While vacationing in Maui, old film school chums George Lucas and Steven Spielberg discussed what projects they wanted to work on next after their respective smashes Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg confessed he wanted to make a James Bond film but Lucas told him he had an even better film in mind. His love of serials of the 30s and 40s lead to the creation of archeologist Indiana Jones. Spielberg loved the idea. They originally cast Tom Selleck as their lead but he had to back out to star in the television series Magnum P.I. They went back to Spielberg’s first choice, Harrison Ford. However, Lucas was at first reluctant to cast Ford, not wanting him to become his “Bobby De Niro” after working with him on two other films all ready, but he proved to be the perfect fit for Nazi fighting, whip cracking adventurer.
Indiana Jones stands out among movie heroes because he is not superhuman. His strengths are his extensive knowledge of ancient civilizations and his bravery and dedication when seeking out great archeological discoveries. However, he is far from perfect. He’s gruff, has trouble maintaining relationships with family members and romantic partners, he’s not always the best judge of character, he’s terrified of snakes and he frequently gets serious injured. Our introduction to the character is him losing. An important artifact ends up in the hands of a rival but Indy remains a hero because he’s quick with the one-liner and has Harrison Ford’s charming grin. Hell, the Nazis even obtain ark of the covenant and are defeated by an act of God, not Indy. However, it is Indy’s knowledge of the ark’s power that saves him and Marion and allows for the ark to stay out of the wrong hands for good. Nowadays flawed heroes are a dime a dozen, but every House or Iron Man owes a lot to Indy.
Keeping with the James Bond influence, Indy is given a new leading lady to romance for every adventure (at least for the original trilogy). However, they screwed up by partnering Indy with his soul mate in the first film. Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) is tough, brave, and shares Indy’s passion for archeology through her father, Indy’s mentor. Temple of Doom is a prequel so Marion’s absence can be excused but it is a little uncomfortable to watch enter a physical relationship with Elsa. While it’s quickly revealed Elsa is a Nazi spy and their relationship never gets very deep, you still know he belongs with Marion. The one saving grace of Crystal Skull is seeing Indy and Marion reunited and finally making it work. Ford and Allen really have amazing chemistry and it’s always fun to watch them bicker.
For the second film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Spielberg wanted a darker feel, as he and Lucas were ending relationships. However, the change in tone isn’t the best fit for Indy and especially when he saddled with cartoonish sidekicks like Short Round and romantic interest Willie (Kate Capshaw). Willie is spoiled and helpless, the opposite of Marion but Indy and Willie fall for each other because they are the male and female leads in a blockbuster film. While it has some famous scenes (like the scene where a man’s heart is ripped out of his chest), the film is mostly inconsequential and can probably be skipped if one is short on time. Even Spielberg wasn’t too fond of Temple of Doom, saying the film’s saving grace was that it introduced him to future wife Capshaw.
For Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy is back at what he does best, keeping biblical artifacts from the Nazis. Ford is teamed with Sean Connery who plays Indy’s estranged father, a fellow archeologist. The two are a great together as they butt head as only father and son can.
Lucas originally intended to have five films in the series. When he originally convinced Spielberg to direct, he told his old friend he had three adventures plotted for Indiana Jones. However, Lucas is a lying liar who lies a lot (see the prequels that he claimed to have written decades in advance) he only had the first one complete. After Last Crusade, Lucas struggled to come up with a new story. After nineteen years and countless rewrites , they unleashed Indiana Jones and the Crystal Kingdom.
Aliens!!! Shia LaBeouf monkey boy!!! Surviving a nuke by hiding in a fridge!!! Asking if I was disappointed is like asking if Indy hates snakes. While I was anticipating it being hard to watch a slowed down, aging Ford trying to keep up with a kid like LaBeouf, I didn’t expect the writers to stray so much from Indy’s core. My husband and I have debated whether aliens were that much more unbelievable than, say, the Holy Grail and I think they are. Regardless of religious belief, most of us can agree that Jesus and Moses lived and certain events happened and can be studied for historical content. Whether objects they possessed have supernatural powers are up to debate, but these object most likely existed and would be certainly sought after by archeologists. To have a Mayan(?) temple really be an alien spaceship and then have the spaceship take off… grrr Lucas, Spielberg!!! This continues the duo’s trend of desecrating their their former masterpieces. We can’t let them play together any more. I’m clearly not the only one who feels this was, as South Park released an episode where they accused the two directors of raping Indiana Jones.
There are whispers of future adventures for Indy and crew, or simply allowing LaBeouf take over the series. I hope they can obtain the self-control to leave well enough alone. If you’ve never seen Indiana Jones, schedule a double feature of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade. If you have time, squeeze Temple of Doom in there too. And if you must watch Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, make sure there’s liquor handy.