I’m an adventurous archaeologist … get me out of here!
Seriously, folks, for these movies I think we can happily jettison the plot synopsis, so let’s just crack the whip and join Indiana Jones, surely the greatest teacher you could ever wish for (coz he’s hardly ever in school, is he?), as he ducks, dives and dodges his way through the most action-packed, edge-of-the-seat series of adventures that Cinema has ever been bold enough to hurl at us.
All the movies in one sumptuous and highly prized Blu-ray boxset! It’s a treasure-trove that none of us has to dig too deeply to procure, and all of us should have in our collection.
Arks, Grails, sacred supernatural stones … and skulls from the space between space!
One thing’s for certain, Time Team was never like this!
Combining the thrills and spills of the 30’s cliffhanger with some surprisingly fundamental aspects of Christianity, creators George Lucas and Steven Spielberg deftly slipped some Bible classes into their rip-roaring escapades of one man’s crusade to preserve the past, and keep the good stuff from the Nazis, the Thuggees and the Commies. This theological sort of thing would normally trouble me, especially as the opening of the Ark and the devoted immortality of sipping from the cup of Christ are so reverently adhered to, but in the whip-cracking, pistol-packing mayhem that surrounds their reawakening in the palms of civilisation such potentially overt sermonising is blissfully glossed over. Let’s put it this way, I do not feel converted having watched Indy’s more religious quests, and nor do I feel as though any effort has been made to convert me, either. In fact, I am more affronted by the alien-denial aspects of the fourth yarn, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, when Lucas’ own original idea of having Indy encounter saucer-men in a glorious 50’s SF B-movie homage failed to have the courage of its convictions and, instead, depicted its quarry as being from the “space between space”, downgrading the cosmic to the naffly transdimensional. Small price to some, but an unpalatable wimping-out in my book.
My most-watched of the films has always been Templeof Doom, and for a good number of reasons. But this film is also more traditionally fanciful in its McGuffin – the sacred Sankara Stones that can bring evil power to the secret Thuggee Cult of India – and less stocked with unanswered questions and culturally huge implications. Thus, in many ways, it is Doom that more faithfully replicates the traditional adventures of the silver screen and the pulp novels that inspired and influenced the bearded billionaires in the first place. It aims directly for fantasy and doesn’t deal in super-sized theological ramifications that can merely be hidden away in Area 51.
But the overriding brilliance in all the movies, including the disappointing fourth adventure, is their prime desire to show the grizzled, improvisational nature of heroism at its rawest and most off-the-cuff. Indiana Jones is not some Special Forces veteran, or some muscle-bound avenging titan. Nor is he imbued with any super-powers, other than an amazing ability to get up after taking a sledgehammer blow to the chin. He wears glasses in his downtime, and he doesn’t really have a clue what his next step will be. He takes a few hits and he makes the odd error of judgement. Unlike Stallone or Schwarzenegger, he is a fallible everyman, albeit one who is blessed with a bit more courage than most and a total inability to accept defeat.
Say hello to the Jones Boys!
Indiana is introduced as a rugged tough guy, who is then transformed into a bespectacled tutor who loves his Mummies, who then reverts to a being an impetuous, go-getting master of strategic improvisation, who then is revealed as having a tender, fatherly side to a kid from the wrong side of the tracks, who then goes on a voyage of rediscovery with his estranged father, and then winds-up unearthing a genuine son he never knew he had. Throughout four movies, we see him duck and dive and fight and save the day, but he is two distinct personalities. The saviour of antiquity and the brawler. The desire for archaeology becomes less and less believable, or rather, less and less important as his odyssey goes on. The drug of myth and legend and folklore is always what gets him into trouble, but his resourceful ability to extricate himself from harm’s way becomes the greater impulse that drives him ever-onward. And this is why we love him so much. It is not his commendable desire to preserve ancient treasures, nor his comically inept way at establishing relationships and righting terrible wrongs. It is his inescapable and furiously un-ignorable thirst for adventure that binds us so tightly to him. Whereas most proper action heroes seem to have an underlying core of haunting tragedy that makes them so determined to put their life on the line – Martin Riggs, Mad Max, John Rambo, Batman and practically every other costumed crusader – Indy seems to exist, first and foremost, as the epitome of the thrill-seeker. He is the prototype for the besotted adrenaline-junkie. As the films went along, we learned more about him and his personal situation, but this never became the catalyst for understanding why he does what he does. Basically, he is in it for the thrill of the hunt, and opiate of the chase.
And, folks, so are we.
After the enormous success of Raiders, the man with the hat came back for more in a prequel (sort of) that took an Empire-like swing to the Dark Side but also revealed a tender, more altruistic side to his nature with his intentions on saving a community and his genuine affection for a cute young sidekick, and, in the third film, he brought his dad along for the ride, further establishing some inherent need for a family of allies, be they bound by blood, or by similar obsession.
Whilst it seemed quite inconceivable that a golf-addicted Scottish rogue could ever have sired the apple-pie-eating Indiana Jones, it is not too much of a leap to think of the adventurer being the illegitimate son of the bed-hopping James Bond, so the pairing together of Sean Connery and Harrison Ford as a father-and-son team for Last Crusade is not so preposterous after all, even with the patently obvious close-proximity in their respective off-screen ages.
Connery had always been able to mix up his style and display unexpected depth to a role. Even his confidence-boosting incarnation of Bond had those layers of humour and ferocity to it. This would lead to engaging and unusual characterisations of an aging Robin Hood in Robin and Marian, a fantastical barbarian in Zardoz, a hard-bitten detective in The Offense, the fabulously heroic Parachute Regiment major in A Bridge Too Far, the wily Oirish beat-cop in The Untouchables and, quite presciently, the sleuthing monk in The Name of the Rose. This last role is possibly the antecedent of the learned and scholarly Dr. Henry Jones. Both are dedicated and devoted men of faith who cannot deny their own inquisitive nature for the secrets of existence. Both get themselves involved in a mystery that will have them confronting their past and reconciling their own beliefs and relationships. Henry Jones is much more fun to be around, though.
The exchanges between the Jones Boys are priceless, mixing humour and tenderness and pathos inside a convincingly estranged dislocation that is probably familiar to every father and son in the land. Last Crusade is great entertainment, but it is made by this relationship.
Love-interests, hangers-on and rebellious rugrats.
Although the series turns full circle with Indy tying the knot with Marion Ravenwood at the end of Crystal Skull, the bookworm-cum-battler does not always find romance too easy. He may be rugged and heroic, but he’s not like his dad … he’s not James Bond. He looks better in a white tuxedo than either Connery or Moore, though! The first two movies play upon this quite spectacularly. Marion may still love Indy, but they are both too set-in-their-ways and too obsessed with finding the Ark ahead of the Nazis do before fully realising the strength of emotions they have for one-another. But their tenacious, hard-bitten, hard-sparring relationship, as Hawksian as they come, is totally credible and surprisingly touching despite the snow, the sand, the snakes and the flames that conspire to get in the way. Karen Allen is perfect as the vodka-swilling, baddie-battling adventuress. It is all too easy to say that she is the female equivalent of Indy in many ways, but they both come at the same goal from vastly different angles and methodology.
Poor Kate Capshaw in Templeof Doom took a lot of flack from the critics for bringing the role of the heroine into some degree of perceived disrepute. Charged with setting the female lead back a good couple of decades, she was hung out to dry by a script that seemingly threw her to the wolves. Incessantly whining and screaming, sometimes at the same time, her shanghaied club-girl was unable to improvise or adapt to her surroundings, and often just stood by the sidelines OMG’ing at everything. But what the snipers failed to take into account was that this was the point. After Marion, a girl who could hold her own amongst the knuckle-dragging heathens, here was someone who was completely out of her depth with anything that wasn’t smothered in sequins and expensive perfume. Let’s not forget that she is not supposed to be on this adventure at all. Indy has semi-kidnapped her from the glitzy pleasure-drome of the Club Obi-Wan and whisked her off on a breakneck trail of danger and death that even he hadn’t bargained on. Also forgotten amidst all this mud-slinging is that Willie Scott (her “professional” name) is actually a modern woman for the times – the mid-thirties. She knows precisely what she wants – and it is considerably more fortune and glory than Dr. Jones (his “professional” name, doll) would ever desire – and she is confident and sassy enough to make inroads into getting it. She knows nothing of Indian culture – as is painfully witnessed in the shanty town as well as in the Maharaja’s banquet hall – but she is keen enough to overlook such things if her ample charms can get her into the royal good books. Plus, she is willing to push the sight of a man getting ritually sacrificed to Kali to one side when there is the opportunity of gaining a handful of diamonds.
Capshaw is perfect in the role of a comic-cum-romantic folly, and her performance is a delight.
One thing that I always notice when watching Doom is the unfeasible size of her nostrils! Although incredibly sexy during the “mating customs” sequences - “I’m right here!” - she has moments when she looks like Wimpy Kid’s big brother Roddrick, as played by Devon Bostick. And for someone who didn’t know how to scream, she sure got herself a crash-course and went on to become possibly one of its top-ten exponents.
In the third film Alison Doody, as pretty as she is, and she looks stunning in her Afrika Korps getup, plays the weakest lady of the original bunch. And certainly the least believable. Whereas Allen was faultlessly genuine as a tough gal with a broken heart, and Capshaw was superb as a vain foil for Ford’s impetuous machismo, she is woefully un-credible as a Nazi stooge with a hidden love of arts and artefacts. Far too glamorous and superficial, we are never concerned about her, or for her. She is like Jerry Hall in Tim Burton’s Batman, or Madonna in, well, anything – shallow eye-candy and little else. Admittedly, she is playing someone who is tricksy and duplicitous, and not one of Indy’s reluctant co-adventurers, so we are not supposed to feel much empathy towards her, but Doody is performs blandly and without any depth.
Personally, I think that there is far more dimensionality to Willie Scott than there is to either Marion Ravenwood or Alison Doody’s peroxide bitch, Elsa.
And again, courtesy of Temple, we have the great addition of Ke Huy Quan’s energetic, pint-sized oriental motor-mouth, Short Round. In the history of child sidekicks there really aren’t too many that you, personally, would be happy to go on an adventure with … but Short Round is an enormously charismatic little whirlwind and great fun to have around. He gambles and cheats, he fights and drives a car, and he is steadfastly loyal to the one man who showed him a little bit of compassion and respect. Quan was an absolute natural, even if he had been doing his utmost to get his brother the part during his screen-test. The camaraderie that he shares with Ford is authentic. In part, it is father/son, in another part it is brothers-in-arms. It is the relationship that Indy doesn’t have with either his own father, or his own son. Both adventurers are on almost equal footing – well, one of them needs to strap wooden boxes beneath his shoes for that, but he stands his ground with magnetic ease and amazing spontaneity. I always found it slightly weird that Shorty is sleeping in Indy’s room in the palace when Indy is hoping that anything goes with Willie if she comes knocking on his door. Has Shorty been present during some of Dr. Jones’ other, ahem, nocturnal adventures? I mean he does instantly mistake Indy’s groping for the poison antidote down Willie’s dress for a spot of combat-romance, so this is clearly nothing new to him.
The following year, 1985, Quan would appear in the ensemble fantasy of Richard Donner’s The Goonies, but already his unique qualities were beginning to dissipate. He is much a part of the “fortune and glory” of Templeof Doom as Ford, Capshaw, Spielberg or Lucas, though.
Bringing up the rear with a memorable line in bumbling academia is Denholm Elliott’s museum director, Dr. Marcus Brody. A great old English actor more used parlour room drama and costumed historical pieces than derring-do (though he did confront a Zulu horde in the savage Zulu Dawn from 1979), Elliott was able to mask his unhappy personal life by dipping into the froth and spit of such rambunctious, big budget escapism. He was reportedly never happier than when engaged on his two Indy pictures, and this was reflected in the expanded role he was granted in Last Crusade, in which he amiably embroiled himself in his go-getter’s Grail-hunt. His reunion with Henry Jones in the “belly of the beast” is aided by an insanely charismatic and daft little student-rag secret-greeting, and his clear enjoyment at the more hands-on approach to discovering artefacts – such as punching Nazi’s in the mush and charging across the desert on a horse – is happily evident upon his artefact-duster’s face.
John Rhys-Davies supplies bellicose ethnic support as Indy’s Arabic contact, Sallah in the first and third yarns. He has always been the sort of poor man’s Brian Blessed, although clearly “blessed” with similar subwoofer lungs. Sallah is, by turns, helpful, skittish, practical and opportunist. By the third film, Indy needed a larger set of accomplices, and the return of Sallah was as welcome as it was important. Bizarrely enough for an inordinately thespic Englishman, he even convinces as an Arab! Something that even Alec Guinness couldn’t do, though the worst is surely Alun Armstrong in The Mummy Returns!
“Okay, Dr. Jones! Hang on to your potatoes!”
What is so astonishingly clever about the films is their use of continuous set-piece bleed – something that is borne out of the quintessential cliffhanger sequence but then intricately built upon, layer by layer, until the chapter becomes a nonstop escalation of inspired action and suspense, and cleverly conceived character improvisation all at once. Each of the original films carries a standout sequence that totally epitomises this go-a-step-further tactic to keep the heart in the mouth and the pulse racing. And this becomes even more vital and profoundly iconic when you consider that these set-pieces not only get us from A to B, but they reinforce characterisation and plot development during their wild course. The closest thing to this are the Bond movies, but even they tend to concentrate upon the one big set-piece which, admittedly, may devour quite a chunk of screentime, whereas the Indy set-piece often tells a tale in its own right.
We all know the movies so damn well that I have chosen to simply focus upon the genius inherent to certain pivotal sequences that totally encapsulate the entire ethos of Indiana Jones and the vision that his creators had for him and his adventures, and holds aloft, like a beacon, the very reason why we adore the character so much.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The truck-chase ranks as one of the greatest action set-pieces of all time. No argument there. Stuntman Yakima Canut’s under-the-horses trick in John Ford’s Stagecoach was the inspiration, as was Zorro’s leap from a horse onto a speeding vehicle in one of the many serial cliffhangers that Lucas was so enamoured by, but their thrills, as audacious as they were, lasted for seconds, whilst Raiders took such imagery and made what amounts to a mini-movie of death-defying, jaw-dropping valour and gutsy, relentless determination.
Having duelled with Pat Roach’s brawny, mallet-fisted German pugilist and subsequently made mince-meat out of him with the air-wing’s propeller, Indy mounts a stallion and takes off after the Ark convoy. John Williams gives us the fanfare to send him in his way and then grinds into that deadly, deep and driving martial cue for Indy’s one-man decimation of the German escort and commandeering of the truck transporting the relic. Despatching Germans left and right – love the little shared grin between him and the driver as an innocuous Arab is swiped from the bonnet, before Indy then unceremoniously hefts him from the cab as well – the feller in the fedora then goes all Mad Max and attempts to destroy every goose-stepping moron on the road. Crisp editing and superlative direction combine with furious stunts to have you weaving from side to side and shuddering from each element of crash, bang, wallop. Indy takes a bullet through the upper-arm, the shot even spattering the screen with blood (at least I’m sure it used to – the new transfer doesn’t seem to show this), and the agile and nigh-on indestructible Kraut who spots the wound then proceeds to ram his fist into it with sadistic relish, leaving his own hand splashed with gore. Their cab-restricted battle is both brutal and amusing, both men contriving to go through the windscreen on separate and decidedly poetic occasions, but Indy’s grill-clutching, wheel-straddling predicament is the next incredible step-up in the adrenal assemblage. You don’t think that any more sweaty excitement can be gained from the set-piece … and then Indy goes under the truck and slides between the wheels, coming out the other end in a relentlessly circular chapter of madcap machismo.
The cinema of testosterone would never be the same again.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – uncut in the UK at long last!
Although I have seen the US version of this for a great many years, I know plenty of people who are witnessing the full heart-ripping and the cackling Mola-Ram (a truly sinister Amish Puri, who has apparently kept his head shaved ever since, and virtually refused to play a good guy ever again!) as the pilfered organ burns in his hand in-tandem with its barbecued host, as well as the full torture and whipping of Indy and Short Round by the Thuggees, for the first time. What was already a powerful and quite shocking sequence even in its truncated UK form becomes even more vicious and diabolical, and the reactions I have seen form people coming fresh to it have been pretty animated.
But we arrive at this demented and feverish sequence only after we have survived the extended bug-tunnel and death-trap antics that have reduced us to quivering wrecks already. This is inspired stuff. There is the relentless skin-prickling phobia of the insect armada that besieges Willie as she stubbornly clings to the belief that her sorry situation is actually worse than that in which Indy and Short Round find themselves. There is unfeasibly grim room-crushing den of spikes and skeletons that Spielberg superbly twists with comical asides such as Indy’s fist threatening Willie from out of a hole in the wall, or the delirious moment when we all think the danger has passed and then Capshaw’s cute derriere sets the whole trap in motion again – just look at Ford’s face – and the exquisite timing of a last-second snatch for the hat.
The ceiling may take its time coming down, but this is an extraordinarily exciting sequence, regardless.
And then we get Mola-Ram doing his Dynamo/David Blain stunt of pushing his hand through the ritual victim’s chest and plucking out his living, beating heart. This entire sacrificial scene, even cut down in the UK’s theatrical run, when I first caught the movie, was so intense and frightening that I truly thought they were playing some dreadful trick on audiences, like Conal Cochran’s evil TV spell on the children on North America in Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Of course, this all helped to usher in the PG13 rating, at the helpful behest of Spielberg, himself, who was justifiably concerned at the severity of what he was unleashing. There is such an atmosphere of dread that when Indy climbs down from their hidey-hole to reclaim the glowing Sankara Stones, you are really keeping quiet for him and praying that he doesn’t get discovered. Which, of course, he does. Bad move, Dr. Jones.
So, we have an exciting journey followed by a terrifying, scene-setting chapter, and the whole thing comes together as one strenuous, throat-constricting mini-movie.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Well, by rights, we could pick two splendidly crucial and inspired set-pieces here.
So why don’t we?
With young Indy personified by River Phoenix lifting a treasure from the gold-seeking plunderers in the Utah caves in the noble hopes of bestowing it to the museum where it belongs, the scene is set for a frenetic cross-country pursuit that “creates” the Indiana Jones that we had been fully introduced to in Raiders. By virtue of leaping aboard a circus-train, he gains the whip, the scar and a fear of snakes all in one splendid knock-on effect … and he also develops a fierce sense of determination to win at all costs, even if it takes years for him to do so with the artefact he fails to save this time. Neatly, the grave-robber who catches up with him also becomes the template for Young Indy, with the leather jacket and the fedora obviously becoming the de facto fashion for intrepid tomb-raiders.
The entire sequence combines the goofy with the grand, but it is business as usual when Indy chases down a Nazi weapon of warfare on horseback and then commences a vital rescue of his nearest and dearest and Marcus Brody, who has clearly not “blended-in” with the local populace like Indy boasted he would do. Suddenly, we are blasted back to the wild and cleverly violent bravado of Raiders as bodies tumble off the genuinely ugly and quite monstrous vehicle, and the contraption, like the Ark-conveying truck, becomes a veritable moving battleground between one rogue American and the might of German arrogance. Kudos goes to the little nod towards brains defeating brawn as Henry Jones blinds a Nazi with ink from his fountain-pen, and for the unusual stance in not blowing the runaway tank up after it plunges over the side of a cliff. For some reason, that dummy of Michael Byrne’s crafty Kraut, Vogel, actually seems even more convincing here in hi-definition than ever before, as it is horribly flung about amidst the wreckage of shuddering steel.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Well, this is a tough one, to be honest.
Pretty much the only set-piece that fits the bill is the big jungle-chase … but it is so sloooowwwwwly drawn-out that the biggest challenge is in trying to keep your eyes open. I know that the big chases from both Raiders and Crusade also feature surprisingly slow-moving vehicles, but this jeep/jungle-masher/vine-swinging slog is like watching Last of the Summer Wine after taking a hefty hit of Dredd’s super-drug Slo-Mo! It is wretchedly handled by someone who had previously revealed himself to be an absolute master of such things.
There’s the motorbike chase, which is nicely reminiscent of the father/son escape in Last Crusade, even down to the disdainful expressions on Indy’s face mimicking Connery’s, but really speaking there is nothing in the film that raises the pulse much more from the setting marked Sedate.
Of terrible traps … and bloody bugs!
When Alfred Molina drew Indy’s attention to the big tarantula on his back, audiences were ushered into a new milieu of the skin-crawling and the wince-inducing. Snakes aplenty attempted to thwart Indy in the first film, but the crème-de-la-crème was always going to be the big rolling boulder that rumbled its way into screen history like Cecil B. De Mille’s own personal wrecking-ball, epitomising the go-for-broke spirit that would become the lifeblood of the series. Throughout four yarns, Spielberg wrestled the purest, heart-in-mouth suspense from such fiendish hero-threatening obstacles as spiked death-traps, hissing bug-tunnels, rat-filled catacombs, scything God-blades, incendiary abysses that could just possibly be shafts leading directly to Hell, flesh-stripping ant-armies, fake townships scheduled for atomic demolition and chamber-sealing stone doors that can only be surmounted with a nano-second to spare.
I’ve already described my favourite palpitation-inducing sequence from the franchise, but there is also a bit of a naff one to mention.
Upon reaching the tests to be survived in order to reach the Holy Grail, we are told repeatedly that only the penitent man shall pass. Which Indy, remembering his scripture manages to do, but what this doesn’t mention is that immediately after prostrating yourself before the Lord, you then have to perform a swift forward-roll before moving on to the next test. Suddenly, God demands a gymnast to come for the Grail. After all that we have been through alongside Indy, this set of challenges never really wows or excites … and I cannot be the only one who groaned when an immortal Knight Templar awaited his devout successor in the final chamber. Even after witnessing the power of God unleashed upon the Nazis when they opened-up the Ark of the Covenant, and the occult powers of Mola Ram at impromptu heart-surgery, this seemed like the series was pushing things a bit too far.
Nazis, Thuggees, more Nazis. And big Pat Roach!
He may be making it up as he goes, but Indy isn’t afraid of getting his knuckles dirty when it comes to taking down the bad guys.
Although Doom is regarded as being the darkest and most violent, it is worth remembering that Raiders offered us gory face-meltings, a head explosion, bloody gunshot-squibs and even some bullets through skulls – the very thing that even George Romero struggled to get away with in his unrated zombie epics! (He even cited that the MPAA allowed Spielberg to shoot people in the head in his family fantasies, but not himself in his adult horrors!) Hitler’s hordes were the bane of Indy’s quests, and he possibly got through more of them than Patton. Ronald Lacey was a great caricature of Gestapo cruelty as the palm-scorched Toht, although his most effective moment of menace came when he turned what appeared to be an instrument of torture into a coat hanger! And Wolf Kahler had that awesome square slab of purely Teutonic countenance as the humourless Colonel Dietrich, but both took their orders from Paul Freeman’s amazingly urbane and charismatic Frenchman, Belloq, Indy’s initial rival in the artefact-rifling profession. Freeman allows Belloq to live and breathe and to become a desperately foolhardy stooge in the Fuhrer’s game, unaware of the fact that he only pulls the strings as long he gets results. A definite scumbag – just listen to that panto maniacal laugh he issues when he snatches the Idol from Indy at the start of the film – he is also much more than just a playful antagonist for Indy to butt heads with. It is also cunning that the Germans have need of a Frenchman in their hour or need, and to indulge in a “Jewish ritual” to gain the power of the Ark.
Hitler was increasingly used by the series as an unwitting Blofeld, sanctioning supernatural, relic-hunting campaigns from afar, andLast Crusade had its own slyly manipulative mastermind in league with Fourth Reich for his own ends in Julian Glover’s Grail-grasping American traitor, Walter Donovan. Charming and suave, he is nevertheless neither as ruthless nor as human as Freeman’s Belloq. He adds a touch of class, certainly, and Glover’s genre credentials are, in fact, without fault. He was a fatally buffoonish army Rupert in Quatermass and the Pit, and an Imperial Walker commander in The Empire Strikes Back. Despite his strong-willed intentions though, he would come to a messy end in all three movies.
The Thuggees were a different kettle of poached eyeballs, though. Whereas the Fuhrer’s goons were searching for mystical powers, these swarthy, painted-faced monsters actually had them. In spades. Molo Ram and his chief henchman, played by series regular and looming Brit wrestler, Pat Roach, were a couple of truly despicable heathens. Whipping men and boys alike, and ripping out vital organs with their bare hands, these two, along with their brainwashed, voodoo-doll stabbing little Maharaja (Raj Singh) were nightmarish creations. Roach, himself, seemed to have grown immensely in size from the already bulky German mechanic in Raiders, though the impressive turban he wears may help account for his. His epic duel with Indy – who was mostly replaced by stuntman Vic Armstrong due to Ford’s incapacitating back injury – is a classic of demonic brutality, but his skirmish around and under the plane in the first movie is probably the series standout. Sadly, his fight with Indy aboard the zeppelin in Last Crusade was cut out, but he can still be glimpsed, maintaining his good luck charm for the series.
In the fourth outing, an attempt to provide Indy with a nasty enemy who could go toe-to-toe with the aging whip-snapper, met with lacklustre results in the tall but hardly intimidating Dovchenko, played by Igor Jijikine. If only the great Pat Roach had lived to join the cast, eh?
Durr-duh-duh-durrrr … durr-duh-durrrrr!
John Williams was firing on all cylinders with the first three Indy scores. Alongside his music for Jaws, Close Encounters, Star Wars and Superman, these are the most immediately recognisable, iconic and downright hummable theme tunes ever composed. I will admit to excessive overkill when it comes to these scores, because they are simply so exciting, rousing and rammed-to-the-hilt in glorious adventurism. Mind you, having said that, I do get annoyed whenever they put on one of those “classical” evenings on the TV – usually with Myleene Class presenting it (though I don’t mind those bits at all) – and it comes to the music of the movies section because Williams and his Raiders fanfare is almost always in there leading the way. There is a tremendous and staggering wealth of film-music out there that could and should be highlighted instead of simply regurgitating this over and over again. But, there is no denying the two-fisted macho euphoria of its insanely heroic swagger.
Raiderssurges with martial charges and is highlighted with the Ark theme, itself, but the most fun is to be had with the riotously infectious and giddy Basket Chase, and its myriad string pluckings and comical suspense – all superbly capped-off with the heart-stopping cue for when Indy thinks that he has blown Marion sky-high, and his romantic theme soars with plaintiff tragedy.
Williams would compose brilliant new themes and passages for each of the adventures.
But I have to admit to not being all that impressed with his pell-mell and chaotic score for Crystal Skull. I have reviewed this work separately, so I won’t go into it here, sufficed to say that it came during a period of Williams’ samey-samey dynamics for the Star Wars prequels and becomes a tedious barrage of needlessly complex writing that drowns out anything memorable.
My favourite of the Indy scores is that for Temple of Doom, which has the perfect combination of action, melody, romance … and total fear and dread. With his ritual themes for the Kali sacrifices, Williams dug deep into a very dark place indeed. I mentioned being awestruck and terrified at the flicks when this sequence arrived, but this is, in no small measure, thanks to the incredibly ominous set-piece theme for steadily rising voices in a chant that reaches a soul-searing frenzy, and wild and powerful exotic percussion so deep and profoundly evil that it really could summon up demons. I’ve been playing this bit in the score and the scene from the movie so often lately that my five-year-old daughter has begun to recite it – and it is even terrifying coming from her! His main theme for the film is ebullient and strident and typically filters through to action and romantic variations. His mastery of dark and light, action and simmering suspense was at its apex here.
If you listen closely during the motorcycle chase in Last Crusade, you’ll hear Williams providing a brief little homage to Elmer Bernstein’s hot pursuit cue for Steve McQueen’s fabulous two-wheeled bid for freedom from The Great Escape. And his Grail theme is a potent motif that applies reverence with an appropriately ecclesiastical bent, nicely evolving from the ominous portents of the Ark theme, so that his musical odyssey for the original three scores turns from God’s anger to His sense of faith and fulfilment. It shows that Williams put as much thought and spirit into his writing as Spielberg and co. put into their filmmaking.
… and then there’s other one.
You will have noticed that I have hardly touched upon Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Although I would love to be able to rock the boat a bit and come out fighting on its behalf, I simply cannot. Yes, I know it is a colourful, escapist yarn in the good old tradition of pure entertainment, but I can’t gloss over the fact that it fails to deliver on the promise of a return of Indiana Jones. The script is pure post-Star Wars prequels Lucas and almost completely lacking in menace, excitement and the sort of spectacle that was so boldly and thematically drawn in the originals. The return of an almost ageless Karen Allen as Marion (did she drink from the Grail, perhaps?) is a beautifully nostalgic and symmetrical touch to the series, and the inclusion of a son for Indy is a natural overarching development. But Shia LaBeouf is a maddeningly poor actor who irradiates the film with mediocrity; Ray Winstone mires the story with his lethargic cockney mumbling; John Hurt damages an almost faultless career with a damp wash-out support performance of trite condescension; and Cate Blanchett adopts the most clichéd and ridiculous of Ruski accents as a woefully insipid villainess.
The action is largely lacklustre, although the return of the thunderous, planet-carving sound-effects for roundhouse punches was certainly welcome. But this was a huge and infuriating disappointment, given such promise and anticipation.
My son likes it though. But then he also likes Jar Jar Binks.
Raiders of the Lost Ark - 10/10 Pure genius.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - 10/10 More genius, but with a delectable darker spin.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - 8/10 very good indeed, and a nice emphasis on fun and humour.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - 5/10 absolutely mediocre, given the talent that went into it.
So, here we have three bonafide classics and one distinctive dud in a definitive boxset that if you haven’t already added to your collection, you’ve probably got on your Christmas list. Unashamedly exciting and violent, the exploits of Indiana Jones are quite unreservedly the pinnacle of the adventure genre.
Downright essential, and you know it.
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