Tag Archives: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Movies We Still Care About – 1989 – Part 1 of 2

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  •  Batman
  • Field of Dreams
  • Heathers
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Say Anything
  • When Harry Met Sally

Other Fond Memories

  • Dead Poets Society
  • Steel Magnolias

Other Notable Movies

  • The Abyss
  • UHF

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Driving Miss Daisy (Winner)
  • Born on the Fourth of July
  • Dead Poets Society
  • Field of Dreams
  • My Left Foot

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Batman
  2. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  3. Lethal Weapon 2
  4. Look Who’s Talking
  5. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
  6. Back to the Future 2
  7. Ghostbusters 2
  8. Driving Miss Daisy
  9. Parenthood
  10. Dead Poets Society

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (98%)
  2. Say Anything (98%)
  3. Do the Right Thing (96%)
  4. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (94%)
  5. The Little Mermaid (92%)
  6. Parenthood (92%)
  7. Glory (93%)
  8. Crimes and Misdemeanors (93%)

Movies We Still Care About

Batman

In my 1978 entry I discussed how Superman created the comic book tentpole movie that would come to dominate the 2000s.  But that genre more or less disappeared for 11 years, until being revived by Tim Burton’s Batman.

It also greatly improved on the genre.  While Superman was purely a spectacle movie, Batman had a real plot, character development, and one of the all-time most memorable movie villains.

Its design for the dark and crime-ridden gotham has been copied by pretty much every Batman adaptation since.  Purists may point to earlier comic book incarnations of Batman, but the Tim Burton version is the world of Batman that most people know.

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams is a movie about baseball, faith, country life, and a man’s relationship to his father.  I’m a non-religious Angelino who doesn’t care the slightest bit about baseball and was raised by a single mother.  So this movie really doesn’t speak to me personally the way it does to others.

To those who do care about it, it’s a wish fulfillment fantasy about reconnecting to a lost father, combined with a redemption movie where those who have sinned can find peace.

 

Heathers

This movie speaks to teenagers who feel like they are outsiders, which in reality is most teenagers.  It’s a revenge fantasy against the popular kids, combined with a rejection of the trendy and a celebration of the abnormal.

It didn’t do well in theaters, but found an audience on home video as a cult classic beloved by those who feel marginalized.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I consider this to be one of the greatest action movies of all time.  While the original was a pure spectacle movie, entertaining us with amazingly fun action, Last Crusade maintains that sense of fun action while adding in a complete story and character development.

River Phoenix as young Indiana Jones and Sean Connery as Indy’s father provide much more depth to a character that we had previously only seen traveling around the world kicking ass.  For example, here we see his father using wits rather than strength/athleticism to defeat an enemy:

And by the end, we see Indy using the lessons he learned from his father to pass the three trials:

And finally he sacrifices the object of his quest for what’s truly important.  (Sorry, I couldn’t find that scene on YouTube.)

To be continued tomorrow (Thursday, July 31)

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Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

Spectacle and Sequel

This is some screenwriting/story theory geekery here, but I think that if you like movies you’ll probably be interested in this. It’s a theory I’ve developed about why some movies work and some don’t.

There are certain movies that I call Spectacle Movies, which throw out all the craft of storytelling and instead focus on the spectacle. Either with compelling visuals, thrilling action, hilarious comedy, or engaging song and dance. If the spectacle is spectacular enough, the movie can work despite having massive logic problems and flawed, cliched, or non-existent story and character development.

Examples include the original King Kong, Marx Brothers, Raiders of the Lost Ark, most musicals, and (though I wasn’t personally a fan of these) 2001 and Avatar. These aren’t stories. They’re showcases for tangentially connected bits.

Just to be clear, I’m not using Spectacle Movies as a pejorative. Two of my all-time favorite movies are Raiders of the Lost Ark and Singin’ in the Rain, which are both horribly crafted stories if you ignore all the ways the movies are awesome. Singin’ in the Rain literally has an entire sequence that consists of someone saying “I thought of a good song and dance number,” and then it cuts to his imagination for ten minutes. But it works, because it is a really good song and dance number.

But spectacle isn’t a binary thing. It’s a continuum. With the exception of straight drama, all movies have some element of spectacle. And the more spectacle a movie has, the more story and character problems it can get away with.* For a well-crafted story, adding spectacle will make a good movie better. (We all love Jurassic Park, but who would remember that movie if we never actually saw the dinosaurs?)

I would define spectacle as “Showing something amazing that the audience hasn’t seen before.” The more a movie can do that, the better it will be. This is true regardless of the quality of the underlying story.

Now lets talk about sequels, and why sequels so often leave the audience feeling empty.

Movies that get sequels are almost always movies that have a lot of spectacle to them, whether or not they also have good storytelling. There are two reasons for these. The first and most obvious reason is that spectacle movies do well at the box office, especially internationally, and financially successful movies attract sequels. But the more subtle reason is that in a well-crafted story, the end of the story is the end of the story. The problems are resolved. The character has completed an arc, and no longer has room to undergo a completely new arc.** Whereas spectacle movies end when the bad guys are defeated and the explosions stop. But you can always find new bad guys to generate new explosions.

But remember when I said that a key element of spectacle is showing something we’ve never seen before? That presents an inherent problem with sequels, because by default the sequels are showing us exactly what we’ve seen before.

So sequels tend to lose the spectacle aspect that made people like the original. Which means that as a baseline sequels are going to be much less compelling.***

There are two ways for a sequel to overcome this: It can either ramp up/change the spectacle, or it can improve the story.

Examples of movies that ramped up or changed the spectacle, so it was still showing us something we hadn’t seen before, are Aliens, Terminator 2, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Avengers.

Examples of movies that improved the story are Spider-Man 2, X-Men 2, Toy Story 2, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Terminator 2, and The Empire Strikes Back. (T2 and Empire both ramped up the spectacle and improved the story.)

But most sequels just give us more of the same. More of the same doesn’t work for spectacle. And without a story to carry them, they’re left with nothing. Which is why most sequels are so bad. They may be commercially successful, and in fact usually are, which is why Hollywood keeps making them. People show up based on how much they liked the original.

But I judge the quality of movies based on how much the audience cares about them. By that measure most sequels fail. Which is why Transformers 4 had a hundred million dollar opening weekend but only 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. (And keep in mind the Rotten Tomatoes percentage is only from people who saw the movie. Meaning that among people who *thought* they would want to see a movie where a giant alien robot truck rides a gianter alien robot dragon while waving a huge sword, only 16% actually did enjoy it.)

* For example, the 2009 Star Trek was obviously much dumber than Looper. But Star Trek keeps you moving too fast with exciting action to think about how little sense it makes. Whereas Looper is slow and contemplative, which leaves you with time to contemplate all the story and logic problems.

** The only example I can think of of a successful sequel to a movie that didn’t rely on spectacle is The Godfather 2. And that only half-worked by focusing on flashbacks of a supporting character that didn’t have an arc in the first movie. In my opinion, the Michael half of Godfather 2 didn’t work and aside from one or two scenes was entirely forgettable.

*** One interesting point here is that perceived quality depends on the order you see a film. We all think Raiders of the Lost Ark is great and Temple of Doom is mediocre. But if we saw Temple of Doom first, would we think that was the great one? Or consider the 1964 movie A Shot in the Dark, which is a sequel to the 1963 The Pink Panther, and recycles all of the jokes from the original. If you watch The Pink Panther then Shot in the Dark, you’ll think Shot in the Dark is boring and pointless. But if you watch Shot in the Dark first, you’ll think Pink Panther is the boring and pointless one. (Or if you don’t like 1960s slapstick humor, you’ll think both are boring and pointless.)