Spielberg Sunday- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Paramount)

Owing to the fact that I have decided to honor Steven Spielberg this year with my version of a Lifetime Achievement Award I figured it was an appropriate time to dust off some old reviews I wrote when I took a course on his work. The remarks still hold true, he is an amazing filmmaker.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is better than the original for many reasons. It’s a film that doesn’t just hit you but involves you more in the story line. Part of why it is easier to go along for that ride is because you’ve been prepared by the previous film to expect certain things despite this there are also some new and creative elements in this movie which separates it.

In the beginning we get what is seemingly an unattached scene. In this one we flash back to when Indiana was a child, played by River Phoenix. His chase for a crucifix establishes a few things. First, it establishes that this will be yet another religious relic that they will be in search of. Second, and more importantly it defines who his arch enemy is. We also get glimpses into the character’s psyche whereas previously he was a very external being we get this just through seeing past events. Young Indiana picks up a whip for the first time when coming face to face with a lion. Then we see the interplay between him and his father and can see how the boy doesn’t understand how his father could’ve dedicated his whole life to these adventures especially in his mother’s absence.

When Indiana is pegged for a mission the discussion of it is much more confrontational than in the first. There is a lot more give and take. Indy shows part of his disbelief in the grail while we are told the history in much more detail than we were in the first film when Indy was in search of the Ark of the Covenant. He’s very reluctant to go but is urged on by the fact that his father has been kidnapped this after him mysteriously receiving his father’s Grail Diary.

This film is full of riddles and mind games which makes it that much more entertaining. He arrives in the library that was a converted church and with Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) they have to solve a puzzle of where the catacombs are. They look for the Roman numerals but can’t find one. Indy on a hunch runs up the stairs and sees the X all across the floor. Down in the dark with all the rats Spielberg reaches a moment of terror with all the rats crawling along.

Another great touch this film had was in keeping with the traditions of the 40s and 50s in that we could never quite figure anyone out. I was genuinely surprised by Ilsa both when we were shown she was a Nazi and then later when she mislead her leader in the choosing which grail was the Holy Grail. That coupled with her femme fatale status of seducing men only to ruin them made her seem like something out of a film noir.

The tandem of Sean Connery and Harrison Ford worked very well together. Their timing is great especially when they were both tied up and were trying to talk to one another face to face and their heads kept swiveling side to side. Their relationship dominated significant portions of the film and they exchanged great moves and funny lines constantly. On the zeppelin the ball was in Junior’s court and stayed their as they escaped but in the plane Senior had to shoot the machine gun and shot the tail off and was hysterical in denying it. Then on the beach he got the seagulls flapping to knock down the second plane.

What I also found quite interesting in both this film and the first although it was more prominent in this film was the involvement and use of the Nazis. It was interesting for me because I had believed Spielberg had never addressed any aspect of the war in any sort of way until making ‘Schindler’s List.’ Having established the Nazi interest in the occult and in conquering religion I think that’s why there was more Nazi involvement here. It also allowed for a hilarious scene where Ford dressed as a Nazi who comes face to face with Adolf Hitler who instead of burning the grail diaries signs it for him and moves on from there.

For me the only stumbling blocks to make this a completely fulfilling experience cam towards the end. When Indiana must spell out the name of God, Jehovah was not the name that immediately came to mind it was, in fact, Yahweh which was the original Hebrew word which people did not speak and when it was written there were no vowels. However, it was later replaced by Jehovah. This is no fault on the filmmakers part its just a slight technicality that some may or may not pick up on.

This time, however, I was prepared for what would happen to the man who drank from the false grail because it was foreshadowed and also because it closely resembled the end of the first film. My one question lay in the fact that it seemed to me from the way the situation was explained that Indiana would now be immortalized and would have to guard the grail or his father would maybe perhaps they escape that by trying to remove the grail it did get a little hazy in that regard but nonetheless it was quite an enjoyable film that blended many diverse elements to make for a really entertaining ride.


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