Friday, May 23, 2008

Review - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
1990 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation

How's that for some serendipity? The day of release for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the same day that the previous film comes up in my list for review. I wasn't trying for that but I'll take my coincidences where I find them.

(And for those looking for more Kirby in the 1970's I'm going to continue tomorrow and plan on wrapping things up on Monday.)

It had been over fifteen years since I had last watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade before I put it on for this review. When it was originally released I completely bought into the hype. It was a new Indiana Jones movie which was enough to get excited about but it would be more like the first movie and not like that travesty Temple of Doom. It would require new, special theaters to see it properly (really on this one; Last Crusade was released with a huge push by Lucasfilm for THX certified theaters). I loved it when I saw it opening night in a brand new movie theater.

I've been around quite a bit more since then. I've seen a lot more movies and refined my tastes in storytelling. The hype is gone and I turned a much more harsh critical eye on the film. And I still enjoyed it.

In Last Crusade supposed archaeologist Indiana Jones is in pursuit of the Holy Grail. His father had clues to its location but he's been kidnapped by Nazis who want find the Grail to use for holding Hitler's toothbrushes. He proceeds on a globe trotting adventure, doing as much damage to major historical finds as he can on the way.

The action set pieces, which is the major reason someone would watch an Indiana Jones movie, are just as skillfully done as they were in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I swear that the film's director Stephen Spielberg was trying to squeeze in as many action scenes on as many different types of transportation as possible. He missed bicycles but manages boats, cars, motorcycles, blimps, biplanes, tanks, and horses (camels are involved as well but since they don't get ridden it's a bit iffy on whether to include them). Spielberg retained the eye for making the action something that could be followed rather than a random assortment of three second long unconnected shots that most modern action film directors use. They're cleverly set up, well staged, perfectly shot, and edited smoothly; a model that is so rare in action films I'm shocked when its done competently and this is much more than competent.

The problems come in with the material between them: it just isn't as interesting or well done. There's a lot of stuff that's done for "humor" that isn't particularly funny. The movie drags when there isn't action on screen but fortunately things move back to an exciting set piece after a few minutes.

Harrison Ford, as before, comes across naturally as Indiana Jones but that's to be expected at this point. Sean Connery does a respectable job as his father and the two really shine when they're together on screen. Most of the rest of the cast unfortunately ranges from weak to out right abysmal. In particular Alison Doody was painfully bad as love interest Elsa Schneider. If her performance was any more flat she could have folded it up, put it in an envelope, and mailed it in.

In the hierarchy of Indiana Jones movies this is a distant second to Raiders of the Lost Ark but I still found it entertaining to watch. Unlike Temple of Doom it lacked the painfully annoying sidekicks which is a vast improvement. I haven't seen Crystal Skull yet but it would have to be much better than the previews indicate to come close to this movie.