By Kyle B. Stiff
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they love the Indiana Jones movies. Being childhood favorites of mine, I decided to watch them again as an old person. I was shocked to the core to learn that the first Indiana Jones movie is completely different from its sequels. In terms of tone and feel, it’s completely unrelated!
When I re-watched the first movie, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, I was surprised to learn that it was an action movie that an adult could watch without being embarrassed if another adult caught him watching it, and children could also enjoy it IF we keep in mind the idea that children aren’t fragile, impressionable creatures that need to be protected from disturbing images or else they run the risk of becoming full-on psychopaths. The later movies, however, are children’s movies.
We have this idea that Indiana Jones is always swinging from ropes and shooting load-bearing posts that cause heavy objects to fall on bad guys without killing them, but all of that cartoony nonsense comes from the later movies. In the first movie, Dr. Jones shoots a guy in the face. He doesn’t swing around a rope tied to a chain looped around a giant gear that somehow makes a non-fatal mound of shit fall on some dufus in a uniform; no, his special move in the first movie is to point a revolver at some guy, pull the trigger, and slam a hot one into his skull. It’s not “clever” at all, which is good because Hollywood needs less clever and more awesome. The only time Dr. Jones approaches being clever in Raiders is when he tricks an opponent who physically outmatches him into getting his face whipped off by a spinning propeller. It’s not cute… but it’s something I can get behind.
(Note: The scene in question happens when Dr. Jones returns to the Tibetan bar and finds it full of Nazis torturing the woman that he illegally impregnated when she was like fourteen (way to go Indy!). I was most definitely not referring to the famous scene with the sword-swinging ding-bat that Indy kills with one shot.)
The first movie focuses on the Ark of the Covenant. Could a better ancient artifact have been chosen by the writers even if their lives depended on it?! Even the handful of viewers who don’t understand the power behind the myth of the Ark are brought up to speed in an incredible scene with slowly building tension and creepy music in which Dr. Jones explains to some military dudes exactly how dangerous this object is, and how it’s cloaked in secrecy and historical amnesia in an attempt to hide the horror behind its existence. Now, after considering all that… just what was the artifact in the sequel? Does anyone remember? Does anyone care?
There are lots of tonal changes in Raiders that engage the emotions just like any great song or story. In between scenes of Dr. Jones beating the shit out people with his bare hands, there are scenes with characters interacting in non-comical ways (in the later films all character interaction is there for the sake of comic levity) in which people discuss the gravity of the forbidden object they are searching for. There are also lots of dark scenes in which the world seems to be moved by frightening supernatural forces. Remember when Dr. Jones’s team is digging in some desert location and we see the sky become like something out of a nightmare? Scenes like that are powerful not only because they force us to emotionally consider the horrific underpinnings of reality, but those scenes also show that the film’s makers don’t assume that the audience is a mob of idiots who completely fall asleep when they see anything other than people jumping around or crashing into things at high speeds.
The later films have none of that. They are metronomes that gravitate between dipshit hijinks and people running around and falling off of stuff. And I suppose everyone’s on the same page about the last movie, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, being awful. I felt sorry for Harrison Ford; even in the movie poster he seemed worn out, and looked as if he was hoping that he would be allowed to sit down for a few minutes after his photo-shoot. Of course it makes sense to revisit the theme of ancient aliens that the first movie touched on, but unless it’s filmed with the same slow and altogether-alien feel of something crazy like 2001: A Space Odyssey, I can’t imagine how a bunch of old people and kids riding in a refrigerator could possibly have seemed like it was going to add anything to the series even as an idea, much less a thing that had been filmed on accident and had to be marketed and sold if only to cover the cost of the mistake itself.
As a fellow old person, you’re completely entitled to go back and watch Raiders of the Lost Ark again. You’ll be surprised to realize that the makers of the film didn’t utterly despise your existence and crave only your wallet’s innards. Just do yourself a favor and let the later installments in the series gather dust.
Hey readers! If you liked this post, you should check out some of my books. I’ve got an epic series called Demonworld, which is equal parts Mad Max and Lord of the Rings (think “science fantasy”), and a much-loved gamebook series called Heavy Metal Thunder which is currently a hyperlinked Kindle book but will be a fancy phone app any day now.