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Afterthoughts – Raiders of the Temple of the Crusade Kingdom

JediCole here with a new installment of the recurring Afterthoughts series. Whenever a topic of the podcast is far too vast to be covered within the time constraints of a single episode I will bring forth my written thoughts that either did not occur to me as we recorded or were lost due to time and the meandering changes in subject during the conversation. In this case, our episode devoted to the legendary Indiana Jones series of films, there was much that went unsaid. So in a virtual archeological dig I present the various fragments that help complete the picture of Indiana Jones in my mind.  If you have not heard this episode you can listen here.

At one point while we were discussing The Last Crusade I found myself drawing a blank about a point I intended to make. Often in the midst of these things it is difficult to keep a toehold on all of the myriad observations that are bouncing about. In this case I wanted to point out a single line of dialogue that is one of the most powerful in cinema history, though it at once seems a throw-away line. When Henry Jones, Sr. is asked what his log book tells him that it does not tell the German commander his angry retort of, “It tells me that goose-stepping morons like you should read books instead of burning them!”

Personally I love lines like this, the kind that really stand out in retrospect. In this particular case you have summed up in just a few words one of the greatest fallacies of any dictatorship. In attempting to remove aspects of culture deemed inappropriate to the purposes of the government, more than just potentially dangerous material is destroyed. A vast amount of knowledge is swept aside and once dismissed it proves difficult to regain. What the Nazi conspirators looked upon as little more than a souvenir of their campaign was far more vital in reality. Luckily Donovan thought highly enough of the journal that he turned it over to Dr. Schneider rather than simply tossing it into the next convenient fire.

While on the subject of this particular movie I have to point out one of the most glaring examples of a shot in need of a retake I have ever encountered.  Shortly after the doctors Jones are captured by the Nazis the missing pages of the Jones Sr.'s diary are detected.  By this point Donovan has moved far to the back of the scene and delivers, quite ham-fistedly, the lines, "Where are these missing pages?  This map?!  We must have these pages back!"  Go back and watch this scene sometime, listen closely to the delivery of those three lines.  I have a feeling you will suddenly think you have ceased to watch a film directed by Steven Spielburg and are suddenly attending a performance of a high school one-act play!  From Holllywood to community theatre in an instant!  And thankfully back again.

I had suggested in the episode that Raiders of the Lost Ark could do no wrong. The reality is that it has a few rough edges, most of which can be smoothed down if need be by doing a little research. After all, as in archeology, research is an important tool even for fanboys. I am not talking about technical gaffes like the reflection of the cobra in the glass that provided a safety barrier between snake and actor. No, those subtle flaws are the inevitable product of the process of filmmaking. Only a fool or a madman would have attempted that trick without some assurance that the venomous reptile had no access to their person. Instead I speak of the little things that often bother long time fans like Indy’s journey from “somewhere off the coast of Africa” to the mysterious Nazi island.

Almost universally the fan explanation is that the sub never fully submerged allowing our hero to ride out the journey uncomfortable safety. It can be argued that it traversed Axis-friendly waters in a time that the United States was not yet a part of the war and World War II in general had not reached a fever pitch on land or sea. The Nazis could simply roam the globe as an evil B.P.R.D. with impunity. In reality a submerged rig carrying just the periscope above the waterline was produced and shots of Jones clutching it just below the oculus were filmed but were lost to the cutting room floor. It seems we were all on the right track, though Indy’s accommodations were far more treacherous than had the submarine not submerged.

I recall back when Raiders was still in the theatre having a discussion on the film with a friend who complained that the bazooka Indy utilized to threaten the Ark was out of place in the period of the story. I guess he fancied himself something of an arms expert and pointed out that the bazooka did not enter the realm of military ordinance until sometime later. Back in those days we did not have the benefit of home video so I had to rely solely on memory to assure him that the weapon in this case was not a bazooka but in fact, as I put it then, “a German rocket launcher”. In all fairness the term rocket propelled grenade would not enter my vernacular for years. I knew only that I had seen miniature versions of the same thing in a Japanese model kit of German soldiers I had bought to utilize for kitbashing spaceships.

And on a rather topical note (in the context of the latest USG podcast) I will have to challenge a notion put forth by our guest Jim on the subject of Marion Ravenwood as one of the most resourceful and independent female characters in film (when he juxtaposed her character in Raiders against her return in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). The reality is that when she first appears in Raiders she is strong and resourceful and fiercely capable. She is truly everything Jim saw in her. And much later when she plots her escape from the Nazi camp by drinking one of her captors under the table she illustrates just the same level of independence. However in all of the instances where Indy must come to her rescue she reverts to the stereotypical damsel in distress!

Watch closely when Toht is threatening her with what he is accustomed to (along with a red-hot spike) and the well-timed return of Dr. Jones prevents any kind of permanent damage. As soon as she is free of the Nazi agent’s clutches she spends the bulk of the ensuing firefight/fistfight huddled behind the bar while Indy does the dirty work. When the Nazi agent and company first arrive she is strong, willful, and defiant up to the point where circumstances turn beyond any hope of control. This was Jim’s strong Marion. After Indy arrives, until she clobbers the would-be killer of the hero she sheds all pretense of being a tough customer.

That same dichotomy of character is illustrated at intervals in Egypt. When attacked on the streets of Cairo we see Marion wax and wane between strong and helpless, favoring the latter. It is not until she is incarcerated in the German encampment that her strength really shines through as she plots her ill-fated escape by drinking Belloq under the table (recalling her tolerance for strong alcohol illustrated in Tibet). By effectively seducing her seducer she cleverly finds a means by which to at least gain freedom. Given the warning of the camp’s proximity to civilization that freedom could easily prove meaningless, but like Jones himself she was likely going to make it up as she goes.

And yet when she is tossed into the Well of the Souls she again adopts her damsel-in-distress mode. While a chamber filled to brimming with deadly asps and cobras would unnerve event the most powerful of action heroes (certainly Indiana was none too thrilled with the present circumstances), the timing of this latest lapse in her inner strength supports an observation I made upon watching Raiders a few days before we recorded the Indiana Jones episode, that Marion Ravenwood is a very powerful and independent woman on her own. But once she finds herself in the presence of her former heartthrob she reverts into a schoolgirl. It is Indy that robs her of her strength, if inadvertently.

Given the suggested history of the two this is not surprising. Indiana Jones is and likely has always been a larger than life figure, especially in Marion’s eyes. Like a grown woman who becomes a little girl again around her own father, Marion is that young girl who fell for the dashing Dr. Jones so long ago. No matter how much time or distance separates the pair, as soon as she is in his presence she is no longer the woman she became away from his influence. That Marion seems less rugged and independent in much of her appearance in Crystal Skull does not illustrate an abrupt change in the character but rather maintains a precedent set in Raider of the Lost Ark.

Finally I have to get something off my chest in regard to Temple of Doom that has been bugging me personally for over 20 years! Back when this movie hit the theatres a review was published in Starlog Magazine that simultaneously attempted to justify some aspects of the film while blasting others that were, in the context of the author’s argument, actually related. Essentially he was approaching the fantastic elements of the film (the genuinely powerful Sankara stones, Mola Ram’s digital cardiac procedure) as the prevue of a willing suspension of disbelief. In the context of the film, despite Indy’s dismissal of such things as superstition, magic genuinely exists.

In that context the power of the stones to glow when brought together or to heal a blighted landscape can be accepted by the audience. However when confronted with adventures in impossible physics (the liferaft escape of our heroes from a crashing plane, the impossible survival of a suspension bridge collapse) stretched disbelief to the breaking point. These aspects were coupled with the fact that the raft seemed to have strategically landed upriver from the very village in need of Indy’s help. I believe there was even issue taken with the entire mine car chase through the Thugee mines as well. How could all of this possibly work? Why the author supplied his own answer in the article of course.

Positing that things mystical are very real if unquantifiable by scientific method he provided a solution for all of his complaints. First there is the raft, both its freefall turned sled-ride, turned churning rapids adventure culminating in arriving at the banks of the river near the doomed village as if it were a bus stop. As the crazy old coot who both greeted and startled the three luckiest people in all of India pointed out, it was Shiva who delivered them. While the mighty deity was ignoring an enslaved child’s prayer for the sweet embrace of oblivion, it was probably due to being busy shepherding that rubber boat from sky to snow to water without losing any of the occupants in the process. If you can accept that a Thugee priest can rip out a beating heart of a victim from his self-sealing chest before it spontaneously combusts then you pretty much have to give Shiva his due in the process.

Then there are those other sticking points in the escape of our intrepid adventurers. While they managed to escape the deadly traps within the hidden corridors of Pankaw Palace through a combination of luck and skill, the real logic defying elements began once they were all in the thrall of their enemies. From the impossible riding of the rails (through the equally impossible route of the rail line that seemed a precursor to the Star Wars pod races) to the perilous bridge escape there is plenty there to invoke head scratching. But yet again this author supplies an means to an end, magic. In this case the magic of the stones. The impossible is made possible by virtue of the fact that Indy carries not one but three Sankra luck stones!

If Indy thought tapping a well in the catacombs beneath the Venice library would be lucrative in Last Crusade, imagine the fortune and glory potential of smuggling one of those lucky stones out of India and straight to Monte Carlo or some other casino-laden locale (sadly Las Vegas would be little more than a trackless desert back then). Yes, it was the power of the stones that helped align the wheels of the car to land safely on the opposite side of the gap in the tracks or kept the heroes firmly planted to the slats of the bridge as they tried to escape Mola Ram.

I just really needed to address that Starlog article and move on with my life. And of course I got a head start on this in regard to anything still nagging at my mind specific to the podcast recording. I would hate to have to address the rest of this stuff decades later in a completely unrelated forum!

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