Friday, July 29, 2011

Flashback Friday: Indiana Jones

This week's Flashback Friday coincides with Portland's Flicks on the Bricks film selection for today: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I guess I've been in Portland long enough (my fifth full summer) to see movies get repeated for this summer program. They had already played The Last Crusade within the past six years. Why again so soon? They haven't shown Star Wars, which I wish they would. They haven't even shown the other three Indiana Jones films, either. I can understand why, though. Raiders of the Lost Ark has the terrifying face melting scene and Temple of Doom has the equally horrifying heart-ripping scene. Those brief scenes have made those films virtually unplayable in public. So, The Last Crusade is the safe alternative. There's really nothing terrifying in the film. A man turns old and into a corpse, but that's different than faces melting! However, I wish that they would show the last Indiana Jones film, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for the Flicks on the Bricks. Perhaps the reason why they don't is because its not well liked by fans.

Without further delay, here is a look back at all the films in the series and what I think of them.

Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in 1981. My parents took my brother and I to the theater to see this film. While I enjoyed it, the face melting scene gave me nightmares for many months. It was horrifying. The last time I saw it, I laughed at how fake the face melting looks. But, man, its not a cool scene to put in a movie that children would go see. I was 9 years old, living in Utah. The film was so popular that the soccer team I was on picked the name "Raiders" because of it (the name I submitted for the team to vote on was "Sidewinders", as I thought this snake was cool at the time). The movie played in the same Ogden movie theater for a full year. We would see it listed on the marquee each week we drove by on our way to and from church.

The movie was a collaboration between two of the most successful film directors of that time. George "Star Wars" Lucas and Steven "Jaws" Spielberg essentially created the summer blockbuster with their hit summer movies. Before Jaws came out in the summer of 1975, there was no such thing as a "summer movie." Movies were released year round and on a few screens. They played in a theater for a few days or weeks before moving on to the next theater. Lucas and Spielberg were friends, not rivals, and they wanted to make a modern update of the adventure serials they loved as children. Lucas also wanted to create an American version of the James Bond character. Thus, adventure archaeologist Indiana Jones was born.

Setting the character in the 1930s was a brilliant idea, because Nazis make the greatest villains in film history. The Nazis were known for collecting mythological artifacts around the world. It was an occult movement, obsessed with creating a new mythology that would hold sway over a mass of people. The first film deals with the Jewish Ark of the Covenant, which was kept in the Temple in Jerusalem and no one knows what happened to it after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. If such a relic were ever found, I'm certain that no face melting will occur if the lid is lifted.

Besides nightmares, this movie also inspired in me an interest in Egypt and the clothes that Arabs wear (the robes and headdresses). My father also participated in an exercise in Egypt around this time with his military unit. I'm certain that I probably pretended to be Indiana Jones during my play periods. The film was good, with some classic scenes, but overall, I like the third one the best.

In 1984, the sequel came out. The story actually takes place a year before the events in Raiders of the Lost Ark, though. The title of this one was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The dark intensity of the movie inspired a new rating for the American film rating system. The ratings board wanted to give this film an "R", which prohibits anyone under 17 from seeing it without a parent or guardian. This was unacceptable for kid friendly Lucas and Spielberg, so the compromise was a PG-13.

Though my parents were fans of the first film, we did not see the sequel (or "prequel"?) in theaters. I heard from other kids all about the heart-ripping scene, as well as the bugs and the dinner scene ("chilled monkey brains!"). I'm not sure when I eventually saw the film, but the heart-ripping scene also gave me nightmares, and I was a teenager by this point.

Despite the darkness of this film, I actually loved it because of the Willie character (played by Kate Capshaw, who became Mrs. Steven Spielberg after this movie). The opening sequence where she sings "Anything Goes" in Club Obi-Wan (a not-so-subtle nod to Lucas' other film series) in Shanghai is truly fantastic. I love the song and the choreography. I also loved how Willie screams at everything. She's clearly the most "stereotypical woman" in all the Jones films. Or at least, an older stereotype of a woman being afraid of everything and needing a man to protect her from all kinds of danger.

The most welcome addition to the film, though, is the Asian kid, Short Round, who adds much humour with his accented comments ("Holy smoke, crash landing!"). As a biracial kid myself, it was nice to see an Asian kid in a major film like this. I believe its the same actor who was in The Goonies. Wonder whatever happened to him. We're probably the same age.

The story of this film takes place in India, where Indiana Jones is tasked with retrieving the sacred Sankara (sp?) stones for a village. Much of the film takes place indoors and deep in the earth. A blood-thirsty cult engages in brainwashing and human sacrifice (which involves the ripping out of a heart). For a time, even Indiana Jones finds himself under the spell of the cult. The film is thrill a minute, with a major action sequence involving a roller coaster type mining car through the underground mine that Dr. Jones, Willie, and Short Round find themselves in.

In 1989, the third film is released to much fanfare in one of the greatest years in movies. The story brings back the Nazis as the bad guys and adds more drama in the form of Indiana Jones' father, played by the popular Sean Connery. This was the greatest casting coup ever! What a pair they made: James Bond and Han Solo, playing father and son "Dr. Henry Jones."

The Last Crusade is about the quest for the Holy Grail. Much was made of the fact that the word "Last" was in the title. Also this same year, the fifth Star Trek film was entitled The Final Frontier, hinting that it was to be the last one (until fans hated it and demanded a better concluding film). My favourite scene in this film is when Indiana Jones goes to a Nazi book burning rally and comes face to face with Adolf Hitler, who proceeds to autograph Indiana's father's journal.

In this film, the Holy Grail can be found deep inside the cave where the Petra building in Jordan stands guard (my parents are going on a vacation to Israel and Jordan this October and Petra is one of the stops on their tour). It is a chalice that Jesus supposedly drank out of during the Last Supper. There have been quite a few books and movies about the quest for the Holy Grail. This was the obsession of the Crusades. After reading The Da Vinci Code, though, I have not thought of the Holy Grail in the same way again (according to some clever word play, "San Greal" is the word for it in French, which can be slightly changed to "Sang Real", or "Holy Blood"). Who really knows for sure what the Holy Grail really was, though. Makes for excellent stories.

In 2008, after 19 years since the last one played in theaters, a new Indiana Jones adventure hit the big screens: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Despite fan hype before the film came out, the movie was rather inconsequential as a cultural landmark. People weren't talking about it much in the months after it was released. It was a bit of a disappointment at the time. Its the only Indiana Jones film that I own on DVD (been meaning to get the trilogy box set for years now). I saw it once in the theater and a few times at home. It grows on me. I didn't like the conclusion, but I understand it. The whole film is meant to be a take off on the types of film that were popular in the 1950s: alien movies, which was a stand-in for paranoia about government.

What I liked about the movie is that Lucas and Spielberg decided to set this film 19 years after Indiana's adventures in The Last Crusade. That brought him into a new era, when the Nazis were long defeated and a new menace was on the world stage: The Soviet Communists. I also liked the story focusing on ESP, telepathy, and the paranormal, because it is true. The Soviets were open to such phenomenon, based on the information they learned when they defeated the Nazis in Berlin. The Nazis were into the occult and had all kinds of experiments. I find it amusing that many Americans are closed minded to such paranormal topics, while the atheistic communists were open to it. Why is that the case? I blame the narrow-mindedness on evangelical Christianity, which attributes everything they don't understand to Satan. Better to be open minded to information and test the accuracy of the information. The more you know, the more powerful you are over others (knowledge is power). This is what the Soviets hoped to achieve with their quest for extra-sensory intelligence and telepathy.

Cate Blanchette made a sexy Soviet villain and Shia LaBoeuf as Indiana's son makes a good foil. It brings Indiana full circle. In the last film, he was having arguments with his aloof father and in this film, he's trying to catch up on fatherhood to a young man he just met and later learns is his son with the lady he loved in the Himalayas from the Raiders film. For me, the only flaw in this movie is the resolution regarding the Crystal Skull being alien in orientation and having a hive mind, so that when all of the Crystal Skulls are brought out! I've read that some fans want a fifth Indiana Jones film to be made, to erase their memories of this one. Fanboys can be a tough audience. The movie was fun and was meant to be fun. If people want to say that this movie "ruined" the trilogy for them, they really need to get a life. This film was how Lucas and Spielberg envisioned it and if one doesn't like it, then don't watch it! I thought the ending wrapped things up nicely, so there is no need for a fifth one. Unless they want to go with a "Son of Indiana Jones" movie. But even that wouldn't be the same.

Its great to see what an update of an old movie serial adventure series can do in the world of entertainment. Indiana Jones is definitely one of the most interesting film characters around. Directors need to be creative and think up of new characters to make films about, though. Searching old movie serials and letting one's imagination run wild should turn up something good for someone. Let Indiana Jones enjoy his marriage and retirement.

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