STILL CRACKING THE WHIP
While not quite dominating the worldwide headlines in the same all-conquering fashion his fellow Disney/Lucasfilm bedfellow achieved with similar news three years ago, yesterday’s announcement that the world’s most famous archaeologist was adorning his iconic fedora for a long-awaited fifth big screen bow in 2019 – with original star and director back on board – was still warmly received online, with social media abuzz in anticipation. In honour of this epic official confirmation from the Mouse’s mouth, I have dug up (sorry) Doctor Jones’ previous four cinema adventures for a marathon re-watch…
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
PG – 115mins – 1981
Say hello to part-time school teacher and famed archaeologist Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison “Han Solo” Ford) as he sets out on an intrepid quest to hunt down the ancient artefact known as the Staff of Ra and journey to the Egyptian city of Tanis to locate the Well of Souls and find within the mysterious Ark of the Covenant (the biblical chest built, so the Good Book says, to house the fragments of the Ten Commandments) before a band of wily occult-obsessed Nazi’s do.
Raiders is a colourful and thrilling non-stop thrill-ride of a B-movie soundtracked by a spirited John Williams score; Indy is James Bond with a bullwhip and fedora. Teaming up with his reluctant ex, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), our globe-trotting all-action hero dodges swords, snakes and all manner of booby traps in pursuit of the ultimate treasure.
The violence is surprisingly intense for a family film (I still can’t believe it’s only rated PG!) and there is plenty of blood splattering the exotic scenery, but the stand out scene undoubtedly is the final reveal of what lies within the golden relic – it’s face-meltingly, eye-poppingly awesome!
INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM
PG – 118mins – 1984
The black sheep of the original trilogy, this sophomore effort is in actually a prequel, so to ditch the Nazi’s as antagonists and avoid explaining Marion’s absence. It is 1935 and escaping a bloodbath in Shanghai’s Club Obi-Wan (wink, wink), Indy – accompanied by diminutive sidekick Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) and nightclub warbler Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) – crash lands in the Himalayas where a local Indian tribe believe he has been sent by the Hindu god Shiva to retrieve their stolen Sankara stone and locate their missing children.
Like with The Empire Strikes Back, creator and story-crafter George Lucas wished to go darker with part two – hence the black magic, child cruelty and human sacrifices – but director Steven Spielberg resisted, which perhaps explains Temple‘s rather schizophrenic nature; the first half (replete with opening musical number “Anything Goes”) is chock full of gags and general silliness (not to mention a leading lady who seems to do nothing but shriek) that often borders on farcical. It is only in the grimmer second half – during a literal descent into the underworld – that the film feels more comfortable (and by proxy, stronger).
Finally, the high-speed mine cart race is still as iconic as ever and a whole heap of fun.
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE
PG – 127mins – 1989
Under Spielberg’s insistence, Indy regained his tonal balance for this “last” crusade, but there is still much fun to be had in this cracking yarn without relying on cheap laughs like Temple was often guilty of.
Playing with the chronology once more, we kick things off in 1911 to witness young Indy’s (River Phoenix) fledging taste for adventure (and the development of his crippling snake phobia) before we fast forward to 1938. The Nazi’s are back, and so too are Indy’s trusted cohorts Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davis) from Raiders (though still no Marion).
Crusade proves to be a real family affair as Indy sets out to rescues his kidnapped father (Sean Connery) and together they track down the fabled Holy Grail. The strained father-son relationship between “Junior” and gruff-but-lovable Scot Connery zings with loaded banter while the action is more comic book than Raiders‘ brutality and Temple‘s barbarism, but there’s no less of it. A fine (temporary) finale to the expansive franchise.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
12 – 122mins – 2008
19 years after Dr Jones’ last cinematic outing, this belated sequel acknowledges leading man Harrison Ford’s wrinkles by setting the action in the late 1950s. Appropriately, Crystal Skull is an ode to the rickety sci-fi B-movies of the period, with Indy in a race against time to beat a faction of Soviet agents (led by Cate Blanchett’s wobbly-accented Irina Spalko) to find and return the eponymous MacGuffin to the mythical city of Akator, where it is long believed the returnee will be granted unnamed supernatural treasures.
When I first saw this film in cinema’s upon release, I – like many others – baulked at the heavy science fiction elements, in particular the less-than-subtle FX-heavy climax. I have seen it three times since, and must say that this most recent viewing – in the company of the other instalments in the series – was the most rewarding. That’s not to say that it can’t be enjoyed as a stand-alone feature, but how can you grumble about “inter-dimensional beings” being too far-fetched when we’ve seen biblical ghosts unleashing the wrath of God and immortal warriors guarding hidden treasure troves and accepted them?
That’s not to say Crystal Skull isn’t without its flaws; it’s by no means the best of the series by a long shot, but it isn’t the legacy-defacing disgrace that many die-hard fans have labelled it. The clumsy Tarzan tribute and car-top sword fight do suffer somewhat from so obviously being filmed against green screen, but this is otherwise a fine return for the ageing archaeologist with a witty script and a good dynamic between Indy, the cock-sure Mutt Williams (Shia LeBouef) and a certain “Mary Williams”.
BACK TO THE FEDORA
Will Lucas’ 2012 retirement from blockbuster filmmaking see him sit out the forthcoming fifth instalment like he did The Force Awakens, or will he dip his toe back into the storytelling pool to reunite the Holy-wood Trinity alongside pals Spielberg and Ford once more? Either way, I’m excited for Indy – veteran or not – roll on 2019!