The Little Old Raider Who Swallowed the Fly

The first movie goof of sorts that I remember is when Belloq, the amoral French archaeologist and Nazi collaborator, swallowed a fly in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. The scene is the infamous one where Indy is aiming a panzerfaust rocket launcher at the Ark, threatening to destroy it if they don’t release Marian. I had such a crush on Karen Allen for her role here and in STARMAN that I completely understood why he’d obliterate a priceless artifact to get her back, but now, my thoughts turn to when Belloq grabs the Schmeisser burp gun and tells Indy “to blow it back to God.” (which became a short-lived expletive among my fellow schoolmates after we watched this movie)

If you watch closely, you can see a fly land on Belloq’s face and crawl right into his mouth. Now, as a testament to Paul Freeman’s acting ability, he doesn’t even flinch as the insect crawls over his lip and into his mouth, probably getting crunched between bicuspids with a sickening sound and a squirt of acidic goo. Mr. Freeman was recently the priest in HOT FUZZ, in a long string of character actor roles, but I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for not messing up this take. If I met him at some Indiana Jones-themed fan convention, where I’d go dressed as Sallah of course, I’d ask him “So, did you spit that fly out right after Spielberg said cut? Or did you swallow it? Millions await your answer.”

But perhaps the fly was meant to be there, otherwise Steven Spielberg would have removed it digitally, like he pondered doing with the infamous “Indy shoots first” scene in the bazaar, when he’s confronted by the guy with the big-ass scimitar. The script called for a long, drawn out slapstick fight, but Harrison Ford had a nasty case of the pantsy poops that day (“Bad dates,” of course). So he said “why don’t I just shoot him?” And history was made. I like to think that the fly was supposed to be there, so it was in Belloq’s stomach when he opens the Ark, desecrates it and takes the Lord’s name in vain by mocking it, and brings the wrath of kingdom come upon himself and his Nazi cohorts. Would God destroy the innocent fly? The poor fly didn’t help the Nazis. I think it survived the explosion. We probably just can’t see it because of all the chunks of Nazi dude in the frame. I wish they’d followed the further adventures of that fly, than make that Crystal Skull bullshit.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Leaked Transcript of the Raiders of the Lost Ark Brainstorming Session

We’ve heard a lot of “what ifs” about Raiders of the Lost Ark (full review). Originally Tom Selleck was going to be Indy, but took “Magnum, P.I.” instead. The iconic fight scene where Indy shoots the sword-wielding guy in the market only happened because Harrison Ford had a bad case of the shits. Hell, I once heard John Amos say that he was in the running for the part, which would have been awesome in many ways. But now the Grail of what-ifs has been released- Someone has leaked a transcript of the 9 hour story sessions between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan.

Jim Steranko’s concept art for Raiders

Say what you want about them, but these men are master storytellers who’ve given us some of the most memorable movies of the last few decades, whether it be Star Wars or Jaws or Body Heat. Kasdan wrote the script for The Empire Strikes Back as well. The leaked transcript is 125 pages long, and begins with some basic ideas about creating a modern pulp hero from the ’30s mold, when he was just an idea- Indiana Smith- and you can see how they shape the character, the story, and the legend. For lovers of the movies, or aspiring screenwriters, this is a goldmine of enjoyment.

I got the concept art from John Leighton‘s blog.

They talk about everything from Toshiro Mifune’s screen presence to how they want to spend all their money on stunts. This was after they’d hit it big, but it showed what made them different from the traditional directors of epics who they superseded. You get to see where famous scenes such as the giant rolling boulder came from:

S — You know what it could be. I have a great idea. He hears the sand… When he goes into the cave, it’s not straight. The whole thing is on an incline on the way in. He hears this, grabs the thing, comes to a corridor. There is a sixty-five foot boulder that’s form-fitted to only roll down the corridor coming right at him.’ And it’s a race. He gets to outrun the boulder. It then comes to rest and blocks the entance of the cave. Nobody will ever come in again. This boulder is the size of a house.

And also things that sounded awesome, but never made it to the final script:

S — You know how fast a camel can run? Not only that, he can jump over vegetable carts and things. It could be a funny chase that ends in tragedy. You’re laughing your head off and suddenly. “My God, she’s dead.”

S — We still have the big fight in the moving truck to do. And now we have a camel chase.

G — We’ve added another million dollars.

Of course, it’s a scan of typed pages- welcome to the days when word processors wore skirts- but it’s a great read. The transcript is available for download here.

…and if you don’t own them, get ’em without Crystal Skull (full review) while you still can!

The Rocketeer

One of the best movie posters ever.
This week, I watched one of my favorite flops of the 90’s, The Rocketeer. Disney stupidly released it on the same weekend as Terminator 2, arguably the best action movie of its decade, preceded by a huge hype machine including music videos by Guns ‘n Roses, video and pinball games, Slurpees and sunglasses behind it. The li’l Rocketeer was trampled under Arnie’s motorcycle boot like a box of flowers in the mall.

That’s unfortunate, because while Rocketeer isn’t a perfect movie, it’s good popcorn fun in the pulp tradition. It tried to ride on the coat tails of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade‘s immense popularity, but misses the mark by embracing the old timey innocence instead of riffing off it, as Ebert put it in his rather scathing review. Only Ebert can make you not want to see a movie he’s given a decent rating. (His recent review of Mongol, the Genghis Khan epic, gets 3.5 stars and the entire review is complaints of how it’s nothing but blood and slaughter with a dash of torture flakes).

Not just blowing smoke.
I’m guessing Disney wanted to aim it at kids, which doesn’t really work in a story about a stunt pilot fighting mobsters and Nazis over an experimental jetpack. Based on a comic book that recalls the adventures of Skylar King of “Sky King,” and other “King of the Rocketmen” and “Commander Cody” serials, it doesn’t really update things except in visual flair. The end battle especially, which has a huge zeppelin with a Nazi insignia appear out of nowhere over Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, fits in a cliffhanger serial but not in a summer blockbuster. I’m reminded of the excellent Superman serials, where one episode would end with a car exploding in flames, and then the next would begin with Superman zipping in to save the passengers just before it crashed.
Despite the movie’s flaws, it’s a lot of fun. Too much fun, in fact. Cliff Secord, played by wholesome all-American Bill Campbell, is flying an experimental plane (a model of which actually broke the speed record in the 30’s) when G-men chasing mobsters burst through their airfield, shoot at his plane for no reason, and cause all sorts of mayhem. One of the mugs hides a mysterious package in their hangar before he’s captured.

Peevy and Cliff
Cliff and his handyman buddy, played by grumpy Alan Arkin like Pops from “Speed Racer,” are now broke and need to fly in the goofy airshow again… until Cliff finds the hidden package, which turns out to be an experimental jetpack designed by Howard Hughes (played decently by Terry O’Quinn, Locke from “Lost”). The movie reveals all its villains as it unfolds. Eddie Valentine (Paul Sorvino, Goodfellas) leads the mobsters, working for Hollywood heartthrob Neville Sinclair– played with relish by devilish Timothy Dalton, channeling Errol Flynn. The Flynn vibe is so obvious they even parody the classic Adventures of Robin Hood, lest you not guess which star he’s supposed to be.

Everyone wants the jetpack, including a hulking giant named Lothar who also works for Sinclair. In a movie made for adults, he would have been more fun- he folds people in half to silence them, and when a troop of Feds open up on him with tommyguns, he pulls out two .45’s and starts blasting right back at them. The scene quickly fizzles, and I think director Joe Johnston is less suited toward adventure movies than stuff like Honey I Shrunk the Kids and October Sky, which I enjoyed. He also made the tepid Jurassic Park III, which makes me concerned about his upcoming remake of The Wolf Man with Benicio del Toro. That should be more of a horror drama, so hopefully it won’t be as silly as this movie is.

Hotter than the jetpack

The movie has a lot of special effects, but little of the action really engages you. After Cliff and Peevy figure out the jetpack, he saves a wayward barnstorming pilot with it, and not much else. His steady girl Jenny, played by a vivacious and practically bursting out of her clothes Jennifer Connelly, falls in with nefarious Neville Sinclair, who seems much more aware of her womanhood than flyboy Cliff, who feels like he walked out of an Archie comic. When he flies in to save her, it’s more like comic relief than heroics, with our Rocketeer buzzing around the supper club like a gadfly. There’s no rocket punches, or firing his pack to singe anybody; the best I remember is him kicking Lothar when he comes at him with a wrench. Indy used to shoot people, too. I guess it’s out of style for pulp heroes for now.

Too wholesome hero

A pulp hero needs to be good with his fists, and ours doesn’t get a lot of time to use them. He does fly off to deal with the Nazi zeppelin with a Luger in his hand, but Disney decided gunplay was too rough for the kiddies, I guess. Every chance for breathtaking action just peters out- there’s a fight on top of the flaming dirigible vs. the monstrous Lothar, and a battle between G-men, gangsters and Nazis who pop out the bushes that has a lot of flash, but feels more like Dick Tracy than Indiana Jones. Despite this litany of complaints, the movie manages to be entertain. TV prettyboy Bill Campbell just isn’t a great lead, and everything is dialed back to be kid-friendly. There’s nothing wrong with kid-friendly, but I thought Raiders of the Lost Ark was kid-friendly, when I was a kid. Now it would probably garner an R rating.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow did a great job of updating a pulp concept into an exciting modern movie, helped in part by spectacular special effects. Rocketeer has so-so effects, with the rocket man glowing like lightbulb against the backgrounds. The movie is screaming for an update that keeps the story in adult territory. He’s such an iconic figure, with the art deco helmet and leather aviator jacket. And with Indy fighting Soviets, we could use a pulp figure to beat up hordes of Nazi thugs again.

Spielberg and Lucas have lost their fucking minds.

The more I think about what I just saw, the angrier I get, so I’m going to say this now- I enjoyed the new Indiana Jones movie. It’s a well-paced adventure film, Indy is different but back, and it has several exciting action sequences that had me giddy like a schoolboy. But on the other hand, I can’t imagine a worse ending to a series; it betrays its roots for something utterly empty and meaningless. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may have the longest title of the series, but it’ll reside for the shortest time in our memories.

It begins well enough; Indy and his new old buddy Mac (Ray Winstone) are kidnapped by KGB agents, led by the severe Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) and brought to a remote military base to search for an object they helped retrieve. No, it’s not the Ark, but it’s that same huge warehouse. Whatever it is it’s highly magnetic, so Dr. Jones uses gunpowder dust to help track it down. There’s an action-packed chase through the warehouse as he escapes, to a rocket test platform, and an atomic bomb test site, to solidify the Cold War setting.

Indy gets suspected by the FBI of being a double agent, and there’s an allusion to the Red Scare hysteria, but it doesn’t work really well when the KGB is in America attacking military bases for our relics. There’s a lot of dialogue about Indy and Mac working in the OSS and MI6 against the Soviets and the Nazis, and frankly that’s more intriguing than a lot of the actual plot. But there’s enough excitement to ride on throughout the film.

Indy’s about to leave Marshall College for London when Mutt (Shia LeDouche) shows up on his motorcycle in greaser gear to tell him about his missing friend Professor Oxley (John Hurt). The KGB chase them around the college and the motorcycle chase is good and fun. Indy may be old but he shows his chops. Mutt has a letter in an old South American language that intrigues Indy and they set out to find the missing professor and Mutt’s missing Mom, “Mary.”

My favorite part of the film is in Peru where they do some creepy tomb raiding. The Nazca lines are nearby, and Oxley’s cell full of cryptic scrawls leads them to a lost conquistador’s hidden tomb amidst ancient ruins. Now that’s some real Indiana Jones stuff. This part of the movie had me riveted. And I must say, Shia was not annoying as hell in his role, mostly because he was a snotty punk instead of his usual Vince Vaughn Jr. act.

The Russians chase them up the Amazon, and we meet Oxley, and Karen Allen returns as plucky Marion Ravenwood. There’s a great chase through the jungle on military vehicles, with swordfights and brawls going back and forth across amphibious Ducks and Jeeps, but they lose their minds somewhere near the end of it. Oxley plumbs the power of the crystal skull when they run into a swarm of army ants, and that’s pretty cool. Shia becomes Tarzan, and we get some cartoon physics at the end of the chase which strain the suspension of disbelief. The audience got restless.

Unfortunately it doesn’t get better from there. When we learn the secret of the crystal skulls, it’s an empty promise. There are 12 other skulls, and when they are reunited, they are a font of endless knowledge; but they show way too much. Irina Spalko chanting “I vant to knooowww!!” over and over doesn’t help either. We don’t want to know. Do we know what the power of the Ankara stones was? Did we learn why the Grail can’t pass the Great Seal? We learn more about the skulls than we ever learned about the Ark.

The movie has some other flaws; Indy is a lot more deadpan now, burned out. It grated on me then, but I like it now. It goes with his history of being a hard-working and unappreciated OSS agent. There’s an underwhelming ending to Marion and Indy’s reunion; their meeting is one of the more memorable parts of the movie, and they recapture the chemistry they had 26 years ago. But they end it in a way that feels crafted for the fans. They tease you with the very last scene, but it is very satisfying. Indy isn’t ready to give up the fedora just yet.

If you don’t want the secret spoiled for you, stop reading now.

If you couldn’t figure it out from the metallic mummy they unwrap, Indy mentioning Roswell, the shape of the crystal skull, or the Hangar 51 the movie starts at, the skulls are the remnants of an alien intelligence that came not from space, but from “the space between spaces” to teach us how to farm and irrigate, build the pyramids, and ruin a perfectly good series. When they finally return the skull to the secret city, the temple becomes a flying saucer that disappears to the 8th dimension, but not before the 13 crystal skeletons merge into one alien that apparently resembles the one from the special edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The alien tells Spalko vhat she vants to knooow, and her head explodes. Apparently there are some things we are not meant to know. Like what the fuck happened to Lucas and Spielberg’s fucking minds after 1989.

The Last Crusade, or Indiana Jones has Daddy Issues

In May 1989 Indy returned one more time; I would graduate high school that year a few weeks later. I remember we went to see it at the Wayne Loews theater, a mall hang-out infested with guidos, at least back then. It had been 5 years since the disappointment of Temple of Doom, and everyone was really psyched for the new movie.
I sort of have a love-hate relationship with the movie. It’s great compared to Temple, but it still leans more toward comic slapstick than adventure. It’s sort of what you’d expect the new movie to be, now that Harrison Ford is in his 60’s; he’s a kindler, gentler Indy, who’s more concerned with patching things up with Papa than kicking Nazi butt. The film also lacks a good villain; despite a visit to Berlin to a book-burning and a run-in with Hitler himself, the bad guy is lackluster Nazi colonel and a greedy collector who wants the Holy Grail so he can be immortal. they don’t live up to Major Toht or even Mola Ram. In the movie’s favor, it is one hell of a lot of fun, and for that all is forgiven.

Great shot, not so great villains

The movie begins in Indy’s adolescence and gives us a great origin for our hero. He’s a boy scout on a field trip in the Moab desert, beautifully filmed- it looks more exciting than the foreign places we end up in. He encounters a group of men ravaging a cave in the site, looking for, and finding, a golden cross. In one line, they erase the shabby history of the first sequel, when young Indiana declares, “that belongs in a museum.”

The man known only as Fedora

The beginning of the film is one of the best intros to a character; Casino Royale’s reboot of Bond comes close, but that’s about it in recent memory. Young Indy is played by River Phoenix, who sadly died face-first on the pavement of a speedball-induced overdose, thus robbing us of seeing him play the part again. He races from the bad guys on horseback and hops a circus train, and through a rapid succession of leaps from the frying pan into the fire, we learn where the whip, the fear of snakes, and the scar on Harrison’s Ford chin came from. When he gets home and Distant Dad is there poring over a manuscript, and once again Indy loses a historical artifact to a better-connected treasure hunter.

Goofy face, but the perfect young Indiana

But he doesn’t have to like it. And that’s where he gets the hat. The proto-Indy that he seems to model himself on is never named, and that’s for the better. The best stories leave us some mystery. Sometimes Indy’s family problems get a little too “TMI” in his third entry, but they wisely leave out the details so we aren’t distracted from the adventure.

It’s as if Indy’s douche-sense is tingling

Back in the present day, the plot structure resembles the first film; back at Marshall College, Professor Jones escapes from the mob of fans and is intercepted by Marcus Brody and some men in suits who have a job for him. This time instead of the government, it’s a rich industrialist named Walter Donovan, who needs help in his archaeological quest to find the holiest of Christian artifacts, the Holy Grail. Indy prattles off the facts he knows of the Grail legend, absorbed from his father’s obsession with it. He dismisses them until he finds out that his Old Man was the one they had on the job, and he’s gone missing.


From there it’s off to Venice to get his trail before it’s cold; luckily Indy finds his father’s Grail Diary in his morning mail to help them along. In the city of canals and romance we meet their guide, Elsa, an Austrian beauty with just enough fire to make her a match for Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenscroft. They have good chemistry and hit it off, soon after discovering a hidden passage in an old church, swarming with rats.

Don’t hunt the Grail, and don’t eat the yellow snow.

Shortly thereafter they meet the Marx Brothers of Grail Knights, the Brothers of the Cruciform Sword. They look like Frank Zappa in fez hats and are about as effective in combat as the honkered rocker might be. Indy smacks them around all over the canals of Venice and finds out where his father is hidden, and we’re off to Austria.

And for my next impression… Jesse Owens!

At a castle on the Austrian border, Elsa and Indy bluff their way in the door pretending to be a Scottish Lord and his assistant; The severe Austrian butler is having none of it, and says in a badly dubbed line, “If you are a Scottish Lord, then I am Mickey Mouse!” Back in the day, I read the comic book that was released of the movie, and in that version he says “Jesse Owens” instead; I wonder if they thought no one would remember who Jesse Owens was, and how he humiliated the Nazis at the 1936 Olympics. Anyway, if you watch the film, listen to the delivery of that line and tell me it doesn’t sound dubbed.

Another fine mess

Indy finds Dad locked up in a room and they have a comic reunion; he smashes a vase over his son’s head and is more concerned that he may have broken an antique. He also says he mailed him the diary to”get it as far away from me as possible.” Ouch, Dad. To spite his Daddy, he refuses to believe who the traitor is, and it gets them both captured. Their escape is a marvel of editing, as they hop chairs through a burning castle, stumble through secret passageways and finally have a jousting session on motorcycles vs. Nazis to break free.

Someone saw Knightriders

This is probably Sean Connery’s funniest role, and his best in recent years. Much of the movie is comedy, but it works a hell of a lot better than Doom did, thanks to a fine cast. Marcus Brody is transformed from a dry colleague to an absent-minded professor who got lost in his own museum, and Dad is the same except with a great smirking ability to play the straight man. Indy is at his slapstick best, and there’s none of the scares from the previous films, except for the end. They keep the pace up, so we never notice. One of Marcus’s quick lines is “Water? No thank you, fish make love in it,” which is a bowdlerization of a famous W.C. Fields quote. Brody says it when he’s “blending in” at a Cairo bazaar.

Sallah, someone stole my traveler’s cheques.

The Grail Diary has been taken to Berlin, so they head there to get it; it’s really just a set-up for one of the best gags of the film. He tracks Elsa down to a Nazi bookburning, dons a Nazi officer’s uniform, and grabs the diary from her. But on the way out the crowd overwhelms him and he stumbles into Adolf Hitler himself… who signs the book. It reminded me of some of the wartime propaganda films where Mussolini and Hitler were spoofed as bumbling morons.

Sir, I bought Mein Kampf before it was enforced at gunpoint

Getting out of Germany is some of the best fun of the film, comparable to Raiders in how they move from one set piece to another so deftly. They hop a zeppelin, only to have to flee in the emergency biplane attached to the bottom when it turns around; then it’s a dogfight in the sky, a crash landing, a car chase through tunnels dodging bombs, and Dr. Jones Sr. gets to save the day. In a movie overrun with gags, my favorite is still “I’m sorry, but they got us.”

I’m sorry, but they got us.

They manage to top this chase later on in the desert, after the Three Stooges of the Cruciform Sword lead their suicide attack on the Nazis and their tank. For people with God on their side, they’re pretty bad at what they do. They’re still better than the albino wacko from the Da Vinci Code, though.

Indy goes after the tank on horseback when they capture Dad, in the movie’s most exciting sequence. They keep the comic tone throughout, so when Indy shoots people it’s always nearly bloodless and make funny somehow, like when he shoots five soldiers with one bullet. At least he didn’t have a gun stuck on his foot like Jar-Jar, but you could see where Lucas and Spielberg were going. I’m almost glad they waited 19 years before making the next Indy movie, because one made in ’95 might have had Indiana Jones using a walkie-talkie instead of a gun. Remember, Spielberg talked about changing the swordfight scene in Raiders, before they released the DVDs.

The film does have some touching moments as well, and while I may mock Spielberg for having Daddy Issues in nearly all his movies, he does a fine job here. Jones Sr. is distant, but very believable. I was serious when I said it was one of Sean Connery’s best roles. He really makes the Elder Jones a unique character, that is unlike James Bond, Officer Malone, or any other of his starring roles.

Latin Nerd Rage Ignite

My favorite part of the movie is the end with the puzzle traps protecting the Grail. With typical brutality, Donovan is sending soldiers in to defeat them, beheaded one by one. Indiana is forced in next, with his Dad’s Grail Diary for help. There’s even jokes here, and as a nerd who took Latin, one always bothered me. One puzzle involves The Name of God, and letters are carved into blocks on the floor. “Jehovah,” easy enough… “J…” Whoops! In Latin, Jehovah would start with a I! Well, not really, see. The problem is there was no fucking letter J back then. But who cares? It’s funny, and it made us nerds who took Latin laugh until we thought about it later, as nerds are wont to do.

The best visual effect in the movie is a masterwork of set design, the final Leap of Faith that tests our hero on the Grail Quest. It amazed me then and amazes me now. With CG it would be easy. The movie is full of recognizable trick effects where white outlines gleam around Nazis falling off cliffs, but the explosions are thankfully real. This trick tops them all, with the hidden path across the chasm. It’s the best reveal of the movie, and one of the best of the series.

What’s in your wallet?

The final test for the Grail is at the hands of the now elderly Knight guarding it, when you must choose from a bevy of gold cups. The movie is a wellspring of memorable quotes, nearly as many as Raiders; “No ticket!” is one, but “He chose… unwisely…” is the best. And while Julian Glover wasn’t a very slimy villain, we love seeing him get his comeuppance. It’s definitely akin to the face-meltings of the first movie, and almost better.

You dump me now, after I spent all that money on Botox?!

When I saw the film in ’89 on opening weekend, the fucking film stopped when it was Indy’s turn to drink from the Grail. For at least 5 minutes. We were all shouting at the projectionist, and to this day I think he was pranking us. It’s to the movie’s credit that we didn’t ask for our money back; once it started up again and we saw the great ending, all was forgiven. Seeing Indy reconcile with his Dad in the most perfect way possible touched on the Daddy Issues in all of us (or at least me) and washed away the sin of making the best pulp hero in history into a comedy act.

Dad, this symbolizes our relationship!Indiana. Let it go.

I’m told the new movie is most like Last Crusade in tone, and I can live with that. Making a movie as great as Raiders of the Lost Ark is no easy trick; making a sequel that’s better than the original has only happened with The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather, Part II (off the top of my head) and one can’t expect miracles from Hollywood. I really hate Shia LeDouche (okay, LaBoeuf) on screen, but I’m going to see it open-minded. After all, Spielberg made DiCaprio tolerable in Catch Me If You Can, and he’s gone on to make The Aviator and The Departed. I somehow doubt LaBeef will undergo a similar transformation, but if he doesn’t ruin the film I’ll be happy.

What’s so bad about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?

Once again, everything. I watched it last night, and I have come up with this formula; Temple of Doom is inversely as good as how long ago you saw either other Indiana Jones movie. For us math-challenged types, that means never see this movie back to back, or a day after, or a week after Raiders of the Lost Ark. I became a Temple of Doom Apologist shortly after the The Indiana Jones Trilogy DVD Box Set came out. I watched all three of them after not seeing them for ages. I’ve seen them all in the theater, from age 10 onward, but sporadically since; I think we wore out our VHS copy of Raiders by slow-moing the end where the Nazis melt and explode.

The first horror we encounter is Kate Capshaw.

I remember watching Temple of Doom and liking it a lot more than I thought. I must have watched it at least a week after Raiders, because this time with only a day since I saw that classic, the first sequel really falls short. It’s been the red-headed stepchild of the Indy movies, and deservedly so. From the opening frame, we’re seeing something very different from the movie we loved just a few years before.

Indiana Bond

The familiar Paramount logo fades and reveals a bronze relief of a mountain, on a gong being rung. We pan to the mouth of a dragon, glowing red and shrouded in mist… something emerges, and it’s… Kate Capshaw. PRANKED! Unfortunately the entire movie goes on like this. We get a long Busby Berkeley opening act as she dances and sings “Anything Goes” in half Chinese, in a Shanghai nightclub. When we first meet Indy, he’s not in his familiar crusty gear or even in a modest professor’s garb, but a white tuxedo, like James Bond.

The second horror is a screeching pygmy named Short Round

He’s there to make a deal with a gangster named Lao Che, and they double cross each other, leading to a decent set piece where they scrabble for a diamond and some antidote on the dance floor, to gunfire, flaming skewers and other shenanigans. They escape with nothing but the antidote, falling into a rather swanky convertible driven by Short Round, a Shanghai street kid Indy took under his wing. For some reason the bad guys chase them, to a plane, where once again Indy gets cocky and heckles Lao Che as they escape, only to reveal that it’s the bad guy’s plane.

Welcome to Fantasy Island

The pilots take a breather and they escape the plane in one of the film’s better action sequences, though it’s so ridiculous compared to the stunt-grounded action from the first movie that we know we’re in for a kid movie. The problem is that it’s a kid movie too dark for kids, and too silly for adults. Part of what made Raiders so good was that it was not for kids; we sure loved it, but they didn’t cater to us one bit. Hell, they poison a cute little monkey in it. Though he deserved it, he sig heiled once.

About as realistic as Howard the Duck

The hardest part about reviewing this movie is deciding who’s more annoying, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan from The Goonies) or Kate Capshaw (from Steven Spielberg’s casting couch). Sorry Kate, you’re no Karen Allen; though to your favor, I’m not sure anyone could have done better with the horribly written part. It needed a Kate Hepburn type with some spunk, but instead we got a scream queen. Most of the movie is either Short Round or Willie shrieking at something or other, and it’s pretty tedious almost immediately.

In the 80’s the greatest horror was poor brown people

As a prequel, we’re puzzled; why is Indy a sleazy adventurer instead of grubby professor? Wouldn’t we rather see how he pissed off Marion, met Sallah, and so on? (Another example of Lucas screwing up a prequel). You don’t need Nazis and Biblical artifacts to make a good Indy movie, though the 4th one may disprove my theory. I enjoyed the “mysterious India” movies like Gunga Din, which also dealt with a secret uprising of the Thuggee cult. It was a good story, but where did it go wrong? Let’s start with who wrote the screenplay, the same people who brought us such runny turds as Howard the Duck and Best Defense, two of the biggest flops of the 80’s. Raiders was scripted by Lawrence Kasdan, and while he may have adapted Dreamcatcher, he has so many classics under his belt that his ball sack should be gold-plated and made into an honorary Academy Award.

Ha, ha. Foreign people eat weird.

The real story begins in an Indian village where the people are starving, because their magic stone was stolen. And also all their kids were taken. It’s a little confusing there. Indy being the hero he is, goes to find them, visiting the new Maharajah in the once-abandoned castle nearby, who is supposed to be behind it all. Instead of giving us one breakneck-paced action scene after another, we get slapstick gross-out scenes in sequence. Vampire bats and jungle antics; a dinner of eels, monkey brains, beetles, and eyeball soup; and finally a cave full of crunchy creepy crawly critters. It’s just not the same. The first movie had lots of humor amidst the violence, but here the balance is way off.

A laurel and hearty handshake

The castle’s dark secret is that it houses the newly arisen Cult of Thuggee, who instead of strangling travelers are now involved in child slavery, working them in a mine beneath the castle that also features a sacrificial lava pit that would be more at home in South America. They are lead by Mola Ram, a worthy enough villain, who has the child Maharajah under his spell. The spell comes in Kool-Aid form, and of course Indy is forced to drink it, and becomes a bad guy for a few minutes. He even beats up Short Round and tries to kill Willie, predicting the audience reaction to these new characters.

The real hero is Evil Indy, who might have saved us from his co-stars.

Much has been said of the movie being “too dark,” because of the infamous scene where Mola Ram tears out a man’s heart with his bare hand, and holds the still-beating ticker up for all to see. It inspired the PG-13 rating, which has ruined many a good movie. I have no problem with the violence in the movie, as its predecessor had pets poisoned, and pugilists pole-axed by propellers. The problem really is that it’s too mawkish and silly. What’s more of a heart-string yanker than kids enslaved? Wasn’t it bad enough that the Cult had spread famine across the land? The real cult of hidden stranglers was scary enough; making them slavers is like trying to make the Nazis worse by saying “yeah, they did all genocide stuff, but they also kicked puppies.”

Head puppy kicker for the Thuggee cultists

Short Round has his own little adventure in trying to save Indy and beat up the Maharajah Kid, who has a Voodoo doll for some reason. Apparently the bad guys in this are Thuggee Voodoo Aztecs. Reminds me of Samurai Cat vs. the Nazi Werewolf T.Rex in those nerdy books of yore. The movie is only saved by the action sequences, which also fall short by relying on visual effects instead of the stunts that made the first one so thrilling. From the scene where the plane crashes into the mountain, you can tell that …. the plane has crashed into the mountain, Lebowski!

Ancient Hindu Voodoo Vindaloo

It looks incredibly fake, vs. the flying wing exploding in Raiders, which looked real, because it WAS. The mine cart ride plays out more like an amusement ride than a sequence, but it’s still exciting; it just doesn’t look real. When the water rushes down the tunnels, it looks as good as it did in the pulp movies this elegizes. And finally, the great Mexican stand-off on the rope bridge is thrilling, but damn do the falling guys look like obvious visual effects. Just throw dummies next time!

The movie does have several nuggets of pure awesome, mind you.

The final insult is a the lesson it pushes on us; Indy says he wants fame and glory, and Willie of all people, the material girl, suddenly is the moral compass. The movie tried to make our hero into a sleazy merchant in antiquities, shamed by the poverty of the third world into becoming the guy who wants everything in a museum. Thankfully the third ignores all this and rewrites his origin. It’s one of the best things about Last Crusade. I wonder if Short Round will get even a nod in the 4th movie; I can imagine him growing up to be Stephen Chow. If they ever make a 5th movie, which is incredibly unlikely, maybe he can beat up Shia LeBoeuf and do us a favor.

Publish PostDr. Jones, this is a lingam, a holy penis object. And you touched it.
You have caught the gay.

What’s so great about Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Everything! I just watched it again last night in prep for the Indiana Jones nerdathon that will accompany the release of the 4th movie, Indiana Jones and the Worst Title Since Phantom Menace, this Thursday. And it’s just as thrilling and enjoyable as when I first saw it as an 11-year old goober on the edge of my seat.

Tennessee Williams

Besides being one of the best action-adventure movies ever made, with one set piece after another, getting topped each time, it’s also got great slapstick comedy and introduced one of film’s enduring characters. That’s right, Karen Allen.

She cost my mom a lot of Kleenex in 1981

Sure, she’d been in that legendary college film Animal House, and that nostalgic memoir of early 60’s city life The Wanderers, but she’ll always be immortalized as the feisty Marion Ravenscroft, daughter of Indiana Jones’s mentor. Abner Ravenscroft, if you forgot, was the original seeker of the Ark of the Covenant and the archaeologist who found the headpiece of the Staff of Ra, instrumental in locating the lost Ark. We never find out how he died, but I imagine that creepy Nazi guy, Toht, whose name I know only because it was on the action figure package, tortured him to death with that funky coat hanger he had.

Another lost toy to re-buy on ebay

Oddly enough that joke was snatched from a James Bond movie, but it works so well that we allow Lucas and Spielberg the discretion. Unlike Temple of Doom, where we see Indy in a white tux bargaining with Chinese gangsters and wonder where the hell his fedora is. I’ll get to that tomorrow; I was a Temple of Doom apologist for a while, and I still think it’s a good movie; it’s just “the worst” in a great bunch. And hopefully it will remain at the bottom, come Thursday.

Major Toht models a Hugo Boss trench, $2430

Raiders works so well partly because there is very little exposition, except when necessary. We see a man with a whip, a gun and a hat guided into a cave; he bypasses some traps with aplomb, gets cocky, and then the real fun starts as he stumbles through them all at breakneck speed to get out of the collapsing ruins, with each trap getting exponentially worse. Alfred Molina, probably best known now as Doc Oc from Spider-Man 2, played the funny-looking guide who utters the immortal line, “toss me the idol, I throw you the whip!” and it’s amusing now to watch him, but he was perfectly cast.

I love his goofy expression.

We meet the villain soon after, with no introduction; the dialogue deftly speaks of the past between the two men and how their morals differ. Then we’re back at Marshall college, where Indy is Dr. Jones, the professor whom girls swoon over and boys admire. No time is wasted; we meet Brody, played by Denholm Elliot, who will be sorely missed from the new movie; he died of AIDS a few years after Last Crusade. He did a wonderful comic turn in that movie, but in Raiders he’s the straight man (no pun intended) and great as always.

How’d you like to polish my apple?

Government men arrive to advance the plot- something about Nazis seeking Biblical artifacts- and Indy is off to meet the plucky Marion, seeking the medallion her father discovered. She’s introduced in the middle of a drinking contest, that she wins handily; she runs a ramshackle tavern in Nepal for sherpas, a fitting place for a pulp adventure. They both lie to each other and only get thrown together when the nefarious Nazi Toht shows up. What perfect casting there- Brit Ronald Lacey looked like a mishmash of every Japanese and German monster in the Allied propaganda posters had a redheaded stepchild and beat them with a creepy stick night and day. He steals every scene he’s in and sells it back to us. They shoot up the bar in a brutal and bloody gunfight with men on fire, bright red fake blood spurting from people’s heads, and guns that change from revolvers to Colt .45’s from one shot to another, but it’s so much fun we don’t even care.

Tomboy hotness defined.

From there it’s off to Cairo where we meet another great stock character, Sallah the digger and fixer, played so charmingly by John Rhys-Davies. The film is so full of memorable scenes that I have to skip them; you know them already, or if not, you should go see them for yourself! We get a famous chase and fight through a bazaar, where we learn you don’t bring a sword to a gunfight, and soon they’re sneaking amongst the Nazis in the ruins to find that Ark in the title.

Asps. Very dangerous. Indy, you go first…

But name another movie whose set pieces come so perfectly paced. An escape from a tomb full of snakes; a bare-knuckle brawl with a Max Schmeling clone underneath a runaway flying wing and a tanker truck ready to explode; a chase up to, into, under and over an Army truck in a caravan, then onto a submarine to a deserted island. It’s hard to believe it’s all in one movie, when you think back on it. Other movies often try to cram so much in, but it rarely works. Casino Royale is the most recent one in memory.

Freudianly, she fights off snakes

And Lucas and Spielberg manage to cap it all with an incredible ending full of top-notch and still believable special effects, showing us the power of the Ark without explaining a damn thing about it. I watched the ending three times last night, sometimes in slow-motion, and it holds up to modern effects in believability. I breathed a sigh of relief when I read that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be done mostly with stunts and traditional effects. About 30% will be CG, and Spielberg (unlike Lucas) has a good eye for when computers are necessary. It’s also being done on film and not digital; the original stunt coordinator and cinematographer are busy or retired, but the new ones studied Doug Slocombe’s work to mimic the look of the original films. That all speaks well for the new (and most likely final) entry.

Cate and Karen at Cannes with Shia Le Douche

The new movie also has … Karen Allen! She was terrific in the underrated Starman, another nerd favorite, but semi-retired to raise kids and knit sweaters in recent years. It’s good to see her in a “big” movie again. (Starman will be an 80’s movie of the week sometime soon, Jenny Hayden). She was at Cannes when the movie premiered this week, looking as feisty as ever. Alongside another fave actress of mine, Cate Blanchett, who plays the Ninotchka-esque Soviet villain. Firecracker may get jealous when we go see it Thursday…

Sexy Soviet

Raiders’ final shot of the huge warehouse full of who-knows-what is one of the most famous endings in film history. How can you top something like that? The other sequels certainly didn’t. I don’t think this one will either, but I imagine it will be a heartfelt and satisfying capper to one of the most beloved series in cinema. When I read that they had 5 films planned, part of me wishes I could go back to the 90’s and smack Spielberg and Lucas around. Did Jurassic Park need a sequel?

Everybody! Do the the Electric Nazi!

Then again that was Spielberg’s sappiest era, when he was putting walkie talkies in E.T., and Lucas was dreaming up the cheese-fest of the prequels. Maybe they weren’t ready to make another Indy movie then; I hope they are now, because if Indiana Jones and the Unwieldy Title is more Temple of Doom than Raiders, I will transform into The Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons and cry out “from hell’s heart I stab at thee!” from my seat before I shuffle out of the theater muttering every profanity imaginable.

“Did you see Shia Le Beef in Transformers?”
“Aghgghhghg yes!”

Here’s hoping Shia LaBeouf tones it down a bit for Indy 4… I bet Mr. Ford would’ve smacked the shit out of him otherwise.