Monday, March 3, 2014

My Favorite Era: The Indiana Jones Trilogy (1981-1989)

In August of 2012, I began this series with a Steven Spielberg movie.  It is only fitting that I end it with three.  The Indiana Jones films were a staple of my youth and the first three movies still hold up pretty damn well today.  Like the Star Wars Trilogy, pretty much everything that can be said has been said and the plots are very well known so let's get on with the closer look.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

  • This rates a 10 on the "If it's on TV, I'm watching no matter when in the film it is" scale as well as being a prime example of what I consider a perfect viewing experience.
  • Even today, the first few minutes of the movie still stand as one of the best openings for any film.  You get pretty much everything you need to know about Indy in those minutes.  He's tough, brave but also human.  He can also be an absolutely ruthless son of a gun.  Harrison Ford really is terrific here.
  • The action is fantastic as well with the death traps and not one but two narrow escapes.  God, I wish I has seen this on the big screen!
  • The prerequisite "Yuck!" moments in the series are set up great here.  We get spiders in the first act (though they've never really bothered me); snakes (again, I love snakes so that stuff doesn't resonate as much with me) and horrific corpses... Bingo!
  • And yes, the movie geek in me does love that the actor who would go on to play Doctor Octopus, Alfred Molina, is covered in spiders at one point.
  • Paul Freeman is just fantastic as slimy French archaeologist Belloq.  I also get a kick out of Denholm Elliot and John Rhys Davies in their parts.
  • Always had a crush on Karen Allen as Marion.  She's tough, beautiful, cute and in general is just damned irresistible.  Sort of like Sandra Bullock with a mean right hook.  Hell, her first scene has her drinking a guy under the table, my kind of woman and I don't even drink!
  • I've said it before but the best action films should do a good job of making you want to see the bad guys get absolutely mulched into little bloody bits but the end of the movie,.  Now granted, since our baddies are Nazis it's sort like shooting fish in a barrel but Ronald Lacey really does fine work as Toht.  Slimy doesn't even begin to describe it.
  • The ensuing action scene in Nepal is Spielberg at his finest (as is the rest of the movie, really), to say nothing of being just amazingly brutal.  Bodies are set on fire, the bullet hits are good and bloody, it's amazing that this got a PG.  It's good to be Steven Spielberg, I guess.
  • 80's Spielberg is my favorite, really.  When it came to getting wild stuff in a PG movie, he was the king.  This is the same guy who while shooting the Alex Kintner scene in Jaws must have said "You know what?  Let's have more blood in the water when the kid gets munched, okay?"
  • I love Indy being amused at the Nazis mispronunciation of Belloq's name.  It's just a nice little touch.
  • Even now, the gun vs. sword scene is still one of the funniest things I've ever seen.  It's simple as hell but goddamn is it funny.  I think the swordsman even made it to the re-release poster.
  • Another thing that makes Harrison Ford so great is just how expressive his face is.  Few actors can do an "Oh crap" face as well as he can.  Whether it's seeing an entire marketplace full of the same basket as the one Marion is being carried off in to coming around a corner to find an entire truck full of stormtroopers, it's just great how willing the man is to risk looking hammy.
  • Love the half-crazy look in Indy's eyes as the Ark is discovered.  Even better is his fear of snakes which makes even a snake fan like myself cringe just out of sheer sympathy for the guy.
  • Marion trying to drink Belloq under the table is a nicely done scene.
  • The stretch from Indy and Marion escaping the tomb to the end of the truck chase is just plain awesome.  The fight with the huge German (Pat Roach who also fights Indy in Nepal) is great but I always got a real charge out of Marion getting locked in the cockpit of the plane, seeing a bunch of Nazis on the way and just essentially going "Screw this!" before opening up on them with a machine gun.  Like I said, my kind of woman!
  • Equally awesome is the truck chase which is a great combination of the terrific John Williams score, some great stunts and just an overall sense of fun that the entire film shares.
  • The scene where the Ark is opened is one of the great cathartic moments in cinema.  It's really great to see and I gotta say, it's not every PG movie that has an ending with melting faces and exploding heads.  Great way to end a movie.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is simply one of the finest motion pictures ever assembled.  Period.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

  • The darkest of the series, this one helped pave the way for the PG-13 rating, along with Gremlins.
  • I really like the reddish orange opening and closing credits.
  • Funny how the song used for the opening perfectly matches the tone for the film.  Anything goes all right!  Hell, we're talking a summer action movie with molten lava burning people alive, crocodiles chowing down on random bad guys and hearts being ripped out, yet it begins with a frigging musical number.
  • It really doesn't mean a whole lot to say because it's sort of hard to look like crap in a white tuxedo, but Harrison Ford really pulls it off well.
  • The opening action scene isn't too bad, though as in 1941, Steven Spielberg proves that wild out of control chaos isn't his forte.  Controlled chaos suits him better.
  • While Ford is his usual assured self, the other two leads are somewhat more problematic.  Kate Capshaw is okay in her role though the screaming gets a little old after a while.  Admittedly, while she doesn't annoy me as much as she does others (by that, I mean I am capable of not coming off like a complete loon when talking about the role), the best thing she gave to the movie was to give the director a happy marriage.
  • Ke Huy Quan isn't the most annoying kid actor I have ever seen, though to be fair I have sat through The Last Action Hero.  As far as the character goes, Short Round is pretty entertaining for the most part with one or two bits at the end that are just simply badass.
  • Sure it was busted on Mythbusters but the raft being used as a parachute is still one of the best bits in the film.
  • As much of a gut punch as it is for a fun popcorn film, the stuff in the village is rather affecting.  Say what you will about Spielberg but if he wants to make to tug at your heartstrings, he will make sure you are at the very least moist-eyed whether you like it or not.  And if that doesn't work, he'll show you a kid so emaciated that you would have to be dead to not be somewhat shocked.  Sometimes the man has to go as far as he can to get what he wants.
  • The stones Indy is asked to find are a nice plot device.  They look pretty damn cool too.
  • It does have to be said that the depiction of India and Hinduism in this movie is about as inaccurate as it gets.  The funny thing is that you could have solved the issue by simply having Indy grumble to someone that something must be wrong since what he sees at the dinner scene for instance is so out of the ordinary.
  • Not to be smug or anything, but did I mention that the writers of the movie ended up making Howard the Duck?  Just a thought...
  • In terms of "Yuck moments", the film acquits itself admirably.  The dinner scene, the inordinate amount of bugs, the heart-ripping.  How the hell this ended up with a PG is nothing short of a miracle.
  • Actually, it's only the bugs that... bug me.  Heh, heh, sorry.
  • The big issue the film has is one of being just generally mean spirited.  The intensity is fine and the gruesome stuff is okay enough but the overall tone is just way overdone in terms of the darkness.  Spielberg goes way over the top and to his credit, he feels the same way.  That mixed with the goofy comedy stuff in the first hour makes for a rather tonally schizophrenic film.
  • Amrish Puri is quite good as main villain Mola Ram.  The guy was always a good actor and here, he does a nice of job of being utterly creepy and nasty.
  • Once the film gets to the actual temple of doom, it kicks into high gear and moves along like a bullet.  The third act once Indy has been released from the spell he gets put under is the best part of the film with some great fights, a dynamite mine car chase and a fun climax on a rickety bridge.
  • I especially get a kick out of Short Round beating the crap out of the maharajah (pretty much everybody at the palace is a part of Mola Ram's cult) while Indy fights with the huge guard played by Pat Roach.
The second Indiana Jones film is flawed but reasonably entertaining.  Happily, the third movie is a marked improvement.
    Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

    • The third outing kicked off the fantastic summer of 1989.  I love the teaser trailer for the movie, instead of showing a bunchy of stuff from the film, it more or less gives a little behind the scenes footage while the theme plays.  Neat stuff.
    • The opening with River Phoenix as a young Indy is just a blast with some fun action on top of a circus train and some funny moments.  Overall, the film has a lighter tone and it works just fine.
    • Great transition from young Indy to Harrison Ford.  Even better is that the triumphant theme music is interrupted by our hero getting punched full in the face.
    • Julian Glover is fun as Donovan, though the reveal that he is the main bad guy is about as surprising as the boat sinking at the end of Titanic.
    • Alison Doody is okay as Elsa, though really the best thing about her character is the funny revelation that both Indy and his father have slept with her.  Only Sean Connery could have made that moment work, I believe.
    • Speaking of Connery, he's easily the best thing about the movie.  Charming, funny and of course, since it's Sean Connery, a bit of a cool badass, he brings a level of class to the proceedings and has great chemistry with Harrison Ford.
    • As far as gross-out stuff goes, the rats are about a 7/10 for me.  Spaced out they're not so bad and on an individual basis they're actually quite interesting but teaming hundreds swarming over each other?  Ugh!
    • The boat chase is one of my favorite Spielberg action scenes.  I especially dig the music John Williams did for the scene.  His scores for all three movies are great but that one track is a particular favorite of mine.
    • Actually, the action through the entire film is great with a nice dogfight sequence followed by some more clever stuff on the ground.  The topper is the tank stuff which tries like hell to top the truck chase from the first film and comes pretty damn close.
    •  Really, the only flaws come in the last part of the movie which sadly can't quite top the tank chase.  The stuff with finding the Holy Grail is effective but after seeing melting faces and exploding heads in the first movie, anything else comes off as second best.  Still, it hits some nice emotional notes with Jones Sr. and Jr. so it's all good.
    The Indiana Jones films are fantastic popcorn entertainment.  The first movie is an all-time classic, the third one is a fun romp and even with its flaws, the second one is worth watching.  Put together, they make for a fantastic trilogy.

    And that brings the series to an end.  Keep an eye out for the wrap up.

    1 comment:

    1. Yes, anything you hear about a fourth movie is obviously the product of a deranged imagination :-)


    About Me

    I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.