There is a certain aesthetic style that appeared in the adventure magazines of the 1940s – in those early publications that nowadays have been replaced by comic books and pop culture magazines. The illustrations were always about the same. They showed a small group of butch men hovering over a treasure trove with broad grins on their glowing faces, while in the foreground, two teenage boys hide behind a rock peering over watching the men inspect their bounty. The point of view was always over the boys’ shoulders; the reader was invited to share this forbidden glimpse of the secret world of men.
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” starts with the same idea; director Steven Spielberg must have been paging through his old issues of Thrilling Wonder Tales, down in the basement.Spielberg lights the scene in the strong, basic colours of old pulp magazines. When the gruff men bend over their discovery, it seems to glow with a golden light of its own, which bathes their faces in a magical glow. One of the two kids behind the boulder is, of course, the young Indiana Jones. But he is noticed by the tomb raiders and escapes just in the nick of time. The scene ends as an adult claps a dust fedora down on Indys head, and then we jump to the era of World War II.
The opening sequence of this third Indiana Jones movie is the only one that seems truly original – or maybe I should say, it recycles images from 1940s adventure magazines and serials that Spielberg has not borrowed before. The rest of the movie will not come as a surprise to students of Indiana Jones, but then how could it? The Indy movies by now have defined a familiar world of death-defying stunts, virtuoso chases, dry humour and the quest for ancient treasures and secrets.
When “Raiders of the Lost Ark” appeared, it set a new energy level for action adventure movies; it become a new bar for movie makers to turn to for inspiration. This time, Indy’s quest is to find the Holy Grail, the cup Jesus Christ is said to have used at the Last Supper. (drinking from the holy cup is said to give the drinker eternal youth.) The Holy Grail reminds us of the Ark of the Covenant in the first film, and in both cases the chase is joined by comic book Nazi villains.
The new element this time is how Spielberg fills in some of the past of the Jones character. We learn his real name (which I would not dream of revealing here), and we meet his father, Professor Henry Jones, who is played by Sean Connery on exactly the right note. Like the fathers of classic boys’ stories, Dr. Jones is not a parent so much as a grown-up ally, an older pal who lacks three dimensions because children are unable to see their parents in that complexity. I kept being reminded of the father in the Hardy Boys books, who shook his head and smiled at the exploits of his lovable lads and only rarely “expressed concern” or “cautioned them sternly.” Since the Hardy Boys were constantly involved, at a tender age, with an endless series of counterfeiters, car thieves, kidnap rings, Nazi spies and jewel thieves, their father’s detachment seemed either saintly or mad – and Connery has fun with some of the same elements.
Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones again this time, and what he does seems so easy, so deadpan, that few other actors could maintain such a straight and credible presence in the midst of such chaos. After young Indy discovers his life’s mission in the early scenes, the central story takes place years later, when Dr. Jones (the world’s leading expert on the Holy Grail) is kidnapped by desperados who are convinced he knows the secret of where it is now hidden.
He does. And Indy, working from his father’s notebook, follows a trail from America to the watery catacombs beneath Venice, and then to the deserts of the Holy Land, where there is a sensational chase scene involving a gigantic Nazi armored tank.
He is accompanied on his mission by Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), an art historian he meets in Venice. But the character is a disappointment after the fire of Karen Allen in the first movie, and even the sultriness of Kate Capshaw in the second.
Spielberg devises several elaborate set-pieces, of which I especially liked the rat-infested catacombs and sewers beneath Venice. (I tried not to remember that Venice, by definition, has no catacombs.) The art direction looks great in a scene involving a zeppelin, and an escape from the airship by airplane. And the great tank in the desert is fearsome and convincing. Peter Pan Disney Infinity Figurine
If there is just a shade of disappointment after seeing this movie, it has to be because we will never again have the shock of this material seeming new. “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” now more than ever, seems a turning point in the cinema of escapist entertainment, and there was really no way Spielberg could make it new all over again. What he has done is to take many of the same elements, and apply all of his craft and sense of fun to make them work yet once again. And they do. Indy Lego Toys