This weekend I got to spend six and a half glorious hours marathoning the Indiana Jones trilogy up on the big screen at the Alamo Drafthouse, and I guess I’m here to report that it’s still amazing. Obviously they didn’t put in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, since that movie stinks. It always felt more like a What If? Indian Jones movie to me, something not really in continuity that was just based around “What if Indiana Jones was old?” But I’m here to talk about the good ones, not that turd. This isn’t going to be like a normal Reel Talk article, I’ll probably do individual articles on each of the movies some other time, but for today I’m just going to talk about some stuff I noticed seeing all three in a row. It’s such a good trilogy, with a lot of similar elements that gel together perfectly. I know the story I’ve always heard about this series is that it came about because EON wouldn’t let Spielberg make a James Bond movie, so similarly to how George Lucas made Star Wars after not getting the rights to Flash Gordon, Spielberg decided to make his own damn James Bond movie. And you can really see that influence. Spielberg created a character that drew on pulp-adventure roots that travelling around the world to exotic locales, meeting beautiful women, and stopping evil villains. It’s great. So I think I’m going to just talk about the tropes that the franchise had, and compare them between the films.
All three of the movies are truly amazing films that have some of the most fun and inventive stories of all time, but it was kind of surprising to see how similar they were. They certainly found a formula that worked with Raiders and worked out two more great stories from it.
Raiders opens up with the classic cold open of the giant boulder in the Peruvian temple, but the real story has him on the hunt for the Ark of the Covenant, which government officials inform Indy the Nazi’s are close to finding. So he heads off to find an artifact that belonged to his friend and mentor, and now is in the possession of his daughter, and Indy’s ex, Marion. The two team up and head to Egypt, where with the help of an excavator friend of Indy’s, Sala, they begin unearthing the hidden tomb that’s hiding the Ark. Unfortunately an evil French archiologist, Belloq is helping the Nazi’s, and he manages to get the Ark, and Marion from Indy. But Indy comes to the rescue and after the weird scene on the boat and submarine that I always forget happens, he gets captured and brought to a place where the Nazis and Belloq are planning on opening the Ark to make sure it’s legit. It then proceeds to melt their faces, leaving only Indy and Marion alive to bring the Ark to America, where it’s promptly filed away in a massive storage center.
Temple of Doom played a little bit with the formula, since Indy doesn’t really get a mission from his M, Marcus, and instead just kind of accidentally falls into a plot after escaping the insane cold open in Shanghai. But he, his young Chinese partner Short Round, and the insufferable nightclub singer Willie Scott end up in a small village in India that has recently been blighted after the theft of a sacred stone that they claim has made them prosperous. So Indy and crew head off into the Indian jungles until they come across an ancient temple that has been thought to be abandoned for years, and is now home to a new group of people. Indy thinks that the stone that was stolen may be one of the Sankara stones, artifacts from Shiva of immense power, and he pretty quickly finds that the new group in the palace are remnants of the violent Thuggee cult, and are preforming human sacrifices to Kali to gain power. And they’ve kidnapped a bunch of children to use as slave labor to mine out the remaining two Sankara stones that will give the high priest Mola Ram supreme power. Indy and the gang manage to fight off the Thuggee, and after Indy is briefly made a thrall by drinking magical blood, the uses the power of the stones to drop Mola Ram down a cliff into some waiting crocodile’s, and they return the stone to it’s rightful place in the village.
And last, I really didn’t remember how much a retread Last Crusade really is. After it’s cold open, which serves as a rather heavy handed origin story/flashback for young Indiana Jones, and then ends with him rescuing a Spanish cross from another evil archaeologist, he heads back to college, and gets another mission from Marcus. This time he’s introduced to a rich man named Donovan who claims to have evidence that relates to the location of the Holy Grail, an obsession of Indy’s father. And to sweeten the deal, he tells Indy that his father had previously been on the case, and is missing. So Indy and Marcus head off in search of Dr. Jones and the Grail, and end up in Venice with the assistance of Elsa Schneider, a fellow Grail hunter who had been helping Dr. Jones. The two end up finding a reference to the location of the Grail, and head off to find Dr. Jones before finishing the quest. They find him in Nazi Germany, where he’s being held by Nazis. Donavan and Elsa then reveal they’re Nazis, and Indy and his dad have to escape their clutches. After a bunch of cat and mouse slapstick, they all end up in the location of the Holy Grail, and Donavan shoots Dr. Jones, giving Indy an even better reason to find the Grail. He passes all the tests, and meets a knight who has been guarding the grail for centuries. Donavan then shows up, chooses the wrong cup and turns into a mummy. Indy picks the right one, saves Dr. Jones, and I guess they’re both immortal now? Whatever, the resting place stars to blow up, Elsa dies, and Indy, Dr. Jones, Marcus and Sala ride off into the sunset.
The Cold Open
Similar to James Bond movies, all the Indy flicks start off with a pretty irrelevant mini-adventure that just gets up ready for action.
Raiders is certainly the most famous, where we’re first introduced to Indiana Jones, and get to see all his tricks as he sneaks into a Peruvian ruin, and manages to find a fertility idol. But right as he gets it, he triggers a trap that releases a giant boulder that comes bounding after him, and he has to run to freedom. And after briefly being trapped by Belloq and some natives, who steal the idol back from him, he has to run off and get on a plane, flying back to the plot.
Temple of Doom is definitely the weirdest of the three. It starts off with a straight up musical number featuring several Chinese women, and Willie Scott singing some Cole Porter while dancing about. We then learn that it’s taking place in Shanghai in the club Obi Wan (because Speilberg and Lucas are dorks) and that it’s oddly a prequel to Raiders. Then Indy shows up dressed exactly like Sean Connery in Goldfinger, and has a fight with a Chinese gangster named Lao, who hired Indy to find the mummfied remains of a great ruler. But he tries to poison Indy instead, and there’s a crazy fight scene in the nightclub that ends with him and Willie jumping out of the club in the waiting car driven by Short Round, and the three race off to the airport to escape Lao, but unfortunately are taking a plane that’s owned by him, and they end up getting dumped out in India.
Last Crusade’s cold open is probably the one that does the least for me. We open up with a bunch of boy scouts walking around in Utah, and we see one of them crawling around in a cave, and he comes across some men excavating, one of which is dressed like Indiana Jones. But then it turns out that this is a flashback, and the dude isn’t Indy, the kid is, and they’re stealing some Spanish cross for their employer. So little Indy grabs it and they chase him to a circus train, where he learns everything that makes him Indian Jones. He falls into a snake cage, getting his fear, learns how to use a whip to scare off a lion, and by the end, even gets the guys’ hat. Turns out he’s working for some shady guy who says he owns the cross, and we cut back to the present day where Indy is still trying to get the cross back from the guy. He gets it, then blows the guys boat up, I guess killing him.
In all three movies Indy has several friends and allies who help him out along the way. He also gets help from some women, but I’m going to give them their own category, because they really are like Bond Girls.
With Raiders we get probably the most famous of Indy’s associates, Sala the excavator. Earlier in the movie we meet Marcus Brody, owner of a museum who buy all of Indy’s treasures, but he doesn’t really do anything in this movie. Sala is a great character, a loud boisterous man who does very well for himself in Egypt, and jumps at the chance to help Indy. He does a lot for the group, even saving Indy from eating a poisoned date that killed a Nazi monkey.
Temple of Doom probably has the most loathed ally in the whole series, but man do I love Short Round. A little Chinese boy that Indy apparently saved from death on the streets of Hong Kong, Short Round is a feisty little kid who is learning how to be an adventurer like Indy. Yeah, some of his lines are a little ridiculous and stereotypical, but Shorty is a great character, and really loves Indy like a father.It’s especially great that his love manages to wake Indy up from the magic of the evil Kali blood. That and the torch in the side.
Last Crusade rehashed two great characters from Raiders to great effect. Sala and Marcus come back, and this time Marcus comes on the adventure, and is amazingly ineffective. But the real star of Last Crusade is the amazing Sean Connery as Dr. Henry Jones Sr. He’s so funny and goofy, so not the typical Sean Connery role, and he really made the move for me on this viewing. He’s just so gruff but wacky, and doesn’t take any of Indy’s shit, making him appear more childish, craving his father’s approval. And the fact that really the whole plot revolves around Indy doing everything he can to save his dad is pretty sweet.
I kind of wasn’t sure if I should split the ladies up from the allies, because really they’re pretty similar, but I figured it made sense to give them their own category.
Raiders has the best lady in Indy’s life by far. Marion Ravenwood is a tough, smart, resourceful woman who is apparently running a bar in Nepal when Indy finds her in the movie and demands to tag along with him. Yeah, she gets kidnapped a lot in this movie, but they all kind of do, and it’s kind of a trope of the pulp adventure genre more than anything. Mario is the best, and definitely my favorite of Indy’s love-interests, and really the only one who makes herself a competent ally.
Now in the last section I defended Short Round. I can do no such thing for the love-interest in Temple of Doom, Willie Scott. I really don’t even know what to say about her, she’s the worst. She’s loud, abrasive, fearful, and doesn’t really contribute anything the group the whole movie other than annoying Indy and Short Round, and the one time she saved them from a booby trap. The less said about Willie the better.
Last Crusade’s main female character was a little weird. Elsa starts off similar to Marion, a smart woman who is there to be of assistance to Indy. She’s a doctor in her own right, and is pretty much there to help him as a second expert. But then she’s a surprise Nazi, who keeps flip flopping the rest of the movie. She’s just kind of weird. And it’s kind of gross that she apparently slept with both Indy and his dad. Odd.
As with any good Bond movie, the Indiana Jones flicks has some great bad guys who were out to get the magical artifacts that Indy has to stop.
Raiders has two of the most recognizable villains from the franchise, the Nazis and Belloq. There were a couple head Nazis in the movie, but the one that really shined was Toht, some sort of commanders and torture expert who keeps showing up and giving the heroes hell. Plus his face melts off at the end. But the character that I really love in Raiders is Belloq, the evil French archaeologist. I love that they gave Indy a Moriarty, a man who is equal in his archaeological knowledge, but uses his gifts for evil instead of honor like Indiana Jones. He was a really fun villain, it’s just a shame that his head blew up and didn’t get to be a recurring baddie.
The big bad of Temple of Doom is also pretty recognizable and fun. The evil Mola Ram is a crazed Thuggee priest, hellbent on using he powers of the Shankara stones to bring Kali enough power to take over India, and then the world. He doesn’t have a lot of characterization, or lines, but he’s a really intimidating bad guy. He pulls dudes hearts out and lights them on fire. But he betrayed Shiva, and he had to go.
Donavan, the bad guy in Last Crusade was kind of a dud for me on this go around. The Nazis were back, and the main Nazi we interacted with, Vogel, is pretty fun and evil, but kind of like Mola Ram, he doesn’t get any real characterization, and is just evil because he’s a Nazi. But Donavan is just strange. He acts like he’s helping Indy, but is actually helping the Nazis, but is planning on screwing them over and taking the Grail himself. He’s just a greedy rich dude who didn’t want to die. Oh well, at least he got to be turned into a crazy mummy.
I feel like this term gets used a lot, so I assume people know what it means, but just in case you don’t, a MacGuffin is a plot device that the protagonist is in search of, and drives the story along. For the Indiana Jones movies these are all the magical artifacts that he’s after.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is all about Indy and the Nazis racing to find the Ark of the Covenant, the container for the original Ten Commandments that God gave Noah. It also apparently can shoot people with lightning, which doesn’t seem like something that holds some stones should do. The Ark is amazingly powerful, and when it’s opened by the wrong hands, it straight up liquifies all the Nazis. And I know people have said this for years, but man is it dumb that the Nazis are trying to use a weapon made by the God of the Jews…to kill the Jews. Not a lot of research, Nazis.
Temple of Doom went the most obscure of all the movies by having Indy and Mola Ram looking for Sankara stones, magical river rocks that Shiva gave to mankind that hold magical properties. When the stones are all brought together, they glow and give off magical energy. I think the most interesting thing about the Sankara stones is that apparently in the universe Indian Jones lives in, the Christian God is just as real and powerful as all the Hindu ones, because Shiva and Kali definitely exist, and Mola Ram’s whole plan seems to be to give Kali a magical boost so she can go challenge Yahweh to some sort of crazy deity Royal Rumble.
Last Crusade returned to the Christian artifact well by having Indiana Jones follow in the footsteps of King Arthur and track down the Holy Grail. Which I guess gives eternal life. But can’t leave the cave that it’s hiding in? The movie doesn’t really explain the Grail that well, I guess assuming we all now it’s deal. But I still don’t understand if when the knight says that the Grail and it’s magic need to stay in the cave, that means that Indy and his dad are only immortal in the cave? Like when they left, did they become mortal again, or are they now forever immortal because the drank from the Grail? Whatever.
I love these movies. They’re all three really great. And man is it impossible for me to pick one I like the best. It’s kind of a three-way tie for me. I know a lot of people hate on Temple of Doom, and it’s certainly the weirdest and has the strangest tone, but I really love everything about it (except Willie). Shockingly the one that did it the least for me in this viewing was Last Crusade, which I think is because it just felt like such a rehashing of Raiders. Indy gets told by Marcus to go find a Christian artifact that the Nazis are looking for in the Middle East, and he needs Sala’s help. But the thing that really saved Last Crusade for me was how charismatic and fun Sean Connery was. And Raiders is a perfect film. Man, these movies are great. And they sure didn’t need Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But to be honest, I also don’t think they need a reboot, or whatever the hell they’re talking about doing with them. I’ve never read any of the Indy books, but I feel like that’s the prefect place for him. We have these three perfect adventures of Indian Jones, we don’t need any more to mess with them.
Raiders of the Lost Ark was written by Lawrence Kasdan and directed by Steven Spieberg, 1981
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was written by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz and directed by Steven Spielberg, 1984
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was written by Jeffrey Boam and directed by Steven Spielberg, 1989