Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ranking the Raiders

With the new Star Trek movie raising the obvious and expected question of where it ranks in the ST pantheon,* I will focus on another franchise instead: Indiana Jones. I was inspired to this also because Last Crusade was on last night, and I was surprised to see how close it came to usurping Raiders as the best of the series. There is no question that those two are the best two of the four. Whether Crystal Skull is better or worse than Temple of Doom is less clear. I guess I will figure it out sometime in the next 800 words.

Raiders has something that the rest cannot match--it was the first, and it set the bar mighty high. It also has Karen Allen throughout the entire movie, rather than just a few bits here and there--one of things elevating Skull. Indeed, that raises one of the big questions that may drive the entire ranking: the female co-star.

So, Love Interests: Karen Allen/Marion Ravenwood (Raiders, Skull)> Allison Doody/Elsa Schneider (Crusade) > Kate Capshaw/Willie Scott. Admittedly, Karen Allen would always win here because she was also in my other favorite movie of all time.
  • Karen Allen/Marion was simply the best: spunk, humor, cunning, an ability to imbibe and yet try to escape. She was the most pro-active of the love interests (a term to separate Cate Blanchett from the rest), owning her own business, trying to escape, etc. She was fun in Skulls, but did not have as much to do. Still spunky and funny.
  • Allison Doody had more complexity in her role than the rest, as she had to be desirable, smart, and yet fatally flawed due to her greed. She was conniving enough not only to fool Indy, but also to trick Donovan who knew she was not to be trusted. Not only did she chew on Indy's lip, but she made it easy to believe that both Henry Jonses would, well, partake of her charms. Plus she carried off the accent well, given her Irish background. Indeed, this is one of the closest categories, depsite my deep fondness (ok, enduring crush) for KA.
  • Kate Capshaw got quite a lot of backlash, in part because she ended up being Mrs. Speilberg, but also because her character was whiny and superficial. But then, you were supposed to find her annoying. So, I think her work was fine, but she was annoying, so that makes her a less attractive/favorable love interest than the other two.

The Object: Ark of the Convenant > Holy Grail > Shankara Stones > Crystal Skull. Ordinarily, I would say that the Holy Grail would make for a better target for Indy and his competitors, but it is not clear how its powers would be as advantageous to the Nazis as the Ark. The Ark clearly was a weapon of war and not only melted the faces of the Nazis but also sent bolts of something through the other soldiers, contained spirits of some kind and erased the markings on its crate. The Grail resonated because it is the Grail--the most famous missing object and capabile of inspiring obsession and great comedy. Ranking the Stones vs. the Skull was harder, but the unintentional comedy involved with the skull marks it down.

Bad Guy: Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman-Raiders) > Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett-Skull) > Mola Ram (Amrish Puri-Doom) > Walter Donovan (Julian Glover-Crusade)
  1. Belloq had more personality than the others. He made a reasonable, if not entirely convincing, claim that he was just a darker version of Indiana Jones. And he was able to use this knowledge to call Indy's bluff when he threatened to blow up the ark. He also tried to protect Marion.
  2. Blanchett comes in second here mostly because the other two villains are pretty lame. She was not given that much to work with, but ran with it well. Spalko was a committed commie, smart and pretty dangerous. Yet, she could not defeat Mutt (Shia LeB) in a duel.
  3. Mola Ram was actually pretty scary. Not that bright, but scary--sharp fingernails and everything.
  4. Walter Donovan was just a greedy businesman. Obsessed by immortality but stupid enough to trust Elsa at the end.

Second Stooges: A key category where Raiders stands out. Ronald Lacey as Major Toht, the Gestapo torture guy, was the scariest, but also had the best comedic bits, like the numchuk-like device he used to hang his coat. Vogel, the prominent Nazi in Crusade, was simply not that scary or funny or interesting.

Least Unintentional Comedy: Raiders > Crusade > Doom > Skull.
  • Skull: We can perhaps forgive Lucas and Speilberg over the aliens and skull stuff because they were playing on the 1950's movies that featured such things, just as Raiders was like a 1930's serial. But, Indy surviving an atomic explosion in a refrigerator was funny for the wrong reasons. It was just too silly.
  • Doom: Similarly, there is the sequence where he leaps from the plane and survives due to the liferaft as parachute. There are other parts of the movie as well that are funny for the wrong reasons.
  • Crusade: Old knight.
  • Raiders: I don't think there is a sequence in the movie that is unintentionally funny. Let me know if I am wrong about that.
Best Action: Raiders > Crusade > Doom > Skull. This is where Raiders and Crusade are the tightest because Crusade has a lot of great action sequences back to back to back, just like the first movie.
  • Raiders has the opening scene in the Amazon, the fight at the bar in Nepal, the fight on and around the plane, the long fight sequence on and below the truck (just amazing in a world with limited CGI), and the opening of the ark (kind of an action scene).
  • Crusade had the battle in Venice, the motorcycle joust, the fighter plane sequence, and the fight against and on the tank.
  • Doom had a great musical opening number. Some people don't like it, but Anything Goes was fun. And the battle on the rope bridge was good, but the mining cart ride was a bit over the top (unintentionally funny), although the battle in the mine itself was a good one.
  • Skull: the sequence at the beginning in the warehouse was ok, and the jungle chase was pretty good, but pales compared to the truck race in Raiders and the tank battle in Crusade.
Best Icky: Snakes (Raiders) > Bugs (Doom) > Ants (Skull) > Rats (Crusade). The snake scene is just great action and pretty terrifying, even if you can catch a glimpse of the glass separating Indy from the Cobra. The bugs were really, really icky in Doom, and that counts for something, even if they were not dangerous. The ants were very nasty and reminded me of a classic old movie about killer ants--but I forget which one. But, given the bugs in Doom, the ants were a bit repetitive. Still, pretty cool. The rats, beside the bit about getting in Elsa's hair while in the water, were just rats.

Best Prof Moment: Of course, one of the best aspect of Indiana Jones is that he is a professor. The coolest prof in filmdom--not hard, given that most are portrayed as lechs. So, Crusade > Raiders > Skull > Doom. In Crusade, he climbs out the window to avoid office hours. If only I could unlock the sliding glass door to the balcony, I could climb down, too. Alas. Raiders (and Crusade) had Indiana Jones lecturing, with rapt attention from his admirers. Skull had the nice bit of racing through Yale and Mutt (Shia) saying "You are a teacher?" "Part-time" was the response, with the rest of his prof hours spent on research and service. Not even a glimmer of prof in Doom, which perhaps did Doom the movie.

Hardest To Turn Away From: This is a Sports Guy standard--which movie must you completely watch if you stumble upon it while switching channels? Raiders > Crusade (although it is pretty close since Crusaders is quite re-watch-able) > Doom. Doom is still fun to watch, but has enough scenes that are not as fully engrossing so switching the channel is possible. I have not seen Skulls enough to evaluate yet.

Where Do We Stand? Raiders was tops in all categories except for Prof moment. Indeed, Crusade is not as close as I thought it was after re-watching it last night. Crusade's flaws, although minor, were enough to create some separation. Crusade was 2nd in almost every category, except had worst bad guy and worst icky moment, but best Prof moment. Doom actually held up pretty well with mostly third places against tough competition and a better icky moment than all but Raiders. But severe downgrade for no prof moment. Skulls was consistently inferior--either third or fourth, except for Cate Blanchett and I may be giving that character more credit for her as an actress than the role and its impact. Will be seeing Skull a few more times in the next few weeks since it is on the HBO-equivalents up here and will be better able to assess.

Perhaps I gamed the rankings, given my pre-existing preferences, but I think that these criteria help to clarify what might have been a somewhat obvious ranking ;) As an Indy fan, I enjoyed all four, despite the critical reviews of Doom and Skull. They were all good rides, but Raiders and Crusades were excellent movies. And neither Doom nor Skulls did as much damage to the franchise and the canon as Jar Jar Binks, midichlorians, and the fact that Leia remembered her mother in Return of the Jedia who died when giving birth to her in Revenge of the Sith. Of course, I still enjoyed all of the Star Wars movies, even the prequels, especially as there were some fun politics disguised by bad dialogue and some bad acting.

To conclude, I still remember the ad campaign for Doom: If adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones.

* Ok, in ST, I would say that the new movie is 3rd, with Khan and Whales ranking 1st and 2nd. Hard to remember the different NextGen movies, but I would guess that the New Contact (Borg/time travel) would be fourth, and then ST6 and then the various odd number and Next Gen that blur, with the key condition that the worst ST movie is the first. Almost surprising that they were allowed to make any new ones.


Anonymous said...

Wow you write impressively long blogs :-)

Steve Saideman said...

I am not so sure that is a good thing. ;) Nor is it probably a good thing that I spent far more time thinking about this post on Indiana Jones than any of the others and reached a conclusion that most folks could probably reach in 2 minutes or less. But the exercise was fun.