At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade “89”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade “89”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Action-Adventure/Stars: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover, River Phoenix, Michael Byrne, Kevork Malikyan, Robert Eddison, Paul Maxwell, Pat Roach, Richard Young, Eugene Lipinski/Runtime: 127 minutes

I think it is safe to say that at the time of its release in the long-ago year of 1989, the third installment in the Indiana Jones franchise, and slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today incidentally, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was looking at a rather distinct pair of challenges. Indeed not only had the prior installment, 1984’s Temple of Doom, been met with mixed reviews from critics to say nothing of being placed in the midst of a ratings debate over its content, but director Steven Spielberg wasn’t exactly the helmer he had been when he made those first two films. By that I don’t mean he had been taken over and replaced by a pod nor was he being impersonated by a Skrull. Rather, it was because Spielberg had begun doing films like 1987’s Empire of the Sun and 1985’s The Color Purple that were known for two distinct things. Those being that not only were they very much less in touch with his trademark sense of youthful magic/creativity and definitely more in synch with a significant degree of grown-up sensibility/maturity, but they also weren’t (at the time) really seen as being on par with his earlier work. Suffice it to say then that it’s not wrong to assume there was perhaps more than a wee bit of worry on the part of movie goers about the kind of movie that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was going to be to say nothing of if it would manage to redeem the franchise following Temple of Doom. Thankfully, I can say (having seen this film countless times in the years since) that Spielberg not only still had the mojo for making films with a child-like sense of wonder (as made even more evident 5 years later by the release of another little movie called Jurassic Park), but that he managed to give us a sequel that is still (Dial of Destiny judgement pending) the best sequel in the entire Indiana Jones franchise. To be sure, there are some issues with this slice of cinema and no it’s not on the level that Raiders managed to attain. Even with those teeny tiny detriments in mind though, there is no denying that the work done behind the camera is still incredibly skilled to say nothing of brilliantly executed and the work done in front of the camera by the immensely gifted cast of talent (with particular regard to the returning Harrison Ford and the iconic yet newcomer to the franchise Sean Connery) is absolutely engaging. Thus Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade might not be a perfect film nor is it even the best film in the franchise, but it is most assuredly a genuinely great and just plain rip-roaring fun time to be had from beginning to end.

The plot is as follows: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade gets its rip-roaring yarn underway via a flashback to Utah in 1912 where we see a teenage Indy run afoul of a group of robbers who are trying to make off with a precious artifact that belonged to the infamous conquistador Coronado. Yet, despite thinking he’s in the clear, we soon see that the young Indy is thwarted in a rather unexpected way and reluctantly forced to give the cross back though not without a taste for adventure now in his veins. From there, the film jumps ahead a solid 26 years where we see, in the aftermath of his latest artifact recovery assignment, that the Indiana Jones we all know and love is approached by some men who quickly take him to see an esteemed and more than fairly well-off private collector by the name of Walter Donovan. Donovan, we soon learn, has quite the proposition for our intrepid hero. It seems that in the middle of his latest drilling expedition his team managed to find the remains of a stone tablet from 12th century Turkey. A tablet that, when deciphered, seems to mark the beginning of a path that could eventually lead to none other than the iconic artifact that is the Holy Grail (guess Monty Python had its location wrong after all). Yet despite Donovan’s Grail expedition leader and their assistant, a Dr. Schneider, believing that the 2nd marker could very well be located in Venice the expedition has managed to hit a bit of a snag. That being that the expedition leader, and all of their research, has completely and utterly vanished without a trace. However, when Indy tries to tell Donovan that he’s not the right man for the job we soon see the bombshell dropped on him that the project leader who’s gone missing is in fact Indy’s father. A father incidentally that he has never really been on the best of terms with at best and at worst has not spoken a single word to in the past 2 decades. Despite this severe case of estrangement however, we soon see that Indy, with friend Marcus Brody along for the ride, decides to head out on the most important hunt of his life. A hunt that will lead him from Venice to the Middle East, reunite him with his dad and other old friend Sallah, see him once again run afoul of those dastardly Nazis, but also maybe just maybe see him acquire the most valuable discovery ever. As to what that discovery is and where this particular quest winds up taking our hero and his allies that I will leave for you to find out for yourself……

Now right off the ol’ fedora, it should be noted that the work done behind the camera on this slice of cinema is absolute aces. This starts with the work done on this film’s script from writer Jeffrey Boam. Yes Boam manages to bring back a lot of the elements that worked with Raiders such as exciting action beats, more than a bit of comedy, and even a hint of romance for good measure. At the same time though, Boam also manages to make the heart of this not so much about any of those things or even the artifact Indy is hunting for the majority of the film. Rather, he ingeniously chooses to make the heart of the film the relationship (or dare I say lack thereof) between Indy and his father. Indeed right from the word go, it becomes quite clear that not only are Indy and his dad not on the best of terms, but that a lot of the things Indy does in the name of archaeology aren’t just incredible or death-defying. Rather, they are also attempts to gain the non-existent approval and awareness of his father. Thus as the film goes along we see that Indy and his father, despite their estrangement, must learn to work together and in so doing begin to step by step repair their fractured relationship. A repair process that culminates, in my opinion, in one of the more emotional moments I have seen in a film of this ilk in some time. Of course, lest you think this film is just made up of mushy material meant only to tug at your heartstrings a bit you would be thankfully mistaken. I say that because once again Spielberg and co. have managed to give audiences some truly taut action beats including a boat pursuit through the Venetian canals, a pursuit through the desert with a tank involved, and a thrilling getaway on a German dirigible among others. Suffice it to say that the action beats in this will most assuredly leave you on the edge of your seat and then some in the best way possible. Along with that, this slice of cinema also features the return of composing legend John Williams who, to no surprise, manages to give this film a spot-on soundtrack that is rousing, engaging, and yet also poignantly heartfelt all rolled into one. I also feel that praise must be afforded to the incredible work done by the production design team for making this slice of cinema, right down to the clothes the various characters in this wear, look less like a film made and released in the 80s and more like we are actually witnessing a series of events that happened in 1938, locked away in the vault at Paramount, and then released to the public at that time. Finally, I also would like to extend significant praise to the visual effects team at Industrial Light & Magic and even the cinematography crew that worked on this film. Indeed not only do the visual effects in this look absolutely majestic as well as fantastically genuine, but there are shots in this film captured by the latter department that look less like still shots from a motion picture and more like a piece of art that you would see hanging in someone’s house. Suffice it to say then that the work done behind the camera on this film is more than top-notch. Rather, it is also proof that with the right crew there is magic to be mined from them thar cinematic hills should one try to do so.

Of course, the other big element that helps this slice of cinema triumph on the level that it is aspiring to would undoubtedly have to be the collection of performances by the immensely talented cast of players in front of the camera. This starts, to no surprise, with Harrison Ford as the titular protagonist and once again he is fantastic. Not just in displaying Indy’s trademark yet fantastic all the same wry sense of humor or in the riveting action beat moments where he once again kicks some serious bad guy butt, but also in the moments that actually require him to showcase a bit more in terms of characterization than we have seen in the prior installments. I mean don’t get me wrong dear reader: this is still very much the Indy from Raiders and Temple of Doom, but this time around we are actually given the chance to learn more about this guy’s past with particular regard to the strained relationship that he has with his dad and see how this relationship impacted him to say nothing of made him who he is. Something that Ford’s performance brilliantly showcases and so much more with particular regard to a few moments where I must confess that even I was close to tears. As a result, not only is this another brilliant turn from one of the more underrated talents of the past 5 decades in the land of movie magic, but also undeniable proof that, much in the vein of Han Solo, there is only one Indiana Jones and that’s Harrison Ford. We also get truly enjoyable turns here from Denholm Elliott and John Rhys-Davies as the returning Marcus Brody and Sallah respectively. With that being said though, you should know that in the case of both it really does seem like they are being utilized here more so for comic relief than anything else, but when the performances being given are this good I really don’t mind that as much. Along with them, we are also treated to a winning performance from both Alison Doody and Julian Glover as Elsa Schneider and Walter Donovan respectively. Yes both of these characters are by no means what they first appear to be, but both Doody and Glover do an equally great job at not only making their characters three dimensional individuals, but also in getting the movie goer to invest in their characters to say nothing of making you want to see just how their arcs (in regard to one more than the other) will play out during the course of the film respectively. Far and away though, the MVP when it comes to the work done in front of the camera though has to be acting legend Sean Connery who is perfectly cast in the role of Indy’s dad Dr. Henry Jones. Yes it might take a while for him to show up in this, but the moment he does Connery manages to grab this movie and walk away with it singlehandedly through a mix of almost never-ending paternal disappointment, irascibility, and nitpickiness that is just brilliant. Besides that though, we see that Connery manages to bring such a delightful screen presence and droll sense of humor to the mix that together he and Ford are able to conjure up a genuinely remarkable father/son dynamic that is genuinely magical to witness from beginning to end. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in winning efforts from such talents as theater icon Robert Eddison, Michael Byrne who is perfectly hiss worthy as Ernst Vogel, and from the gifted yet tragically lost way too soon River Phoenix who is spot on as the younger Indy, there is no denying that the work done by the cast of talent in front of the camera truly is phenomenal in every sense of the word.

All in all and at the end of the day dear reader I think it can safely be said that, without going into spoilers, in a perfect world the ending of this slice of cinema would have been the definitive ending for this truly iconic character and his cinematic adventures. Alas we sadly do not live in a perfect world dear reader. Yet even with my appreciation to an extent for Indy’s 4th cinematic outing (note the words to an extent please before coming for me with your torches and/or pitchforks) and judgement still pending on Indy’s latest (and last) cinematic adventure I still find myself thinking about how genuinely great Last Crusade is as both an entry in this franchise and as a movie overall. To be sure, there are some issues to be found here and there in this slice of cinema and of course it is not on the same level as Raiders of the Lost Ark. With that in mind though, not only are those aforementioned issues miniscule at best, but also Raiders of the Lost Ark is a bonafide masterpiece and any attempt to try and compare a movie to that would be ridiculous at best and insulting at worst. Once you have taken those elements out of the equation however, there is no denying that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a genuine blast in every sense of the word. Indeed the work done by the various departments behind the camera is top-tier, the story is exciting yet also poignant and heartwarming, the comedic bits on display are especially delightful and will definitely have you most assuredly at the very least chuckling, the action beats as taut and engaging as ever, and the work done by the entire cast of players in front of the camera (with particular regard to both the returning Harrison Ford as well as Sean Connery who is brilliantly cast as Indy’s dear ol’ dad) all manage to bring their A-game to this and give us a set of fairly well-rounded performances in the process. Suffice it to say that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade might not be a perfect movie, but it’s nevertheless a very safe bet to make that, should you choose to give this slice of cinema a watch for your next movie night, then you have definitely chosen wisely indeed. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade a solid 4 out of 5.