The Adventures of Indiana Jones: A Retrospective Before The Dial of Destiny

With the release of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny only weeks away it seemed a good time to go through the previous films in the Indiana Jones story. As much as some might wish to deny it…there are four Indiana Jones movies and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull cannot be dismissed just because of unpopular it is.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – We are merely passing through history, this is history

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark //credit: Paramount Pictures

One of the greatest adventure movies ever made RotLA is thrilling from beginning to end. It is hard to overstate the cultural impact this film had and if you were picking films that defined a genre this would probably be it. There are so many iconic moments but even if you look at the opening scene of Indy trying to get an idol – the slow cautious grasp of the idol, the betrayal of his companions and, of course, the boulder. And that’s the first ten minutes. There are the Nazis, the snakes, the face-melting, the wonderful dialogue. The scene where Indy steals the ark from the Nazi truck is one of the greatest action sequences of all time, which follows another iconic scene, Indy fighting the Nazi around the plane. One other thing to note – some people criticise the film because Indy doesn’t actually have too much of an impact, if he had stayed out of it the Nazis would have found the ark, opened it, and been consumed by the Ark’s power. Indy did nothing. RotLA is not a computer game, it is a film telling a story and doesn’t simply need to be Indy punching his way through the entire German army.

The Temple of Doom – Fortune and Glory

One of the greatest “hero” shots of all time – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom //credit: Paramount Pictures

A prequel to RotLA, ToD is certainly more mixed in quality. It has another great opening scene, this time adding a musical number. In this film Indy is far more the dodgy tomb-robber than in the chronologically later films, selling priceless Chinese relics to criminals in exchange for a diamond. After escaping China Indy and his companions – kid sidekick Short Round (and congratulations to Ke Huy Quan for his Oscar) and Willie Scott, a singer caught up in Indy’s adventures. This film has the villains be an Indian death cult who are searching for stones of great power to conquer the world with their leader a man who literally rips out people’s hearts. While this film is less iconic than RofLA nobody has ever walked on – or even just seen – a rope bridge and not think about the rope bridge scene in ToD, and that’s whether you’re crossing a canyon or at a park.

The Last Crusade – He chose…poorly

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade //credit: Paramount Pictures

Another great opening scene, seeing kid Indy trifling with people stealing relics and with a gold star for efficiency in explaining the origins of his fear of snakes, bullwhip and hat. After that we are back to the Nazis, this time seeking the holy grail, the subject that was an obsession with Indy’s father who has gone missing in the search for it. Again, there are so many memorable moments in this film – X Marks The Spot, throwing a Nazi off a blimp, meeting Hitler, it goes on and on. There are more phenomenal action scenes with Indy saving his father from inside a tank being the high point. TLC also continues with the rather effective body horror that features in the trilogy with the villain Donovan rapidly ageing and collapsing into dust rivalling the heart-ripping antic of ToD or the face-melting from RofLA for sheer visceral punch.

The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull – Nuking the Fridge

The Ark makes a brief cameo in Kingdom of the Crystal Skill //credit: Paramount Pictures

This is not a good film but let’s focus on the positive. Aside from hiding in a fridge to protect himself from an atomic bomb the opening scene is quite fun, with Indy being forced to hell Soviet spies steal an artefact…from the same warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant it put in at the end of RotLA, this is shown as while the Soviets are escaping a crate falls opens revealing the distinctive gilded corner of the Ark.

Switching from the traditional Nazis to the Soviets was an interesting move and Cate Blanchett made a good villain chewing the scenery, it was a shame that Ray Winstone and John Hurt were not used to their full potential…or anything near it. The bizarre storyline based on crystal skulls and their alien origins was baffling; given that the previous film had focussed on an icon as well known as the holy grail and so many potential storylines existed the choice of crystal skull is a true cinematic mystery.

It was nice to see Indiana Jones return but it has to be one of the most disappointing returns of an iconic character.

The Problems

It’s important to spend some time on the problems with these films. First, the racism, the film features a lot of people of colour shown in extremely problematic ways, with some tribal people often depicted as “savages”. The portrayal of India in ToD has stood out as one of the most problematic in the Indiana Jones films, and not even necessarily the cult aspect, but the banquet scene where all manner of outlandish and off-putting dishes are served.

Then there are the artefacts. Indy talks a lot about how many items belong in a museum and while this is usually in contrast to corrupt private collectors or actual Nazis, it seems very much to be his museum. These artefacts will be taken back to America and displayed there, taken from the culture and people to who they would rightfully belong to. It is an attitude of its time when few people had second thoughts about filling museums with accumulated treasures from around the world. In ToD Indy does return one of the stones to the village it was taken from, but his plan had been to take the others with him.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny will almost certainly be a financial success and we can only hope it lives up to the best aspects of the old films.

Also Read: Harrison Ford: Nerf Herder or the Grave Robber?

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Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.