As the story goes, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were in the planning stages for Raiders of the Lost Ark, but they were still struggling with one key element – who the hell was going to play Indiana Jones? The best they had at the moment was Tom Selleck. To distract themselves, they went to a late-night showing of The Empire Strikes Back. Not long into the film, Han Solo was pitching some wise-ass remarks to Princess Leia, and the uber directors had their Jones: Harrison Ford.
Why is this important? Because this week’s Back in the Day feature – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – suffered from the same ailment that had befallen Return of the Jedi, or what we thought was the end of Star Wars. Both were plagued by Screen Underlying Conscience Knowledge and Education Disorder (SUCKED). Let me explain.
Both SW and IJ started out in the dark reaches of unknown places and eventually had their heroes fighting corrupt leaders of empires. Raiders started out in South American caves while Luke crash landed on swampy Dagobah. The Nazis pursued the power the Ark while Vader exploited the power of the Force. Indy traversed North Africa while Luke and Han traversed the Death Star. Han shot Greedo and Indy shot that guy with the big-ass sword. It was good, clean, dirty fun, until Spielberg and Lucas started to look at their respective trilogies as “teachable moments.” Hey, Beard Boys, if I wanted to learn, I’d have gone back to school.
The end of SW (as we know it) was Return of the Jedi, originally titled Revenge of the Jedi until Lucas thought that the Jedi should be peaceful and would never seek revenge. It SUCKED. The stormtrooper deaths were slapstick. The AT-STs were clumsy and not nearly as convincing at the AT-AT’s in Empire. The fight-scene choreography was too slow. While Luke acted like he was too cool for the room, Vader was no longer cool by reappearing with Obi-Wan in Jedi robes after his death. It SUCKED, and Crusade suffered the same sucky fate.
The previous film, Temple of Doom, was a dark, masterful combination of demonic Indian folklore, Chinese gangsters with machine guns, and a dance number. Crusade, however, was the beginning of Spielberg’s descent into good-guy territory. Just as in Jedi, the actions scenes seemed to be in slow motion. The fighting just wasn’t as serious as in Raiders. The castle rescue was too easy, and the comic relief of the seagulls on the beach and the airplane in the tunnel was misplaced and took the edge off the story. Actually, there really never was any edge in Crusade. SUCKED. Then, to make it worse, Spielberg threw in some religious education as if we were in Sunday School as if we were wandering the desert with a whip, fedora, and Holy Grail. I would not have been surprised if Charlton Heston were to have limped around a corner while carrying stone tablets. Even the soundtrack, with deeply drawn out brass instead of the usual quick and punchy strings, was more in the direction of The Ten Commandments than what we normally expect from John Williams.
What also SUCKED was the ending. When Indy and his father drank from the Holy Grail, they were supposed to have immortality. But if you saw Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, there was no question that Jones had aged a little too normally. Actually, both he and the film seemed kind of dead after the first act. Jus’ sayin’.
Here’s one way The Last Crusade could have been improved: