Indiana Jones: An Appreciation – Part 3 – The Last Crusade
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in many ways, is a response by Spielberg and Lucas to the critics that were less than impressed with Temple. They drew away from the dark themes of the second movie, and followed the structure that made Raiders so successful. Many elements from the first film returned for this one: the colorful supporting characters, the religious MacGuffin, and those darn Nazis. Indy’s back-story was further developed, with his father playing a major role. And of course, there was the action, this time amped up to an 11. With all these elements in play, Spielberg and Lucas created a slam-bang action adventure, and made what some consider to be the best film of the series.
This go around, Indy is recruited by a wealthy antiquities collector (Julian Glover) to help find the Holy Grail: the cup that Jesus Christ drank from at the last supper. Legend has it that, whomever drinks from the cup, will have ever-lasting life. Jones initially turns down the offer, but a wrench is thrown in the mix when he realizes that first person to lead the expedition, his very own father Professor Henry Jones (played by Sean Connery) has been kidnapped, with only his Grail diary left, containing the clues of his possible whereabouts. Indy quickly goes on a worldwide hunt to find both his father, and attain the Grail before the Nazis claim it for their own evil purposes. Indy is accompanied by old friends Marcus Brody (played with a clueless innocence by Denholm Elliott), Sallah, and newcomer Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), who was helping his father with the expedition. Together, they go on a search that takes them in to the watery caverns of Venice, the massive castles of Austria, the heart of the enemy lair in Belgium, and to the sandy temples of the Middle East.
Everything about The Last Crusade just seems bigger compared to the other films, Spielberg certainly pulled out all the stops for this movie. They go to more places, the sets seem bigger, the stakes are higher, and the action is more rousing than the others. The comedy is funnier than before; some memorable moments include Indy using a Scottish accent to infiltrate a German castle, or how he reverts to acting like an adolescent when his father scorns him. In mention of the father character, Sean Connery plays him in a surprisingly different style than what we’re accustomed. Connery, best known for his smooth yet macho persona of previous films, plays Henry Jones almost as a nerdy character. Jones has never seen action before, and would much rather stay home reading a good book on archeological history than get in to a shoot out with Nazi scumbags. This results in some great chemistry between him and Indy, both of whom work in the same field, but have certainly gone through different experiences.
The biggest element added to the film would be the back-story of Indiana Jones himself. We never got to learn about Indy in the first two films; where he came from, who he is, what his influences are. Here, we see that his profession and grown up life is highly influenced by his father. In the very beginning of the film, we see a young Indiana Jones (played by River Phoenix), escape the clutches of some grave robbers in an attempt to claim a golden artifact. After some close calls and a tight escape from a train, Indy runs home to his father, who instead of listening to his son, pushes him away while focusing more on the clues that will take him to the Holy Grail. This lack of a bond is expressed by the grown up Indy in the scene on the blimp, but is again rebutted by the senior Jones. This all leads to a touching scene at the climax of the film, where Indy, dangling by one hand by his father’s grasp, finally gets to hear his dad call him by the name we all know him by. It’s a surprisingly effective moment in the midst of the chaos happening around them.
Again, Spielberg fills the movie with non-stop adventure. It’s amazing to think that a character like Indiana Jones would be able to survive all the twists and turns that life has given him; he’s like the Energizer Bunny. The film is full of action sequences all worthy of being the climax to any other movie. From the boat chase on the Venice waterways, the escape from the German-Austrian castle, the horse chase and tank battle near the end, the movie is full of suspense and harrowing moments. The climax of the film is a call back to the first scene of Raiders. Armed with only his father’s Grail diary, Indy must overcome three deadly tasks before reaching the location of the cup. This includes the risk of getting sliced in half or falling a thousand feet to his death. Whereas the other Indy film’s high points were straight action sequences, in this film it focused more on Indy’s intellect and ability to deduct clues. Who else in the movie would realize that the Latin spelling of “Jehovah” started with an “I”?