Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer:Jeffrey Boam; Story by George Lucas and Menno Meyjes
Cinematographer: Douglas Slocombe
Producer: Robert Watts
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
In this film, we learn that the mission is to retrieve the Arc of the Covenant, foisted upon Indiana by Englishman with a subtle Irish drawl Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) when he mentions that Indy’s father has vanished while on an expedition. He’s to meet up with Henry’s Austrian colleague Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) in Venice in order to try and find both his father and the grail. Shortly after, Indy receives his dad’s journal in the mail, indicating he’s in danger. They fly to Venice and so we get our first map line montage, and while I won’t bore you over examining the details, even in this small sequence, Spielberg matches the pace of line being drawn to that of each of vehicles Indy travels upon. But so begins the main attraction, as Indy battles through betrayals and bullets and monstrous tanks.
There’s no need to talk about the story so much as the vast amount of memorable images that extend throughout it. I remember how terrifying the German book burning was, with hundreds of its citizens throwing all the Jewish books they can find into a bonfire, marching around the towering flames. I never realized how much the grail played in combating Hitler, as after Indy and his Father escape the castle, Henry explains that retrieving the grail is for all mankind. In an age when so many films involve the end of the world, Spielberg avoids big explosions with wild scenes of exploding buildings and bridges, and instead focuses on the minute. The book burning demonstrated what was brewing. They needed to fight against what the world could be if fallen into the wrong hands. It’s a magnificent moment, in which this final film suddenly takes an even more realistic turn. It is all for something larger.
I always loved the blimp scene, and really noticed the father/son bond - or lack of - in a way I hadn’t before. It’s a beautiful scene when Indiana wants to just have a drink with his dad and talk, complaining how they ever had. His dad combats the accusations by acquiescing, except Jones realizes they have nothing in common beyond archeology. But also that it’s fine, as they’re now sharing an adventure because of it. And then Spielberg uses shadows to indicate the blimp is changing direction. They steal the emergency plane, and Indy orders the father to shoot at the Nazi fighter planes attacking them. Unfortunately, he ends up shooting the tail fin off in the process. I always loved how it was such an innocent and easy mistake from a character who hadn't made any until that point, and that dad then lies any way, as any of us probably would. And in making up for all of it, he uses his umbrella to launch of seagulls into the approaching plane cause it to crash and burn.
But that’s not even the greatest scene, as although I had remembered every bit of the tank chapter, I forgot how incredible it is; serving as one of the finest action scenes ever assembled. Although the entire scene could be deconstructed, it’s Spielberg’s ability to create a very logical and realistic setting that makes the scene so effective. I started Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ('08) immediately after this, and without jumping ahead, let’s just say the jungle chase sequence is the complete opposite of The Last Crusade.
The scene takes place in two sections, with the driver of the tank as a goggled, large mustachioed man, showing that even the most minor character can become a highly memorable character. We cut between inside the tank where Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Henry sit, as they attempt to break free while Indy fights above. Each moment, from when Indy shoots through the five soldiers, to his head being rubbed against the tank treads, to his falling off the tank, catching a gun, and nearly being crushed to death, before falling off the mountain as he fights the Nazi to death - all intercut with Marcus and Henry as they try and steal a gun to escape and help.
The two scenes are so perfectly timed, so simple in conception, and yet so intricate in execution that I almost had to stop the movie to catch my breath. I always enjoyed this scene, but as I’ve often mentioned, after making a movie, I’ve grown to appreciate the technical craft a great movie now possesses. Each decision and choice was so smart, with no moment causing me to doubt what I was seeing, or force me out of the story. To think it all concludes with Henry giving Indy an emotional hug, finally breaking from his emotional detachment, was kind of what I wanted to do to the person next to me, if I wasn’t watching it all alone.
The film moves into its final sequence, where once again, I could remember all the details and yet was anxious as ever to see how they were done. I remember always wondering what blew the spiderwebs up as the men wandered through, and this time I didn’t care, figuring it was the sawblades or a draft or God. It didn’t matter. Having Henry shot in the stomach added such a great complexity to the scene, requiring Indy’s analytic mind to try and search for whatever faith he could find, before stepping onto the bridge - shot in one of the greatest dizzying effects I’ve ever seen. But it all culminates in the grail scene - when there are hundreds scattered about. It was here that I was connecting most to my old pre-teen self, blown away by how simple the puzzle was. Jesus was a carpenter and it of course would be the simplest cup. I had forgotten about the most important rule, though, and what a gorgeous rule it is - that to achieve immortality requires the cost of guarding the grail forever. After all the speculation and education and investigation, no one knew this one small thing.
Indy goes on to save his dad, which when combined with sound, offers one of the greatest blood gags ever on screen. It’s a fascinating moment where the place begins to crumble, and the human desire for power is uncontrollable. Not just for Dr. Elsa, but Indy too forgets how it works, willing to die for the chance at immortality. Given the backdrop in battling Hitler, what a profound message. Even the heroes have weakness, with only a father’s word having any power.
Call it cliche, they simply don’t make movies like this anymore. Even Spielberg would sacrifice logic and plausibility for flashy computer effects that sacrifice story for entertainment, losing both as a result. At no point did The Last Crusade feel old or uninspired. It held up as much as when I use to watch it every summer, and I was equally taken away. It’s a perfect movie.
BELOW: More impressive than any CGI-infused action sequence out there
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