"The quest for the grail is not archeology, it's a race against evil." - Dr. Henry Jones
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: George Lucas, Menno Meyjes, Jeffrey Boam
Principal cast members:
The third installment in the Indiana Jones franchise finds our intrepid archeologist/adventurer on the trail of the holy grail of historical archeology: the -- well, the actual Holy Grail.
The time is approximately the same as the original installment, Raiders of the Lost Ark - the late 30s. Once again, Indy is racing Nazis to try to capture a significant religious artifact. But this time, he is also trying to rescue his father and also on the run from a strange Middle Eastern cult whose task is to protect the Grail from unbelievers.
The story progresses at breakneck speed with Jones teaming up with a beautiful ice-queen Aryan archeologist who - color me surprised - turns out to be working for the Nazis. They explore the sewers of Italy, dealing with rats and combustible liquids only to escape into a deadly speedboat chase involving fez-wearing bad guys. The trail leads to an alpine castle where Indy finds himself double-crossed by the blonde and captured by the Nazis. But he does find his father only to discover that he and Dad have remarkably similar taste in women.
They escape, of course, and manage to hitch a ride on a luxury dirigible. But when the blimp does a u-turn, they must exit the airship the only way they can - on a parasite fighter biplane which results in a comic dogfight followed by a crash landing on a beach. Eventually, Indy and Dad team up with standard Jones allies, Sallah and Marcus Brody, and once again find themselves chased by Nazis in a rather nasty tank battle. Eventually, however, they find the secret hiding place of the Holy Grail. What follows is some lovely special effect work in which the dungeons & dragons crowd gets to see their man in action against the coolest traps any dungeonmaster ever invented and then faces the moral dilemma of a lifetime.
This, of course, is followed by the standard Indiana Jones wrath-of-god comeuppance for the bad guys, and we all go home happy.
The Indiana Jones series has had its ups and downs. Raiders of the Lost Ark was such an adventurous masterpiece but the sequel, Temple of Doom, was so much darker and gorier that many fans of the original were very turned off. Last Crusade is mostly a return to form for Spielberg's adventurous collaboration with George Lucas and Harrison Ford.
History suggests that George Lucas as a writer is fairly good at high concept but gets worse the farther into the details he goes. So having him share writing credits is generally wise. Give George the overall story and let the dialogue come from writers who are just better at putting believable words in actors' mouths. It always helps, of course, to have Harrison Ford along because he seems to be the only actor who can really make Lucas-penned dialogue work on screen, anyway.
By this episode, we're very well aware of the qualities of Indiana Jones that make him endearing to us. He's a tough, high-endurance scholar with a whip and a fedora and he hates snakes. Here, Spielberg treats us to a nice prequel that explains all three of those qualities, starring River Phoenix as a young Indy in a Boy Scout uniform dealing with a circus train.
The key to the Indiana Jones series has always been fast paced action and unbelievable dilemmas to which our hero managed to affect MacGyver-esque escapes. This episode is no different, but it features some rather delightful chemistry between Ford and Sean Connery as the father and son duo of Indiana and his demanding father, Henry. While Connery manages a fair amount of derring-do, Spielberg never lets us forget that Ford is the real action star here and Connery is the old guy who taught him what he knows.
Denholm Elliott turns in his usual turn here as the C3PO of the Indiana Jones series, occasionally whining, often bumbling, but staunch and loyal to the end. John Rhys-Davies also reprises his role of Sallah, Indy's middle-eastern friend and ally who manages to be resourceful and jaunty in the worst of circumstances. While the story falls a bit short of the original, the chemistry of the main actors is quite good and the dialogue very entertaining, especially when it involves Ford and Connery.
And after Temple of Doom, it was a very welcome lift to the spirits.
Coolness factor: 7
Overall entertainment: 7