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Fun with Franchises: Final Thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

All right… we’ve watched the film, talked about it, had fun with it, and then we went and listed our favorite images from the film yesterday. Now all that’s left is to finish up with what we actually thought about the film as a whole.

This is our space to go over what we liked and didn’t like about each film we watch for Fun with Franchises. We talk about specific things as we get to them during the articles, and we’ll mention our general thoughts during them, but we don’t really ever get to sit and do broad strokes during the articles. So this is why we do these Final Thoughts. We get to take a step back and talk about the films as a whole, rather than discussing specific scenes or images. We’ll talk about how we felt about the film, how we liked it as a film, how we liked it as a member of its franchise, and where we think it falls within that franchise.

Again, it’s not very complicated, but it is a place to find out what we actually thought about certain movies, since, while we’re having fun with them in the articles, it may get difficult to tell sometimes. Because we’ll just rip things to shreds for fun, even if we love them.

So here are our final thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

Final Thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Colin:

Don’t we love Last Crusade? I’ve been surprised to find that people don’t consider it to be a great movie, or at least, way out of the league of Raiders. I’m not saying it’s as great as Raiders, but it’s always had its own special place in my heart, which I’ve never said for Temple of Doom. Why all the Crusade hate?

I think I like Last Crusade because it feels like Lucas and Spielberg got back to basics in some very important ways. We’re chasing a Bible relic and trying to make sure that the Nazis don’t get it first. Marcus is in the mix, as is Sallah. Perhaps more importantly, we have a variety of locations that aren’t a subterranean temple. There are chases in several different vehicles; we’ve lost the transport ship and the U-boat, but there’s a train, another boat, some more boats, a car, a motorcycle, a fucking dirigible, a plane, a different car, a still different car, and a TANK before we get to the horses at the end. In looking at the chases and how most of the action sequences involve vehicles in some way, you can see how they went a little Bond here, but I have no issue with that. It’s still done the old-fashioned way, without CGI and without heart-removal or Chinese leitmotif.

I’ve actually heard people say that they thought Sean Connery ruined this movie. And to that, I say nay. Who is really going to make that claim? They did such a good job adding depth to our hero’s character by showing him with someone who means something to him. Some of the best character moments we see in the whole franchise are the scenes between the two of them, and they remain the reason for the Indy-Mutt relationship working even remotely. We start with the daddy issues in the prologue and then develop them throughout the film, as they meet in the castle, escape on the motorcycle and then go to Germany. Dad also becomes a reminder of our cause and a credible driver of action. We only go to Germany because of the scene they share at the end of the motorcycle chase, and I imagine people overlook the significance of that scene. Aside from driving both of them to emotion, that scene showed us why this is their quest, and framed it in terms of our characters’ motivations. If you ask me why we care about the Sankara stones or the crystal skull, I’m effectively unable to do so because even if these points are explained onscreen, they aren’t thematically linked to Indiana Jones or anyone we care about. Even Raiders stops after making the race for the Ark a matter of thwarting the Nazis – the only personal tie to the quest is Indy’s rivalry with Belloq, which is thin. In that regard, I think Crusade actually bests Raiders, because the hunt for the Grail becomes part of a family legacy and a vehicle for these two characters to make amends. And, in a more literal sense, it’s the means of saving Connery’s character at the end of the film, by which time we’ve come to care about him. So there’s a strong case to be made for the character before we even get to the fact that he was played by SEAN BITCHSLAPPING CONNERY. His line delivery, his facial expressions…he’s one of the most memorable and best-performed franchise characters I can think of. How many Connery faces did we have on our shots list? How many Connery moments enter the top 10 Indiana Jones moments? And I’d like to restate that their onscreen chemistry became a basis for the relationship that Ford has with Shia in Crystal Skull – like him returning the beer that Mutt steals in the diner, or him scowling as Mutt laughs at Marcus’ statue breaking. Those were rare flashes of enjoyment for me during a movie that was otherwise devoid of effective character moments, and all thanks to my fond memories of Connery and Ford going back and forth.

I’m not sure we needed the entire, extended prologue, but at the same time, I appreciate it as a background for his father and for Indy’s obsession with archaeological justice. All in all, it was pretty short and served the role of an opening sequence, which is common among the first three films. The fourth does away with that convention, which is unsettling, but that’s for the next round of articles.

I appreciated the Allison Doody character, too. Karen Allen and Kate Capshaw were pretty straightforward female leads, even though you can’t really put them in the same category. Doody put a new spin on things, or perhaps a Bond spin on things. Maybe her Bond girl connection is coincidental, but the trope of the girl turning out to be a baddie is well-established in that franchise, and in the old adventure serials. And for that matter, she’s not even REALLY a bad guy in the way that Belloq basically was. He sold out to the Nazis for his own glory, and there were moments when he distinguished himself as less despicable than they were, but she out and out showed her negative opinion of them and even acted on it. Her crying during the book burning and her decision to purposely kill Donovan made her a more complicated character – a bad girl with a shot at redemption whose naiveté gets the best of her in the end.

The last thing I’d like to add is how the action sequences really work in this movie because once again, they stick to a limited setting or vehicle, for the most part. The train, the boats, the motorcycle, the plane-to-car chase, the tank – these are the main sequences, and they keep us focused on one vehicle or focal point at a time instead of jumping from thing to thing. Dirigible to plane to car to foot is the craziest it gets at any point, but the pacing is far from breakneck, and we have plenty of time to enjoy plenty of visual setups and extended action segments in each vehicle. This is how it should be.

My final verdict is that they really preserved the most important elements from Raiders and made some important improvements without really overstepping. It would have been easy for them to add a fight on top of the dirigible or some battle with Nazis vs. angels or something. Knowing Lucas, either of those things could have happened. But they kept it reasonably tight, probably because they recognized what had gone wrong with Temple and because Spielberg and Lucas both knew that they had to check one another in the creative process. When you hear that Spielberg had shot down Lucas’ proposed haunted mansion plot, or that Lucas had to convince Spielberg to show Indiana as a kid in the prologue, you get the sense that this was probably the last time they could really push one another to be better. As an end to the trilogy, it was ultimately successful because they had a mutually beneficial collaboration rooted in constructive criticism and a desire to prove something, unlike the unfettered enabling and arrogant execution we got with Crystal Skull. I like this movie a lot, and I think this is one of the few franchise movies we’ve done that I feel was able to really hold up well under the scrutiny that this process entails.

My Final Thoughts

Any problems I have with this movie go out the window with Sean Connery. That’s it. The dynamic they create between father and son, and the fact that Connery is playing the father, is what makes this movie work. Everything else is just a benefit. Him, looking for the Holy Grail — cool. Totally okay with it. Nazis — down. The plot is fine. To me, the least interesting moment is the tank battle. AND IT’S A FUCKING TANK BATTLE.

I have to say — I don’t talk about this movies often enough to know where people land on them. To me, it’s pretty obvious that Raiders is by far the best and this is the second best. Temple of Doom is the worst, but it’s not a terrible movie. The way Matrix Revolutions is an unholy piece of shit Matrix movie, but on its own, you could totally watch it and enjoy it. And then Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the Voldemort of the franchise, that we don’t ever talk about, even when it comes back to haunt us.

I like when Indiana Jones is going on a quest. I like the mystery and adventure aspect of these movies. I don’t necessarily care about the action parts. The action parts are good when they’re done right, but they aren’t what draws me into the material. I like exciting set pieces with danger rather than, say, him running around on a horse being chased by a tank. I like him in a tomb with traps and maybe people trying to kill him and having to use his smarts and his wherewithal to survive. So I like him going to Venice to look for this tomb, and using clues, and all of that. Which is something Temple of Doom did not have. That movie’s just, “Hey, our stone got lost, and this palace sure looks shady.” And then he goes there, and that’s what happens. This is more of a quest. (And it’s not a shitty quest that ends with aliens.)

I really like Doody. I should have added “in this film,” but I think the sentence is more entertaining as-is. I think she’s actually the best female counterpart to Jones any of the films have had. Sure, Karen Allen is the best, because she drinks booze and is feisty, but Doody is smart, and she actually has three dimensions. Karen Allen is a two dimensional character we like, so we pretend like she has development. Alison Doody is actually given development and shades to her character. She’s working with the Nazis but actually has feelings about it, because she disagrees with a lot of what they stand for. Belloq was the same thing, but he didn’t give a shit what the Nazis did, as long as he got his shit. So I like that aspect. And… she really looks nice in this movie. They light her really well, especially in the castle scenes.

Otherwise, a lot of great moments — the best moment in the film is the first scene with Connery. From their exchange, with the vase, to “Don’t call me Junior” to, “What did you do?” Great stuff. And it’s a nice way to show more sides to Jones without having to make him say stuff. That’s the worst part about these movies, when they make the hero stop and be like, “One day my mom left us at a gas station and never came back. And it still hurts.” This way, they manage to get way more out of it and Indy never has to do more than one or two lines. “Mom never did either.” And bam, done. They set the relationship up so well that all he has to do is say that, and before Connery even starts speaking, you know everything you need to know.

I think this movie works, and all my complaints about it are minor and in context. Overall, this franchise works when it’s taking a genre and trying to be like it. This one is clearly the western of the bunch, and when they get a chance to open it up a bit, that’s the genre they go back to. The horse, the ending, etc. Of course, they have to do the whole Grail thing, and the Nazi castle stuff, but when they go outside, it feels very western influenced. Which is nice.

And I also like that they were more measured with this one. Spielberg’s method seemed to be, “Okay, Temple didn’t work as well, and we were too angry. So let’s double down on the character stuff and that’ll limit the scale of everything and keep us reasonable.” And it did, and it worked. You get your Bond-type action sequences, but it’s grounded in a nice father-son story and a “classic” (meaning, one that works) Indy artifact quest.

It’s tough, because, character development wise, this is the best one. Temple was more the straight serial version of the story, and Raiders is just the best pure filmmaking of the bunch. So I think each one is a different shade of what this franchise could be, so while I do have an opinion on which is better, I think they all work quite well and no one really takes away from the other two. (Again, though, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is an abomination and should be treated as such.)

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow we start Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I’m sure we’re all excited to see how that one turns out.

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