Inevitably, Indiana Jones evokes nostalgia. Steven Spielberg wanted to make a globe-trotting adventure, James Bond style, inspired by the black and white Republic serials of the 1930s. His friend George Lucas had just the hero for him, a rough hewn but debonair explorer who would certainly be at home in those cliffhanging pictures. What makes the first and third films in the Indiana Jones trilogy work is their affectionate regard of the past, combined with a modern, emotional undertow and jet-fueled pace.
What follows are my recollections of watching Indiana Jones through the years. The list is intended as a conversation starter: what are your favorite memories from watching Indy the first, second, third -- or 25th -- time?
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Spielberg had risen to the level of unassailable god in my young mind on the basis of Duel, Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but 1941 was an awful mess that crashed and burned at the box office, and I had no enthusiasm for a callback to awful '30s serial pictures. Advance word was minimal, as I recall. Lucas' participation didn't help after he'd left me hanging at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, and I was not terribly impressed with the idea of Harrison Ford as leading man (I would have preferred Tom Selleck). None of my friends were talking about the movie. Still, I reluctantly tramped out to Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood on an overcast Saturday morning in June 1981 to give Spielberg another shot. The opening scene's jungle vibe seemed kinda cool and different, then John Williams' percolating musical began to boil, and I liked how things went from bad to worse -- especially the boulder! The kicker was seeing Indiana running for his life and his pilot buddy hesitating before starting up the plane. After that I was on board and couldn't wait to see what happened next. I left the theater totally pumped up, in love with Karen Allen and devoted to Steven Spielberg; I told everyone I knew to see the movie.
2. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Post E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, of course, expectations were sky high for the Indy prequel. (I chose to ignore his sappy, shallow segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie.) At the time I worked for a tiny company in the suburban San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles; on the morning of May 23, 1984, I was alone in the office (not unusual) when my boss stopped by with his wife and young son to tell me he was blowing off the day to go see the first Temple of Doom show of the day. When two other employees came in and heard about his plans, they clamored to go too, and eventually we convinced him to shut down the office entirely.
Picking up wives and children along the way, our group happily traveled to the theater, bought our tickets and sat down, ready to have a good time. As the first sequence (a song and dance number? Indy in formal wear?) unfolded, our smiles turned to puzzled frowns, and the constant shrieking of the spoiled Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) irritated. We squirmed at the nasty tone of child slavery and "open heart surgery." The thrill was gone. We were a quiet group afterward, only too eager to get back to work.
3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
I moved to New York shortly after Temple of Doom and got busy with a new life. When Last Crusade was being publicized, I still felt burned by Doom, though I admired Spielberg tackling more adult subject matter in The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun. But the prospect of seeing Sean Connery play Indiana Jones' father made me feel like the sequel might be a more jaunty adventure, more Raiders and less Doom. I jumped on the subway train from Brooklyn right after work on May 24, 1989, hoping to catch an early evening show at a big theater in Times Square.
I got one of the last tickets available in the 1,000 seat auditorium, and struggled to find a seat, ending up next to a rather large gentleman who took up considerably more space than his seat allowed. It wasn't an ideal setting, and I worried that I'd be stuck in the middle of a long row if the movie was horrible. Happily, I liked the opening "origins" sequence, I loved Sean Connery as Professor Henry Jones, and Harrison Ford wore Indy like he did that battered fedora. It wasn't Raiders, but it had a similar tone, and if I wasn't thrilled, at least I wasn't disappointed; it left me in a state of contented satisfaction.
4. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
The small scale of the adventures never caught my fancy enough to tune in on a regular basis. I only had a 13-inch television, and Indiana Jones was a larger than life character who belonged on the big screen, no matter his age. I watched out of a sense of obligation -- reviews had been fairly positive, and some of my friends really talked up the show -- even though I thought Last Crusade had ended on the right note and any further adventures were best left to the imagination.
5. Trilogy on Laserdisc
Roger Ebert is an evil, evil man. On an episode of Siskel and Ebert at the Movies, he showed his modest home screening room and laserdisc player, and demonstrated its potential for movie lovers by pausing Raiders on the frame where Indy confronts a snake in the Well of Souls -- and the reflection of the glass pane that protected Harrison Ford could be clearly seen. (That's been digitally erased on DVD.) That was the final straw, and I proceeded to go broke buying a laserdisc player and as many movies as I could. My new roommate came into possession of a commercial AV projector; before long, our tiny 12' X 20' dwelling space hosted regular movie nights.
Of course, we had to show the Indy trilogy to our friends (inspired in part by the renewed interest sparked by the TV series). The screening area was packed with sweaty bodies and the floor was littered with soda bottles and pizza boxes by the end of the night. None of us had seen the three films back to back before, but we were in complete agreement that Raiders rocked, Temple of Doom sucked, and Last Crusade was pretty good. People kept making catcalls or drifting out to make phone calls while Doom played, and Last Crusade was not as captivating at the end of a three-movie marathon as it was when it played by itself. More than a decade would pass before I saw any of the movies again.
6. Indiana Jones -- The Adventure Collection
I picked up the latest three-disk DVD set on Friday evening more out of a sense of professional duty than anything else. What more could I hope to glean after all these years? The extra features are quite minimal, as Scott Weinberg noted last week, but it's always the movies themselves that matter most, and I was shocked at how much I still enjoyed Raiders. By the time the horseback/truck scene started, I was literally rocking my chair back and forth with excitement, like I was riding along with Indy. It's a runaway freight train hurtling down a steep mountain, and more thrilling than any theme park attraction.
Speaking of which, Temple of Doom was even worse than I remembered (it's reassuring to hear that even Spielberg and Lucas are less enthusiastic about it than the others), but the real surprise for me was how much better Last Crusade plays than I remembered. Nostalgia fuses with familial reconciliation and the reuniting of old friends to create a warm, sentimental glow. Sure, the edges are sanded off, yet the action sequences hold up well, the twists and turns are clever, the jokes are funny, and the performances are solid.
7. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Trailer)
I'm writing this late on Saturday night, before the first wave of reviews hit the Net, so I'm still feeling hopeful that the latest adventure of Indiana Jones will prove to be satisfying. I have no stake in the financial outcome, so I don't care if Crystal Skull fails to appeal to a teenage audience or turns out to be a box office dud. All I want is a small measure of the thrill and excitement I felt when I first laid eyes on the most adventuresome archeology professor/treasure hunter in cinematic history.