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.