments to my posts has been one of the most satisfying aspects of this project. :)

RAR said...

I figured people would comment on my term "ugly." It is a relative term in relation to the three movies and semantically speaking the true term should be "bland".

There's nothing unprofessional about the photography at all. It is clean and well shot technically (Spielberg always knows how to move a camera). While an occasional scene is colorful (the library scene, the Elsa hostage scene and the grail sanctuary), the rest of the photography has a general whiteness to the key lighting. It betrays the feeling that a lot of stuff is shot on sets.

In light of this article, I re-skimmed the movie (what a great transfer Lowry did) and my feelings still hold. It is still the most generic looking movie of all of Spielberg's work in my opinion and that fits what the movie is for me; enjoyable, disposable entertainment. It is never bad, it's just vanilla.

Damian said...

It is never bad, it's just vanilla.

Sort of like the film's heroine. ;)

Joe Valdez said...

The great thing about this series and about film blogs in general is that a good writer can review a movie with far more tools than even a Roger Ebert can at a press screening before the theatrical release.

You can analyze its reception with audiences. You can mention awards or controversies to put the film into perspective. You can more accurately place a film within a director's overall body of work.

And some movies that are initially deemed disasters actually improve over the years, while others that were enjoyable at the time do not age particularly well.

Temple of Doom is a Spielberg film I feel has improved over time. Last Crusade would be a beloved hit that I feel stinks up the joint today. Maybe in 20 years I'll change my mind again.

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Although I enjoyed the movie and will still watch parts of it when it's on cable, I'm with Joe on this one. I was underwhelmed when I first saw it and that feeling never quite left.

Alison Doody is gorgeous but has no character to play, only a series of highly contradictory situations. "Ah, Venice." Ah, shit. When did Indiana Jones become Woody Allen?

For one thing, it's the least exciting of the three. That's a pretty unforgivable sin for an Indy movie. There isn't a single setpiece as breathlessly thrilling as, well, anything in the other two -- even the climactic tank/horse chase is more amusing than nail-biting, and hampered by being too much an imitation/reworking of the truck chase in the first film. The Venice boat chase is awful, easily Spielberg's worst action scene -- like something that would be tossed into a Roger Moore James Bond film to pad the running time. The best action scene is the zeppelin/plane sequence (hampered, though, by some of the absolute sloppiest blue screen work ever seen in a film with Lucas or Spielberg's name on it) climaxing with that marvelous improvisation by the elder Jones with his umbrella.

It's almost as if Spielberg is deliberately making a bland pudding to atone for supposedly abusing audiences with "Temple of Doom."

I agree that the Hitler scene was a mistake, too goofy, almost like something from a Mel Brooks movie -- and curiously un-menacing for a director who pulled "Schindler's List" from his hat four years later. The bad guy is boringly written and acted -- like a bad guy from an episode of "The A-Team." The Indy films were always somewhat lacking in the bad guy department (although Belloq was a compelling antihero in the first film) but at least they were menacing, at times terrifying.

And not only is the 800-year old kindly knight a bit much, his waving goodbye is rather puke-inducing. It's just too cute, and too much -- "Indiana Jones Kicks the Can."

This is from the period that also gave us "Always" and "Hook," remember. Spielberg had a definite problem during this phase. He was laying on the "magic" a bit thick and becoming what his detractors beheld. It wasn't until "Jurassic Park" that he started to get on the right track again (and that movie has a number of "Last Crusade" type aspects that make me itch -- for instance, the scene where Sir Richard Attenborough's cuddly industrialist delivers his monologue in the cafeteria while surround by Jurassic Park merchandise that's supposed to be a postmodern, self-critical sight gag but which plays like product placement in academic drag).

What did I like about "The Last Crusade"? Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, and the father/son interplay (even though the script links it to the Holy Grail and to God the father and Jesus the son in a way that's not only hamfisted, but rather pandering). I like the opening sequence with River Phoenix as the young Indy quite a bit, and would not have minded seeing an entire film set during Indy's youth. (I know there was a TV series about this, but I didn't like it so I didn't watch it regularly.) I liked, "I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers." And the scene where both the Joneses realize they've slept with the sexy Nazi babe. (Retrograde but very funny.) And the motorcycle joust was at least amusing (though not particularly exciting, and straining to visually connect Indy's quest to the era of knights in shining armor). And many of the individual touches that Noel Vera mentioned above (particularly the wineglass shadow -- brilliant!).

But all in all...This is one of his weaker efforts.

Again, not that I don't enjoy it -- I do. But I expect more than charm from Spielberg, particularly in an Indy film. I want to be overwhelmed, transported, stunned with delight. This one didn't do it for me.

Also, a quick correction: It's not possible that Henry Fonda was considered for the elder Jones role. He died years before preproduction.

Jeffrey said...

I actually find LAST CRUSADE so enervating that it's difficult for me to even find anything to say about it, but here goes:

Perhaps it's indicative of a fresh, still-tentative real-life reconciliation, but the 'fathers and sons' angle so encouraged in Spielberg's discussions of the film always struck me as more stated then felt. Or perhaps it's just Spielberg recognizing his tendency towards autobiography, and trying to impose something, anything, on the material that would engage him. But self-diagnosis doesn't do Spielberg's films any favors: this 'breakthrough' feels intellectualized, pre-digested.

When I was in therapy years ago, this sort of thing was where we'd always hit a wall: I was hyper-articulate and supremely self-aware, but could never internalize the insights to affect real change. I wasn't surprising myself. I think there's something similar going on here. Spielberg has too clear a bead on it - CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is much more vulnerable in what it has to say about fathers and sons.

-Jeffrey Allen Rydell

Jeffrey said...

"Spielberg’s developing respect and knowledge of WWII, and the many atrocities that occurred during it, seemed to be pushing him (almost unconsciously) in a much darker direction."

I disagree that bringing in a brief bit of historical context to the Nazis (the book-burning rally and personal appearance by Hitler) adds much menace to LAST CRUSADE, nor does it point in any meaningful way towards SCHINDLER. The Nazis are otherwise bumblers and cartoon baddies throughout, and Hitler's punchline paints him as just another clueless, egocentric politician.

The Nazi threat is much more palpable in RAIDERS, with the Allies-centric casting of Hitler as an off-stage Sauron-like seeker of power. The Nazis themselves are more frightening, because of their unquestioning commitment to harnessing a force that they don't understand, and possibly don't believe in anyway, simply because it is the will of their Führer.

It's just propaganda-as-entertainment, but feels more true to the film's period, and closer to the mark overall. There's actually a bit more juice in the LAST CRUSADE's Anti-Schindler, the ruthless capitalist Donovan.

-Jeffrey Allen Rydell

Jeffrey said...

"Throughout these scenes, Henry also tries to decode the clues as he lays dying. Showing once again how alike their minds work, both father and son come to the same conclusions independently (or it could be viewed as the father figuring out the answers and then, like the telepathic link between E.T. and Elliott, passing that information to his son; it is the ambiguity of this that makes the sequence very satisfying)."

What I find striking about this scene is ultimately it doesn't matter - it's *the same thing* either way.

If one is inclined towards a metaphysical reading of Spielberg, it's moments like these that help to bolster the argument - this is "Child is the Father of the Man" stuff.

Or, "The Son becomes the Father, and the Father, the Son" if you're into SUPERMAN!

-Jeffrey Allen Rydell

Todd said...

Good read. This is my least favorite of the three, but only by a hair, and it's a tremendous sentimental favorite for being the first Indy and the first Spielberg I ever saw (as well as the second PG-13 film I ever saw). I actually remember a lot about the whens and wheres of when I saw it, so malleable was my 9-year-old mind.

Anyway, a minor addendum: The Grail legend has long been associated with extreme longevity bordering on eternal life. It was initially only supposed to be about a cup that blessed the land of whoever held it, but that got slowly warped into being about giving long life to whoever held it (or drank from it, I suppose).

tomdwayne said...

With regards to the "darkness": Jeffrey touches on it, but I think that´s where the darkness lies in this movie: Donovan the American capitalist willingly AND knowingly enabling the evilness happening (see for example "Inside Man" for more on that). Dr. Schneider, the academic, the intellectual who should know better (and does), but who finds power (basically tenure) more important than anything else. I´m surprised that no one has noted that she´s crying during the book burning, i.e. she knows that she has basically sold her soul.
But the darkest scene - and it´s actually only dark if you know a little bit about history - is the tank-buying scene: "This is the gold of our best families." or something like that is said - if you know a bit (if you at least know what is shown in "Schindler´s List"), you know what kind of gold this is...
And showing Hitler as "just another clueless, egocentric politician" actually makes him more disturbing than demonizing him. Also the scene is just absurdist (as opposed to just merely absurd) on so many levels, it definitely is better than Mel Brooks - and I like Mel Brooks.
My choice for Indy-ranking would be: Crusade, Doom and then Raiders.
And Spielberg´s worst movies would be: Amistad, A.I., The Terminal, Minority Report, and I don´t know

tomdwayne said...

Saving Private Ryan, I guess.
(Sorry for having to interrupt and then continue this post so abruptly;-)
Many have noted the parody-feel, and have criticized it: of course it is a parody, at this point in (action) movie history you couldn´t do anything else than parody it. Many elements of the movie seem deliberately parodic, or at least commenting on this kind of movie. The most obvious of course being Sean Connery as über-father of this type of hero. Someone noted it already: the use of all types of vehicles (even the bicycle and the horse). The circus-train - this kind of movie basically being circus-fare. The beginning also being like the origin-story of a super hero. And in this context the knight-analogy makes even more sense: the knight as the archetype of the modern hero.
There´s so much subtext in the movie, it´s a wonder that it also just works as escapist actionmovie as well. I like those kind of movies the most: You can read stuff into it, but you don´t have to. Artfilms that only make sense IF you read the subtexts interest me less than pure entertainment with subtext, where the dissecting actually becomes part of the entertainment without being the main point of interest. Does this make sense to anyone but me???

Damian said...

First of all, I LOVE all this discussion! This is exactly what I wanted to happen with this series. :)


Joe:

What you say about being able to analyze films with the advantage of time and perspective is absolutely true. That's why the closer we get to his current films the more difficult this project will become I think.

Also, I think I failed to catch this when I read your message the first time:

Ugh. None of this bodes well at all for the new sequel.

Oh, ye of little faith! ;)


Matt:

Many of the criticisms you mention are absolutely correct, including Doody's bland character (which I also mentioned in my piece) and the bad blue-screen work (although Temple of Doom also had its share of lame special effects), but again, as I say in my piece, it seems to me that a lot of people's problems with Last Crusade stem from what they expect an Indiana Jones film to be and not from what it actually is. Taken on its own terms, I think Last Crusade is quite a good movie and although it was made, as you point out, in a rather "dry spell" of Spielberg's career (what I'm calling his professional "adoelescence"), I still it's one of the stronger efforts made during that time (definitely superior to Always and Hook and arguably better than Color Purple). Granted, it's not as visceral an experience as the first two; In fact, it is the least exciting of the three, but it's exciting enough to warrant its identity as an Indy film and, as I said before, there's an element of drama and character depth this time around that gives the product more substance than either of the other two possessed (cerainly the second one and arguably the first).

With regard to Henry Fonda, obviously the source I got that anecdote from was incorrect. Foolishly, I never even bothered to check the information (like my Truffaut error earlier; for some reason I'm terrible with the dates of people's deaths). The lesson here is ALWAYS CHECK YOUR FACTS! Thanks for pointing that out to me.


Jeffery:

I think that at the time it came out the scene featuring Hitler and the book-burning rally might've seemed like simply an opportunity for a joke (or a way to bring some period authenticity into the story) but with the advantage of hindsight it seems pretty clear to me that Spielberg's attitude towards Nazis was changing (starting with Raiders and going through 1941, Last Crusade and eventually culminating in Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan). The mere fact that Spielberg felt compelled to include Hitler in this film, whereas he was only mentioned a few times in Raiders, is indicative of something significant. That's what struck me most about that scene in my latest viewing. Before this I had always found myself responding more to the humor in it, but this time it came off as much darker and more menacing than it ever had before. The moment where Indy actually bumps into Hitler and Spielberg shows the actor playing Hitler in a close-up, the rapid editing immediately preceding it along with with the expression on Hitler's face, the extreme lighting behind his head and the booming drum music playing beneath the shot all combine to create a very chilling effect.


Todd:

The Grail legend has long been associated with extreme longevity bordering on eternal life. It was initially only supposed to be about a cup that blessed the land of whoever held it, but that got slowly warped into being about giving long life to whoever held it (or drank from it, I suppose).

You are correct and I didn't mean to suggest that Lucas and Spielberg created this legend. I was merely pointing out that the legend itself misses the point of what Jesus was originally trying to communicate in the scriptures.


Through the course of this dialogue it is clear that I am in the minority here in my take on Last Crusade. That's fine. I can take it, but part of me wishes that Jim Emerson were here to contribute something because I know that not only is he a big fan of Last Crusade, he actually considers it the best of all the Indy films.

tomdwayne said...

I wish Jim Emerson were here, too, because I feel quite lonely here with my opinion, especially since time seems warped in this comments section:-):-(
being in a different time zone than most others sucks...
Maybe it comes down to when one has seen the movies, and in which order. And movie theater and video and all that. Although I hadn´t seen any of those movies theatrically (at first), the third was closer to my teenaged sensibility: I liked stupid fun the most. The first is to gritty and the humour maybe to adult. Back then I didn´t find it funny enough, and today I find myself thinking more about the third, so it combines the adult and teenage sensibility more. The first is more for the adult sensibility, although I think it lacks in subtext, it´s just more serious and gritty. The second is obviously the teenage movie - just a great thrillride (literally). And just anarchically funny, like a Looney Tunes version of Indy.
It´s just a matter of logics for me to think it is the best: I liked it most then, and I still find myself quoting it and thinking about it now = Now + Then = Best!

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Damian: "It seems to me that a lot of people's problems with Last Crusade stem from what they expect an Indiana Jones film to be and not from what it actually is. Taken on its own terms, I think Last Crusade is quite a good movie."

That's undoubtedly true, and I'm willing to cop to my own guilt in that regard. But only to a certain degree. I did want the third "Indy" to thrill me the way the first two had. But I think the third movie's problems go beyond a failure to thrill. As Joe said in the second comment in this thread, there are really only two characters in this movie, Indy and his pop, and everyone else is a straw man or woman. And the plotting and characterization are so haphazard that when the movie rouses itself, via John Williams score, to a pitch that tells the audience, "You are having a fantastic, amazing time!" I just want to dig in my heels and say, "No, actually, I'm not." To be fair, the first couple of Indy films weren't masterworks of deep psychology -- and they had other problems, notably a xenophobic attitude towards Third World characters that really couldn't be excused as simply honoring the traditions of the 30s; plus there's Willie and Short Round, who irritated me not just because their characters were shrill, but because I thought the performers were either monotonous or directed monotonously. But they hurtled along at such an astoundingly relentless pace that your rational objections got pulverized by Michael Kahn's power-edits and Williams' percussive score. It's precisely because "Last Crusade" is so comparatively leisurely and reflective that you notice (or at least I fixate on) the aspects that seem wrongheaded or half-assed.

I think that with a bit of distance, all three of the Indy films can't honestly be described as anything more than superlative escapist fare. They don't have the surprising allegorical dimensions of "Duel" and "Jaws" (to name two other "pure" entertainments from Spielberg). Nor do they possess the emotional depths of "Close Encounters" or "ET" or the political/cultural criticism characteristic of "Minority Report," which superficially resembles a straightforward Hollywood action picture about a patsy trying to clear his name, identify the person who framed him and bring him to justice. (The combination of straightforward good-guys-and-bad-guys plot, Saturday-morning-serial pacing "realistic" photography and camerawork are quite striking and in some ways unique.)

Don't get me wrong -- I enjoyed the hell out of all three movies and have already shown my nine-year old daughter the first two. (She liked the second one better, because it was darker and scarier -- she's a pretty tough kid.) But I think all three Indy films qualify as second-tier Spielberg. They're in the same ballpark as his "Jurassic Park" movies. I'd say the first two Indy films are more perfect in their ways than either of the "Jurassic Park" films, and the third Indy movie is on about the same quality level as the dinosaur pictures. Which is to say, there's marvelous stuff strewn throughout, and a fair amount of material that, for one reason or another, plays a bit dull or saccharine or in general feels somehow "off." The Indy films and the dinosaur pictures are more satisfying to me than "Hook," "Always" and "1941" (the latter is an incredible contraption but overlong, loud and cold). And none of them is as transcendently perfect as "North by Northwest," although the middle hour of "Raiders" and the last 40 minutes of "The Temple of Doom" come damned close.

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Also: Don't sweat the Henry Fonda thing. Everybody makes mistakes. God knows I make my share.

Jeffrey said...

I should first note that I’m a different Jeffrey than the above Jeffrey Rydell. Blame our mothers for any confusion.

Kudos on this series, Damian. You’re posting faster than I can read. And it’s meaty stuff, to boot!

I’m with Joe, RAR and Matt regarding the parody stuff. Almost everything you said in the first half the post describes quite elegantly why I didn’t care for Last Crusade. I think it’s a third movie trap to try and tie up everything in the trilogy (Return of the Jedi comes to mind). It would have been one thing to show Indy just getting his fedora – but Spielberg couldn’t leave well enough alone. Why show him picking up the bullwhip? Why show him getting the scar on his lip? I’m surprised we didn’t see Phoenix building C3PO. At some point you have to roll your eyes at the silliness. And I'll second or third the notion that Brody should never have left the college campus. Sallah didn't fair much better. The one line my friends and I always make fun of is Sallah describing the inside of a tank as “the belly of that steel beast.” Come on Sallah, you know what a tank is, right?

As an aside: if the Holy Grail turns out to be real in Last Crusade, that means the Ark of the Covenant would have had no mystical powers in Raiders when the Nazis opened it (nor would it have given that little mouse in the cargo hold such a rough time). One of the movies nullifies the other.

Damian said...

Matt:

Once again, you make excellent points. I actually quite like your theory that because Last Crusade gives one time to think we have more opportunity to reflect on its flaws. I remember reading in the liner notes of the soundtrack that Spielberg and Williams didn't want to rely on the "Raiders march" so much during the action scenes as they had in the fist two because they didn't feel it was necessary to "lean" on our thrill button. I guess that's the double-edged sword of trying to follow the "less is more" approach. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes less is just less.


Jeffrey:

I’m surprised we didn’t see Phoenix building C3PO.

I nearkly fell off my chair laughing at that one. Thanks, Jeff! :)


The one line my friends and I always make fun of is Sallah describing the inside of a tank as “the belly of that steel beast.” Come on Sallah, you know what a tank is, right?

Oh, come on! He's being poetic. Give the guy a break, will ya?


As an aside: if the Holy Grail turns out to be real in Last Crusade, that means the Ark of the Covenant would have had no mystical powers in Raiders when the Nazis opened it (nor would it have given that little mouse in the cargo hold such a rough time). One of the movies nullifies the other.

Actually, although orthodox Judaism might deny the legitimacy of Christianity, Christianity does not do the same for Judaism. Thus, from the perspective of one 9if not perhaps from the other), the two can still co-exist. Speaking as a Christian myself, I can tell you that I have no problem whatosever with what happens at the end of the first film with the Ark.

It's the middle one that's the problem. If that's the "true" one, it does indeed nullify the other two.

Noel Vera said...

I forgot to mention Alison Doody. Bland? I don't see it. She's sexy, she's willing to sleep with a father and son, and unlike Allen's Marion (who's spunky and likeable, I give her that) she can be treacherous. I like treachery in my female characters. Makes things more complicated.

Matt mentions that her character is inconsistently written; I agree actually, but I thought the sum effect was to make the character interesting, if not consistent. The tears on her face struck me more than anything in the Hitler sequence (which otherwise looked like a very long and elaborate joke).

Someone mentioned Catch Me If You Can; the father-son relationship (and mother-son, as well) was a small element, but crucial, and I agree, it's well done. One of his best, I think, and one of his most mature.

Minority Report (which I like till the happy ending) has the kind of feel and tone I would have preferred for Empire of the Sun. Dick and Ballard are both fond of surreal effects (though you can't help but notice the works that get adapted are the most concrete, narrativewise), and in their way, coming from widely divergent backgrounds, I feel they're spiritual brothers.

And 1941 the worst Spielberg? I'd love to read the writeup. I think it's a flawed great masterpiece. I love Spielberg when he's cold.

Damian said...

Well, here is my write-up on 1941, Noel. I took a little heat for it, but I stand by my words.

Jeffrey Allen Rydell said...

K - that dueling Jeffreys thing. No more.

Just wanted to add I find it interesting that one of Spielberg's blander films (surely that's something we pretty much agree on, right?) is inspiring the most outré, divergent opinionating on Spielberg so far.

I can only assume it will get weirder as Spielberg's films become more slippery in the days ahead...

Jeffrey said...

I hate to get into any big theological discussion (I should have thought of that before make the above remark, I guess) – and I don’t disagree with your larger point that Christians accept the legitimacy of Judaism. But specifically with the ark and the cup, even from a Christian’s point of view, one assumes the role of the other – Christ being the new blood covenant and all. I don’t think that refutes what the ark was, nor does it erase the importance of the Commandments, etc. but it does indicate that God got "a new radio” for communicating with his peeps.

Still, as a God fearing Christian, if I stumbled upon the lost ark, I certainly wouldn’t be touching it with bare feet or opening it or anything like that. I would agree with Sallah that it wasn’t meant to be disturbed.

The sankara stones don't bother me so much, as it's so separate from the ark that it doesn't conflict as directly as the grail. Perhaps if I liked the Last Crusade more, I wouldn't take issue (half joking as it is) with the ark/cup elements.

colin said...

Maybe it's because I was so young when I saw them, but in my mind all the Indian Jones are like one long movie.... it will be interesting (and no doubt painful) to see how the new one squares with the rest.

Erica said...

First off, thanks for doing this series. I've found it immensely entertaining and insightful. Thank you for the effort and time it takes to do something like this.

And second, I just wanted to throw some love out to The Last Crusade. This was the first Indiana Jones I saw when I was a kid and has always remained my favorite.

I watched it about a month ago and was struck by how episodic it is (not something I noticed before, and is really the nature of these films). The scenes between Indy and his father are really what sell the movie for me. The insight into these characters is so rewarding and wonderfully played in regards to the series that I have hard time believing these films could exist without it. A third film that mirrored Temple of Doom would have been such a disappointment. I think we needed the background, or at least the film to be grounded in Indiana as a character and his relationships in order to put everything into perspective.

I do think Elsa is “bland” in comparison to the other heroines, but I’ll take her any day over the screaming wreck of a woman that is Willie Scott in Temple of Doom.

Anyway, I think the film is wonderful and dense and funny. It’s spiritual without being pedantic and universal in its play with the father/son dynamic. It’s got heart.

I too was highly skeptical of the 4th film, until I saw that first picture of Harrison Ford in costume and then the kid in me just couldn’t help but smile. Somehow one picture sold me on the viability of the whole thing and I couldn’t be more excited.

Thanks again for giving us a space to talk about all these wonderful films!

-Erica

Damian said...

Jeff:

...but it does indicate that God got "a new radio” for communicating with his peeps.

HA! I love it! That was great, Jeff! Thank you. I needed that laugh. :)

Still, as a God fearing Christian, if I stumbled upon the lost ark, I certainly wouldn’t be touching it with bare feet or opening it or anything like that. I would agree with Sallah that it wasn’t meant to be disturbed.

Amen, brother.


Erica:

At last! Another "Crusader!" It's interesting that I find myself defending it so strongly and it's not even my favorite of the three.

Another thing that is interesting to me in these discussions is that for a lot of people their favorite Indy movie is the first one they've ever seen. I know that's true of me. I still maintain that Raiders is the best (although I wasn't always of that opinion), which seems to prove my theory I wrote about in my post on books vs. movies that our first exposure to something becomes the standard by which we judge all subsequent experiences.

Noel Vera said...

Raider's truck chase--most of its action sequences, actually--suffer in comparison to Miller's The Road Warrior, made before the movie. I do think it's the most balanced of the three--but balance isn't what I'm looking for.

I still don't get the Elsa apathy. She bites lips, I like that.

Anonymous said...

For me, LAST CRUSADE is a very funny movie. Unfortunately the humour comes at the expense of the suspense and works to diffuse whatever tension Spielberg would have the audience experience.

MINORITY REPORT suffered a similiar fault, where every person the constantly-pursued Cruise character encounters is played for laughs. The tension drains With each subsequent introduction of yet another comical supporting character.

I'm also reminded of RAMBO III, made the year before CRUSADE, where the John Rambo and Colonel Troutman characters are suddenly given to wisecracks and sarcasm.

Both RIII and LC are simply too self-aware and pander to audience familiarity with the characters by employing in-jokes (e.g. CRUSADE's entire opening, Rambo being misread as an amatuer combatant) that, while endearing, are also somewhat indignifying.

And in LAST CRUSADE, just about EVERYBODY suffers the indignity of parody. What I find sad about the Marcus Brody character being played for laughs is that I had always envisaged him as somewhat of a retired adventurer himself (indeed, he expresses regret in RAIDERS that he isn't the one pursuing the ark), though perhaps a slightly more cautious and respectful one than Jones. Not that I think he needed to be explicitly portrayed as such. I'm in agreeance with those here who think Brody should have never left University - in order to preserve his mystery.

And with mystery comes mythology and the mythic status, something Indiana Jones was robbed of in CRUSADE when his character is deconstructed into superficial elements and made fun of. While the dramatical stuff works, we're perhaps given too much of a good thing. Our curiosity about the Jones character is severely lessoned by the end of CRUSADE. Let's hope they don't over expose Indy in number 4.

- Griff

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