Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
As the two most successful directors in Hollywood in the late 1970s, Lucas and Spielberg could do whatever they wanted.
And what they wanted was to express the shared love of movie serials they both loved as kids and teenagers, the same aesthetic with which Lucas bought ”Star Wars” to the screen.
Think of the old 50s and 60s Saturday afternoon movie serials and several institutions come up in the mind; exotic space aliens roaring through space in rocket ships, dark-suited spies moving through the shadows of noirish cities and adventurers crisscrossing the world in the pursuit of ancient treasures, danger always one step behind them.
The latter informed on the mythology that became Indiana Jones, a seemingly mild mannered archaeology professor who isn’t above using fists, his signature whip or a gun to secure the world’s most valuable and historically significant treasures.
The opening coda is the mission statement of the entire franchise – a beautiful and remote but dangerous location, a valuable idol, and a path to reach it that’s dotted with booby traps that have lain in wait for millennia. Indy’s untrustworthy guides and helpers are dispatched one by one in grisly circumstances and the chin-scratching, head-cocked calculation of the bag of sand weighing as much as the trinket is instantly recognisable to millions of movie fans worldwide.
The trivia is as much movie lore as the story – star Ford, suffering dysentery like much of the crew after the food on the north African shoot, suggested pulling his gun and shooting the swordsman in desperation to get away from the set early, a scene that got the film’s biggest laugh. Any film geek will also nod knowingly at mention of the most famous fly in movies, the one that appears to crawl into Bellocq’s (Freeman) mouth mid-shoot. And location nerds will gleefully tell you the valley where Indy threatens to blow up the ark with a bazooka is the same Tunisia location one where the Jawas nabbed R2-D2.
But it’s a combination of Vic Armstrong’s stunt work, another iconic John Williams score, more Academy-worthy sound work by Ben Burtt, the James Bond-like globetrotting nature of the production, Spielberg’s spirit of unrealistic fun and the endlessly likeable leading man (who was nearly Tom Selleck among many others) that makes it so timeless. Lucas and Spielberg are thought of as the overlords of the franchise, but it’s not often realised that Lawrence Kasdan wrote the screenplay while Lucas and Phillip Kaufman merely have story credits.
If you don’t already know, the title is the plot. When government agents learn of a Nazi plot to retrieve the Biblical Ark of the Covenant – which still holds whatever’s left of the ten commandments – for its military applications, they turn to the professor to beat them to it. He reconnects with old flame Marion (Allen) who’s in possession of a trinket that reveals the location of the titular treasure, and they travel to the site of the Nazi dig where they alone have the exact co-ordinates.
But sifting through the snake-infested Well of Souls to dig up the Ark is only the beginning as Indy’s nemesis Bellocq – leading the Nazi search – takes the Ark from under their noses and the race is on to get it back and secure it for good.
As much fun as you’ll have at the movies, together with Star Wars it marked the beginning of the modern moviemaking era and signified that movies could be a good time again, after the dark, mistrustful paranoia of much of the 70s.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
The ”Empire Strikes Back” of the ”Indiana Jones” films. Darker, scarier, more black humour and thrills…
The only difference is that it comes within the shadow of surpassing its predecessor as opposed to surpassing it, as it’s accepted throughout this galaxy ”Empire” did in leaving ”A New Hope” in the dust.
That, and Steven Spielberg ended up not liking it, thinking it was too scary for his inner matinee-going youngling.
Not me, or the rest of Generation X. After the fourth cinema viewing I was as thrilled as ever with the roller coaster coal car race, as horrified as ever at the unfortunate extra lowered into the lava pit by Mola Ram and Chatter Lal, as stricken with lust as ever by the dripping wet Willie (future Mrs Spielberg Kate Capshaw) trying to escape the flooded caves.
Indy’s in as much trouble as ever, looking dapper in a Shanghai nightclub as he bargains for a rare jewel with shady gangster Lou Che and his comic book goons. One huge musical number and spectacular, hilarious bar fight later and Indy’s on the run again with Willie in tow and joined by his sidekick, short round (Quan, who’d go on to a short but auspicious career in Spielberg stable films like ”The Goonies”).
After a last double cross by the gangster by being abandoned in a plane running out of fuel, the trio crash land in India. Fate delivers them into the hands of a village devastated by the fearsome Thuggee cult that operates out of the Maharaja’s palace nearby.
The narrative is enough to deliver so many Saturday matinee/comic strip set-ups and iconic sequences you can’t help but love it.
Neither Lucas nor Spielberg had forgotten the lynchpin of the whole Indiana Jones ethos – having a good time. It’s nothing but laughs and thrills from start to finish, and like Tarantino with his yellowed VHS cult section, Spielberg is the Lazarus of a movement, and Doom is perhaps the most loving expression of it – even if he doesn’t think so.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Adequate addition to the successful series of everybody’s favourite improbably whip-wielding archaeologist, with the expected Saturday afternoon matinee thrills that neither Lucas nor Speilberg could shake off for years.
Entertaining and great fun as father and son join forces to outwit the Nazi’s and follow an ancient trail to discover the resting place of the Holy Grail. Aside from the novelty of Sean Connery as Ford Sr. and River Phoenix as young Indy in the opening sequence, more or less the same style, story and substance.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Franchise overlord George Lucas took almost a decade to shepherd the story through four writers – one of whom quit writing over it (Frank Darabont), and finally it’s here. Is it fun? Of course. Is it brilliant? Far from it – it’s more like a pair of favourite slippers. But there are cracks showing. Flabby pacing, poor camera angles and dodgy scripting are the beginning, but poor Indy can’t hide his age, 65-year-old Harrison Ford looking and sounding as creaky as the ancient temples he plunders.
Escaping not just the eeeevil Russians led by ice cold Cate Blanchett (replacing the Nazis as the goons-for-hire, it being 1957) but a nuclear bomb test in Nevada, Indy’s hounded out of his job by the FBI because of his involvement with a certain New Mexico incident in 1947.
If you were around for the X Files and UFO mania of the mid 1990s, you’ll recognise it as the date of the infamous Roswell UFO crash, and the Russians force Indy to find what he saw that day in the cavernous warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant still safe and sound.
As he’s about to leave, a young Brando wannabe, Mutt (LeBeouf), tells Indy about a letter from his missing mother, with the scrawl of a mad professor and former friend of Indy’s. The letter apparently leads to yet another archaeological treasure deep in the forests of Peru, and if you haven’t read any spoilers yet we won’t ruin it for you, except to say you’ll never guess what the crystal skull is and how it’s linked to a supposedly alien race.
It’s new territory for Indy and his hangers-on, including old flame Marion (Allen) and sidekick Mac (Winstone), but it all takes place in enough crumbling ruins and on the run from enough South American Indians firing poison darts that it’s all very familiar.
Not the finest work of anyone involved, you get the feeling Lucas, Spielberg, Ford and Co wanted a big party to remind them of old times more than craft an enduring film. Everything’s in the right place, from the stunts to the quips and the effects to the Indy icons we know and love. But it’s possible ”Indiana Jones” films were always this klutzy, and throughout the 1980s – long before the time of ”Jurassic Park”, ”Transformers” and ”Titanic” – we didn’t know any better.
Blu-ray details/extras : Though a couple of scenes are weirdly murky, across the broad all four films encompass genuinely stellar transfers (particularly, and not surprisingly, the most recent film in the series).
Extras-wise, there’s an extra disc dedicated to a bunch of supplementary materials; while all are great – recently-recorded making-of’s, archived featurettes, trailers and so on – there’s nothing on here that we haven’t seen before. Unlike the recently-released “Star Wars” Blu-ray’s, Lucasfilm haven’t bothered, or simply haven’t been able to locate, any unseen extra goodies for the BD release of the “Indiana Jones” series – it’s a tad disappointing. I mean, wasn’t anyone available to do some audio commentaries!?