You know how that song goes? Well, this past weekend the blizzards and cold that have shook the UK gave me the welcome opportunity to stop in and warm myself with red wine and the Indiana Jones Blu-ray box set that I was bought for Christmas. Watched the four films over the weekend with two on Saturday and the other two Sunday. What marvellous fun. Better than braving the snow anyway.
And fun is the operative word here, because that’s what they are all about- harmless fun and adventure, and watching them one after the other really swept me away in the escapist adventures. Everyone knows what a classic film Raiders is, but I actually relented and finally enjoyed Temple of Doom, my most ill-liked episode in the series before now. Partly because this time it actually immediately followed Raiders in a double-bill, it was also no doubt assisted by the HD treatment, because on Blu-ray, Temple truly shines, with bold comic-book imagery with intense sweltering colours and deep shadowy blacks. It really amazed me how gorgeous it looked.
Watching the films so close together was doubly interesting because I could see them in context and notice their close themes. Raiders is the clear adventure film, the sincerest homage to those old cliffhanger movie serials the films were inspired by. Structurally I still feel it isn’t perfect, as for an action adventure filled with all sorts of wild stunts and chases, it ends with a strange denouement, in which the hero simply closes his eyes and passively waits for the Ark to ‘do its thing’. All through the film Indy was the instrument of his own salvation, defeating ever-bigger foes and escaping ever-devious traps, but in the finale he is such a frustrating, strangely passive figure. It smacked too much even at the time of its release like the ‘eye candy’ fx finale of Spielberg’s earlier Close Encounters, as if the spectacle itself was somehow the finale, ditching any possible dramatic action by the main protagonist. Still, time heals.
Temple of Doom is the dark child of the bunch, a particularly nasty piece and oddly misogynistic. At the time it didn’t really feel like a proper Indiana Jones film but in the context of the others it now holds its own. It still feels oddly uncomfortable though with the weak hapless Indians having to be rescued by the white man who falls from the sky like an avenging angel. Some of the imagery and action is still rather shocking though, what with stabbings, whippings, burnings, hearts ripped out and monkey’s brains for dessert. There were a few times during the film I wondered what Lucas and Spielberg were thinking, and what on Earth younger children make of it even today.
Crusade is the clear comedy of the bunch. Ultimately saved by the oddly effective chemistry between Ford and Connery (the latter who, despite the praise heaped upon him, doesn’t in the slightest attempt anything like an American accent), the films suffers a few pitfalls from too much excess that hints at what was to come with the Crystal Skull (the burning plane passing them in the tunnel is one such WTF moment).
Ah, and here we come to the Crystal Skull, the bastard child no-one really loves. For myself though I really quite like it. It’s weakened by crucial choices though. Chiefly, Shia LaBeouf is a maddeningly mediocre actor who is totally miscast as Indy’s ‘lost’ son Mutt-it’s funny how some films get damaged by being stuck with what was the then-current ‘hot’ star. Irritating as the character is, it’d be fair less painful with a better-cast actor in the part. I think Skull gets some unfair flack simply by it being handicapped by strange decisions like this. But in light of the other films, it’s not the disaster many would have it, many of whom rate the earlier films with the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. I’m a sucker for just seeing Ford as Indy again, a character and body of work across the films that only Ford could manage so with such apparently effortless charm and charisma (I hope Disney don’t try to relaunch the series by casting a ‘new’ Indy; Harrison Ford is really the only true Indiana Jones and anything else would be heresey). And I love the whole Space Gods thing and all it’s pulp 50’s b-movie connotations. And having seen all four films over two days, I love the symmetry of the wedding, bringing Indy and Marion full circle at last. It works.
Thematic parallels- the bad guys always get undone by the very thing they crave for. In Raiders, Belloq and the Nazi’s are destroyed when they achieve their goal of capturing and opening the Ark. In Temple, Mola-Ram is betrayed by the stones that burn in his hands and send him plummeting to his death. In Crusade Walter Donovan achieves his goal of obtaining the Grail (or what he thinks is the Grail) and is destroyed by it when he drinks from the wrong cup- Elsa meanwhile is unable to let the Grail go and falls to her death. In Skull double-dealing Mac is undone by his greed for gold, swept up in the vortex, whilst Irina Spalko is undone in the very moment of attaining her total knowledge/power.
Likewise in all four films, Indy survives by being able to let go of the very object he craves. In Raiders he gets the girl by losing the Ark to the Government (and by closing his eyes as the Ark is opened he forgoes the forbidden knowledge he might otherwise gain). In Temple he gets the girl and gives the Sankara stone and its powers back to the villagers. In Crusade he regains a father by giving up the Grail and its promise of immortality. In Skull he gets the girl again (and this time a son, too) by forgoing the Alien powers/knowledge of the Crystal Skull.
Good films. Maybe not great films (other than Raiders, anyway), but yeah, good films. And great when watched close together like that.