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.

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The People Vs. George Lucas (2010)

A Sad Devotion to an Ancient Religion?

In this day and age when people use pop culture as an extension of themselves, it surprises me there haven’t been more documentaries like this (how about a documentary about the decline of The Simpsons?). I hate what has happened to the Star Wars franchise beginning with the special editions in 1997 as much as the next fan, and The People Vs. George Lucas helps ventilate the anger but it is so much more than that. It isn’t just mindless Lucas bashing but does give the man a fair shake.

The documentary raises many thought-provoking points of speculation about the man. Does he believe that what he’s doing to Star Wars is the right thing? Is he getting revenge on a franchise which turned him into the thing he hated and promised himself he would never become, a corporate entity. It goes to show you how the man is a much of an enigma as the characters in his films, as pointed out in the documentary, the rise and fall of George Lucas parallels Anakin Skywalker’s descent to the dark side. By the end of the documentary, I felt as one of the fans interviewed puts it, “I love/hate George Lucas”. The other major debate raised in the documentary is that of who owns art, the artist or the public and does the public have the right to the material of its own culture?

You don’t have to start a Star Wars related conversation before people start talking about their disdain for the prequels or the changes to the special editions, yet no official Star Wars documentary is certainly going to address this, nor do I doubt this documentary would be shown at the annual Star Wars convention Celebration.

The People Vs. George Lucas showcases a large range of fans from the mature to the more childish, to those defending Lucas. The documentary both celebrates fan culture as well as makes fun of it, whether intentional or not (I wonder if the guy who compares Lucas to a Holocaust denier regrets it?). My favourite part of the documentary is the section which perfectly captures the anticipation and undaunted optimism towards the release of The Phantom Menace and the following disappointment and disenchantment.

Intercut between the interviews are an astounding showcase of fan films (recreating scenes from the movies, telling their own Star Wars stories and those ridiculing George Lucas). This along with the perfect balance between the more serious debates related to artistic ethics all the way to the more trivial, such as whether or not George Lucas raped people’s childhoods, makes The People Vs. George Lucas immensely entertaining to watch, as I’ve now done so several times, making this my personal favourite documentary.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Fortune & Glory

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Ah, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. One of those films which I thought was beloved for many years until the advent of the internet in which I discovered it actually gets a lot of stick. Well never fear Temple of Doom, as I am here to defend you against waves of undeserved criticism. So hold onto yo potatoes, it’s time for a controversial review of unpopular opinion.

I’ll begin my defense of Temple of Doom by discussing the movie’s two not so beloved supporting characters. First up its Short Round as delightfully played by child actor Jonathan Ke Quan. I love Short round for several reasons with the first being the endearing relationship he has with Indiana Jones. Unlike Indy’s other companions, Short Round idolizes Indy. The moment in which Indy places Short Round’s cap on his head after freeing him from the Thuggee cult’s spell perfectly sums up their relationship and it gets me every time. Short Round saves Indy’s life on multiple occasions; In fact, sometimes I wonder how he’s even still alive without him. In comparison to a more beloved character in the series, Henry Jones senior, who almost gets Indy killed on a number of occasions thus rendering the criticism of Short Round being a hindrance to Indy invalid. But I hear you say, Short Round has an annoying voice? – Not at all. Short projects a voice of juvenile innocence and adventure. Short Round is like a kid’s fantasy, what’s cooler than getting to be Indiana Jones’ sidekick? Who wouldn’t want to be Short Round? Well, I’d rather be Indy himself, but being Short Round is the next best thing.

But how do I defend Willie Scott?! This bastion of female serotypes! Oh please, quit the feminist double standard. Outrage is none existent when a character exhibits male stereotypes (not that there should be). Shouldn’t true equality between the sexes allow for a female character to be portrayed as incompetent rather than imposing creative limitations on how women can be portrayed in fiction.

Those who call Willie annoying; well let’s agree to disagree. I’ve never found the character of Willie to be annoying and I believe one of the reasons for this is that she is punished for her selfish actions throughout the film. Her character is supposed to be unlikeable and the movie is fully aware of this by making her receive comeuppance. Willie holds some similarities with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with her preoccupation with diamonds and her intention to get rich by marrying a particular wealthy gentleman, only to find out they’re a child. Just like Monroe, Capshaw displays a wide range of facial expressions and excels in her comedic timing. During the movie Willie matures, she shows concern for Indy and Short Round during the later portion of the film and even punches bad guys during the mine cart chase, a far cry from her earlier self. I love this trio of characters, so yeah, what are you going to do about it?!

Temple of Doom begins not with the build-up to an action scene but rather a musical number (with the opening shot of the gong is surely a little tribute to the Rank Organisation). I’ve never heard every rendition of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes but surely this has to be the best version of the tune as Kate Capshaw sings it in Mandarin. The superb rendition of the song along with the dance choreography, the costumes and shear sparkling on-screen, this may be the greatest musical number from a non-musical film. It might seem odd to start an Indiana Jones movie with a musical number but as it captures the 1930’s setting and exotic tone of the series so against the odds it works and works magnificently. Temple of Doom even serves as a travelogue for India with its gorgeous landscapes, accompanied by John Williams at his most exotic.

Temple of Doom is a film that doesn’t beat about the bush and gets over the top very quickly. This is another aspect that sets it apart from Raiders and Last Crusade as the action in Temple of Doom is the least plausible from the original three movies; hence why moments such as the trio escaping from the plane via jumping out of it on a rubber raft come under criticism. However, I believe there’s a fine line between action being implausible but not the point in which you can’t suspend your disbelief (yes I’m looking at you Nuke the Fridge) and I feel Temple of Doom achieves this fine line. The second half of Temple of Doom is one huge roller coaster ride with many classic B-movie and adventure serial pitfalls; a room with a descending spiked roof, a conveyor belt with a crushing roller at the end, a scene atop a rope bridge and the best of all, the mine cart chase sequence – an absolute master class of action movie filmmaking. After the trio escape from metaphorical hell, the final kiss between Indy and Willie is one of the most satisfying in all of cinema.

Temple of Doom is too juvenile you say? You’re saying juvenile like it’s a bad thing. I like all the weird creepy stuff; the bugs, the monkey brains, hearts being ripped out of people’s chests. It’s repulsive in the best sense of the word. But Temple of Doom isn’t a stupid film. No one ever seems to mention Indy’s character arc of overcoming his selfish streak. During the first half of the film, he is only concerned with obtaining his ‘fortune and glory’. Even after visiting the baron village, obtaining the Sankara Stones for his own personal gain remains his only objective. It’s not until he sees his own eyes the children in slave labour that he changes his way. Likewise, people praise The Empire Strikes Back for being dark, why doesn’t this logic of darkness being synonymous with quality not work for Temple of Doom?

But let’s get into the real serious stuff – the film’s portrayal of Hinduism. I don’t claim to be an expert on Hinduism but I’ll attempt to the best of my ability to defend this most controversial aspect of the film. The villains of Temple of Doom, The Thuggee, were a cult who resided in India over several hundred years who would strangle travelers and steal their belongings (hence the origin of the term ‘thug’). The Thuggee were followers of the Hindu Goddess Kali, however, in Hinduism, Kali is not an evil entity, but rather the goddess of time, change and energy. As what The Thuggee believes is not what Kahali stands for, it makes the villains more interesting as they religious extremists, desecrating a faith for their own selfish gain, such as The Westro Baptist Church to Christianity or Isis to Islam. I believe the filmmakers are aware of this, as evident in the scene towards the end of the film on the dangling rope bridge, Just before Indy sends Mola Ram to his death, he utters “You betrayed Kali!”.Raiders and Last Crusade show that the God of Christianity exists in the Indiana Jones universe.  Does the spiritual power to the Shankara Stones lend legitimacy to Hinduism then?

Then you’ve got the usual crowd with their screams of “racism”! Does the movie have a stereotypical portrayal of Indians? I don’t see Raiders or Last Crusade having such a loving portrayal of the German people but of course, they’re white so it doesn’t count. I’m sick of engaging in this game. When a film is labeled for apparent racism I think to myself, was there malicious intent behind it? Temple of Doom doesn’t give into any pretense of political correctness with its white saviour protagonist, touchy religious subject matter and stereotypical female lead; deal with it.

I consider Temple of Doom to be no less worthy of a film than Raiders or Last Crusade. Like how Temple of Doom dared to be different and the black sheep of the series, I dare not to bow to the will of popular opinion. What are you going to do about it!? For you see my opinion is always correct, except for the times when I am wrong, which is never.

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, 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. 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 so difficult to put into words how in-depth it is. They don’t get along despite being so much alike, at heart they are both being giddy schoolboys. Their scenes together are so melancholic and full of complex emotions which humanises the character of Indiana Jones. I really do think this may be the greatest pairing of two actors ever.

This ties in with the other aspect which elevates The Last Crusade, just how thematic it is. The search for the bond between father and son ends up becoming more important than the search for the grail; I always remember Henry Jones’ words of “Let it go” as legitimate life advice. 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.

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 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. I also love that Marcus gets to go along on the adventure, revealing that he’s a clumsy fool who once got lost in his museum. 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. Indy Jr, Indy Sr, Sallah and Marcus are simply the most fun group of characters.

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 and Indiana Jones films. 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. Also, does anyone else think Donavan looks like Doc Brown after drinking from the wrong cup?

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is one of those rare movies which gives me everything I could ask for a movie. Like the filmmakers specifically made it just for me, encapsulating everything I love about cinema.