Revisiting Indiana Jones

As we’re working through the list of 150 movies I constructed for Daniela, we hit the Indiana Jones section. So the past few days, we’ve watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and Last Crusade. These are all movies that I’ve loved for a long time, but I haven’t watched them in probably . . . 19 years? (Which leads one to ask, “Just how much did you love them?”) Denisa hadn’t seen them, and I don’t think I would have watched them without her, so it’s at least 19 years. Probably longer. But it felt like I’d seen them since then, if only because they’re referenced so much throughout pop culture. (Especially Raiders of the Lost Ark.)

So, with a fairly fresh eye and new perspective, how did they stand up?

In my head, the movies were ranked Raiders, Crusade, Temple. (We’ll be watching Crystal Skull next, but I don’t count it as part of the real trilogy, just because of the tremendous gap between them.) As I watched them, however, I found myself swapping Crusade and Raiders, and I was surprised by just how much I still enjoyed Temple. Some of that might be because in my head, Temple was so much worse.

Don’t get me wrong. Temple of Doom has some serious issues. When one of my kids observed that Short Round sounds an awful lot like Elmo most of the time . . . things got a lot more amusing, in a so-bad-it’s-good sort of a way. The movie has some very problematic issues with racism, and the violence in it is really over the top. (Did they really need a single scene where a man is bound to a cage, has his still beating heart ripped from his chest, stays alive, gets dunked in lava, and then show his heart burst into flames while everybody cheers? Gather ’round, kids! There’s a reason Temple of Doom forced the creation of the PG-13 rating.)

But at its heart, it’s got a lot of the same tropes that make Indiana Jones movies tick. Rollicking adventure, a mixture of horror and comedy, and a great soundtrack. There’s a lot of modern Marvel movies in Indiana Jones. And when you look at how well-refined the series was by the time Crusader appeared, it’s hard to say Temple wasn’t a part of it. An evolutionary step along the way toward modern action/adventure movies.

Raiders is huge in that field. It laid the groundwork for so much to follow, and it has to be respected for that. But for a modern audience, with modern tastes? It just doesn’t have the same zing it once did. There are some serious pacing issues that my kids noticed. Places where the adventure sagged more than others. Those aren’t present in Crusade, which goes along full throttle and doesn’t look back. If I were to only pick one Indiana Jones movie to show my kids, I would have thought it would have been Raiders going into the trilogy. Coming out, it’s definitely Crusade.

Temple of Doom will scar some kids for life. (But I’d really like to see an Elmo cut . . .)

Anyway. Those are my thoughts on the trilogy for now. I’m interested to see how Crystal Skull compares, now that I’ll have watched them all so close together. I know the popular consensus is it was a money grab, but sometimes the popular consensus is wrong.


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