INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE is the third one, and it’s the one that deals with that Holy Grail of elusive treasures, the Holy Grail. We find Indy’s father Henry Sr. was after it his whole life and getting real close and has a notebook full of clues he’s found and now he’s kidnapped. So Indy has to find his pops and hide that book from the Nazis and also there’s some guys sworn to protect the Grail who try to stop him.
Sr. is of course played by Sean Connery, and maybe that’s an in-joke because Spielberg did RAIDERS when he wanted a Bond type movie to do, but Connery doesn’t play him like 007. He plays him as a dork. He kinda acts like a little boy and wears a bow tie and tweed vest and is often in comical positions like riding in the sidecar of Indy’s motorcycle. Whenever Indy has to fight somebody, his dad has a look of admiration. He had no idea his kid could t. c. of b. like that.
The lady this time, Elsa (Alison Doody, A VIEW TO A KILL), is much, much, much more tolerable than TEMPLE OF DOOM‘s Willie Scott, which turns out to be a bummer when (spoiler) we find out that she’s a Nazi. Not only that but she managed to bone both generations of Joneses (a plot point requested by Connery). Which is her right, but kinda gross, right? I personally don’t think she’s right for Indy.
But before she betrays him and she’s pretending to be a regular, non-Nazi type of person they have a good time doing first date kinda stuff like deciphering clues and puzzles and what not, finding a secret tunnel inside a library. This time there’s rats instead of snakes. They’ve done snakes and bugs and now rats and that’s pretty much it for creepy crawlies unless they wanna do bats. If they do another one there’s just gonna be a bunch of gerbils in my opinion. Why’d it have to be gerbils? And if it’s anything like this installment there will be a comical prelude where we learn about something that happened with his pet gerbil when he was growing up.
There’s a good speedboat chase, but I’m a little disturbed to realize that the best gag (going between the two boats) is kind of how Gio Coppola died three years earlier. So maybe my favorite is when Indy stands on a wooden boat that’s getting chopped up foot by foot by a huge boat propeller. Giving it the ol’ German mechanic treatment.
Later there’s a battle on a tank speeding (if you can call it speeding) across a cliff in ways that defy time and space like the bridge in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 or the runway in FURIOUS 6. It’s pretty good, though, one of those complex Spielberg action sequences cutting between different characters doing different things, and there’s a bunch of cause and effect and eventually the old gag where they think he went over the cliff and they’re standing there sadly looking down and he walks up behind them and they look at him and think nothing of it for a second and then do a double take. You know, for laffing.
People get mad at me when I say this, but come on, people. There is no fucking way this one would be widely accepted if it came out today. It would be on the childhood offender list guaranteed. A minor reason is these broad jokes, like when the sound of Indy smashing the floor of the library makes the librarian stare at his rubber stamp thinking he has super strength. Or when Indy throws a Nazi out the window of a zeppelin and all the other passengers scramble to show him they have their tickets in order. RAIDERS didn’t really go for that type of cornball shit, and in my opinion it does not improve the series to add it.
But the major reason is the silly prequel opening scene, where River Phoenix (sporting 1989 skater hair) plays 13-year-old Indy on a boy scout adventure in 1912 and we learn that he got
1. his trademark hat
2. his trademark bullwhip
3. his hatred of snakes
4. the scar on his chin
5. the rivalry with one of the villains of this film
all on the same day and within a period of about 5-10 minutes. You’re telling me, Mr. Internet, that it still pisses you off that Yoda knows Chewbacca, but you have no problem with this at all? And you start swearing when talking about the brief sight of an animated prairie dog in KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, but you’re totally down with a puppet rhinoceros that pokes his horn through the top of a train car and it goes between Indy’s legs and ha ha it looks like a weiner? Interesting.
So a positive way to look at it is maybe you could enjoy CRYSTAL SKULL and prequels and stuff a little bit if you were more open and accepting of their idiosyncrasies like you are when you watch this one. But I have to confess, some of this stuff does bug me, and this is definitely my least favorite Indiana Jones picture. It has less of the good shit to make up for this dumb shit. And I know this makes me a weirdo, but a big part of the problem is that I don’t find “funny old man” Sean Connery to be charming at all. I don’t really get that whole thing. In retrospect maybe I was too hard on Short Round.
But I do kinda like the movie. Ford is still great as Indy, and the climactic sequence in the Holy Grail Temple is really good, and includes a cool greedy-treasure-seeker-turns-into-animated-ghoul shot in the RAIDERS tradition. (It looks like good old stop motion, but I read that it uses the morphing that ILM pioneered in WILLOW). The best parts are the clever tricks Indy has to figure out to get into the temple. Apparently those were added by Tom Stoppard in an uncredited rewrite (he also polished all the dialogue). The screenplay was started by Menno Meyjes (THE COLOR PURPLE, RICOCHET) and heavily rewritten by Jeffrey Boam, an under-recognized force of the ’80s who wrote THE DEAD ZONE, INNERSPACE, THE LOST BOYS, LETHAL WEAPON 2 and LETHAL WEAPON 3. He actually started his career rewriting STRAIGHT TIME and ended it by writing and producing THE PHANTOM, a movie that cleverly plays off of Indiana Jones (the hero steals treasures back from museums to return them to the natives they belong to). Boam was also the co-creator of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. starring Bruce Campbell. Sadly he died of heart failure in 2000, only 53 years old.
Spielberg didn’t like Lucas’s idea of using the Holy Grail, but gave in after rejecting two more supernatural stories with ghosts and demons commissioned from Diane Thomas (ROMANCING THE STONE) and Chris Columbus (GREMLINS). The Thomas one is described as “a haunted mansion story” and Spielberg thought it was too similar to POLTERGEIST, so it’s hard to picture how Indy fits into that.
Lucas was heavily involved in Boam’s draft, giving him the setpieces and sitting with him for two weeks blocking out the story beat by beat. Lucas, unfortunately, came up with the young Indy idea (which Spielberg resisted). Lucas also had the father found only at the end of the movie, which Boam thought made no sense. Although I don’t really like the character of Dr. Jones Sr. I have to agree that that would’ve been weird. At least there’s that part where he causes the seagulls to crash the plane. That part was cool.
Going by Rotten Tomatoes, LAST CRUSADE is the most liked of the Indy sequels, and that seems accurate. This left Lucas on the good side of fans throughout the ’90s. After the small digital effects ILM had used in this and WILLOW, Lucas saw a new age on the horizon. He recognized the possibilities of computers helping filmmakers to create settings and sunsets and things without having to have a hundred million dollars and a crew traveling around the world. He was excited to start testing his ideas out on some smaller projects, and the fans couldn’t wait to see what he came up with.