I have to state this right off the bat (seeing as the entirety of this review is tainted from the start): Raiders of the Lost Ark (there is no "Indiana Jones and..." in the title) is the greatest adventure movie ever made. It's pretty much perfect in every way, unless you have some sort of strange, inexplicable (and completely pansy) fear of the desert. It's got the greatest gallivanting gentleman-hero ever created (that'd be Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones himself), the perfect female foil to Dr. Jones (in the form of the perky and awesome Marion Ravenwood), the worst of the worst bad guys you could ever hope for in a movie (Nazis and an assholic French fucker), and globetrotting, hair-raising action scenes packed into a single narrative that deals with armies of evil and a historic and ancient direct telephone line to the Hebrew God. Oh, and it's got melting faces and lots of snakes... AKA asps. Very dangerous.
Okay, so I love Raiders — you get that — but what do I think of its sequels/prequels: Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? All in all I like them, but it's obvious that they didn't have the same writer as Raiders, and it's also obvious that Steven Spielberg didn't care as much about the sequels as he did when he directed the first one. The magic that made every piece fit together so meticulously in Raiders was missing with the subsequent films. Temple of Doom had a shitty female lead and a boring mid-section, Last Crusade took itself way too lightly and made a mockery of a few well established characters, and Crystal Skull had an ass-ton of lame side characters. Didn't mean they were bad movies (once again, grasshopper, they were not), just not GREAT. They should have been GREAT.
Let's go back to Raiders, shall we? Back in the summer of '81 I was a real young kid — not quite 6. I remember it clearly though: My older brother, my father, and a few of my visiting cousins had gone to see this Raiders of the Lost Art movie or whatever, and my brother wouldn't stop going on and on about how far out and groovy it was (no, none of us really talked like that, but that lingo helps send you back to the time period, so again, whatever). He explained about the "pyramid filled with snakes," the "melting Nazis," and the "truck chase through the desert, with, like, cars falling off cliffs and exploding and all that stuff!!!" But it was when he told me that there was a monkey in the movie that I knew I had to fucking see this thing with my own eyes.
So after weeks of begging my uncaring parents to take me to it (Dad initially thought it was too much for my little brain to take), they finally caved and my dad took me to see it before its initial theatrical run was over. So what does a 5 and a half year-old get out of a 2-hour film about archaeology and the lost Ark of the Covenant set in 1930s Egypt? Well, I pretty much pissed my pants from sheer joy. Just a few weeks before, my grandfather took me to see Superman 2 and I remember being bored through every goddamn scene that DIDN'T have Supes doing something super in it (especially when he was trying to bone that ugly Lois Lane [God Margot Kidder was fugly])... And Superman 2 had fucking General Zod among its cast! But I was completely riveted by Raiders. From the opening scenes in the South American temple with the golden idol, the spiders, and the giant boulder, to finding Marion, traveling to Egypt, sneaking around the Nazi camp, discovering the Ark's hiding place, watching a giant, bald Nazi get diced by a plane propeller, and then finally witnessing the wrath of God bear down on those Nazi somabitches like a divine bitch slap from a deitic pimp, the whole thing was in-frickin-credible! And of course because it was set in the past I was positive it was a documentary (I even convinced my friend Lori at the time that I had an uncle who was part of Indy's work crew when they first found the Ark in the Well of Souls).
My point is that George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, and writer Lawrence Kasdan put together something so solid that it entertained not only skeptical adults but wide-eyed (non ADHD-fucked up) kids. It stands the test of time better than pretty much any other movie I've ever seen, and it's just so goddamn awesome!
I loved that Indiana Jones was not a pussy, but he didn't win every battle. He DOES always stand up for what he believes in, and he does always triumph in the end (when it counts), and even with a few broken bones and black eyes he proves that every guy should wish he were him. THAT part holds true with all of Indy's movies, and that's why none of them outright suck... But, none of them hit the same perfection as the original. Take for instance Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom...
Temple of Doom came out a few years after Raiders, and even as a child I still remember the huge hype over its release. "Another fucking Indiana Jones movie?!" my brother and friends would say. "Holy SHIT! This is going to be so fucking awesome! He's going to punch even MORE evil Nazis in their faces, and probably find Noah's Ark this time! Oh, it's going to be so awesome!!!" You couldn't help but agree. But then the release date was upon us, and all the critics kept saying "Too violent!" and "Much darker than the original!" That of course was the cue for my dear mother to make the cut-off for viewing this movie just after my brother's birthday.
Once again I had to listen to my privileged brother as he raved on and on about how incredible the movie that I wasn't allowed to see was... He told me tales of "snake surprise," giant bats, magic stones, secret rooms FILLED with insects that crawled all over anybody who entered, and some evil fucker who ripped out people's still-beating hearts from their chests before dumping them into a lake of molten lava!... "Holy goddamn shit," I thought. "This has got to be the entire pinnacle of human civilization up to this point... This movie has got to be the greatest thing ever fucking filmed!" This of course led to more begging and pleading my parents to let me see it first hand. Once again they caved. This time though I kind of wished they hadn't.
The opening with Indy getting out of Shanghai alive, with the help of his Asian midget friend, Short Round, was awesome fun. The plane ride and rafting down the mountain... a little over-the-top for me even then, but I was still into it heart and soul. The dinner at the Maharaja's palace kind of creeped me out in a good way (ooooooh that chilled monkey brains is still vomit-inducing, along with the eyeball soup), but I was bored during a good chunk of the middle section... BORED in an Indiana Jones movie! That's a fucking crime. And even as a kid I realized just how fake that final bridge fight was... You know the one: Mola Ram has just boxed Jones and crew in on the unstable suspension bridge about 200 yards above the giant river filled with man-eating crocodiles, but whenever the camera zoomed back to a wide angle the river was really revealed to be only 40 feet below and 10 feet across in the middle of a mostly dried up riverbed... That really bugged my 8 year-old mind.
I wasn't even all that bothered by the fact that Indy was involved in Hindu shit this time (instead of early Hebrew artifacts), as it seemed to really fit in the style of the movie... But Kate Capshaw as Willie, the OBNOXIOUS as hell singer/dancer, just pissed me off. There were at least 8 times during my initial viewing of the flick that I wished Doctor Jones would just punch her in the face to shut her the fuck up, or let Mola Ram rip her horrible heart out of her goddamn chest and show it to her before she realized she was already dead. During subsequent viewings I still hate the bitch (sorry, Mrs. Spielberg), but the funness of the whole experience does prevail. And as the Chief pointed out to me, it is by far the best quotable Indy movie mostly thanks to Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan, who was Spielberg's original go-to boy before he found Shia Leboof).
Anyway, back to the 80s. It took 5 years after Temple of Doom for Lucas and Spielberg to stop blaming each other for the less than stellar sophomore attempt at a Jones feature and to start working together again on a third Indy movie. The rumors started to fly pretty early for this new flick, but the film magazines of the day (goddamn spoiled kids today, what with your IMDB and AICN...) were pretty positive that the Nazi douchebags were back, as were Marcus Brody and Sallah, and on top of those tidbits of returners we'd get to see Indy as a young man and meet his father! And this time Dr. Jones would be searching for the Holy Grail, just like Monty Python! My friends and I were as jazzed about Indy 3 as we were about that summer's Ghostbusters 2 and Tim Burton's Batman. And when Last Crusade came out I remember us riding our bikes to the theater (about 4 miles away) 5 times in its opening 2 weeks. To me at the time I thought it was everything that Temple of Doom was not, and everything that Raiders was... Time, and a clear adult mind, have told me otherwise though.
Yes, Last Crusade was a fun romp (a terribly underused word), but it did indeed make a mockery of quite of bit of the Indy mythos that we had previously come to know. Marcus Brody — who in the first movie had been painted as a very competent and intellectually distinguished man who was just a few years too old to do what Indy did in his battle against the Nazis (but who had apparently been that man in his youth) — was turned into a bumbling loon who "gets lost in his own museum." What?! That's like saying when Indy gets old he's an alzheimer's patient... Let's make jokes about it! Yes, making fun of the mentally handicapped is fun, but turning a likeable and intelligent character into a doddering fop for a lame joke is simply retarded. And Sallah! Sallah — who in Raiders brought Indy into his home and helped save his (and Marion's) life on numerous occasions — was turned into a walking punchline about cheapskate Arabs in Last Crusade. Ugh.... Then there's the tone of the movie. At one point in the flick Indiana's father, Sean Connery of course, makes mention that he should have sent his Grail Diary to the Marx Brothers instead of his son in order to keep it safe... Well, Last Crusade felt like it was just one step away from being a Marx Bros. movie itself. It's basically slapstick at times. THAT is not the feel that it should have been aiming for. For shame, Spielberg... Once again, it's still an amazing movie, but it could have been even MORE amazing had they made it just a bit more serious.
Then we had to wait 19 years (almost to the day) for the next Indiana Jones adventure (and no, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles DO NOT COUNT [for anything]... They are not TRUE Indy exploits as they have zero action in them, are horrendously boring, and have budgets the size of my first year at Blockbuster Video salary for an entire season of episodes). But over Memorial Day weekend 2008 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was hoisted upon the world. I'll be honest with you, after the poster child for movie-abortions that George Lucas shat out with his Star Wars prequels I was kind of nervous about another loved film icon getting the shit-shaft by a resuscitated career long after its initial run. But unlike Star Wars, Indiana Jones had Spielberg on his side, and therefore a bit of panache and style left in him.
Crystal Skull is about an older Indy... There was no way to hide the fact that Harrison had gotten older, so this one takes place 19 years after Last Crusade too. It's the 1950s, the Red Scare is scaring the shit out of the whole country, and some commie bastards (led by Galadriel herself) break into the military installation known as Area 51 in order to have the kidnapped Indy help them find a mysterious and magnetic crate that they need for their world-crushing commie plans. Things then get even shittier for Dr. Jones from there, what with the running gun battle, the rocket sled, the nuclear blast, a bunch of CGI prairiedogs, getting blacklisted by the government for being a commie, meeting the greaser Mutt (Shia LeQueef), and finding out that he's pretty much got no choice but to look for the crystal skull of the title, and try and stop the commies from getting it and its power first.
Crystal Skull did a lot of things right: It brought back the best Indy girl (Marion), It had tons of action pieces, it took Indy to new places (and in a different era), and it got away from the Christian and the Hebrew God and His Earthly collectibles. Buuuuuut, it made the terrible mistake of making Shia LePoofter Indiana's and Marion's arrogant and partially retarded son. I wanted to punch Mutt almost as much as I wanted to slug Willie from Temple of Doom... Speaking of Temple of Doom, why not bring Short Round back for Jones' final big-screen adventure? He's a beloved (and already established) Indiana Jones character, and it would have been really rewarding to have him traipse around the world with Doctor Jones again. I at least would have respected him... Which is more than I can say about Mutt, Indy's old friend Ox, and that fat British turd, Mac. Really now, three sidekicks (of sorts) in one movie, and ALL of them stink?! Thank God for the return of Marion Ravenwood. Indy put it best when asked about his many female encounters by Marion in this one: "Yeah, but they all had the same problem.... None of them were you, honey." And Crystal Skull ended perfectly too... No, not that ceremony, but I absolutely LOVED the hat thing at the end. I almost screamed "DON'T PUT IT ON!" at Shia, then Indy took over. He was all like, "Fuck you, kid. MINE!" Very nice.
Anyway, the heavy use of CGI (despite Spielberg claiming that very little was used) and the smallness of the movie gave it an odd feeling. The previous movies all felt real and handmade, but Crystal Skull felt too slick and fake. And the scope of it felt off. Raiders, Temple, Last Crusade... They all felt BIGGER. More important. More epic. This one just felt tiny. And dammit! They should have tried harder to bring Sean Connery back as Henry Jones Sr., instead of bringing on board the weak-chinned Henry (Shia) Jones III.
Other than the gripes I mentioned above, there's only one more real regret that I have about the Indiana Jones films, and that's that we'll never see the original sequel to Raiders that Lucas had first thought up. Instead of Indy going to India, he was originally going to find himself chasing after some Monkey King relics, and find himself in a haunted castle. Yeah, it sounds goofy, but it would have been made by the Lucas and Spielberg who were in the middle of nasty divorces and break-ups, and it would have been as dark as Temple of Doom, and I'm sure it would have had a lot more kung-fu in it... I guess we'll never know though... Unless I can get that Sliders gate I have up and running again. I'm sure SOME alternate dimension had THAT Indy sequel made instead of Temple.
Don't tell Uncle Sam, but years after they locked that Ark up and that commie Spalko woman broke into that giant military warehouse looking for that alien skull I found the place and borrowed a few necessary items for my own experiments. I knew about that storage shed due to the fact that it was indeed I who performed the original autopsy on that supposed extra-terrestrial critter that they had frozen there back in '47... Even though it's probably still classified information I think it's time I come clean and tell you that it was not a real outer space alien... It was just some poor Mexican alien with a heavy case of the Downs. I tried to tell the G-men in charge of the operation that the poor schmuck had a shirt on that was "Hecho en Mexico" and an expired green card that called him Raul Lopez Guadelupe on his person, but they wouldn't listen... So I just carved him up and earned my government cheese like I always did... My God did I cut up a lot of Mexicans back then.......
Anyway, I borrowed that Ark, a chunk of this giant, white demon on a huge cross that they called "Lilith," and a yo-yo that King Solomon and apparently Jesus Christ himself used, and with them I was able to create a working walkie-talkie to the big guy in the sky (one that wouldn't melt me if I just turned it on). At the time it was the entire pinnacle of my existence (this was before I genetically altered that one monkey to have four penises)!... I have to tell you though, God really isn't much of a talker, and He's kind of a prick when you disturb Him while He's watching reruns of a show called Melrose Place. I told Him that He could put on somebody else if He was busy, like maybe Jesus, Moses, or Mohamed, but He just snorted and said that Jesus was watching Melrose Place with Him, along with the Holy Spirit, Moses was busy making unleavened cookies for a Tupperware party that night, and Mohamed was busy with his 70 or so virgins. Then He farted into the holy telephone and hung up on me. I smelled like burning rotten eggs for a month afterward.
Instead of having Kuni ramble on incoherently for a few dumb-as-shit paragraphs about movies that he can't possibly fully comprehend, the part of Kuni for today's review shall be played by the best quotes from the Indiana Jones series:
Sallah: Indy, why does the floor move?
Marion: You're not the man I knew ten years ago.
Indiana: It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage.
Sallah: Oh, my friends. I'm so pleased you're not dead.
Dietrich: Dr. Jones, surely you don't think you can escape from this island?
Indiana: That depends on how reasonable we're all willing to be. All I want is the girl.
Indiana: You want to talk to God? Let's go see him together, I've got nothing better to do.
Indiana: They don't know what they've got there.
Marion: Well, I know what I've got here.
Short Round: Wow! Holy Smoke! Crash landing!
Indiana Jones: Short Round, step on it.
Short Round: Okey dokey, Dr. Jones. Hold on to your potatoes!
Short Round: Hey, lady! You call him Dr. Jones!
Short Round: Hang on lady, we going for a ride!
Willie: Oh my God. Oh my God! Is he nuts?
Short Round: He no nuts, he CRAZY!
Short Round: I keep telling you, you listen to me more, you live longer!
Short Round: No time for love, Dr. Jones!
Short Round: I'm very little! You cheat very big!
Short Round: Feels like I step on fortune cookie...
Short Round: I step where you step! I touch nothing!
Short Round: You say to stand against the wall! I listen to what you say! Not my fault! Not my fault!
Short Round: Indy, I love you. Wake up, Indy! You're my best friend! Wake up, Indy!
Short Round: Indy! Cover your heart! Cover your heart!
Sean Connery: Oh, yeah? And who's gonna come to save you, JUNIOR?
Indiana Jones: I told you... [*Ratatatatatatatatatatatatatat*] ...DON'T call me Junior!
Sean Connery: Look what you did!
Sean Connery: You call this archaeology?
Elsa: What's this?
Indiana Jones: Ark of the Covenant.
Elsa: Are you sure?
Indiana Jones: Pretty sure.
Indiana Jones: Nazis... I hate these guys.
Indiana Jones: What you taught me was that I was less important to you than people who had been dead for five hundred years in another country. And I learned it so well that we've hardly spoken for twenty years.
Sean Connery: You left just when you were becoming interesting.
Indiana Jones: No ticket.
Knight: He chose... poorly.
Sean Connery: Junior, give me your other hand! I can't hold on!
Indiana Jones: I can get it! I can almost reach it, Dad...
Sean Connery: Indiana... Indiana, let it go.
Indiana Jones: I have a lot of fond memories of that dog.
Indiana Jones: I like Ike.
Mutt: You know for an old man you ain't bad in a fight. What are you, like 80?
Mutt: Grab the snake!
Indiana Jones: Stop calling it that! Call it something else!
Marion: You must have had plenty of relationships through the years.
Indiana Jones: Yeah, but they all had the same problem... They weren't you, honey.