[Yes, I said ‘trilogy’: to me, the fourth film is just the inspiration for a fun but silly Lego game, so I shall ignore it.]
I recently watched the first three Indiana Jones films, and it got me thinking about them, so here are some of the thoughts that occurred to me while watching them again.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark deserves its status as a lean action adventure in the traditions of the old serials: it has it all, from excitement to humour to colourful characters and boo-worthy bad guys, with a taut script and a more serious feel compared with the later films. Harrison Ford is perfect as the impossible mix of intelligent (he has a lot of book learning as a professor of archaeology) and heroic man, even if he is a bit of a dick towards women. Having watched it several times, there are still bits that seem to use the logic lapses of the old serials (Indy disguising himself as a German soldier, hanging at the back of a line of marching soldiers, seems to draw no attention to himself; the scene where he threatens to destroy the ark is implausible and seems just a silly way to get himself captured; why weren’t he and Marion killed instead of tied to a post at the opening of the ark – earlier, the two of them had been thrown into a pyramid to be sealed in order to kill them, so why not finish the job? And why [a] does Indy think that not looking at the open ark will work and [b] does that actually work? Do the avenging spirits detect closed eyelids and not destroy them? Very silly) but that doesn’t completely ruin the enjoyment of a very good film.
Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom is not a very good film, despite some recent rumblings suggesting that it should be reappraised. It is definitely the weakest of the three ‘good’ Indy films, and anyone who says otherwise is talking nonsense. To start with, the opening section has a very good friend of Indy, played by David Yip, get killed due to Indy’s cock-up with the crime boss in Shanghai – and Indy doesn’t even care. Heartless Indy forgets about him almost immediately, never referring to his death once, never making him reassess that he’s continuing his dangerous adventures with a child, never showing remorse that his friend died because it was Indy’s fault. That’s not a hero I’m very interested in. There is also the fact that the main story is an accident – it completely diminishes the value of the film because it makes it feel like a minor note in the annals of Indiana Jones; no longer is it a matter of national importance, nor is Indy called in because of his expertise. Instead, he just turns up out of nowhere (after the impossible survival of a lifeboat falling out of a crashing plane) and sticks his nose in because that’s who he is. That’s irritating. Then there is the Willie factor: I have nothing against Kate Capshaw, but the character of the night club singer Willie is one of the most annoying screen presences I’ve ever seen. And heard – because Willie is constantly screaming; I mean, all the time with her ear-piercing wail that ruins the movie. This film occurs before Raiders, so my theory is that Indy is a dick to women because of her – admittedly, he treats her as badly as all the other women in his life, so perhaps he’s just a misogynistic git, but he learns that from being in the company of Willie for so long. Don’t let anyone tell you that Temple of Doom isn’t a wonky misstep from Messrs Spielberg and Lucas.
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade makes up for Temple Of Doom by being the most enjoyable. It is lighter than the two preceding films, but that is more in keeping with the correct tone – yes, there is death and war and seriousness, but it’s supposed to be entertainment. The master stroke is the casting of Sean Connery as Henry Jones Sr, someone you can actually believe as Indy’s father (even though he is only 12 years older than him), and who is an absolute riot in the part. He is stern and academic, but also charming and caring, and very funny. There is real chemistry between Connery and Ford that is the heart of the film, which jumps from one entertaining set piece to another in a story that is very appropriate to Indiana Jones, but also includes lots of jokes that don’t disrupt from the tone of the film. Of the three, it’s the one I anticipate watching again, and I like to think of it as the last Indy adventure so that I don’t have to remember The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.