And so, tonight, the girlfriend and I completed the "trilogy".
Actually, this series isn't really a "trilogy" in any significant way, despite that brilliant theory to the effect that we can see Indy follow a Charles Williams-like progression from paganism through Judaism to Christianity if we watch the series in chronological order -- instead, each film begins with Indiana Jones as a skeptic and ends with him becoming a believer of some sort, and the way he always seems to revert to his original default mode (the same way he promptly forgets his girlfriends from the previous films) doesn't really allow for the sort of narrative arc that we might expect of a proper "trilogy".
You could say that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
-- which, as I recall, was just one of several sequels clogging the multiplex in the summer of 1989, along with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
and Ghostbusters 2
, all of which were overshadowed by the original Batman
-- was a "necessary" film, if only because it simply wouldn't have done to let Temple of Doom
have the last word on this franchise. It was also "necessary" because director Steven Spielberg's efforts to win respect and an Oscar with "serious" films like 1985's The Color Purple
and 1987's Empire of the Sun
had been fruitless, while producer George Lucas's most recent films, including 1986's Howard the Duck
and 1987's Willow
, had been flops; both of these film-makers needed to re-establish themselves as box-office forces to be reckoned with. But seeing this film right after Raiders of the Lost Ark
, you cannot help but notice what a pale copy of that film this one is: like the earlier film, it too features a biblical relic, Nazis trudging through the desert, tunnels curtained in cobwebs, a life-threatening propeller, etc., etc.
Much to my surprise, I have actually heard some people argue that Last Crusade
has more "character development" than Raiders
, simply because of the repartee between Indy and his father, who is played by Sean Connery. (Connery was obviously picked because of his connection to the then-struggling James Bond franchise, which Lucas and Spielberg had always cited as one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones, and which pretty much died in 1989 with License to Kill
; six years would pass before Pierce Brosnan revived that character. Connery was also at the peak of his post-Bond popularity when this film came out; he had just won an Oscar for 1987's The Untouchables
, and he was on the verge of appearing in 1990's The Hunt for Red October
). Now, credit where credit is due -- Harrison Ford and Sean Connery make an effective and amusing comedy team. But there is almost nothing in the way of actual character development here; like the dialogue between Indy and Elsa (A View to a Kill
's Alison Doody) in their big love scene, the dialogue between Indy and his dad has a staged, artificial, contrived air about it. It feels perfunctory, like it was designed to push us from Point A to Point B, and rarely like a genuine conversation. This is a far cry from the character, romance and comedy in Raiders
, which were grounded in something more serious and real.
In keeping with its comic but superficial portrayal of father-son (and male-female) relations, Last Crusade
also has the cartoonish sensibility of Temple of Doom
, rather than the more serious or mystical sensibility of Raiders
; I guess this film gets away with the cartoonishness because it isn't as dark and nasty as Temple of Doom
, but me, I would like films about the supernatural to retain some sort of awe, and I just don't get that here. The tests that Indy must face at the end all have naturalistic explanations and are easily thwarted; and the fact that the filmmakers must pull a deliberate bait-and-switch on us (just before the third test, we see Indy's feet cast a shadow on the wall below the cave; but when he steps forward, it turns out there was a stone bridge there all along) just adds to that feeling that we have been cheated, that the filmmakers haven't played fair with us. (Compare that with the sheer awesomeness of the collapsing cavern and the giant boulder at the beginning of Raiders
, or the mysterious nature of that one trap that is somehow triggered by a break in a ray of light.) And when Indy meets the Knight at the end, the Knight feebly raises his sword and then collapses under its weight -- our first impression of him is a comical one. Lame.
Even that scene with Hitler is part of the problem, part of that tendency towards trivialization -- these films work precisely because they mythologize history, and in order not to break the spell, we have to keep REAL history at some distance; but when we see Hitler up-close, handing Indy his autograph, well, it just breaks that spell, and as executed here, it becomes just one more contrivance in a film full of contrivances. Of course, Lucas would soon have Indy meeting LOTS of famous historical figures in the Young Indiana Jones
TV series. But Spielberg made Schindler's List
just four years later, and he went on to say that he could never go back to treating Nazis as cartoonish villains again.
Oh well. Just a few random final thoughts. I still do not like the way the film reduces Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) to a joke, and I still do not like the character's line to the effect that the search for the Grail is the seach for "the divine within us all." There is a point during the tank sequence when someone fires a gun at Indy, and when I saw that, it suddenly occured to me that no bullet would penetrate Indy's skin in this film; the fight scenes in Last Crusade
just do not have the edgy, scrappy character of the fight scenes in Raiders
. As my girlfriend pointed out, the film begins with Indy saying that an artifact dating to the early colonization of the Americas "belongs in a museum", even though the "bad guy" who owns it found it buried in a cave back in 1912 and the authorities were apparently okay with this; on what basis does Indy justify risking his life and killing people over this trinket? Given that my girlfriend is Orthodox, the line about the church in Venice being built with items plundered in Byzantium during the Crusades jumped out at me in a way that it never had before. One character (one of the "cruciform" warriors, I think) says something about the cup of Christ bringing death to the "unrighteous" who drink from it -- but wait a minute, the main bad guy in this film is killed NOT because he drinks from the RIGHT cup with an evil heart, but because he drinks from the WRONG cup, period; hmmm, what sort of ending might this film have had, I wonder, if he had drunk from the right cup after all, but had been judged and killed by it; and in what sense, I wonder, are we supposed to think of Indiana Jones or his father as "righteous", given their, um, un-Christian behaviour elsewhere in the film. And it wasn't exactly clear to me whether Indy and his father were supposed to have eternal life at the end of the film, now that they had drunk from the Grail, or if, in order to have said life, they had to stay with the Grail inside the cavern; judging from the fact that, on the TV series, Indy grows old and his body falls apart, even to the extent that he even wears an eyepatch, I'm guessing the latter.