To say that Paramount’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” may be the best film ever made for 12-year-olds is not a backhanded compliment. What was conceived as a child’s dream of a Saturday matinee serial has evolved into a moving excursion into religious myth.
More cerebral than the first two Indiana Jones films, and less schmaltzy than the second, this literate adventure should make big bucks by entertaining and enlightening kids and adults alike.
The Harrison Ford-Sean Connery father-and-son team gives “Last Crusade” unexpected emotional depth, reminding us that real film magic is not in special effects.
For Lucas and Spielberg, who are now entering middle age, the fact that this is more a character film than f/x extravaganza could signal a welcome new level of ambition.
Jeffrey Boam’s witty and laconic screenplay, based on a story by Lucas and Menno Meyjes, takes Ford and Connery on a quest for a prize bigger than the Lost Ark of the Covenant – the Holy Grail.
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Connery is a medieval lit prof with strong religious convictions who has spent his life assembling clues to the grail’s whereabouts. Father and more intrepid archaeologist son piece them together in an around-the-world adventure, leading to a touching and mystical finale that echoes “Star Wars” and “Lost Horizon.” The love between father and son transcends even the quest for the Grail, which is guarded by a spectral 700-year-old knight beautifully played by Robert Eddison.
This film minimizes the formulaic love interest, giving newcomer Alison Doody an effectively sinuous but decidedly secondary role. The principal love story is between father and son, making Ford’s casually sadistic personality more sympathetic than in the previous pics.
The relationship between the men is full of tension, manifesting itself in Connery’s amusing sexual one-upmanship and his string of patronizing putdowns.
There’s also a warmth and growing respect between them that makes this one of the most pleasing screen pairings since Newman met Redford.
Connery confidently plays his aging character as slightly daft and fuzzy-minded, without blunting his forcefulness and without sacrificing his sexual charisma.
The cartoonlike Nazi villains of “Raiders” have been replaced by more genuinely frightening Nazis led by Julian Glover and Michael Byrne. Most of the film takes place in 1938, and Spielberg stages a chilling scene at a Nazi book-burning rally in Berlin, where Ford has a brief encounter with Adolf Hitler.
But exec producers Lucas and Frank Marshall, producer Robert Watts and Spielberg do not neglect the action set-pieces that give these films their commercial cachet.
There’s the opening chase on top of a train in the Utah desert, involving a youthful Indy (River Phoenix) in 1912; a ferocious tank battle in the desert; a ghastly scene with hundreds of rats in a Venice catacomb; some aerial hijinks with a zeppelin and small planes, and many more outlandish scenes.
Perhaps the film’s most impressive technical aspect is the soundtrack, designed by Ben Burtt. While the noise level sometimes becomes painful, the artistry is stunning.
Douglas Slocombe’s lensing has a subtly burnished look, and Elliott Scott’s production design is always spectacular.
The Industrial Light & Magic visual effects–supervised by Michael J. McAlister with Patricia Blau producing for the aerial unit–are artful and seamless.
John Williams’ score again is a major factor in the appeal and pacing, and editor Michael Kahn makes the film move like a bullet. Other tech contributions are impeccable.
This is a film of which Lucas and Spielberg and their collaborators long will be proud.
1989: Best Sound Effects Editing.
Nomination: Best Original Score, Sound