HOLLYWOOD, 1981.  My girlfriend told me that she wanted to me to take her to Grauman’s Chinese Theater to see some movie starring Harrison Ford about the search for the lost ark.  Well, I certainly liked Ford as Han Solo, but I wasn’t all that interested in seeing another In Search of Noah’s Ark film. I hadn’t read anything about this movie in Starlog or any of the other film magazines I read, but what the heck.  It was cool driving down to the Chinese theater, and if my girlfriend wanted to see some biblical docudrama, I was willing to indulge here.


The lights went down in the theater, and we were trudging through a South American jungle.  Sinister carvings.  Poison darts.  Treachery.  Whips.  Spiders.  Traps.  Treasure.  This wasn’t sword and sorcery, but it was the closest thing to the Dungeons & Dragons games we played with our friends on the weekends that I have yet to experience in the cinema.  And then that giant ball rolled down and off the screen, bowling me over.  It was the greatest adventure film I had ever seen, and it took me completely by surprise.


So taken was I with the Indiana Jones character, that I showed up at my girlfriend’s door the next time I saw her, wearing a leather jacket, fedora, and stubble on my face.  (The girlfriend was so impressed with the beard that I never shaved it off, although now I shape it into a goatee).  Raiders of the Ark was so popular with so many people, that it continued to play in some nearby movie theater for the next year, and I went back to watch it many times.  When Raiders came out on VHS, it became the primary selling tool for VCR’s, and of course, I bought both the machine and the tape so that I could watch Indy battle the Nazi’s at home.


WESTWOOD, 1984.  My friends and I had gathered at a theater near the UCLA campus to see the first midnight screening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  A secretary at my work had actually seen it before me at an industry screening, and told me that a dinner scene featuring “snake surprise” would be a cinematic classic, but the film’s ending made her feel like she had been beaten over the head for the last half hour.  Well, I had the opposite impression.  I loved the opening, which made me think of “James Bond, as directed by Alfred Hitchcock”, as well as the interaction between Indy and Short Round, and I loved the action of the mine car chase and the suspension bridge suspense, but I was bored with the middle.  It was an enjoyable film, to be sure, but not the adventure masterpiece that Raiders was.


When we came out of the theater, I was surprised to hear that one of my friends – an ex-girlfriend, to be exact, whose preference in fantasy was unicorns and rainbows – was completely freaked out by the scene of Mola Ram removing a sacrificial victim’s heart and almost had to leave the theater herself.  I shook my head at her faint heartedness, but later learned that many movie-goers were similarly turned off by the film’s graphic scenes (“What were they expecting?  The Temple of Flowers?” a crewmember asked in a newspaper interview), and the controversy caused the MPAA to create a new rating between PG and R: PG-13.   Spielberg said that he would direct a third Indy film “to apologize for this one.”


WOODLAND HILLS, 1989.  I was so excited to see the third film in the Indiana Jones series – I thought the idea of casting of “James Bond” to play Indy’s father was brilliant – that I made my current girlfriend watch the two previous films with me before going out to see Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade.  My girlfriend, who was what my geek friends at the time called a “mundane” and who rolled her eyes at the miniature Millennium Falcon I carried on my keychain, said she never heard of watching a movie before seeing a movie.  I told her that I did it all the time.


We went to a neighborhood multiplex near where I lived to see Last Crusade.  I liked it particularly for the interaction between Indy and his father, although I thought that too many scenes were a retread of ones from Raiders, and I absolutely hated how Marcus and Sallah had been turned into comic relief.  Still, my love for Indy himself was untarnished.


VALENCIA, 2008.  My wife and kids took me to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls for Father’s Day, knowing how much I was looking forward to seeing the film.  I had, of course, introduced the kids to Indiana Jones on DVD, and I suspect that even my wife had an interest in seeing it herself.


We went to the local Edward’s Cinema, which actually is a very nice venue for seeing films, although it is no Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  We don’t often go out to the movies – not with the expense of buying tickets and snacks for four – and even then, we wait to see a matinee performance during a film’s second or third week of release to avoid the crowds.  But the timing worked out for seeing this movie, and I couldn’t think of receiving a better Father’s Day present.


I had read all the reviews of Indiana Jones that came out when the film was first released – the consensus was that while it was no Raiders, it was a worthy sequel.  But I still wondered whether I would experience the same thrill seeing an Indiana Jones movie as I did nineteen years ago.  After all, the entire experience seemed to diminish with each Indiana Jones sequel.


I also wondered whether Spielberg and Lucas still grasped what made the Indiana Jones films so wonderful.  Everyone agrees that George Lucas lost sight of what made the Star Wars films great when he made the prequels – although Lucas claimed that the change of tone was intentional: the original trilogy was supposed to be about the “kids”, giddy and light-hearted, while the prequel trilogy was supposed to be about the “adults”, serious and sober.  Well, I was now an adult – would I still be giddy about Indiana Jones?  Had my own tastes changed?


The lights went out, and we were in the Nevada desert.  I smiled when I saw the kids in the jalopy playing Elvis Presley on the radio – it made me think of Lucas’ American Graffiti.  And when the caravan turned down the long road, I was vaguely reminded of the road in the advertising for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  I felt hope that Lucas and Spielbeg had tapped into their younger selves.


But I tried as I might to enjoy the scenes at Area 51 – I did like the idea of this new Indy movie playing homage to the sci-fi films of the 1950’s – I just couldn’t get into it.  The action wasn’t as frenetic as it was in the previous films.  The dialogue wasn’t as witty.  The music was a rehash of previous soundtracks – there was no new theme to enjoy.  And then all the exposition!  Indy talked and talked and talked and talked – with only a little action throughout much of the first half of the film.  Harrison Ford was fine – his voice was a little gruffer than the Indy I remembered, but he looked and acted the part.  No, the problem was Lucas and Spielberg.  They lost sight of the magic of Indy.


Then Indy and Mutt were captured and taken to South America, where Marion rejoined Indy with her million megawatt smile, and there was an exciting chase scene through the jungle, and the most amazing and thrilling scene with killer ants.  When Harrison picked up his hat from the anthill and put it on, I wanted to cheer – Indy was back!  And Lucas and Speilberg had found the magic again.  After that, I enjoyed the rest of the film as a good old fashioned Indiana Jones adventure, even with the X-Files ending.


As we walked out of the movie theater, I asked my ten-year-old if he liked the movie.  Yes, even more than Iron Man.  My older son said he liked it too.  I smiled… these kids were definitely mine.  I asked my wife if she would like seeing an Indiana Jones film starring Shia as Mutt Williams.  Well, she said, the younger kids probably would.  Hmm, I’ll try to keep an open mind about that, although I’m not any more ready to pass the fedora on to Mutt than Indy was at the end of the film.


Oh, and a personal note to my wife.  All those old girlfriends I mentioned in the first half of the article… they all had the same problem – they weren’t you, honey.

Be seeing ewe.

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