Indiana Jones series (1981, 1984, & 1989)

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011 in Let's Get Ready to Rumble | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Each film includes one utterance of “shit,” extensive violence, some mild gore, scares, and sexuality.

For the purpose of this joke, let’s assume there are two types of people in this world: history geeks (historians) and movie nerds (cineastes). How do you tell them apart, you may ask? That’s easy. Just ask them who stopped the Nazis. The geeks will likely say the Russians, citing a turning point in World War II, while the nerds will say Indiana Jones, referring to a turning point in cinema.

The series started with a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman, with Steven Spielberg behind the camera and John Williams’ score, is a wonderful homage to serials of the 1930s. Harrison Ford stars, of course, in this career-defining role as the fedora-capped, bull whip-toting adventurist and part-time archaeology professor with a fear of snakes. The 14-time Oscar-nominated series is based on serials that boasted multiple exotic locations and an impossible fortress from which a hero must retrieve a coveted prize before his competitors, and remain in one piece. There’s surprises, danger, and, ultimately, destruction. Spielberg and Lucas’s creation basks in the overused formula and many of its elements – take, for instance, the image of someone whistling for their horse and it trotting to its master on a cliff above – but they also go beyond clichés. In this instance when the hero jumps down to ride the horse, it moves and he injures himself. They use mostly one location, often bruise and batter the imperfect hero, present the hero and enemies as similar, and present a strong female (not a damsel in distress), all while maintaining a sense of humor.

The first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana2is the ultimate adventure ride. It opens in a dense South American jungle in 1936. Everything is ominous as we see two foreign men (one is Alfred Molina in his screen debut) as they pick up poison darts, avoid bats, and follow the mysterious man who leads the way. We enter a cave where no man has left alive, and the mysterious man masterfully avoids spikes, pits, boulders, arrows, and all other booby traps to retrieve a golden idol. This is the first of many times the daring Indiana Jones cheats death. In the film’s grand adventure, government officials inform Indy that Hitler is obsessed with the occult, and sends his Nazi minions to find the Ark of the Covenant – where Moses stored the tablets with the Ten Commandments, which is rumored to lay waste to cities, flatten mountains, and carry the infinite power of god. Therefore they hire Indy to get it before the Nazis do.

His former lover, Marion (Karena Allen), is along for the ride. She owns a Nepalese tavern and out-drinks its patrons, one of her many talents as the best female in the series. She’s resourceful, independent, and tough. Indy’s rival, Belloq (Paul Freeman), is a French archaeologist who mirrors Indiana in every way except for a love of historical preservation. Its most memorable scenes include an epic Egyptian marketplace fight that ends with a masterful swordsman displaying his skills and Indy effortlessly shooting him, the asp-filled Well of Souls, an awesome chase sequence, the romantic “Where doesn’t it hurt” scene, and the effects-laden finale.

It’s sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, is the weakest of the original trilogy and is actually a prequel set in 1935. Its wonderful opening scene takes us to a Shanghai club where a crime boss poisons Indy to steal a famous diamond. He narrowly escapes, of course, with the help of his sidekick Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) and annoying love interest Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw, Spielberg’s wife). After they escape a plane crash, the threesome lands in a childless and impoverished Indian village. It seems Indy must dethrone a dark ruler who stole their children for slave labor and also stole the sacred stones that protect the village. This installment has more frightening and outright scary moments than the other two combined, with bugs, bats, alligators, monkey brains, and a human sacrifice involving a crude form of open-heart surgery. Amrish Puri plays the dark ruler, Mola Ram, so convincingly that it led to a career of playing villains in Bollywood.

The third, Indiana Jones and the Indiana3Last Crusade, brings us back up to speed with the original. That is, after a brief flashback in which a young Boy Scout Indy (River Phoenix) discovers a group of thieves in Utah, which leads to another great chase sequence – this time on a circus train that explains his fear of snakes and chin scar. It has three other chases in the movie, one on a motorcycle, another in an airplane, and a third on a tank. In this one, Indy’s on a crusade for the Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ during The Last Supper, which holds the power of eternal life for those who drink from it. Indy’s father (Sean Connery) spent his life chronicling grail lore, but goes missing in search of it and Indy must pick up where he left off. Once again, however, he’s racing against the Nazis who hope to create immortal armies.

Connery fills the double void of the strong female and comedy sidekick presence wonderfully (Alison Doody plays the dull Elsa). His reactions to Indy’s violent occupation, for instance, are spot-on. After he kills a room full of Nazis, for instance, he says, “Look what you did!” And later he asks, “Would you say this is a typical day for you?” Indy responds, “No, this is better than most.” And yet again, “Those people are trying to kill us! It’s a new experience for me.” And Indy’s turn, “It happens to me all the time.” From Indy’s eyes, his father is an eccentric, clumsy, and selfish bookworm who robbed him of a normal childhood. “We never talked. It was just the two of us, dad. It was a lonely way to grow up. If you were a normal father, like the other guys, you’d have understood that,” says Indy. But Senior feels differently, “Actually, I was a wonderful father. Did I ever tell you to eat up, go to bed, wash your ears, do your homework? No, I taught you self reliance. … What are you complaining about?”

In all of the films, Indiana initially neglects the superstitions attached to the prized items, despite warnings from his pals Marcus (Denholm Elliot) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). Instead he accepts the missions for “fortune and glory,” perhaps. Well, in the end, he gets both. The Smithsonian holds the character’s jacket and hat, and he’s allegedly got more adventures ahead of him (but if they’re anything like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, avoid them like the plague). When all is said and done, we’ll remember Indiana Jones as a B-movie character who ended his first on-screen adventure recalling Citizen Kane. And that’s exactly where he belongs.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – Clip from Miladinovich on Vimeo.

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