Saturday, June 30, 2012

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Sometimes, all it takes is for one new element, one different angle, to make a movie stand out from other movies it otherwise might be remarkably similar to. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) is the third in the series, and it bears numerous parallels with Raiders of the Lost Ark: Harrison Ford once again plays the heroic archeologist, the plot is a globe-hopping race against the Nazis for a religious artifact that could mean world domination if it falls into the wrong hands, and Jones is engaged in something of a rivalry with another scholar of ancient artifacts. But unlike Raiders, in which Jones held enmity with his rival Belloq, he's competing for father's approval in Last Crusade.

In one of the most appropriate bits of casting ever, Sean Connery plays Dr. Henry Jones, an expert on the Holy Grail who has spent his life looking for it and had been somewhat neglectful and dismissive of his son.When Henry Jones goes missing, Indiana races to rescue, and before long, the Joneses are reunited on a quest to get the Grail before the Nazis.

Director Steven Spielberg also returns, and with the description, it's tempting to think Spielberg is giving into sentimental schmaltz about a father and son learning they really do love each other, but that's only part of it. The relationship between the Joneses is more like one between an older and younger colleague with some heart-felt affection buried between them. Given their relationships with the woman in this picture, Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), there's even an element of romantic antagonism; Indiana is shocked at his father's reply when he asks how he knew she was a Nazi: "She talks in her sleep," the elder Jones notes matter-of-factly.

It's impossible to watch Connery and not be reminded of the James Bond legacy he brings to the table. In a way, Last Crusade could be seen as the meeting of two action genre icons: the witty, old-school, impossible-to-impress Conenry and the laconic, physical, almost exasperated Ford. Of the two, Ford is more business, less likely to get distracted, and more aware of the immediate danger. Every time he does something heroic, he turns to his dad, who usually rolls his eyes or is focused on something else, casually dismissing his son's efforts to impress him. Henry Jones is also more of an intellectual, wearing his glasses a bow tie in the desert and resorting to his wits when his son might rely on fists. Both father and son get a chance to surprise the other, whether it's Henry causing a flock of seagulls to crash a Nazi warplane or Indiana rescuing his father from a tank.

Compared to Temple of Doom and even Raiders, Last Crusade is more light-hearted and less grim. Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) are back in more prominent roles as comic relief. They were certainly missed in Temple of Doom, and their returns are welcome. The banter between Henry and Indiana is antagonistic but playful, and they do seem like father and son. Even though they work out some tension between them, it doesn't feel obtrusive or forced. The quest this time doesn't feel as desperate or intense as it did in Raiders. Even though there are Nazis in it, the hunt for the grail feels more like school boys on an adventure.

Of course, it wouldn't be a successful Indiana Jones movie without a number of standout action sequences, and Last Crusade offers its share: the boat chase through the canals of Venice, the Joneses' escape from a burning Austrian castle followed by a motorcycle chase, an aerial dogfight, and the attack on a Nazi tank convoy in the desert. Twenty-plus years later, they still retain the power to excite, and the special effects work remains top-notch.


  1. Have you ever noticed that when Donavon drinks from the wrong grail and starts aging rapidly, first he looks like Jack Palance, then Christopher Lloyd?

    As much as I love "Last Crusade," it is my least favorite of the three Indiana Jones movies. (I refuse to acknowledge "Crystal Skull" as part of the series.) "Temple of Doom" has a special place in my heart (pun intended).

    1. I can't say I ever did notice that. Is that a joke or is that who they really based the design off of?

      Of the original three (haven't seen "Crystal Skull" all the way through), I'd go with "Raiders," "Crusade," and "Temple of Doom," although the gaps are narrow.