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Thursday, May 10, 2012



"You call this archaeology?"
-- Professor Henry Jones

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a 1989 action-adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg that serves as the third installment in the Indiana Jones franchise. This film once again sees our hero, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) doing battle against the Nazis, who are once again on a quest to find a a famous Christian artifact: the Holy Grail. Indy is brought into the chase after wealthy artifact collector Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), who is funding an expedition for the Grail, tells him that his father, Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery), has gone missing whilst researching the Grail's whereabouts. Indiana immediately flies to Venice, Italy to pick up the trail where his father left off. He's joined by his close friend Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), and the two join forces with the young Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), who had been assisting the elder Jones in his search. As the three dig deeper into the Grail legend, it becomes increasingly clear that there are many sides to the tale, both of the Grail and of the people on the journey.

Fans of the Indiana Jones franchise had to wait five years after Temple of Doom for The Last Crusade to hit theaters, but many of them found it to be quite the return to form. It definitely feels a lot more like Raiders of the Lost Ark, and many a fan greatly appreciated the switch back to that particular feel. I've always found to be The Last Crusade my personal favorite in the series, even if it's not necessarily the best of the bunch. There's something incredibly endearing about it as a movie, and it's entertainment factor is only matched by the franchise's first installment.

Part of the reason this film proves to be so good is the fact that we're getting what might arguably be the best screenplay in the franchise. On the one hand, we're getting a clever tale that rivals the quest for the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders, and the twists and turns with that part of the story make this one engaging and entertaining by themselves. It's some of the other facets, however, that push The Last Crusade over the top. The characterization provided by this particular screenplay is the best of the series by far, and for the first time since Raiders, we're given a true sense of being from the Indiana character. We're seeing multiple dimensions added to the character throughout the film, and by film's end, the audience can clearly see that he has changed. And he's not the only character who offers quite a spectacle. By introducing Indy's father into the series, we finally get to see the relationship between Henry Jones Sr. and Henry Jones Jr. We could've made a movie solely centered around that particular relationship, and it probably would've proved to be incredibly insightful and clever, but there's something even deeper going on here.

Although there's always been a facet of either religion or magic or mysticism or what have you in each of the Indiana Jones films, we never really get the sense that Indiana himself is starting to buy into all the hoopla. In Raiders, he merely understands the power of the Ark, but it's not as though he truly comes to respect it. In Temple of Doom, we get a look at an older, more pagan religion, so there wasn't really any sense of conversion on Indy's part. In The Last Crusade, however, there's a definite change in beliefs and ideas on the part of our hero. In order to complete his journey, he's almost required to go through a spiritual conversion, and that bit of personal growth is what makes this film all the more powerful. I know that I only hours ago stated that Temple of Doom was easily the most emotionally powerful of the Indiana Jones films, but after re-watching The Last Crusade, I think I have to change my opinion. With the spiritual change and the relationship between Indy and his father, there's no doubt in my mind that the screenplay allows for this one to take the emotional cake.

The strong characterization in the screenplay also allows for the actors to bring forth some fantastic performances. Of all the Indiana Jones films, I'd have to rank this as the best-acted by Harrison Ford, and a lot of it has to do with the aforementioned points of the script. It gave him the opportunity to flesh out Indy a little bit more than he had been able to do in the previous films, and for that, I think he owes the screenplay a debt of gratitude. It's also a pleasure to see the great Sean Connery on-screen, especially in what might be his most iconic role aside from his numerous portrayals of James Bond. The chemistry between Ford and Connery is so authentic that you'd even start to believe that they could be real-life father and son. They just work that well together. It's astounding, really. We're also getting some good performances from the likes of Doody and Donovan, who's more René Belloq than Mola Ram, and I think that works for the better. Also be on the watch for a short cameo from River Phoenix as a young Indiana Jones that proves to be rather entertaining. The only issue that I had with the acting was the performances by Denholm Elliott and John Rhys-Davies, who both reprise their roles from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Whereas they were both relatively serious characters in the first film, they seem to be more caricatures of themselves this time around. Now, this might be what the screenplay calls for, but it was just a little bit off-putting for me.

And, once again, we're getting a fantastic score from John Williams, who brings a lot of new pieces for this particular film to accentuate the march he established in the first film. One of my favorite pieces from this film is the score he gave to the Grail, which proves to be rather powerful and beautiful, in my opinion. Here's a snippet for your listening pleasure:

At the end of the day, I'd have to say that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is probably my favorite film in the franchise. Although it's not quite as good as the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, the characterization and spirituality of this film pushes it over the top in terms of personal preference. Ultimately, it's one of my go-to films whenever I need a pick-me-up because it just manages to blend all of its themes and tones together so perfectly. It's just a beautifully-made film, and I have to tip my hat to Spielberg for having the guts to give the Christianity bit another go-around. Kudos, good sir.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
Should You Watch It? Yes

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