Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The Return of the Great Adventure!

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. 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; 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.

The action scenes, on the other hand, are unparalleled, full of clever solutions to “how are they going to get out of that moments” such as Indy climbing his way through the bottom of a moving truck. 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. 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”.

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. Likewise, the Ark theme feels like a piece of music not of this Earth.

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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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Fortune & Glory

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

The second installment of the Indiana Jones franchise is one of those films I thought was beloved for many years until the advent of the internet when I discovered it gets a lot of stick. So hold onto yo potatoes, it’s time for a controversial review of unpopular opinion.

I’ll begin my defense of Temple of Doom with discussing the movie’s two not so beloved characters. First up, Short Round. I love this character for several reasons; the first is 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? So I guess a high pitched voice renders a character’s personality, vulnerability, and character arc void? 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?! 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 unlikable and the movie is fully aware of this by making her receive comeuppance. During the movie her character 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?!

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 it manages to work. This is my favourite opening scene in the series. Of course, I love musical numbers and this is one of the greatest spectacles of song and dance ever put on screen.

Temple of Doom is too juvenile? You say 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.

Also, why is the raft scene a constant source of criticism? I can understand how Indy surviving a nuclear explosion inside a fridge went too far but the raft scene is perfect sort of implausible B-movie type moment that doesn’t go too far to the point of absurdity. The second half of Temple of Doom is one huge roller coaster ride with the mine cart chase being an actual roller coaster ride. The movie throws so many classic b-movie thrills; a room with a descending spiked roof, a conveyor belt with a crushing roller at the end, a scene atop a rope bridge. After the trio escape from metaphorical hell, the final kiss between Indy and Willie is one of the most satisfying in all of cinema.

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 Indiana over several hundred 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!”. The more I look into it, selfishness seems to be a recurring theme in Temple of Doom.

When a film is labeled for apparent racism I think to myself was there malicious intent behind it? I’m not one for defending the Star Wars prequels but did George Lucas create Jar Jar Binks because he has a prejudice against African Americans and/or Caribbean peoples or is it an innocent oversight? In the case of Temple of Doom the filmmakers were simply taking inspiration from another film, 1939’s Gunga Din, which features The Thuggee as the central villain, and of scenes in Temple of Doom pay homage to.

I consider Temple of Doom to be no less worthy 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.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)

Fanboys

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

I Wanna Hold Your Hand follows a group of fanboys and fanboyettes who put all modern day internet fan communities to shame on a journey to meet their idols. There’s a lot of screaming, shouting and overall hyperactivity with its lightning fast, 1930’s-like repertoire and I watched the entire film with the biggest smile on my face. Crazy over the top comedies like these are my forte and I Wanna Hold Your Hand is one of the most energetic I’ve ever seen. The film begins with Ed Sullivan (Played by Ed Sullivan look-a-like Will Jordan) on the set on his own show off air introducing the movie Patton style, setting the stage for just how big The Beatles had become by January 1964. This was only three months after the assassination of JFK but this is never mentioned in the film. The film shows how Beatlemania provided an escape from the real world.

Wendie Jo Sperber and Eddie Deezen (a voice forever implanted into my head from years of childhood exposure on Dexter’s Laboratory) as Rosie and Ringo (as he calls himself) are the two most hyperactive of the cast members. I find it adorable that these two, one a social outcast and the other puppy dog eyed time bomb being brought together through their insane Beatles’ worship; especially when Rosie tells Ringo, “You’re the only boy I feel I can really talk to”. Likewise, Pam Mitchell’s (Nancy Allen) scene in which she invades The Beatles’ hotel room as she strokes and licks Ringo Star’s guitar neck is erotic cinema at its finest (she even takes off her engagement ring and puts t into her shoe beforehand, nice touch). The cinematography really puts a lot of emphases put on that guitar neck only for Ringo himself to later comment that it’s covered in sticky stuff, sexy. I’d do the same thing as well, not with The Beatles but there are other celebrities of whom I was in their hotel room I would be rubbing my face against everything they’ve touched and don’t lie, you would too.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand also features Paul Newman’s daughter Susan Kendall Newman in her second of three film appearances. Her character of Janis is introduced complaining to the manager of a record store that “all I see around the store is Beatle albums. What about Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, don’t they get equal floor space?”; back to the USSR for you Ms. Frankfurt School. It seems every generation has their socially righteous trying to ruin everyone’s fun although the movie does manage to make her into a sympathetic and more likable character as the film progresses. The film even gives significant attention to Beatles’ haters. One of the film’s greasers Tony (Bobby Di Cicco) hates The Beatles so much he abuses Beatles’ fans and even attempts to sabotage their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show; talk about haters gonna hate.

The other stroke of genius is while we do see The Beatles they are never shown in their entirety. Rather the film takes the Ben-Hur Jesus approach in which only the bodies are seen but never the faces. If they actually did cast actors to play The Beatles in which we see their faces it would take you out of the film. There are even shades of American Graffiti present in I Wanna Hold Your Wand with its early 1960’s setting, young people, rock music and cars.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand marked the directorial debut of Robert Zemeckis. Like in Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump years later, I Wanna Hold Your Hand combines fiction surrounding a historical event. Much of the film’s cast being reunited the following year in the comically less successful 1941 (directed by Steven Spielberg) despite also being written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale. I’ve always considered Zemeckis to be a much better director than Spielberg.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand captures that feeling of having such a strong devotion to something. As you become increasingly attached to these characters you feel that if they really did miss The Beatles performance on The Ed Sullivan Show then their lives really wouldn’t be worth living.

Back to the Future Part III (1990)

Once Upon a Time In Hill Valley

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

While I loved Back to the Future Part II for how frantic and fast-paced it is, I love Part III for largely the opposite reason; for being more simple and laid back. You need a dark chapter like Part II before you can have something more romantic and light-hearted like Part III. I love the western setting, there’s a certain innocence to it and is classic in every sense of the word. There’s monument valley, cowboys, Indians, a saloon as well as the atypical western music score. It’s also fun to see Marty and Doc in a date much further back in time as well as seeing the images, quotes and motifs from the first film reapplied in the western setting. The film shows us Hill Valley during its early days thus over the course of three films we get the entire history (and near future) of this town, making it a character onto itself even if the western setting does raise the question about Hill Valley’s geographical location.

Part III is the Doc’s movie; it gave his character a whole new dimension as his scientific ethics are challenged by falling in love for the first time. I don’t think many people realise it but Doc Brown is a pretty dark character. He blew his family’s fortune on inventions which don’t work (at least until he invented time travel) and is ostracised from the rest of Hill Valley so it’s about time something finally went right in his life and he finds a love. Plus it’s cute, two geeks falling in love who were previously separated by space and time for that added romantic element.

My only complaint with Part III (really my only complaint with any film in the trilogy) is that the film pulls the liar revealed, one of my most dreaded of movie clichés. We know the Doc and Clara are going to get back together towards the end of the movie, so do really need to have the movie abruptly stop for a period. But I’m more forgiving of it in this instance as their separation does contribute to the suspense during the film’s finale which is one of the highlights of the entire trilogy. The interactions between Marty and Doc, on the other hand, are just as great as ever, even more so that they have to find a way to get the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour with the technology available to them in 1885. Although I do have to ask is Doc not going against his principles at the end by creating another time machine, oh well, it’s still a great ending. Back to the Future Part III is my least favourite of the series but I still love it. Unlike other film franchises, the trilogy is done and dusted. It’s not polluted with further sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, re-whatevers, and hopefully, it will stay that way.

The End.

Back To The Future Part II (1989)

It’s a Wonderful Future

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Back to the Future Part II is one of the most relentless films I’ve ever seen. A one hour and forty minute film yet it feels like only a fraction of that length. As the characters are already introduced to us, the movie immediately gets the ball rolling. I love how frantic and faced paced Part II is; the movie almost never pauses and is one hell of a thrill ride. How many movie sequels return to the events of the first film? I can’t imagine the effort that went into recreating the scenes from the first film from different perspectives, it makes you see the first film in a whole different light. The film’s portrayal of 2015, on the other hand, is the future we all wish we could have, unlike most movies which predict a future of doom and gloom. I still want those self-tying shoelaces and the pizza which can be cooked with a few seconds – its fun watching all those future gizmos. Although they got some things right; the large, flat, wide screen TV with multiple channels or the market for nostalgia with the Cafe 80’s.

Part II takes The Empire Strikes Back route by being darker than the first film; the alternate 1985 is like an even darker version of It’s a Wonderful Life. Part II is Biff’s movie; while he doesn’t have the most complex personality. What makes him such a great character is all the different incarnations he has from different ages, timelines as well as his relatives. Thomas F. Wilson has by far the juiciest role in the film, playing no less than five variations of the same character and even having the young Biff interact with the old Biff. I find it funny that the universe could get destroyed just because this one guy has to be an asshole. Also, I’m not the first person to notice this but it’s dawned on me how much the alternate 1985 Biff looks like Donald Trump. If the first Back to the Future showed the good side of capitalism: this movie shows the bad side of capitalism.

Back to the Future Part II is one of the best examples I’ve seen of single actors playing multiple roles and how they seamlessly have them appear side by side and interact with each other. It still makes me wonder how they did those effects. Today, of course, they would be achieved using CGI but not back then and that’s part of the fun of these effects – on top of being cool to look at – you find yourself asking “how did they do that?” Robert Zemeicks had just directed the technically challenging Who Framed Rodger Rabbit and then directed a film as complex as this followed by directing the third Back to the Future; someone had a busy set of years working. They also got a new actress for the role of Jennifer and even then they manage to make the change in casting appear seamless.

Part II is by far the most and I do mean by far the most complex of the trilogy, these movies seriously screw with your head if you think about them too much. For example, (presuming time travel exists) if you go to the future you can’t actually meet your future self, as you skipped the intervening time period by travelling forward in time, your older self would not exist in that timeline; instead you would find your loved ones mourning over the day you disappeared or how about when old Biff returns to the future after giving his younger self the almanac, should he not have returned the future which he changed? I’ll admit the first time I saw it I found the plot a bit confusing; it took me a number of viewings until I finally figured out why the old Biff is in pain when he returns to 2015. I don’t see these inaccuracies as a bad thing if anything they strengthen our love for these films. Part of the fun of the trilogy is discussing the time travel mechanics and trying to find explanations for any possible inaccuracy. Also one other thing I’ve always wondered, why does Marty make no effort to protect the letter from the rain when his life depends on it? The scene in which Doc tries to explain to Marty that they are in an alternative 1985 must have been similar to the interactions between Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale when they were writing this film.

To Be Concluded…

Back to the Future (1985)

Spaceman From Pluto

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

An aura of ‘cool’ permeates everything about Back to the Future. I could imagine seeing this film when it came out in 1985 (of course I wasn’t alive) and watching Marty McFly riding through Hill Valley on his skateboard while holding onto the back of a truck to The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News and thinking to myself, “omg, this is just the coolest film ever”. To me Marty McFly is the personification of cool, he rides skateboards, has a hot girlfriend, plays guitar. Yet his life is far from perfect; his dad is a dweb, his mum is an alcoholic and his uncle is in prison. This brings him down to a relatable level, plus he hangs out with a crazy old scientist. Why? I don’t want to know. I like the mystery of not knowing how this unconventional friendship came to be. The technical jargon between Marty and Doc is a never-ending pleasure to listen and even lines which shouldn’t be memorable are somehow highly quotable (“Wait a minute Doc, are you telling me that it’s 8:25…dam I’m late for school!”). Likewise taking the coolest looking, commercially available car and making that the time machine is yet another stroke of genius. Notice the scene in which we see the DeLorean for the first time; it’s impossible for Doc Brown to get inside the DeLorean while it is inside the truck so he would have had to get into the car and drive it into the truck and just wait there until Marty would show up and then drive it out and exit the car. I guess Doc thought he had made a time machine that looked so badass he really had to give it an impressive introduction to Marty. The whole movie has the best uses of product placements I’ve seen in a film; never before have I been happier to see advertisements for Pepsi and Texaco. The pacing of Back to the Future is perfect, the film never lets up; the odds keep stacking up against Marty and the suspense towards the end of the film is crazy.

Even though most of the film takes place in the 1950’s, Back To The Future is the film which defines the 1980’s. The ending in which Marty finds his family has been changed for the better and he gets the 4×4 vehicle he wanted; it’s a wish fulfilment fantasy and very much a capitalist, 80’s ideal. It’s an uplifting ending, providing you ignore the fact that Marty now has to adjust to living with a family he has no previous memory off. It makes sense that Marty goes back to the year 1955, the time period of when adolescence had a voice and began an economic force for the first time in history; plus just take a look at the title of what won Best Picture that year. Marty’s mother being attracted to her son is weirdly funny plus his mother being the opposite of her adult herself; makes you question your own parents claims about their day. I’m always struck by the moment when Marty tell his relatives in 1955 he has two TVs and they think he’s joking yet if you told someone in 1985 that households today own upwards of 6-7 TVs, they would have the same reaction.

Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back To The Future; to me these are the trilogy of trilogies. The three film sagas I can watch again and again, always notice something new on each viewing, discussing every character to no end, coming up with crazy fan theories and trying to find an explanation to any possible plot hole. I’m sure there are still plenty of subtle gags, use of foreshadowing and who knows what lurked within this film which I still haven’t noticed. Is it possible for a film to be 100% perfect, one which has absolutely nothing wrong with it no matter how minuscule? I can’t think of another film (or series) which has a better use of repeating images and motifs. If I could only bring one DVD to a desert island, it would be my trilogy box set so I could spend my time uncovering every last secret in the trilogy. I love how self-contained the movies are; there are so closely connected to each other and the perfect film trilogy to watch in one go (as I have done several times).

But what is it that makes Back to the Future immensely beloved by such a wide audience? I can tell you why I love it but I have a weird and eccentric film taste. Perhaps it’s due to time travel is something we all fantasize about, as well as the idea of seeing your parents when they were young. The themes the film explores such as family, coming of age, the generation gap and the optimistic message of free will, that our future isn’t written; it’s whatever you make it.

To Be Continued…