Warning: if you haven’t seen it, there are spoilers ahead.
Here in the UK, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull seems to be playing on a loop on BBC3 at the moment. An Indy movie on the telly is always one thing that, once stumbled upon, I find it hard to avoid watching the whole thing, even though I've seen the first three dozens of times. The latest movie was totally vilified at the time of its release, much as the Star Wars prequels were. Lucas and Spielberg are so revered, their early work so beloved by so many, that anything that revisits old franchises can never be expected to meet the fans’ massive expectations. But watching it again, the criticism seems largely undeserved.
The focus of fans’ ire tends to be such inclusions as nuking the fridge and Mutt swinging on the vines. Arguably, the filmmakers stretched the bounds of reality almost to breaking point. That said, in previous movies, we saw Indy do six impossible things before breakfast (surviving a plane crash using only a life raft, anyone?). If there’s a real criticism to level, it’s the absence of John Rhys-Davies; the best Indy movies have Sallah in them, and that’s simply a fact!
That said, I for one was thrilled to see Harrison don the fedora again, and I feel the movie deserves to be appreciated for all the great additions it brought to the franchise. So, with the Blu Rays soon to be released, here's my attempt to highlight twenty things to love about Indy IV:
- The movie opens to Elvis’s Hound Dog, a smart reference to the finale of the previous movie when we learn that Indy is named after his dog. It also foreshadows his son’s choice of nickname, Mutt. And, of course, cleverly tells us which era we're now in.
- The Fifties setting, with its exaggerated Russians replacing the stereotypical Nazis. It allows Harrison to act his age, and refreshes the franchise. And it's a great era to see Indy romp around in, particularly the diner punch-up.
- The film revisits classic locations from the previous movies (especially Raiders) and turns them into action locations – particularly the warehouse (with a cameo from the Ark) and the world of academia.
- A great twist on his well-established greatest fear - Indy has to grab a snake to survive. Nice touch.
- We finally get to tick off the scorpion box in the 'creep factor' list, and then steal their thunder with intelligent and relentless ants, giving the franchise the creepiest death since Toht’s face melted.
- For us D&D players, we get some terrific dungeon crawling; I like the tilting floor; I like 'exit via water chute'; I like the retracting spiral staircase; I like the door mechanism inside the pyramid.
- I love that the map this time is a person – Oxley. He’s a McGuffin.
- Indy quotes Han Solo (you know the line).
- Admire the audacity: the whole thing goes right ahead and connects with the Fifties obsession with little green men. It couldn’t be anything else. And the Chariots of the Gods storyline, linking the subject with ancient cultures, is well-established, and feels natural, right and proper. Then it smartly pulls the rug out from under us by making them inter-dimensional beings.
- Cate Blanchett’s new Indy baddie. Completely bonkers and brilliant.
- Got to love the links to Young Indy, when we hear about the influence of his time riding with Pancho Villa and the death of his mom at a young age.
- John Williams does new and interesting things with the themes – love his flourishes to the Raiders March on the end titles, his South American vibe and his new stuff to accompany Mutt.
- It references the classic Howard Hawks movie Land of the Pharaohs. Did James Robertson Justice design that pyramid?
- Great to have a sword fight (and on moving vehicles, to boot) - makes a nice, elegant change from all the guns.
- Harrison’s comic timing is still terrific; he's still got it. Check out his exit from the rocket sledge, his vulnerability, his laconic, assured delivery.
- "Jonesy" is archetypically, but not stereotypically, British.
- Wonderful to see Marion and Indy playing alongside each other again (“They weren’t you”), and getting together permanently. In the words of Phoebe Buffay, she's his lobster.
- I love Indy’s conviction that you should do what you love, and don’t let anyone tell you different. Wise words for all of us.
- Great to watch Henry Jr. turn into Henry Sr., and Henry III turn into Henry Jr. Even if he doesn’t get the fedora at the end.
- Hello? Indy becomes a dad!
And it's probably the easiest one to watch with the younger members of the family – no faces melting, no impaling, no beheadings, no major organs being ripped out – death by ants might be unpleasant but it's not gory. That said, though, maybe it's time to revisit the much-maligned Temple of Doom. 1) The spike room is a masterclass in beautifully constructed, edge-of-your seat, thrill-a-minute, witty, crowd-pleasing film-making…