Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Less Disappointing Indiana Jones Makes An Argument For The Franchise To Close: Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

The Good: Decent acting, Fun dialogue, Sense of adventure, Storyline/Concept
The Bad: Action sequences quickly become repetitive, Comedic relief attempts fall short
The Basics: In a very mediocre reprise of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Indiana Jones goes in search of the Holy Grail . . . and his father.

Following the mediocre blockbuster that was Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, a poor follow-up to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, the film franchise came back for one supposedly last outing that was hoped to put the franchise back on the right direction and set up for a television series. The film was Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade and it delivers much of what it promises, but not quite enough to enthusiastically welcome revisiting.

When adventurer and archaeologist Indiana Jones recovers a gold cross that inspired him to become the unearther of antiquities that he became, he returns to his University classes to rest. He is not given much of an opportunity, though, as he is soon employed by a collector of antiquities to recover the Holy Grail. Dr. Jones is interested in recovering the artifact - made possible by the rubbings of a newly discovered tablet - mostly because his father, Dr. Henry Jones, has been abducted by the Nazis who want him to find the Grail for them. Aided by Dr. Brody, Sallah, and Dr. Elsa Schneider, Indiana searches for his father and the Grail, while attempting to outrun the Nazis, though one is closer than he thinks . . .

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade might have been fine on its own, as a standalone film, unhindered by the other episodes in the trilogy. Sure, we would not have understood Indiana's tongue-in-cheek line about the pictograph of the Ark of the Covenant without Raiders Of The Lost Ark, but for the sake of argument, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade works best when considered with complete amnesia of the other episodes. The reason behind this is simple: on its own the film works as a decent hunt/chase movie, in context, the film is blandly repetitive, completely derivative of the episodes that came before. In many ways, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade is a rewriting of Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

In context, it's hard to see why anyone who loved Raiders Of The Lost Ark would find anything truly to like about Last Crusade, especially on the plot front. As far as simple plots go, the action of the two movies is eerily parallel or utterly formulaic. The films go along with parallel narratives switching only details and the order of the fight sequences as both involve the following in this order: Artifact 1 is recovered, Indiana returns to University, The Government approaches Dr. Jones, Dr. Jones accepts the assignment and gets an artifact to find the main artifact, Indiana tries to rescue a kidnaped person, Indiana and his team advance to the main objective. The only real difference in plot structure between the two films is that when Indiana recovers his father, the two go on a side quest to recover Professor Jones's journal as well.

In short, the film does not have the originality of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and it basically mimics the first film (so much so that when Indiana is looking for a disguise while on the zeppelin, I half expected his shirt to not fit). There's a somewhat stale feeling to the film when it is viewed objectively. It's hard to say the film feels stale, though, because the action sequences are almost nonstop after a point, much like in Temple Of Doom. The latter half of the film is dominated by airplane fights, horses and car chases, and a runaway Nazi tank that causes a lot of movement on screen, but very little in the way of actual entertainment. The film becomes obsessed with keeping moving, escalating the chases away from the probable, interesting and entertaining into the mind-numbingly absurd. Indiana Jones becomes a Daffy Duck routine.

This leads to one of the film's other real faults. The comic relief is woefully misapplied. All great action-adventures usually have some ironic humor or tongue-in-cheek remarks that break up the adrenalin pounding pace to make the film something more than just a workout for the actors. That works wonderfully when judiciously applied; otherwise the work becomes a farce. In Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, the humor is telegraphed, overdone, and beaten to death for the viewer. So, for example, when the Joneses are captured by the Nazis, who want the journal that Dr. Brody has, Indiana cleverly tells them that they will never find Brody because of his genius at blending in. Director Steven Spielberg cuts to Brody in the middle of a Middle Eastern marketplace calling out for anyone who might speak English. It's funny. Spielberg cuts back to the Joneses where Indiana reveals he was lying and that Brody once got lost in his own museum. That line comes up again. We get it, we SAW it, it was funny, you don't have to keep telegraphing the joke. It's like telling a joke, saying, "That was a joke" and then moments later saying "Remember that time I told you that joke that went like . . . "

But beyond the derivative qualities, the film works well. The search for the Holy Grail has arguably not been this entertaining since Monty Python And The Search For The Holy Grail. In part, this is because the characters actually develop some. Professor Jones is not a monolithic patriarch and his presence in the film is enjoyable when he and Indiana share scenes. Indiana, for his part, does a great job of using rescuing his father to work on long-avoided issues between the two. That works exceptionally well and it's nice to see in a film that might otherwise be mindless action-adventure. Given the opportunity for quiet moments, The Last Crusade uses them for moments where the father and son might bond and address festering grievances between them.

But then, it's back to fighting Nazis!

Harrison Ford returns as Indiana Jones (as does River Phoenix for the opening sequence) and he's back in good form, though he adds nothing new to the part in this endeavor. No, here any acting challenge is in replicating the character in such a way as to make the viewer believe utterly in Indiana Jones and that no real time has passed since the prior episodes (despite the fact that the three movies were essentially filmed over the course of a decade). Ford does that well.

Where Ford earns his pay is in acting with Sean Connery and he earns it well, though the movie affords some opportunities for the pair to slapstick comedy and I'm not a fan of that. Connery's acting challenge is to not become the action hero. Professor Jones is no Indiana, nor a James Bond. He's a dignified scholar and Connery keeps him within the narrow confines of the characterization quite well. Never once do we suspect that Professor Jones is ready to, say, throw some Nazis into a pond of piranha.

Supporting performances are led by John Rhys-Davies reprising his role of Sallah from Raiders Of The Lost Ark and his presence is a welcome addition. He has great screen presence and charisma. Denholm Elliot is relegated to the role of the buffoon as Dr. Brody, but he plays it convincingly (unfortunately for the character and the film).

Ultimately, though, the acting is barely enough to overcome the derivative plot and the draw on the character development and action sequences. Honestly, this came down to a coin toss for the recommend and it ought to be considered a very weak recommendation. At best, it's a good way to kill a Sunday afternoon or feel like you're watching Raiders Of The Lost Ark when you don't want to watch that specific film.

For other action-adventure films, please check out my reviews of:
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince


For other film reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment