Anyone who has seen the Indiana Jones films has their favorite scene that defines their understanding of Jones as a teacher, explorer, or famous archaeologist. These are caricatures that makeup Jones, but the first time we realize he is human and get a glimpse into his character is when he walks into a bar in Nepal, and his ex-girlfriend Marion Ravenwood says, “Indiana Jones. I always knew someday you’d come walking back through my door.” This 1981 example has been copied over and over in film to as recently as 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, when the real character of Rocket Raccoon comes out in a bar, in the far reaches of space.
Every action film takes from Raiders of the Lost Ark, setting the bar for action that very few blockbusters have reached. The specific aspects that are done well here that are taken are all of them. No, seriously. The characters are fun and interesting, the script wonderfully balances serious moments such as Jones’ encounter with Belloq in Cairo, with humor like when Jones doesn’t want to fight a big brute, so he pauses and then shoots him point-blank.
Raiders created the perfect action star. Jones’ character progression feels natural, to the point where you don’t even know it’s happening. Due to this connection to our main hero, we feel a connection to the action. Along with that, the action, the mix of practical effects, with John Williams’ score, and Steven Spielberg’s directing is a pure rush of dopamine.
The desert chase, in which Jones hops from a horse onto a moving truck in order to secure the Ark, is easily one of (if not the) greatest action scenes of all time. It’s entertaining, the stakes are high, adding value to the overall story, and further contributing to Jones’ character. Think now of the opening action scene in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, in which he jumps onto a moving jumbo jet. Many shot angles are similar, and the pace of the editing are clear tips of the fedora to Raiders’ desert chase scene.
Temple of Doom let the entire film industry eat monkey brains. While making this film, Spielberg went to members of the Motion Picture Association of American film rating system (MPAA) and said that Doom was dark, but not dark enough for an R-rating. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Spielberg said, “I suggested, ‘Let’s call it PG-13 or PG-14…’” Doom was given a PG rating, but the parents of ‘84 weren’t happy with the nightmares their kids had, and the MPAA took Spielberg’s advice and created the PG-13 rating, which held an everlasting impact on the film industry, and anyone that doesn’t like Disney cartoons, or gory horror films.
The film itself utilized lighting very well. Here, it’s used to symbolize loss of control in characters. For example, after Jones is forced to drink the blood and is thrown into a room by himself to deal with the pain, from when Jones emerges into frame after being ‘controlled,’ to when Short Round ‘awakens’ him with the fire of a torch, Jones and those controlled are submerged in red lighting. The red lighting helps show how Jones has lost control of his character. The use of lighting in this way can also be found in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, where blues are used to show which monster is good, and yellows show which monster is bad.
The Last Crusade humanized the character of Indiana Jones. Up until Crusade, no one necessarily liked Jones, but more so the idea of him. He’s funny, intelligent, good-looking, saves the world, everyone wanted to be that idea.
Now, yes, he has a character in both Raiders and Doom that progresses over the course of each film, but we know very little about him. For example, in Raiders when he tells Marcus, “What are you trying to do, scare me? You sound like my mother.” We have no reason to believe what we learn in Crusade, that his mother has died.
Crusade used these open-ended plot points to help craft Jones into more than just a fedora and whip. One of these plot points is introducing us to his younger years, and bringing his father into the adventure. In turn, this not only further humanizes Jones but helped popularize the idea that anytime a screenwriter needs to add more to a character they bring in a family member. For example, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and Jason Bourne.
Looking at it as purely analytically, and objective as possible, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a very flawed film. The last time I watched it I spent most of my time highlighting the flaws in the editing, match to action problems, and several continuity errors throughout… the first ten minutes. I start with this to help you understand that I’m objective to the fact that unfortunately, the film is nothing more than average. With that in mind, I LOVE Crystal Skull for many reasons but one of the main being it was the first film I saw in theaters and will always hold a special place in my heart.
My 5-year-old self liked many shots and scenes not knowing their genius use of lighting and cinematography to help progress the story. When we first get a glimpse of Jones with his silhouette against a car, showing him put his iconic fedora on, and he turns around to face the camera and simply says, “Russians.” This lets the audience know how different this adventure will be. The same idea is used similarly in Jurassic World, with the introduction of Owen Grady, we see his silhouette and he says a single line of dialogue that shows how far the franchise has come.
Crystal Skull succeeds in a feature that many films have tried with character writing but failed. It wonderfully adds to Jones, by taking away a major aspect of his character. When we meet him in the film, Jones has just been fired from his job, all his friends and family are dead, he’s a very lonely guy overall, he’s old, and the government thinks he’s a Russian spy. The idea of Indiana Jones, which I previously discussed, is vacant from the film.
The subtext and actions he makes in the journey would seem to allude to the fact that as much as he wants to find Oxley, he’s really going on this ‘one last adventure’ to try and relive the good ol’ days of beating up Nazis and stopping evil cults, live in the past, and avoid his present circumstances. By doing this, Jones unknowingly walks straight into the future and finds his old lover in Marion, whom in years past, he had a son with. This screenwriting technique is attempted and failed in the character of Han Solo, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Writers, directors, editors, and cinematographers have all attempted in one form or another the classic game plan drawn by the Indiana Jones franchise. You don’t have to agree with me, but the creators of Guardians of the Galaxy, Mission Impossible, Godzilla, National Treasure, Jason Bourne, Jurassic World, and Disney’s Star Wars sequel trilogy all support by their mimicry, that Indiana Jones is the greatest film franchise of all time. Just imagine what stories you’d want to hear from the man, if Indiana Jones walked through the doors of your bar.