Raiders of the Lost Ark
Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is no ordinary archeologist. When we first see him, he is somewhere in the Peruvian jungle in 1936, running a booby-trapped gauntlet (complete with an over-sized rolling boulder) to fetch a solid-gold idol. He loses this artifact to his chief rival, a French archeologist named Belloq (Paul Freeman), who then prepares to kill our hero. In the first of many serial-like escapes, Indy eludes Belloq by hopping into a convenient plane. So, then: is Indiana Jones afraid of anything? Yes, snakes. The next time we see Jones, he's a soft-spoken, bespectacled professor. He is then summoned from his ivy-covered environs by Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) to find the long-lost Ark of the Covenant. The Nazis, it seems, are already searching for the Ark, which the mystical-minded Hitler hopes to use to make his stormtroopers invincible. But to find the Ark, Indy must first secure a medallion kept under the protection of Indy's old friend Abner Ravenwood, whose daughter, Marion (Karen Allen), evidently has a "history" with Jones. Whatever their personal differences, Indy and Marion become partners in one action-packed adventure after another, ranging from wandering the snake pits of the Well of Souls to surviving the pyrotechnic unearthing of the sacred Ark. A joint project of Hollywood prodigies George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, with a script co-written by Lawrence Kasdan and Philip Kaufman, among others, Raiders of the Lost Ark is not so much a movie as a 115-minute thrill ride. Costing 22 million dollars (nearly three times the original estimate), Raiders of the Lost Ark reaped 200 million dollars during its first run. It was followed by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1985) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), as well as a short-lived TV-series "prequel."
Temple of Doom
The second of the George Lucas/Steven Spielberg Indiana Jones epics is set a year or so before the events in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1984). After a brief brouhaha involving a precious vial and a wild ride down a raging Himalyan river, Indy (Harrison Ford) gets down to the problem at hand: retrieving a precious gem and several kidnapped young boys on behalf of a remote East Indian village. His companions this time around include a dimbulbed, easily frightened nightclub chanteuse (Kate Capshaw), and a feisty 12-year-old kid named Short Round (Quan Ke Huy). Throughout, the plot takes second place to the thrills, which include a harrowing rollercoaster ride in an abandoned mineshaft and Indy's rescue of the heroine from a ritual sacrifice. There are also a couple of cute references to Raiders of the Lost Ark, notably a funny variation of Indy's shooting of the Sherpa warrior.
The third installment in the widely beloved Spielberg/Lucas Indiana Jones saga begins with an introduction to a younger Indy (played by the late River Phoenix), who, through a fast-paced prologue, gives the audience insight into the roots of his taste for adventure, fear of snakes, and dogged determination to take historical artifacts out of the hands of bad guys and into the museums in which they belong. A grown-up Indy (Harrison Ford) reveals himself shortly afterward in a familiar classroom scene, teaching archeology to a disproportionate number of starry-eyed female college students in 1938. Once again, however, Mr. Jones is drawn away from his day job after an art collector (Julian Glover) approaches him with a proposition to find the much sought after Holy Grail. Circumstances reveal that there was another avid archeologist in search of the famed cup — Indiana Jones' father, Dr. Henry Jones (Sean Connery) — who had recently disappeared during his efforts. The junior and senior members of the Jones family find themselves in a series of tough situations in locales ranging from Venice to the most treacherous spots in the Middle East. Complicating the situation further is the presence of Elsa (Alison Doody), a beautiful and intelligent woman with one fatal flaw: she's an undercover Nazi agent. The search for the grail is a dangerous quest, and its discovery may prove fatal to those who seek it for personal gain. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade earned a then record-breaking $50 million in its first week of release.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas bring you the greatest adventurer of all time in “a nonstop thrill ride” (Richard Corliss, TIME) that’s packed with “sensational, awe-inspiring spectacles” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times). Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull finds Indy (Harrison Ford) trying to outrace a brilliant and beautiful agent (Cate Blanchett) for the mystical, all-powerful Crystal Skull of Akator. Teaming up with a rebellious young biker (Shia LaBeouf) and his spirited original love Marion (Karen Allen), Indy takes you on a breathtaking action-packed adventure in the exciting tradition of the classic Indiana Jones movies!
It’s said that the original is the greatest, and there can be no more vivid proof than Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first and indisputably best of the initial three Indiana Jones adventures cooked up by the dream team of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Expectations were high for this 1981 collaboration between the two men, who essentially invented the box office blockbuster with ‘70s efforts like Jaws and Star Wars, and Spielberg (who directed) and Lucas (who co-wrote the story and executive produced) didn’t disappoint. This wildly entertaining film has it all: non-stop action, exotic locations, grand spectacle, a hero for the ages, despicable villains, a beautiful love interest, humor, horror… not to mention lots of snakes. And along with all the bits that are so familiar by now--Indy (Harrison Ford) running from the giant boulder in a cave, using his pistol instead of his trusty whip to take out a scimitar-wielding bad guy, facing off with a hissing cobra, and on and on--there’s real resonance in a potent storyline that brings together a profound religious-archaeological icon (the Ark of the Covenant, nothing less than "a radio for speaking to God") and the 20th century’s most infamous criminals (the Nazis). Now that’s entertainment. --Sam Graham
Temple of Doom
It’s hard to imagine that a film with worldwide box office receipts topping $300 million worldwide could be labeled a disappointment, but some moviegoers considered Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the second installment in Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ 1980s adventure trilogy, to be just that. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad effort; any collaboration between these two cinema giants (Spielberg directed, while Lucas provided the story and was executive producer) is bound to have more than its share of terrific moments, and Temple of Doom is no exception. But in exchanging the very real threat of Nazi Germany for the cartoonish Thuggee cult, it loses some of the heft of its predecessor (Raiders of the Lost Ark); on the other hand, it’s also the darkest and most disturbing of the three films, what with multiple scenes of children enslaved, a heart pulled out of a man’s chest, and the immolation of a sacrificial victim, which makes it less fun than either Raiders or The Last Crusade, notwithstanding a couple of riotous chase scenes and impressively grand sets. Many fans were also less than thrilled with the new love interest, a spoiled, querulous nightclub singer portrayed by Kate Capshaw, but a cute kid sidekick ("Short Round," played by Ke Huy Quan) and, of course, the ever-reliable Harrison Ford as the cynical-but-swashbuckling hero more than make up for that character’s shortcomings.
A six-minute introduction by Lucas and Spielberg is the prime special feature, with both men candidly addressing the film’s good and bad points (Lucas points out that the second Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, was also the darkest of the original three; as for Spielberg, the fact that the leading lady would soon become his wife was the best part of the whole trip). Also good are "The Creepy Crawlies," a mini-doc about the thousands of snakes, bugs, rats and other scary critters that populate the trilogy, and "Travels with Indy," a look at some of the films’ cool locations. Storyboards and a photo gallery are included as well. --Sam Graham
Not as good as the first one, but better than the second. That’s been the consensus opinion regarding Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the final installment in Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ original adventure trilogy, throughout the nearly two decades since its 1989 theatrical release. It’s a fair assessment. After the relatively dark and disturbing Temple of Doom (1984), The Last Crusade (1989) recalls the sheer fun of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). With its variety of colorful locations, multiple chase scenes (the opening sequence on a circus train, with River Phoenix as the young Indy, is one of the best of the series, as is the boat chase through the canals of Venice), and cloak-and-dagger vibe, it’s the closest in tone to a James Bond outing, which director Spielberg has noted was the inspiration for the trilogy in the first place; what’s more, it harkens back to Raiders in its choice of villains (i.e., the Nazis--Indy even comes face to face with Hitler at a rally in Berlin) and its quest for an antiquity of incalculable value and significance (the Holy Grail, the chalice said to have been the receptacle of Christ's blood as he hung on the cross). Add to that the presence of Sean Connery, playing Indy’s father and having a field day opposite Harrison Ford, and you’ve got a most welcome return to form.
Special features include a six-minute introduction by Spielberg and Lucas, who discuss the grail as a metaphor for bringing Indy and his estranged father together and agree that Crusade is the funniest of the three films; "Indy’s Women," an American Film Institute tribute with leading ladies Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw, and Alison Doody each discussing her character (Capshaw candidly describes Temple of Doom’s Willie Scott as "whiny, petulant, and annoying"); "Indy’s Friends and Enemies," a look at the films’ various villains and sidekicks; plus storyboards and photo galleries. --Sam Graham
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Nearly 20 years after riding his last Crusade, Harrison Ford makes a welcome return as archaeologist/relic hunter Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, an action-packed fourth installment that's, in a nutshell, less memorable than the first three but great nostalgia for fans of the series. Producer George Lucas and screenwriter David Koepp (War of the Worlds) set the film during the cold war, as the Soviets--replacing Nazis as Indy's villains of choice and led by a sword-wielding Cate Blanchett with black bob and sunglasses--are in pursuit of a crystal skull, which has mystical powers related to a city of gold. After escaping from them in a spectacular opening action sequence, Indy is coerced to head to Peru at the behest of a young greaser (Shia LaBeouf) whose friend--and Indy's colleague--Professor Oxley (John Hurt) has been captured for his knowledge of the skull's whereabouts. Whatever secrets the skull holds are tertiary; its reveal is the weakest part of the movie, as the CGI effects that inevitably accompany it feel jarring next to the boulder-rolling world of Indy audiences knew and loved. There's plenty of comedy, delightful stunts--ants play a deadly role here--and the return of Raiders love interest Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, once shrill but now softened, giving her ex-love bemused glances and eye-rolls as he huffs his way to save the day. Which brings us to Ford: bullwhip still in hand, he's a little creakier, a lot grayer, but still twice the action hero of anyone in film today. With all the anticipation and hype leading up to the film's release, perhaps no reunion is sweeter than that of Ford with the role that fits him as snugly as that fedora hat. --Ellen A. Kim