A year on from our first movie marathon, The Lord of the Rings, 2013’s inaugural FilmsFilmsFilms event was a whip cracking spin through Steven Spielberg’s and George Lucas’ most fun filled offerings the Indiana Jones series. The FFF marathoners reckoned on four films with Harrison Ford’s most endearing creation as being a cheery jaunt. And so it proved to be.
It being the New Year we gave fried potato snacks and sugar stuffed sweets the heave-ho and broke out the crudités and sparkling water. Many more calorie laden ten hour film slogs and we’d be struggling to squeeze into our own movie themed costumes. We didn’t need calorific grub to get us in the mood though; the first hum of John Williams exuberant theme tune manages that with no effort at all. Prior to the first dvd making its way into the player there is a minor debate about running order. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) (there was no "Indiana Jones” title preface first time round) was the first Indiana Jones movie to be released but chronologically it takes place after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). As this is news to some of the marathoners we stick with the order of release and stride into Raiders idol stealing first scene.
So what was in the Ark in the end? A crap load of cocaine
As pre-credit sequences go Spielberg’s Raiders opening is movie making perfection. Aped most famously by The Simpsons, Indiana’s dash from the Peruvian temple sums up everything about the franchise in ten neat minutes; there’s almost no need for us to carry on. Except for the fact that Raiders serves up a treasure trove of equally spellbinding moments. The "sword fight”, the Nazi convoy takedown, the melty face Ark reveal. The only thing that cuts through the fun is the bafflement as to how Spielberg ever got the movie released with a PG rating.
Spielberg’s Indiana prequel The Temple of Doom brings its own minor stomach churns, with snake filled snakes and monkey brains cropping up even before we stumble upon the Kali worshipping cult and their subterranean lair. The intro is another bravura effort, despite Indiana looking awkward in a Bond-esque tuxedo. The story drifts a little until we journey underground, with Kate Capshaw’s Wilhelmina "Willie” Scott an annoying presence as she struggles to live up to Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood. Just as you start to think that the movie might not match up to Raiders Indiana, Short Round and Willie hop in a mine cart to add another magnificent set-piece to the franchise. Despite being placed in the middle of my least favourite Indiana movie and featuring some creaky special effects, the mine cart chase is still my favourite moment from the series. The dizzying rope-bridge finale is held back from perfection by the lack of a Willie plummet into crocodile infested waters.
An outfit sorely in need of dirt, sand and dust
It was five years before Ford donned the fedora again, mostly due to the mixed reviews Temple of Doom received. The script for the final part of the then trilogy went through all kinds of rewrites before the final Holy Grail MacGuffin was settled on. Everything from haunted mansions, monkey kings, and Grail demons were thrown into the mix at one stage. Figuring Indiana might need some support to carry the story this time round Spielberg had the wonderful idea of introducing Indiana’s treasure seeking father Henry, in the form of Sean Connery. Despite being only twelve years older than Ford the pair worked wonders together, perfectly suited to the father son dynamic. With beefed up roles for Denholm Elliot and John Rhys Davies as well, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) brings back the fun of Raiders. There’s great humour, "No ticket!”, and even another gruesome crumbly face finale.
Never bring a whip to a gun fight
And that might have been that. Except nineteen years later Lucas, Spielberg and Ford surprised everyone by blowing the dust off of Indy’s outfit for a fourth go round. Lucas and Spielberg had originally signed a five picture deal with Paramount Pictures in the late seventies for their Indiana Jones creation. When the third picture wrapped the series into a neat trilogy Lucas announced Indy was finished. But when Ford provided narration for an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles television show Lucas envisioned a further film instalment that saw an older Indiana embroiled in a science fiction caper in the nineteen fifties. Ford hated the idea and said he wouldn’t take part. As the years rolled by talk of another sequel was bounded around to no great affect until out of the blue the announcement was made; Indiana Jones would return.
Snakes....why'd it have to be snakes...
The reaction amongst all the marathoners when the final part of our marathon Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls (2008) arrived was the same; can we switch it off when the aliens show up? It’s a shame that the finale to Indy’s fourth outing lands with such a dull thud as everything up to the point where Ford and Co. arrive at the central temple is so enjoyable. What viewers need to remember is that Lucas and Spielberg’s intended the Indiana movies to be a recreation of the 1930’s and 1940’s adventure serials, where the main hero faces a different foe each week. Rather like Herge’s Tin Tin, the protagonist would face ancient evils one week, evil Nazis the next, and saucermen the week after that. A fine idea but all three of the first Indy films dealt with central ideas rooted in the past, MacGuffins that appealed to Indy’s archaeological skills. For three films he had looked into history; now we had to buy into him looking up at the stars. It just felt a bit wrong.
Still, part four has much to enjoy. Once we get over the shock of how much Ford has aged (jumping immediately from Crusade to Skulls is something none of us has done before) there’s plenty of fun to be had. We even work out that at the time Ford was 65 and all considered he still looks in fantastic shape, even more so when the superstar actor still appears to be doing a lot of his own stunts. Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Cate Blanchett (wobbly accent aside) are all fantastic additions to the franchise. The return of Karen Allen is the highlight of the movie and the spark with Ford still burns bright. But the jury is still out on Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt and whether he should carry the whip in future episodes. As Ford has gone on record as saying, he needs to get his own hat, Indy's hat is his and he worked hard for it.
All told the four Indiana movies are warm hug of a film franchise. Lucas and Spielberg wanted to create something that made all ages of viewer feel like they were ten years old again. And with Ford on form, the films never fail to achieve that. With rumours of a part five still floating around Hollywood (a story featuring the Bermuda Triangle seeming to be most popular), and Ford now the wrong side of 70, here’s hoping the gang don’t leave it another two decades before cracking the whip again.