Sunday, September 30, 2012

Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures

On September 15th, select AMC theatres had a marathon of all four Indiana Jones films. Cody was at one of those theatres.

Indiana Jones was a big presence in my household throughout my childhood. He was a new hero on the scene at the time, he was quite popular, and his movies were in heavy rotation on cable. Since his adventures were such that I could enjoy with parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends, most of their airings played out on our televisions. My father was a big fan of the character, his fandom perhaps slightly enhanced by the fact that the character shared a name with his home state, and even bought a piece of official merchandise that was stowed safely away in a cupboard - a replica of Indiana Jones's famous hat. I was fascinated with that hat as a kid, since I basically became obsessed with film as soon as I became conscious, and would occasionally get it out of the cupboard just to examine it. I was holding a piece of the movies in my hands... The hat fit my father, but even at that young age it was too small for my large noggin, so I never could put it on to play Indiana Jones myself. Pretty much the only Indy playing I ever did was in the Last Crusade video game.

By the mid-'90s, though there were rumors to the contrary, the series seemed to have come and gone. My interest in the films died down, and I've only rewatched them a few times in the last seventeen years. I bought the box set of the trilogy when it came out on DVD in 2003, but the discs never got much play. I probably rewatched the first three movies before going to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, and seeing Crystal Skull on opening weekend was the last time I watched any of them before this month.

I wouldn't have watched the movies again any time soon, and thus re-discovered my enjoyment of them, if it wasn't for AMC Theatres. Raiders of the Lost Ark was given a brief IMAX re-release in anticipation of the September 18th release of the Indiana Jones films on Blu-ray, but AMC decided to take Indy's return to cinema screens one step further, announcing a theatrical marathon of all four films to be held at select theatres on September 15th. One of the participating theatres was the same one that I saw The Ultimate Marvel Marathon at back in May. I had a fun time at that marathon, so I couldn't pass up the chance to return for nine hours (including the short breaks in between the movies) of Indiana Jones.

Along with these marathons come swag. At the Marvel marathon, we had gotten a lanyard for the event that would serve as our ticket for the day, 3-D glasses in the style of an Avenger, and a free Avengers comic book. For Indiana Jones, we got a free poster for the event - I still haven't unrolled mine - and a lanyard to wear during the day. This time the "ticket" attached was made to look like the idol seen in the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with the marathon's schedule on the back.

I took my seat in the theatre, in the same room that the Marvel marathon was held in, and the Indiana Jones marathon started off at 10:30am with

Like Star Wars, the idea for Indiana Jones was born out of George Lucas's love for serials, a form of entertainment that had its golden age between 1936 and 1945, adventure films that were broken up into short chapters and released to theatres weekly to be played before features. In this case, rather than space battles and alien worlds, Lucas came up with his own "man of action". He first had the idea for the character (originally named Indiana Smith) in 1973 and began developing a story with director Philip Kaufman, who at that time had just made The Great Northfield Minnesota and would go on to direct The Outlaw Josey Wales, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1979), and The Right Stuff, among others. Kaufman eventually moved on to other projects, and Lucas put Indiana Smith on the shelf while he focused on Star Wars.

Steven Spielberg had always been a fan of James Bond. As he was getting his directing career going in the mid-to-late '70s, he really wanted to direct a Bond movie. He was considered for 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me, he allowed the Bond producers to use a bit of the music from his Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1979's Moonraker, but he never got the offer to direct one. When he brought up his desire to make a Bond movie to Lucas, Lucas presented him with a different idea - why direct someone else's character when they could make a movie about their own globetrotting adventurer? He told Spielberg about Indiana Smith... or maybe Indiana Jones would be a better name.

Lucas brought the well-developed idea for Raiders of the Lost Ark to the table, and through extensive talks with Spielberg and writer Lawrence Kasdan, who Lucas brought over from working on The Empire Strikes Back, the version that ultimately reached the screen was whipped into shape.

The story was set in 1936 to properly pay homage to the golden age of serials, and the hero they created is a professor of archaeology, an expert in the occult, and an obtainer of rare antiquities. He searches the world for ancient artifacts, which he then sells to his friend Marcus Brody (who is also the dean of Marshall College, where Indy teaches), to be displayed in the museum he's the curator of.

Like a Bond film, Raiders begins with an action sequence that is almost entirely unrelated to the events of the rest of the film, introducing us to Indiana Jones as he makes his way through a dangerous jungle and into a boobytrap-rigged cave to retrieve a golden idol. When the idol is removed from its weight-sensitive pedestal, traps are set off and in one of the most popular moments of the series, Indy is chased back out of the cave by a massive rolling boulder.

When Indy exits the cave, we get this sequence's connection to the rest of the film - French archaeologist René Belloq is waiting for him, and demands that he hand over the idol. It seems Indy and Belloq have had many encounters over the years that have played out this way, Indy going through the trouble of obtaining relics just to have Belloq show up and take them away from him. Belloq is the type of villain who is the shadowy reflection of our hero, and he flat-out admits to it in a line of dialogue.

Indy returns home to Connecticut emptyhanded, but two men from Army Intelligence soon show up to talk to him. The film's period provides the perfect villains to thwart - the Nazis - and Army Intelligence knows that the Nazis have been searching the world for religious artifacts because Hitler is obsessed with the occult. The Nazis are currently digging for something outside Cairo, and Indy immediately deduces that they must have discovered the lost city of Tanis, the possible resting place of the lost Ark of the Covenant, the chest the Hebrews used to carry around the stone tablets the Ten Commandments were written on. The Ark may have been taken to Tanis in 980 BC and hidden in a place called the Well of Souls, after which Tanis was consumed by the desert during a sandstorm that lasted a full year. The Ark contains the power of God, the Bible describes the Ark being used to level mountains and lay waste, legend has it that any army carrying the Ark is invincible. Not something you want in the hands of the Nazis, if you believe that sort of talk. Indiana Jones doesn't, that's a boogeyman story to him, he doesn't believe in magic or supernatural hocus pocus, there's nothing that his gun and whip can't handle. He just wants the Ark because it's a valuable artifact. Army Intelligence is willing to pay handsomely if Indy can beat the Nazis to the Ark and retrieve it for them. That's an offer that's right up his alley.

His first stop is Nepal. To find the Ark, you need the headpiece for the Staff of Ra, which has to be taken into a map room in Tanis so the sun can shine through the crystal in the headpiece and point out the area on the map where the Well of Souls is. Indy's mentor Abner Ravenwood was an expert on Tanis and the Ark, and is believed to have found the headpiece.

Any man of action needs a love interest, and here Indiana Jones's is Marion Ravenwood, the daughter of his mentor. Indy and Marion have a rocky relationship, they were romantically involved ten years earlier and did not part on good terms. Marion is now stuck in Nepal and trying to raise enough money to return home by running a dive bar. Her father has passed away, but the headpiece is in her possession and she's not so willing to give it up. Joining Indy may be her ticket home, so she ends up accompanying him to Cairo and through all the danger that follows.

Some great action and suspense sequences play out as Indy searches for the Ark, battles Nazis, and tries to keep the artifact out of the hands of the villains, which include Belloq, who turns out to be the archaeologist heading up the dig in Cairo. As the situation builds to its climax, events begin to occur that may test Indiana Jones's disbelief in the legends...

I don't really need to say it, pretty much everybody knows - Raiders of the Lost Ark is a fantastic film. It's got a good story, some very cool effects, great action, Spielberg does an awesome job directing it, and the cast is perfect, from Harrison Ford as Indy and Karen Allen as Marion to Paul Freeman and Ronald Lacey as the lead villains and Denholm Elliott and John Rhys-Davies as Indy's pals Marcus Brody and Sallah. As smart as it is entertaining, it's one of the best adventure movies ever made.

When Raiders of the Lost Ark ended, there was a short break before the second film was set to begin, so I spent the time strolling around the AMC and people watching. I saw one man on his knees in front of an empty bench on which he had stood up his lanyard so he could take pictures of it with his cell phone. A woman walked up to him and, as if to say "Of course I'd find you doing this", said to him, "You blogger." The man was not me. I took my lanyard pictures on the seat of my car.

Soon it was 12:45pm and time for


The follow-up to Raiders of the Lost Ark is actually a prequel, but it's not the type of prequel that exists to answer questions and give further information about backstory, the only thing that makes it a prequel is the fact that it just happens to take place one year before the events of the first film. There are multiple theories and rumors of why Lucas and Spielberg might have wanted to set this movie before Raiders, but the one that makes the most sense to me is that they wanted an Indiana Jones who was still a free-spirited adventurer who had no belief in the supernatural and they felt the things he witnessed at the end of Raiders would've changed his outlook on the world.

Indiana Jones was a likeable hero in Raiders, but I actually like the character much better in Temple of Doom. In Raiders he was low-key and serious, here he's livelier and more lighthearted. He was motivated by money in Raiders, but it seemed like he was just trying to make ends meet. Here, he's not pursuing artifacts for the noble cause of making sure they're preserved in a museum, he's completely mercenary, out to find artifacts that will bring him "fortune and glory". When we first catch up with him in Temple of Doom, he's selling the remains of an ancient Emperor to Shanghai crime boss Lao Che in exchange for a large diamond.

Several action moments in Temple are sequences that were brought up during the development of Raiders but couldn't find a place in that film. Early ideas for Raiders had Indy going to Shanghai to retrieve a section of the Staff of Ra and getting attacked, having to use a large gong as a shield from machine gun fire. He avoids machine gun fire by using a large gong as a shield in the nightclub opening of Temple after his exchange with Lao Che goes wrong. He escapes from the club with the criminal's "famous American female vocalist" mistress Willie Scott and they're driven to the airport by his young orphan sidekick Short Round.

Indy, Willie, and Short Round board a cargo plane to leave the country, not realizing that the plane is owned by Lao Che. The pilots ditch the plane mid-flight, leading to another scene originally conceived during the Raiders discussions - the escape from a crashing plane by jumping out with an inflatable raft and landing on a snowy mountain.

The raft is then swept down a river until Indy and company end up in a small village in India that is experiencing a streak of horrible luck, the village elder telling them that they are the answer to his prayers, they have been delivered to the village by Shiva to help his people.

At the center of the film's plot is the legend of the Sankara Stones, five stones that were delivered to the priest Sankara by the Hindu god Shiva for him to combat evil with. One of the sacred stones was kept in a shrine to protect this village Indiana Jones has ended up in by chance or by the will of Shiva, but it has been stolen. Since the stone was taken, the village wells have dried up, the river turned to sand, the crops were swallowed by the earth, the animals layed down and turned to dust, there was a fire in the fields and when the men returned from fighting the fire, they found that all of the village children had been kidnapped. The source of all the evil befalling the village is the nearby Pankot Palace, which had been deserted, but a new Maharaja has recently moved into it.

Indy agrees to go to the palace as the villagers want him to, but he's still not a noble hero. Legend has it that when the stones are together, the diamonds inside of them will glow. Diamonds. These stones mean fortune and glory for Indiana Jones, and if he saves a bunch of kids while he's getting them, well that's just a nice aside.

Indy, Short Round, and the very reluctant and out of her element Willie make their way to Pankot Palace, and soon after a dinner of truly disgusting cuisine that is reminiscent of a scene from the previous year's Bond film Octopussy but with a much higher level of grossness, they find that the civilized appearance of the new Maharaja is actually a front for the Thuggee, a gang/cult that existed in India for hundreds of years before seemingly being wiped out by British forces in the 1830s. The Thuggee are back now and have three sacred stones in their possession. The final two are believed to be in the ground beneath the palace, so the village children are being used as slave labor to mine for them. When the Thuggee have all five stones, the power of their evil will sweep over the entire country.

Our heroes go through battles with cult members, brainwashing, human sacrifice, rooms full of insects and spikes, and an out of control rollercoaster-esque mine cart chase that is another leftover from Raiders. It all builds up to a final confrontation on a rope bridge high above alligator-infested waters, where Indiana Jones stands in the middle of the bridge, holding a machete, Thuggee coming at him from both sides. In the greatest, most badass moment of the entire series as far as I'm concerned, Indy decides, with the tension building and John Williams providing a great piece of score on the soundtrack, that the way out of this situation is to cut the bridge in half with everyone standing on it.

When coming up with the story for Temple of Doom, George Lucas intended it to be a darker film than its predecessor, since going darker for the second Star Wars film had worked out well. He has said that he felt he went too dark with it, and points to the fact that he was going through a divorce at the time as the reason why. While it's true that Temple does include some darker elements, I don't think it goes too dark, there's a nice balance of lightness throughout. As I said, Indy himself even feels like a lighter character. The movie starts with a musical number, there's a funny, plucky child sidekick, and Willie brings comedy to almost every scene she's in. Or annoyance, depending on your view of the character, but she never bothered me. She didn't bother Spielberg either, he married the actress, Kate Capshaw.

Temple of Doom is the entry in the series that I watched the most growing up, so nostalgia might play a hand in the fact that I think this is the one that has the most memorably iconic moments and settings, the best representation of Indiana Jones as a character, and the best villain in the form of Thuggee high priest Mola Ram, who can tear a person's heart out of their chest with his bare hands.

Since I had roughly five more hours to spend in the theatre as of the end of Temple of Doom, I figured that the break after it would be the perfect time to hit up the concession stand. Like at the Marvel marathon, I decided to take advantage of the large drink and large popcorn deal, with the intention of getting the one free refill on each by the end of the day.
And so it was with large drink and large popcorn at hand that I took my seat at 3:05pm for


The opening sequence of the third film takes us even further back into Indiana Jones's past, all the way back to 1912, where a young Indy is played by River Phoenix. This sequence does what the typical prequel does, providing a bunch of unnecessary answers to unasked questions. While out on a field trip in the Utah desert, young Indy witnesses a group of shady characters unearthing the Cross of Coronado and celebrating the riches that it will bring them. At this point in his life, Indy does have the pure "that's an important artifact, it belongs in a museum" outlook and does his best to get the cross out of their hands. Turns out that Indy gained his fashion sense, the scar on his chin (which Harrison Ford got in a car accident), his predilection for using a whip, and his fear of snakes all in this one fateful afternoon. It's ridiculous, but it is entertaining.

The film then jumps ahead to 1938, when the rest of the story plays out. After Indy finally obtains the Cross of Coronado for Marcus Brody's museum. As he leaves Marshall College after a day of teaching class, Indy is picked up by a carload of men and taken to meet with their employer, Walter Donovan, a man who has a passion for antiquities and has contributed some to Brody's museum over the years. Donovan has in his possession a broken stone tablet from the mid-12th century that has enscribed it in some directions pointing to the final resting place of the Holy Grail of Arthurian legend, the chalice Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper and was later used to catch his blood at the crucifixion. As the tablet says, whoever drinks water from the cup will gain eternal life.

Donovan is heading up an attempt to recover the Holy Grail, and to aid in his quest he also has a manuscript that details the legend of three knights of the First Crusade who hid the cup away. Two of the knights died of extreme old age 150 years later, leaving two markers pointing to the location of the cup, over which the third knight still stood guard. One of the markers is the tablet Donovan has, the second is believed to be buried in a tomb in Venice... But Donovan's search has hit a snag. His project leader has vanished. He wants Indy to find him, "find the man and you will find the Grail." Indy doesn't seem interested in this mission at first, but then he's told the identity of the missing man - his father, Henry Jones.

Researching the Holy Grail and following its trail has been an obsessive hobby of Henry Jones's for forty years, he has a journal packed with all of his notes on the subject. A journal that Indy receives in the mail the same day he's told that his father is missing, sent from Venice.

Indy sets off to find his father, bringing the bumbling Marcus Brody along into the field with him to follow the clues in the journal to the second marker in Venice, where he meets the beautiful Doctor Elsa Schneider and immediately tries to woo her with some Bondian charm.

From Venice, Indy goes on to rescue his father from a castle on the Austrian/German border. Fittingly, Indy's father is played by the original cinematic James Bond, Sean Connery. The interaction between Ford and Connery is very amusing, as Indy constantly tries to impress the father who was always strict and distant, while dad continues to disapprove of most of what his son does. Indy has to drag his father through the extensive action sequences that ensue; a motorcycle chase, trouble aboard a zeppelin, an aerial dogfight, Indy taking on a tank while on horseback. The elder Jones finds all of this "intolerable". What Indy finds intolerable is his father calling him "Junior".

The adventure takes Indy on a trip to Berlin that brings him face-to-face with Hitler, off to the coast of Turkey, where Sallah returns to the series and becomes involved, and out into the desert to search for a temple carved into the side of a cliff. As with the Ark of the Covenant, Indy is again racing against the Nazis in his search for the Holy Grail, with his father warning him that if the cup ends up in the hands of Hitler, "the armies of darkness will march all over the earth".

The events of Raiders of the Lost Ark actually didn't change Indiana Jones all that much. He still doubts the legitimacy of the Holy Grail legend, advises his students not to take mythology at face value, and even takes Christ's name in vain, for which he gets a slap from his father. In the end, he's put through the ultimate test of faith, where he'll either have to fully accept the truth of the mythology or perish.

The Last Crusade is a highly entertaining film, largely due to the great chemistry between Ford and Connery. I can still remember my first viewing of this movie, when it had just been released on VHS. Appropriately, I watched it with my father.

Whereas Temple of Doom only connected to Raiders of the Lost Ark through the character of Indiana Jones, the story and situations in The Last Crusade call back to Raiders in several ways, from the Christian angle of the MacGuffin to the return of Marcus Brody and Sallah, and the way Indy gets pulled into the adventure at Marshall College. The word going around at the time of the film's release was that The Last Crusade would be the final installment in the series, and it does sort of feel like things have come full circle and nicely wrapped up as a trilogy. In the end, the characters literally ride off into the sunset.

I went at my popcorn like a beast throughout The Last Crusade and successfully wiped it out by the time the end credits began to roll. During the break afterward, I returned to the concession stand for my popcorn refill, which I did not intend to eat. I took the refilled bag out to my car and stowed it away to take home with me.

Back in the theatre, I watch the guys who have come to the marathon in their Indiana Jones costumes take a group cell phone picture and then exchange numbers to pass the picture around. The Jones clones and their significant others proceeded to chat, exchange names, and celebrate this opportunity to "bond over their geekery."

Another conversation I overhear is a girl discussing her favorite Indiana Jones lead female. At first she names Marion Ravenwood as her favorite, but then changes her answer to Elsa Schneider. "She betrayed him, but she was still likeable."

Eventually, it was 5:35pm and time for the much-maligned


The movies series appeared to be over in the early '90s, but the lead character was kept alive with a television series called The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (or The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones when it reached home video), which ran for two seasons starting in 1992. To this day, I have not watched a single episode of that series, so I don't know much about it. It was during the filming of a 1993 episode in which Harrison Ford made a cameo as Indy at age 50 that George Lucas began thinking that they really should make another movie.

Lucas's idea for the fourth film was to take the series in a different direction, bring Indiana Jones into the 1950s and pay homage to the flying saucer sci-fi movies of that decade. He had Jeb Stuart turn his concept into a script and the first draft of Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars was delivered in late '94 or early '95. Spielberg and Ford were not keen on the idea of mixing Indy with flying saucers and aliens, so the project didn't make it very far at that point. Their interest level in reviving Indy went up and down for the next several years, and whenever the idea was brought up, George Lucas insisted - if a fourth movie was made, it was going to deal with aliens. The script was put through many drafts over the years as Spielberg and Ford were finally talked into accepting Lucas's idea and they tried to find a draft that would satisfy everybody. The Last Crusade writer Jeffrey Boam gave it a try, Frank Darabont worked on the script for a year and wrote a draft that Spielberg and Ford were happy with but Lucas rejected, Jeff Nathason did rewrites and earned a "story by" credit (shared with Lucas) on the finished film, while David Koepp was the writer who turned in the draft that everybody gave the greenlight to.

The involvement level of the aliens was lessened throughout the years, Spielberg and Ford were able to talk Lucas out of having flying saucers in action sequences, but aliens did make it to the screen, as did many other elements that were present in a draft revised by Jeb Stuart in February 1995. Russian villains, a rocket sled, flesh-devouring army ants, waterfall action, Indy getting married, and yes, even the "nuke the fridge" moment were all going to be part of the fourth film from the beginning, they just got shuffled around and rewritten through all the drafts done over the years. From Stuart through Darabont, Indy just went into a crawlspace and tipped a lead-lined refrigerator over the entrance to survive the nuclear blast he gets caught in, it was only changed to him getting thrown miles by the blast while hiding inside of the refrigerator sometime in the last few years between Darabont and the screen.

The finished film finds Indiana Jones in 1957, nineteen years after the events of The Last Crusade, and from what we can gather from the dialogue he's been quite busy since we last saw him, working for the OSS during World War II and going on many spy missions around Europe and the Pacific. Now he's been captured by Russian soldiers while on an expedition in Mexico and taken to Nevada to infiltrate Area 51. Turns out Area 51 is where the Ark of the Covenant was stored at the end of Raiders, but the Russians are looking for something else... a body from a mysterious crash site that Indy was called in as part of a team to examine in 1947. The Roswell UFO crash. The Russians have come for the corpse of the alien from that crash.

The Russians get what they want, while Indy's escape from them takes him on a rocket sled ride and through the infamous nuke moment.

Returning to Connecticut and work at Marshall College, Indy is soon contacted by a young greaser called Mutt Williams, who informs him that his old colleague and Mutt's surrogate father Professor Harold Oxley has run into trouble in Peru. Oxley was in South America on an expedition involving crystal, skull-shaped artifacts and the search for the lost city Akator, known to the conquistadors as El Dorado, said to have been built by local tribesmen seven thousand years ago at the order of the gods. Legend is that a crystal skull was stolen from Akator in the 15th or 16th century, and whoever returns it to the city temple will gain some kind of power. Oxley had a crystal skull in his possession and someone has kidnapped him and Mutt's mother during the search for Akator.

After a motorcycle chase with Indy and Mutt being pursued by Russian goons through the streets of Bedford, CT and the Marshall College campus, the two follow the clues left behind in Oxley's notes to find his trail so they can try to rescue him and Mutt's mother Mary. Eventually, Indy and Mutt are captured themselves by the same people who have Oxley and Mary in their custody - the same group of Russians who took Indy to Area 51. Led by Irina Spalko, the Russians intend to find Akator and use the power of the crystal skull to be able to spy on people all around the world, brainwash leaders, and spread Communism across the globe.

When Indy meets Mutt's mother, it turns out to be a familiar face to both him and the audience - Karen Allen reprises her Raiders role of Marion Ravenwood.

In the end, Akator is discovered, and George Lucas gets his aliens. Not space aliens, but dimensional aliens, from "the space between space".

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn't generally very well regarded, and I don't like it very much myself. Like Spielberg and Ford, mixing Indy and aliens is not an idea I'd want to go with, but I do think the basic story is fine, the execution is just very lacking. It's hard to believe that this script was the result of umpteen years of development, because it still comes off as half baked. I'm also not fond of the look of the film. The cinematographer on the previous three was Douglas Slocombe, who didn't return for this one because he had retired after The Last Crusade and was about ninety-five years old when Crystal Skull was shot. His replacement is Janusz Kaminski, usually a great cinematographer, but I don't like his work on this movie much at all, especially not his use of bright white backlighting. The look isn't helped out by the fact that so many of the locations are obviously completely fake, CGI creations. Everything about the movie feels artificial. It doesn't live up to its predecessors, the magic was lost by the time it was finally made.

I relieved my drink cup of its contents during Kingdom of the Crystal Skull so I'd be able to get the free refill before I left the theatre, and thus had to rush out to relieve myself as soon as the end credits started to roll.

I had something weighing on my mind throughout the day, an impending meet-up that I was both looking forward to and very anxious about, and had finalized the details of through text messages during the break between Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade. After getting my free refill, I left the theatre and headed out for a type of situation that I have a tougher time enduring than Indiana Jones had with any of the trouble he ever found himself in: social interaction.

In the end, I'd call the whole day a success. The social situation went well and I enjoyed the marathon very much. As I said in the opening, watching the movies again on the big screen reminded me just how much I actually like them. Chances are I'll be rewatching them more often from now on than I have during the last seventeen years.

My short wrap-up on the series: Raiders of the Lost Ark is the most well made of the bunch and an all-around great film. Temple of Doom is the most iconic. The Last Crusade is the most purely entertaining. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is disappointing, but three out of four ain't bad.

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