Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody, Julian Glover
Have I Seen it Before: I’m reasonably sure that I did not see it in the theater when it was released. I have a weird encyclopedic memory of movies I saw from 1989-1990. I would imagine most movie buffs have such a memory of the movies they saw when they were about that age.
But I surely ran a VHS copy of this movie down to the nub in the years since. I even skipped a lecture of Chemistry 1 to go grab the trilogy (and back then, it was a trilogy) when it was first released on DVD.
Did I Like It: Back in those days, I think I might have been convinced that it was the greatest of all the Indiana Jones films.
I don’t think that any more. I certainly don’t think it is the worst of the series, but we’ll get to that later. After both the creators and the public decided (and I believe wrongly) that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) was a failed experiment, Lucas, Spielberg and company opted for what I’m sure was a course correction to make the third film in the series more like the original Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
And the film so desperately wants to be Raiders. The story is once again about Indiana (Ford) reconciling with someone from his past by making them his partner. In Raiders, he reconnects with old lover Karen Allen, here he makes amends with his father in the form of Sean Connery. The Nazis are back in full force, which is a sentence I write with unfortunate frequency in this last half of the first decade of the 21st century. Even the font chosen for the opening titles is directed to the sole goal of making the audience feel like this is going to be like the Indy adventure that they liked at first blush.
Now, it helps that what the film lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in charm. It’s likely the missing ingredient in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). That film wants to be Raiders, too, but it doesn’t have Sean Connery giving one of the most blissfully nerdy performances of any movie star. For a screen presence that was so thoroughly contingent on machismo, making Indy’s father an aloof bookworm who fells Nazis with an umbrella, some seagulls and some well-remembered Charlemagne. It also helps that this was in the time pre-Air Force One (1997) when Ford spent a number of years sleeping through every film in which he starred. He eventually corrected this notion by the time Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and maybe we’ll get one more charming outing with Henry Jones Jr. in our future.