Thursday, November 15, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

The podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood continues its Indiana Jones month with the third movie, in which Indiana returns to the Nazi-fighting and Christian-inspired mythos of Raiders of the Lost Ark after a detour into Hinduism and Thuggee with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Although I saw parts of it as a child at my grandmother's house (I remember "no ticket," the slipping-glove scene, and the tank-treads scene), I don't recall if I ever saw the whole movie. If I did, I can't remember it.

So here's the podcast. And now the review...

The Plot

It's after the events of Raiders and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) finally retrieves the legendary Cross of Coronado, which he'd tried to keep from grave-robbers as a youth. Returning to his college, he learns that his father Henry Jones (Sean Connery) has disappeared while on the hunt for the Holy Grail. He sets off to Europe, where he meets the comely Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) who had worked with his father before. The Nazis get involved once more and Indiana and his father have to keep them from getting their hands on something that could make Hitler immortal...

The Good

*Although the beginning went on for a bit too long, it did reveal the back-story for Indiana's hatred of snakes, his use of the bull-whip, and his propensity for fedoras. That's something I'm sure the fans would appreciate and it's not shoved in there for clunky fan-service but exposited smoothly in what's essentially an origin story. There's also a bit of foreshadowing with the dog and we're shown rather than told why his relationship with his father isn't the best.

(I also like that young Indiana was a Boy Scout. I earned my Eagle rank in 2001 through Boy Scout Troop 1011, Atlanta Area Council. BSA forever!)

*I liked how they had Sean Connery play Indiana's father as (somewhat) a Non-Action Guy who's not really that much of a fighter. Considering how he was a bodybuilder and used to be James Bond, that's definitely playing against type. Of course, although he lacks the strength and stamina of a young man, he can still pull off clever stuff, as the "Charlemagne" moment shows...

*There's a nice bit of Reality Ensues at the beginning where Indiana it turns out is behind on grading papers for his day job as a college professor due to all his off-the-clock adventuring. When he see his office stuffed with antiquities one might claim "belong in a museum," we also see a bit of hypocrisy, which is a bit amusing.

*There are some subtle touches of characterization, like when we see Elsa on the verge of tears at a Nazi book-burning rally where works like Das Kapital are incinerated. She's still an intellectual and an academic and you'd expect people like that to hate book-burning. She also identifies as an Austrian rather than German, so she might not really understand just how cruel and tyrannical Nazi rule is until that moment. I do like how they gave Elsa's character some complexity, as opposed to her just being useless and obnoxious like Willie.

*There are also some nice little details--at the Nazi rally, for example, you see Himmler (the one with the glasses) and Goering (the fat one) along with Hitler himself. And the treasures from "the finest families" in Germany were likely not voluntarily donated. And a tank that a small Middle Eastern country uses is a WWI model--they're not going have WWII-era stuff.

The Bad

*The movie was rather slow-moving. Per this site here, it's the longest of the four movies. Although to be fair I was watching this movie on a deadline and had a lot more reason to be impatient than usual, the movie still felt too long. I don't have any suggestions for scenes to be cut, but perhaps trimming a few seconds from each scene would add up.

*The Anschluss--the union between Austria and Germany--took place in 1938, but it's not clear when in 1938 the movie takes place. Austria is referred to many times as a separate country and there's still a border post with the Austrian flag on one side. And the German soldiers we see in Austria, though they're in uniform, aren't openly parading around like they would in a fascist state. I could easily imagine plainclothes German agents or soldiers there in secret to undermine the "Austrofascist" regime, but having uniformed soldiers hiding in a castle seems like the worst of both worlds. You can't really do anything lest you get caught and if someone spots you you're screwed.

However, the latter part of the story takes place in the Republic of Hatay, which only existed for a short time after the Anschluss, and the books getting burned at the Nazi rally likely came from Austria, since I imagine there wouldn't be many copies of Das Kapital left in Germany proper six years after the Nazi takeover. Yes, this is nitpicky, but still. It might've been better if the movie took explicitly place during or soon after the Anschluss itself. The Nazi rally could have taken place in newly-occupied Vienna and the Nazi takeover could have caused such administrative chaos that it would have interfered with the hunt for Indiana and his dad. That would also explain why the border post with the Austrian flag (which it's my understanding the Nazis outlawed) is still there.

*There's a character who has no reasonable way to speak modern English but does. Given how another character is forced to speak in a foreign language as a child, it would have been more interesting if they communicated in Greek or Latin.

The Verdict

The weakest of the original three, and less enjoyable, believe it or not, than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I'd give it an 8.0 out of 10, barely.

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