Indy’s not-so last Crusade

indy3Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989, 127 mins, 4K UHD

Looking back on the Indiana Jones saga, its clear that the balance between action and comedy, drama and sheer fun, established so well in Raiders… well they never got that timeless, matinee-movie balance right again, not even close. I know many believe that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the best of the sequels, but I much prefer Temple of Doom, although that too has its own flaws, but I certainly believe time has been kinder to Temple of Doom than it has been to Last Crusade.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is evidently a reactionary film, leaning towards comedy and light adventure following the mischevious darkness of much of Temple of Doom and going, well, just too far. Spielberg seems to have lost the deft touch he displayed in Raiders– as I noted in a recent post, in that film the camera is doing all sorts of things to imaginatively move the story forwards; it could have worked as a silent movie. But that’s largely missing in this third film. While Raiders felt like something inspired, here there’s something coldly calculated about it, the placing of action beats, reprising the structure and sometimes even set-pieces (Raiders had Indy chasing a truck on a horse, now its Indy chasing a tank on a horse, and the ensuing fight on the vehicle against Nazi solders); Lucas and Spielberg obviously wanted to bring all the fun back and perhaps just didn’t know where to stop. What, after all, is the actual point of the diversion to Berlin for the Hitler gag?

Its all rather hard work, to be honest- the story is disjointed, and doesn’t really make a lot of sense. The film is largely carried by the chemistry between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, their banter and the comedy that sparks from them. Without that, we’d largely be left with a film remarkably close in quality to the much-maligned Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Seriously: imagine it without Sean Connery’s character: we’d have the same convoluted, nonsensical plot, the surrounding non-characters, the same tired and sometimes ridiculous action set-pieces, as muddles Crystal Skull. Mind, Harrison Ford is as brilliant as ever- back in his prime he was such a dead ringer for matinee idols of old, there’s really been nobody quite like him for decades, really, just a few pretenders, so whatever problems an Indiana Jones film might have, its always watchable just to see Harrison Ford and his gift for physical acting, comic timing and just sheer charm in front of the camera.

I must note that this film looked particularly good in 4K UHD; its a very fine-looking disc with a highly detailed, filmic image in which the HDR really does add a ‘pop’ and sense of depth. Its a gorgeous-looking disc and likely the best I’ve ever seen the film, even compared to its original theatrical showing.

6 thoughts on “Indy’s not-so last Crusade

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    Yeah, I’ve always felt the same way since I saw it in ‘89. It really wasn’t working for me at all for the whole first half of the film back then: it felt flimsy and jerry-built. I thought it picked up a bit from Berlin onwards but not enough to save it. I blame Jeffrey ‘Lethal Weapon 2’ Boam and his assembly-line script.

    I’ve always felt it maddening that so many people prefer this weak xerox of Raiders to the mischievous, exotic curate’s egg of Temple: whatever it’s flaws (which, to be honest, I don’t have a problem with) that film is absolutely stuffed to the gills with amazing things, whereas this just feels tired and rote.

    1. I didn’t mention it in my post, but Last Crusade always rather gave me a Return of the Jedi-vibe, as if Lucas and Spielberg’s hearts just weren’t in it and they were just getting a third entry out of the way to close it all out. Such a shame, there’s all sorts of stuff they could have done- Indiana Jones in the Lost World (adventuring in Africa and finding a subterranean world with dinosaurs etc) or that idea of Indy finding Atlantis. There’s all sorts of possibilities. I think Lucas was at one point proposing a ghost story for Indy in a Scottish castle. If it didn’t fire Spielberg’s juices up, why not give it somebody else?

  2. Ah, I’ll always have a soft spot for this one — I don’t know if it was the first Indy I saw, or just the one I saw most often as a kid, but either way, for whatever reason, it kind of stuck in my memory as “the definitive Indy movie”, more so than Raiders. For that reason it might always be my favourite… although, on my recent rewatch of the series, I did kinda feel what you were saying about it being a blatant attempt to emulate and exaggerate what worked in Raiders.

    As for Temple of Doom, it’s wild that it used to be accepted wisdom that was “a bad film”. I’m glad the consensus has come round on it, and I hope Crystal Skull (which is far from perfect, but also not as bad as so many claim) gets the same reevaluation someday.

    1. I suspect when Indy 5 arrives then people may indeed revaluate Crystal Skull. I find it interesting that so many fan’s criticisms of that film can well be laid at the other entries in the series- even Raiders isn’t immune from the criticism of Indy being a passive bystander during a grand finale.

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