Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Release Date: May 24th, 1989
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, George Lucas, Menno Meykes
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Denholm Elliot, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover, Sean Connery, River Phoenix, Alexei Sayle, Alex Hyde-White

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“You lost today, kid. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.” – Fedora

I remember the day that I saw this film in the theater upon its release. It kicked off the summer of ’89, which was a massive time for movies and still, hands down, one of the best summer blockbuster years of all-time between this, BatmanGhostbusters IILethal Weapon 2Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Licence to KillThe Karate Kid, Part IIIFriday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, The Abyss, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. That summer also gave us great non-blockbusters like Weekend at Bernie’sUncle BuckWhen Harry Met Sally…Sex, Lies & VideotapeDead Poets SocietyDo the Right ThingUHFTurner & Hooch and Parenthood. 1989 could actually be my favorite movie year ever but I’d say it’s tied with 1984.

With all that competition and with a lot to live up to following two previous Indiana Jones movies, The Last Crusade had a lot on its shoulders. Not to worry though, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were still on their A-game and this one had a real familiarity to it, after Temple of Doom was a stylistic and narrative change from the original movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Not only does Indy return but we get to see some familiar faces from Raiders. Denholm Elliot’s Marcus Brody returns and actually goes on the adventure this time. We also get to see John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah again and he is also more directly involved than he was in Raiders. The big cherry on top is the inclusion of the original James Bond, Sean Connery, who played Indy’s father. It is also worth mentioning that this started with a great sequence featuring a teenage Indiana, played by River Phoenix. The sequence was so good that it inspired a long-running television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

The film’s cast is rounded out by Julian Glover, who played an Imperial general in Empire Strikes Back, as well as a Bond villain opposite of Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only. We also get a cameo by British comedian Alexei Sayle, who was one of the creative forces behind one of my favorite shows of the ’80s, The Young Ones. The female lead is played by Irish model Alison Doody, who probably had the least impact of any Indy girl but still held her own in a cast that boasted immense talent.

The other aspect of familiarity with this picture, other than the cast, is that Indy is pitted against the Nazis once again, in a race to find a Holy treasure that also features a big desert action sequence. However, the tank Indy faces off against, as well as the Nazi colonel, are much bigger threats than the Nazi convoy from that famous Raiders chase sequence.

With the first three Indiana Jones movies, it is hard to dislike anything. All three of them are perfection. While Temple of Doom is my favorite, The Last Crusade and Raiders of the Lost Ark are both amazing.

In fact, this is the best cinematic trilogy ever made and yes, I still consider these three films a trilogy even though a fourth one, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released after a nineteen year hiatus. That one was a step down in quality but it certainly wasn’t as big of a step down as Star Wars when it came back with the prequel films.

Indiana Jones is an incredible franchise and really, I love Indy more than I love Star Wars because the series had three consecutive pictures that were as good as a movies could ever be. Sure, you might want to argue that Citizen Kane or The Godfather or The Shawshank Redemption are better films. But were they this fun while being this damn good? Hell f’n no!

Film Review: The Living Daylights (1987)

Release Date: June 29th, 1987 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Based on: characters by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, Art Malik, Jeroen Krabbé, John Rhys-Davies, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss

Eon Productions, United International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Believe me, my interest in her is purely professional.” – James Bond

I tend to go against the grain. I usually say things about movies or other pop culture stuff that leaves people baffled. For instance, Timothy Dalton is my favorite James Bond. Yes, he is. And yes, I loved every other actor that played the character and especially have a soft spot for the Connery and Moore chapters in the franchise but Dalton was and always will be my James Bond.

Maybe my love for Dalton is because he was the current Bond when I really got into James Bond movies. The Living Daylights was the first Bond film that I saw in the theater and as a kid, a year later, I was on the set of Licence to Kill in the Florida Keys. I didn’t get to meet Dalton but I got to see him standing around, as James Bond in the flesh.

Unfortunately, due to lawsuits in the early 1990s, Timothy Dalton only got to play James Bond twice: in 1987’s The Living Daylights and in 1989’s superb Licence to Kill. This film is my least favorite of the two but I still thoroughly enjoy it.

The thing that brings this chapter in the Bond franchise down a notch or two, is that it still carries over some of the cheesiness from the Roger Moore era. While that stuff worked for Moore, it really wasn’t a beneficial approach to Dalton’s style as the character. And frankly, it feels as if the movie was written with Roger Moore in mind, before Dalton was cast as the British super spy.

However, some of the hokey bits are still amusing, like the cello case sled scene, for instance.

Another weak point with this film though, is the villains. While I like Joe Don Baker and always have, he just doesn’t feel like a Bond villain. He plays more like a one-off baddie from a show like Magnum P.I. and doesn’t truly feel like someone worthy of Bond’s attention like members of SPECTRE, Francisco Scaramanga, Franz Sanchez, Raoul Silva, Alec Trevelyan, Hugo Draz or hell, even Max Zorin. At least Baker would get a second go in the series when he appeared in two of the Pierce Brosnan films a decade later: Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies.

I did enjoy Maryam d’Abo as the Bond girl in this film. She was a departure from the overly glamorous women of previous movies. Not to say that she wasn’t beautiful and classy but she played a musician, a real artist type. She was cute and sexy but not a supermodel out trying to marry a rock star. She was also sweet and innocent, even though the first time you encounter her, she’s wielding a sniper rifle.

We also get the great John Rhys-Davies in this and I kind of wish that his character would have returned to the series later on. I feel as if he would have been an ally to Bond again, had Timothy Dalton’s run as the character lasted longer than two films. But the man got to team up with James Bond and Indiana Jones in his career, not to mention being a pivotal member of the Fellowship in the The Lord of the Rings movies.

The Living Daylights is a better than average James Bond outing, enhanced by the charm and gravitas that is Timothy Dalton. Plus, the followup to this film would be one of the best in the entire series. The Living Daylights was a good introduction to a really good Bond that we unfortunately didn’t get to see much more of.

Film Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Also known as: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (after the release of sequels)
Release Date: June 12th, 1981
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Alfred Molina, Pat Roach

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.” – Dr. René Belloq

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greatest films ever made. It was kind of cool seeing it on the big screen for the first time, which leaves Temple of Doom as the only Indy film I haven’t seen in the theater now. Indiana Jones is also my favorite film series of all-time. Yes, I even loved that Crystal Skull one that everyone feels the need to bitch about.

While Temple of Doom is my personal favorite (and an unpopular opinion), I can admit that Raiders is actually a better film. Everything about it is just right.

The casting was perfect and I can’t imagine how the film would have turned out had George Lucas had his first pick, Tom Selleck. Indiana Jones is Harrison Ford’s role and unlike James Bond, no one would probably ever accept someone else as the character. Granted, several actors played a young Indy but both River Phoenix and Sean Patrick Flanery did a fine job as the character outside of his normal form. Harrison Ford will always be the adult Indiana Jones but I am sure that Disney will somehow milk the franchise into oblivion at some point and then forever.

The chemistry between Ford and Karen Allen is wonderful and out of all the Indy ladies, she was the only one to eventually come back and marry America’s favorite adventurer. Rightfully so, by the way, as the relationship between Indy and Marion is, by far, the greatest romance in the series and a natural fit for both characters and both actors. While Karen Allen has been in several great films, she will always be Marion to me and probably to everyone.

Paul Freeman is perfection as Indy’s adventuring archaeologist nemesis René Belloq. It is unfortunate that Belloq dies, as he would have been a great villain to carry on in the series. In fact, there was a planned origin story for Belloq in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the 90s TV series, but the show was cancelled before those stories were filmed.

Ronald Lacey was another villain and possibly the most frightening in the entire series as the reptilian-like Toht. He was a Gestapo interrogator dressed in black and always ready to torture Marion in vicious ways. Luckily, she is spared from anything that the evil Toht had planned.

Raiders also introduces us to John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah and Denholm Elliot’s Marcus Brody, two characters that would return and get more screen time in The Last Crusade.

This is the perfect adventure film. While it is obviously inspired by the serials of old, it brings that formula into the modern era and reinvigorates what was a dead genre, at the time. This, alongside the original Star Wars trilogy, tapped into the great storytelling style of those seemingly ancient serials. It would have been cool to see what other films from the old school serial style that Lucas and Spielberg could have done in addition to Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Maybe something along the lines of a superhero series like the Phantom or the Shadow could have worked well before their not-so-great 90s versions came out.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is what going to the movies is all about. At least in the summer blockbuster sense. They don’t make movies like this anymore and even though this was a massive film in 1981, it is much smaller than the grandiose CGI spectacles of today. The practical special effects keep the film grounded in reality and make it feel much more authentic and genuine than say, the Transformers film series, the Marvel stuff, a Zack Snyder flick or a Roland Emmerich “destroy the world” type of picture. The most recent version of The Mummy, which is close in subject matter, pales in comparison to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A lot of the film’s magic isn’t just the work of Spielberg, Lucas and the wonderful cast, a lot of credit goes to the score that was composed by the movie music maestro John Williams. Say what you will but movies today just don’t have soundtracks and iconic themes like those composed by Williams. Can anyone even remember the theme from Iron Man? At least Wonder Woman had a pretty unique theme that stands out but it is just one film in a sea of modern movie making mediocrity.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a motion picture that did everything right. It should always be held up, above the vast majority of tent pole movies, as an example of what films like this should be. It shouldn’t be copied but it should be cherished and looked at for inspiration. Everyone from my generation knows it but as new generations are born and as movies are becoming nonsensical extinction level event CGI festivals, the greats like Raiders aren’t as appealing to younger generations that want bigger, louder, faster, more, more, more!