During my childhood, I missed what now seems like a cinematic rite of passage: watching the Indiana Jones trilogy. My family had the VHS tapes, but I think my parents deemed them too violent or something. I vaguely remember watching Temple of Doom by myself; I can’t remember if I snuck it out of our movie cabinet, or if my mom finally let me watch it, but the only parts of the movie I remembered were the monkey brain scene and the part when the priest rips some guy’s heart out of his chest—obviously the most important parts. At any rate, I’ve always felt I had a big Indy-shaped hole in my life, so this week, I sat down and watched the original trilogy.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman
Won four Oscars: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Effects-Visual Effects. Also won a Special Achievement Award for sound effects editing.
Nominated for four more: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score
IMDb Top 250: #38
We first find celebrated archaeologist Indiana Jones (Ford) deep in the jungles of Peru, rummaging around an ancient temple trying to find the golden idol of *insert name of Aztec/Mayan/Tolmec god here*. He evades ancient booby traps, mutinous Peruvian guides, and the now iconic giant rolling boulder to escape the temple unscathed—only to be thwarted by snooty Frenchman Dr. Rene Belloq (Freeman).
Cutscene to Dr. Jones teaching archaeology to a bunch of doe-eyed co-eds at Marshall and that’s when we find out the badass, booby-trap-dodging, treasure hunter from two seconds ago is a huge nerd, which makes him even more awesome. After class, the Army comes to recruit him—the Nazis are trying to find the Ark of the Covenant. With the Ark, the Nazis would be invincible. Being a good American, and a highly regarded archaeologist, Jones agrees to track down the Ark.
After recruiting Marion Ravenwood (Allen), the daughter of the eminent Ark scholar, and his excavator Egyptian friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies, ever his jolly self), Indy travels to the Nazi excavation site of the lost city of Tanis only to discover that *gasp* snooty Frenchman Dr. Rene Belloq is leading the excavation! NAZI FACE PUNCHING COMMENCES.
I have to admit…this movie was not what I expected. I feel like you need to watch Indy as a kid; that’s when he’s the coolest. And yes, while there was pretty much nonstop action, it was pretty standard Saturday action flick action. That’s why I think that it’s important to first watch Indiana Jones as a kid, so you have that memory of Indy being the coolest guy in the world and you can carry that with you. At this point in my life, I’ve seen all of the movies that Indy inspired and so now that I’ve seen the source, the source looks kinda meh. But…it was still super fun to watch; it helps that I love action movies
I loved that some action movie tropes were played with—the hero being a not-superhuman nerdy guy, the scene where he shoots the scary-looking scimitar-wielding baddie instead of trying to fight him—but the most disappointing part for me was the acting. Freeman was pretty good as the snarky villain, but I was expecting Harrison Ford to be much more charismatic. Maybe that’s unfair, because I was expecting a nerdily-dressed Han Solo, but there it is.
Scene to watch: The now-iconic opening scene; really any of the action sequences are fun to watch.
Why you should watch it: If you’re a good, red-blooded American that enjoys watching Nazis get punched in their faces. Also, I mean, Indiana Jones is an American icon. You probably should just see it.
Why you shouldn’t: If action movies just aren’t your cup of tea.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan
Won one Oscar: Best Visual Effects
Nominated for one other: Best Original Score
In the prequel to Raiders, we find Indy crashlanding a plane in India, after getting in a scuffle with a Chinese crime lord, with his sidekick Short Round (Ke Quan, of Goonies fame) and annoying tag-along Willie Scott (Capshaw). Emerging from the wreckage, they stumble upon a poverty-stricken Indian village. The elders explain that their magical protection stone has been stolen and that they believe Indy and his friends were sent by Shiva to get their stone back—so now of course they have to. But of course, it isn’t that easy—they end up getting sucked into a dark plot involving child slavery and a evil Indian cult that rips people’s hearts out of their chests.
Temple of Doom is so much darker and violent that Raiders, and I liked it. I read some reviews after watching it and it seems that this was most people’s least favorite out of the trilogy, and yeah, it’s not as “sophisticated” as the first one, but it’s so much more fun. It’s like The Expendables of the trilogy: the dialogue is kinda dumb and it’s mostly blood and death, but it’s just so much fun. Super offensive toward Indian and Hindu culture, though, let’s get that out of the way. There’s a scene where everyone is sitting down for a cultured dinner with the maharajah of the temple, but then they’re served cooked scarab beetles, a pregnant snake (some guy slurps down the babies like spaghetti) and chilled monkey brains for dessert. I really don’t think Indians in 1935 would serve that for dinner, but I’m no historian.
Also, side note, Short Round is one of my new favorite movie characters. He’s the unsung hero of the whole movie, and I really don’t think the movie pays enough attention to that.
Scene to watch: The “Kali-ma” scene where the heart gets ripped out or the final chase scene through the mines is so goddamn cool.
Why you should watch it: If there just wasn’t enough violence in the first film, or if you’re just trying to complete the trilogy.
Why you shouldn’t: Monkey brains. Child slavery. Kids getting whipped. Pregnant snakes.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody
Won one Oscar: Best Sound Effects Editing
Nominated for two more: Best Sound, Best Original Score
IMDb Top 250: #110
Those darn Nazis are at it again! This time they’ve kidnapped Indy’s father (played hilariously by Connery), the leading scholar of Holy Grail lore, in order to find the Holy Grail, which will create an army of immortal soldiers! Indy needs to save his dad, find the Grail, and punch more Nazis in the face!
Last Crusade really ties the trilogy together. Raiders set the stage, Temple really put Indy through his paces, but there’s an emotional aspect to Last Crusade that, while subtle and fleeting, really brings our understanding of Indy the person together. There’s the missing connection with his father that’s really highlighted when Jones, Sr. thinks that Indy is dead. There’s about 30 seconds when we are really shown how much Indy meant to his father, and how much their relationship has suffered over the years. Indy also expresses his regret for not keeping in contact with his father, and while this serves merely to drive the plot forward, it also shows us that Indy is more than his tough exterior. It makes Crusade a little more nuanced than the other films.
Other than that, pretty much the same old Nazi-punching, shooting bad guys story.
Scene to watch: The intro with River Phoenix as a young Indy really explains a lot about who he is as a person (including why he’s afraid of snakes).
Why you should watch it: For the satisfaction of completing the trilogy!
Why you shouldn’t: Obviously, if you haven’t seen the other two.