Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The Return of the Great Adventure!

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Indiana Jones is my second favourite movie character of all time. My number one favourite is Han Solo. Yes, the same actor played my first and second favourite movie characters. I don’t care how many mediocre movies Harrison Ford may appear in during his later career, that’s like eternal levels of respect and a miracle that this is even the case.

The character of Indiana Jones is the ultimate escapist fantasy. A tough hero who goes on adventures around the world when he feels like it to obtain relics, escapes life and death situations, thwarts the bad guys and gets the girl in the end. Even his action moves are so identified with his character (e.g., climbing underneath the back of a moving vehicle then holding onto it with his whip).

Yet Indy is still human like the rest of us because of his overzealous confidence, thinking he’s several steps ahead of the bad guys when he is not, his ability to make mistakes and his irrational fear of snakes. If there’s a scene which I feel sums up the character of Indiana Jones, it’s when he pulls out a gun on the sword-wielding Arab, a moment which wasn’t even supposed to be the film (likewise that clothes hanger gag is also truly the product of genius minds). Making the character an unassuming nerdy professor is the other stroke of genius and making him a Clark Kent like figure; It’s the biggest contrast of personalities, yet entirely believable. Just look at any Han vs. Indy debate for people pulling every facet of this character’s personality apart but you can’t blame them. Would Harrison Ford have had the career he had if it wasn’t for Raiders? Or would he have faded away like his co-stars in a galaxy far far away?

Does Raiders of the Lost Ark have the best character introduction of all time? The opening of the film tells you everything you need to know about the character of Indiana Jones, as well as having the hairs stand up on your back – Just that boulder alone permeates our culture. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those movies which everyone has seen, even those who haven’t seen it. So many frames in the film are ingrained into the subconscious of film buffs and the general public alike. I feel what makes a film moment iconic is when you’re pondering to yourself as you watch it of ways it could be parodied of spoofed; there’s no shortage of that in Raiders.

Nazis are the ultimate cinematic bad guys and this was even more poignant in 1981 than today when survivors of the Second World War were still alive. Even Ronald Lacy as Thot is no less scary with his baby face. The movie captures and emphasises the fear of Nazis and their quest for world domination; “The army which carries the Ark before it…is invincible”. Yet the film’s climax seems to state that within the Indiana Jones universe, the Judeo Christian God exists or at the very least some higher power.

There are shots in Cairo in Raiders which feel very Lawrence of Arabia and I’m not talking about the grand landscape shots. Likewise, in Lawrence of Arabia, there are moments which I could swear could have been a shot from Raiders of the Lost Ark. As for the music, I can remember listening to John Williams’ The Raider’s March when I was younger simply to lift my mood and inspire me. From the beauty of Marion’s theme, the excitement of the desert chase music to the otherworldly Ark theme, how can one argue John Williams isn’t the greatest film composer of all time? With all the Indiana Jones movies, I will watch the entire end credits just to listen to the score.

The genius behind Raiders of the Lost Ark is the same stroke of genius which made Star Wars so great; I believe it’s all to do with simplicity. They took such a simple B-movie level concept and glorified and made it larger than life. Spielberg and Lucas did it first and better than anyone has since and that’s why these movies have such a widespread appeal and endure the way they do.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Now That’s What I Call Archaeology!

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade takes everything that made Raiders of the Lost Ark great to begin with and builds on top of that. Last Crusade is unquestionably my favourite of the series and the main reason for this being the role of Sean Connery as Indy’s father Henry Jones Sr, which I consider to be one of the greatest casting choices ever made. This casting was largely due to James Bond being one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones although oddly enough despite my love of Indiana Jones I’ve never been keen on the James Bond films. There’s something about father-son stories that I’ve always had a particular affection for and the relationship between Indy and his father is challenging to put into words how thematically in-depth it is. The search for the bond between father and son ends up becoming more important than the search for the grail

Their personalities differ from Henry being more of an academic and Indy being more of an adventurer (at the film’s beginning Indy is struggling to even find the time to grade his student’s papers), yet at heart, they are both giddy schoolboys. Their emotionally distant relationship is beautifully conveyed during their exchange on the airship in which Indy complains to his father about never being there for him. His father replies by asking him what does he want to talk about and Indy struggles to find a conversation point to dwell on. The tone of Henry’s response, “well what are you complaining about?!” sums it up beautifully. At the film’s climax when Henry finally calls his son Indiana rather than Junior, it gives me chills alongside his words of “Let it go” as legitimate advice I apply to many real-life situations (when has a James Bond movie had anything as remotely substantive as this?).

Their scenes together are so melancholic and full of complex emotions that further humanises the character of Indiana Jones. I really do think this may be the greatest pairing of two actors ever and when I contemplate on it. I also feel this is the best performance Harrison Ford ever gave in his career, never has he been able to convey such emotion on-screen (and impersonate and art-loving Scotsman). Ford is one of few actors who can make any normal line of dialogue into something memorable.

The Last Crusade is also a comedy classic in its own right from the North by Northwest type moments (“No ticket!”) to more slapstick-oriented gags. The Hitchcock influence even extends to borrowing a moment from The Lady Vanishes in which young Indy escapes from a train via a magician’s box. Likewise, the Forest Gump type moment in which Indy inadvertently confronts Hitler face to face is brilliant on so many levels. – It works the same way the clothes hanger scene from Raiders did.

The supporting cast of players in the Last Crusade are second to none. Indy, Henry, Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) are simply so much fun to watch together on screen, with the clumsy Marcus going on the adventure (whereas in Raiders he is only seen at the beginning and end of the film) also really gives Last Crusade a big boost. Even his line “The pen is mightier than the sword” always cracks me up with the manner in which he delivers it in an English gentlemanly way, or Indy Sr’s uttering of “Junior!”; music to my ears. Likewise, I’m more than happy to listen to the eloquent and well-spoken Julian Glover as Walter Donavon as himself and Harrison Ford deliver exposition and tell each other “bedtime stories” (and subsequently transform into Doc Brown just before his untimely demise). Ernest Vogel (Michael Byrne) on the other hand is a completely two-dimensional villain in the best way possible with his intimidating presence as one really evil, tall, uniformed Nazi with a powerful music cue to introduce him in any scene. He has also has one of the most comical deaths in any film ever in a bizarrely campy two-second shot on him falling towards the camera. – Even the actor playing the Grail Knight (Robert Eddison) is mesmerizing in his brief part.

If I was the make a list of my favourite action scenes in film, I swear my list would be dominated by scenes from the original Star Wars trilogy and its sister franchise. Sequences such as that on the circus train or in the belly the steel beast make such clever use of props and their surroundings. Last Crusade was one of the last blockbusters to have such extensive use of practical effects, you know, before CGI had to go and ruin everything. Two years later Terminator 2 was released and things would never be the same again. As for the film’s music, the score by John Williams is not only one of his best but one of his most moving, perfectly capturing the melancholic and deep thematic nature of the film. I regularly listen to the movie’s soundtrack in moments of personal reflection, it’s that powerful.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is one of those rare films which gives me everything I could ask for in a motion picture. Like the filmmakers specifically made it just for me, encapsulating everything I love about cinema. The final shot of the four characters riding off into the sunset brings to an end to a decade of filmmaking like no other.