Weekend Retrospective - No Ticket

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)

Like the third instalment in the Star Wars trilogy, this was always a favourite of mine as a youngster. It's sillier and has more action, so I suppose it makes sense. However looking back the series suffers from a clear, if minor, effect of diminishing returns. And yet, it still remains a classic that caps of the trilogy in ways that are satisfying. The faults - things like recycled ideas from Raiders or a weaker first act that tries to explain away far too much of Indy's back story - are always very obvious on repeat viewings. But they are still essential viewings. There's still a lot to enjoy in terms of characters, action, music and set pieces - the essential ingredients in each of the films.


In terms of raw action there is something admirable about their kitchen sink style approach here. The outlandish mine cart style scenes are absent which is a shame, however just about anything else is thrown in here. Trains, speedboats, airships and tanks are put to good use to create one memorable spectacle after another. And just as before the music and machinery are combined to incredible effect. While these often feel like more of the same it's always a pleasure to see (and hear) things like the motorcycle jousting scene or the often time expanding tank versus horse chase. Once again John Williams is at his best which adds another layer of enjoyability, with many great motifs and themes.

Strangely the visual effects seem to have taken a decline in quality for one reason or another, which detracts from a few of these moments. In particular the blue screen backgrounds for several shots during the plane dogfight are very jarring against the real aerial footage. It's a minor problem but it's very strange considering the flawless blend of miniatures and live action which was implemented earlier with less of a budget. Of course money only goes so far, and with so many individual action beats something was bound to feel a little stretched. But in terms of pure volume it's hard to deny this isn't an action extravaganza.

The story itself sometimes feels like backtracking to avoid the kind of outlandish ideas from The Temple of Doom, but in some ways this is unsurprising. They decided to get back to the more familiar Christian mythology and Nazi treasure hunters. Someone wanted to reign things in after certain audiences were upset by the dark a sinister supernatural moments as well as providing familiar villains. So they went back to melting faces and truck loads of exploding enemy soldiers instead... Creatively this is playing it safe which is probably biggest flaw here, but it's still consistently entertaining. It would just have been nice to see it push things further in terms of imaginative visuals and fantastic world building the way its predecessor did.


What makes this all work of course beyond all the war machines and high octane chase sequences is still the tone and the characters. While the intro sequence feels unnecessary in some ways, it does set up the father and son arc which comes around during the mid section of the narrative. The initial Venice adventure is fun but things pick up considerably once Sean Connery makes his appearance. It falls into place and begins to take shape as a richer story. While these core themes still hold up there are a few weird choices in terms of comedy characters along the way. Denholm Elliot's screen time here as Marcus Brody is considerably boosted for what seems to be a wholly new comic relief character suffering who's been out in the sun too long.

Elsewhere someone Indy says something like 'we have to meet up with Sallah' just so they can bring another Raiders sidekick back. It's all fun to some extent, but you can feel the internal logic stretching just to have these actors return. It's never explain why they need a digger from Cairo to help out, but then again I forgive them once the 'papers please' gag comes long. The cast in general is always entertaining, and while Julian Glover as Donovan is a weaker villain that the previous two adventures he's at least a new archetype without repeating Belloq again. It helps that his evil henchmen Vogel is played with such a mean streak by Michael Byrne; by promoting the muscle something different is tried. The same can be said of Allison Doody as Elsa who is never fully explored in terms of motivation, but it's a fresh element to have someone who is both conflicted and treacherous.

Comedy as a whole is a major feature here, and again it's a response to viewer reactions to the last movie. As long as they accept things like one-bullet-three-deaths and light hearted. But there are certain moments that are always funny because of the timing and the delivery, where it's the 'no ticket' joke, the face of the radio operator when they appear from the revolving door, or the look on Sean Connery's face when Elsa is telling Indy how wonderful their time together was. It's the pervasive sense of charm and character throughout that makes this a lasting classic, despite all the odd inclusions and recycled bits from the earlier films. It remains a hugely watchable experience and a fine book end for the series.

4/5