What makes a successful Indiana Jones movie? To look at the time-honored films, you can put together a pretty solid formula. Indy needs to be facing off with Nazis, who somehow have ended up as the hero’s villain of choice. He needs to be in search of some sort of religious artifact that takes him through a blend of civilized and archaic environments. Finally, he needs to have the stuffing knocked out of him on a pretty regular basis, finally coming out the victor at the end of every battle. Thugee cults, whiny women, and sidekicks do not this hero make. Bring on the Nazis, the holy relics, and even throw in something new: Dad.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom isn’t just considered a misstep in the Indiana Jones franchise by fans. Even filmmaker Steven Spielberg was disappointed in the end results. To make things up to the fans, Spielberg and Lucas decided to give Indy one last adventure by going back to the successful formula of the first movie with just enough of a twist to keep fans entertained without realizing this is pretty much the same movie that had been made for the first go round.
The third film in the Indiana Jones saga sees Indy back in search of a holy relic opposite the Nazis. This time the relic is the Holy Grail of archeology – literally. While Indy is certainly knowledgeable about the cup of Christ, he isn’t the expert. That would be his father, Henry Jones, Senior. Unfortunately for Indy, the Nazis beat him to the expert, and soon the hero is on a search for both the Grail and his missing dad.
Thankfully, Last Crusade isn’t just about Indiana Jones seeking out another religious artifact. Instead this is more of a buddy film between father and son. The script pairs Indy with his father early enough in the picture for the two to team up for a sizable part of the story. Considering a lifetime of emotional estrangement and the different approaches the two men have toward archeology, things do not go smoothly, much to the audience’s benefit.
Since Indy is sometimes referred to as Spielberg and Lucas’s answer to James Bond, it makes sense to have the original James Bond portray his father. Sean Connery brings a delightful sternness to the role, walking a fine line between a fondness for his cinematic son, and remaining detached from emotional attachments. The movie’s best moments occur between Henry Jones Senior and Junior as they come to terms with Henry’s lifetime obsession with the Holy Grail, the death of Indy’s mother, and even the young archeologist taking his famed moniker from the family dog. Who needs therapy when you can solve family issues while being pursued by the Third Reich?
That’s not to say Final Crusade is just about a father and son relationship. There’s still a slew of high action, much of which seems oddly familiar. Indy faces off with vermin (rats instead of the previous pictures’ snakes and bugs), is dragged by a vehicle (a tank instead of a truck), and has to solve elaborate puzzles in order to reach the prize. So what if it feels a little like an upscale version of the content from Raiders of the lost Ark? It’s still thoroughly entertaining and filled with the kind of action and tension that will keep viewers engrossed through multiple viewings.
The third chapter even gives some growth to secondary characters from Raiders of the Lost Ark, with the return of Indy’s curator friend Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) and Egyptian friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davis). The two are primarily comedic relief, which isn’t really needed considering the Jones’s chemistry together takes care of most of the movie’s laughs, but it is nice to see their faces again. Temple of Doom lacked familiarity, surrounding Indy with new faces while getting a little too dark and lurid for a hero like Indiana Jones. Teaming Indy with people from the first movie helps send the signal that Spielberg and Lucas realized their mistakes, are very sorry for them, and want to make amends.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade gives fans the sequel they deserve, adding depth to Indy and his companions while continuing to deliver thrills and fantastic action sequence. When Raiders came out, Indiana Jones’s name became synonymous with adventure. While his second outing may have been a bit of a dud, Last Crusade returns the character and his franchise to their former grandeur, wrapping up the franchise with a nice little bow that most of us never expected to see untied. If this is how Indy’s story ended, we would have been fully satisfied, having spent enough time with the Joneses to know how much the hero deserved his chance to ride off into the sunset. Let’s hope Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn’t make us regret seeing that bow come back off.
Like we’ve said with the previous Indiana Jones DVDs, the trilogy came out in a box set in 2003 with an awesome fourth disc full of bonus features. By comparison, this single disc release is a bit meager in the pickings, motivated more by the release of the new Indiana Jones picture than anything else.
Of the three new releases, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade looks best on paper. It has two featurettes focused on the women in Indy’s life (featuring the leading lady from each movie) and the villains. On top of that, the disc also comes with a storyboard of the opening “young Indy” sequence, several image galleries, and a trailer for that upcoming LEGO Indiana Jones game that all three movies have contained.
Also as before, the transfer of the movie in the 2003 box set was flawless, with fantastic video and one of the best audio transfers I’ve ever heard. Assuming the new release uses the same transfer, the movie is a visual treat. I’d still shell out a bit more for the box set than the new single movie releases, however.