Indiana Jones first burst upon our screens on June 12, 1981. That’s the day that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was released. I was just under a month shy of 18 years old.Good golly miss molly that was FORTY TWO YEARS AGO.
I loved it. I was less enamoured of the second one but it was still fun; when Sean Connery joined the company as Dr Jones Sr. and we tangled with the Holy Grail I was VERY FIRMLY on board. I never saw the Crystal Skull movie for reasons that now escape me but when “Dial of Destiny” was announced – the fifth and final Indiana Jones adventure – I knew I had to be there for that.
I went today.
(No I didn’t see it in Imax, that was just the poster that was up…)
Indiana Jones’s retirement party. Think about that one. The guy who tangled with the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, unnamed weirdnesses and horrors of boobytrapped pagan temples immemorial, they handed him, in “recognition of his service”, a cheesy little carriage clock. Yeah, Indy, I would have handed it to a random stranger in the street in the aftermath, too. I completely understand.
But Indiana Jones doesn’t retire. He just gets tangled up with yet another immortal artifact, the Antikythera, which… oh go and stop reading if spoilers are such a deal breaker… has POWERS. Ones that reunite Indy with a nasty Nazi scientist from the glory days of his youth… and here’s a twist to the old “let’s go back in time to kill Hitler” meme. This time it’s a Nazi that wants to go back and kill Hitler so that he can become a better Hitler and actually win the war that the real Hitler lost. (There are Nazis in this movie. It’s positively crawling with Nazis. Somewhere in Hollywood that dusty old storeroom which houses all those long swastika banners that hang from public buildings from rooftop to foundation was raided once more for the now probably slightly wrinkled and worse-for-wear items and lo there they are starched and ironed hanging in their scarlet shameful glory all over everything in sight). We have loving nods to a lot of Indy icons. The hat (in fact watch for it i’t s a recurring theme). The whip. The bring a [lesser weapon] to the party and get responded to with a gun trope. The train chase (with a couple of breathless escapes from instant beheadings when tunnels turn up every now and then). The snakes (remember Indy hates them? well in this instance they’re sea eels but the principle of the matter is the same). The “GET THEM OFF ME” passage through a place infested with creepy crawlies like cockroaches or beetles or in this instance centipedes. The booby traps and Indy’s brilliant solutions in the nick of time. All of it. They even bring back Karen Allen from “Raiders”, Indy’s first screen girl, back.
The movie is entertaining, and many times genuinely funny. Vintage Indiana Jones, in fact. It is also – and perhaps this is not entirely unexpected given the somewhat elegiac nature of this movie, soulful, even poignant. Indiana Jones is simply not the gung ho young adventurer any more. Everything he does here he pays for, in physical and psychological ways. He is finally “acting his age”, as it were (or maybe he is fooling us all if that last minute snatch of the holy hat… but you make up your own mind about that).
His companions on this adventure – his beautiful and apparently deeply unprincipled goddaughter and her young sidekick (watch out, Short Round) – are at the same time potentially interesting side characters, and so much window dressing. The fact that both Indy and the beautiful young Helene BOTH have enough conversational Ancient Greek to hold a conversation with Archimedes – even an argument with him, at that – just makes me wince a little. You might ask how is it that this particular thing, in a movie that requires such strong suspension of disbelief to begin with, is enough to remark on; I don’t know, it just tickled me. The young lady skates a fine line between someone you can root for and someone thorougly unlikeable; the kid basically commits cold blooded murder at one point and yes it’s a bad guy, but this is a KID and it didn’t seem to bother him much, if any. It doesn’t matter, in the end. This is Harrison Ford’s movie, his Indy Farewell, and everything else is fungible, in the end.
Except the Nazis. The Nazis always need to get their butts kicked. But DAMN these guys have staying power. Forty two years after the initial encounter we, and Indy, are STILL locking horns with them.
The fact that this was The Last Time was evident in the cinema when the final credits began rolling, to that iconic music. I think all of us in the theatre were acutely aware that this was the last time we would hear that music on the big screen. We all sat there watching the credits roll while the music played. It was a tribute, of sorts.
It was a rite of passage. It was going to see an old friend. It was going to that retirement party. But I’m just sitting back and saying, well, so long as you don’t hurt yourself, don’t ever stop, Dr Jones. I’d like to think there’s life at the end of tenure and that somehow somewhere you might come up with a couple more “this ought to be in a museum” relics. Keep the hat around you might need it.
Good bye, Indy. It’s been a blast.