Indiana Jones: Top 20 Moments
Scott McKenzie picks out his favourite moments from the original Indy movies
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Let's not muck about: Raiders is the best of the bunch. It has a perfect balance of action and comedy, but the critical success factor is surely Harrison Ford. Indiana Jones is the type of person Han Solo would be if he had a doctorate—intelligent and thrill-seeking—which makes him a character that appeals to pretty much everyone. It's well documented that he wasn't the first choice for the role, but can you seriously imagine Tom Selleck as Indy? I could easily have picked out twenty top moments from this movie alone but in the interest of balancing out this article I've attempted to split them evenly across the movies.
1. Leg it!
The perfect opening to a perfect action movie. As Indy inches his way into the caves, the suspense builds along with the severity of the booby traps he has to overcome. Often imitated and referenced but never bettered, Indy's narrow escape from a massive rolling boulder sets the tone for the rest of the series. His failed attempt to grab the statue without setting off the traps also shows us a man who can't always rely on his intellect to get past the obstacles in his way.
2. Toht's ouch #1
Poor old Toht. He might be a Nazi but he really gets the wrong end of the stick injury-wise. He already walks with a limp and following the introduction of Marion Ravenwood he attempts to retrieve a headpiece that belonged to her father. Predictably the showdown doesn't end well, with Marion's bar going up in flames, leaving her no choice but to tag along with Indy, who recovers the headpiece after Toht gets an imprint of it burned into his hand.
3. Indy vs. the swordsman
George Lucas may have fiddled with Star Wars so much that he reduced Han Solo to the type of wuss that waits for the bad guy to shoot first, but there's never any doubt about Indy's ruthlessness. Of course, it's well-known that a long fight scene had been scripted, but with Harrison Ford suffering from dysentery, he came up with a shorter solution that would allow him to quickly get back into his trailer. He may not have enjoyed it at the time, but Ford's bout of the squits and the look of sheer desperation on his face resulted in one of the series' funniest moments.
4. ‘Their staff's too long’
In Raiders and Last Crusade Indy starts off on a trail to beat those evil Nazis to an artefact of religious significance. The path is never easy, with many puzzles to solve along the way so it's up to him to outsmart the bad guys and get to the treasure first. This is the scene where the pieces start to fall into place and Doctor Jones gets a head start in the search for the Ark of the Covenant.
Who would have thought that our hero could be such a scaredy-cat? Up to this point we've had nothing but heroics and derring-do from Indy, but when he's thrown into the Well of Souls we're introduced to a new side of him, one with a phobia of snakes. Tapping into the fears of the audience, we're encouraged to empathise with Indy even more and we'll never forget this character trait that comes back to haunt him again in the series.
6. Toht's ouch #2
Occasional moments of genuine horror give the Indiana Jones series an edge that wannabe-Indy movies like National Treasure lack. Probably the most memorable of all of these moments is when the Nazis buy it in the stickiest way. The melting head shots look quite primitive by today's CGI standards, but back in the 80s I can remember this being a true 'eeewww' moment. With Spielberg stating that he wanted to keep digital effects to a minimum in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I wonder if we have more of this kind of quaintly horrific effect to look forward to.
7. Closing shot
With the Nazis all melted away and the Ark of the Covenant safely under lock and key, this is the shot that really gave audiences an idea of the potential of the Indiana Jones movies. If the Ark can be packed into a crate and hidden away among thousands of others, how many more treasures are locked away in that warehouse? It's a very effective closing shot, hinting that there's more to come, and was obviously taken as inspiration for the closing shot of the pilot episode of The X-Files.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Temple of Doom can get a bit of a bad rap from time to time, whether it's because of the darker tone of ritual sacrifice and enslaved children, or the inclusion of the kid-friendly Scrappy-Doo, erm... I mean Short Round. As Gabe stated in his review of the trilogy, it also has very few ties to the other two movies and even though it's a prequel to Raiders, Indy's motivation of 'fortune and glory' is even more akin to Han Solo than Doctor Jones. That aside, there are still many moments that contribute to making Temple of Doom an exciting movie, even if it isn't the best-loved entry in the series.
8. The antidote/diamond farce
With Kate Capshaw's song and dance routine (that looks like it takes place backstage where no one in the restaurant can see it) out of the way, we join Indy for the obligatory opening action sequence. After he drinks champagne laced with poison and the death of his partner (who Short Round never seems to mourn, even though he must have known him), Indy chases after the antidote and Capshaw's Willie Scott chases after the diamond Indy was trying to get his hands on. It's all a little bit Carry On and there seems to be hundreds of people running around without ever getting anywhere, but the action is pure Indiana Jones and the scene ends with a cameo appearance from Dan Aykroyd and a great pay-off as they board their getaway plane.
9. Dinner at the palace
Another slight Carry On type moment but this scene is a perfect exercise in escalation. As Indy's conversation with the royal advisor becomes heated, Short Round and Willie's disgust grows as more and more stomach-churning dishes are brought to the dinner table. Even though from the outside everything appears fine, with the serving of eyeball soup and chilled monkey brains we're encouraged to think that all is not well at the palace.
10. Hat not optional
The genuine excitement of the scene comes before this blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, with Indy and Short Round trapped inside a chamber where the roof is falling in on them. However, when Indy reaches under the closing door to grab his hat, risking losing his arm in the process, it's a moment of classic comedy action that would never happen in the real world and is all the more entertaining for it.
To achieve a PG rating (rather than 15) in the UK, just over a minute of footage was trimmed from the original theatrical version upon its release. Once of the major cuts was during this scene, where Mola Ram rips the heart out of his sacrificial victim and lowers him into a pit of molten lava. Temple of Doom may contain some of the broadest humour in the series, but it also contains some of the most horrific moments.
12. Evil Indy
Superhero franchises usually wait until the third instalment until giving the audience an evil version of the central character, but in just the second Indy movie we see what happens when Doctor Jones drinks a potion and enters the 'black sleep of Kali Ma'. We all know he's going to snap out of it eventually (remember, this is a prequel to Raiders) but the combination of a bad good guy and a damsel in distress make this one of the key moments of the movie. Not sure why Mola Ram bottled it instead of ripping Willie's heart out though...
13. Mine car chase
Ah, the scene that inspired a rollercoaster at every theme park around the world. For those who aren't massive Indiana Jones fans and don't know their Temple of Doom from their Last Crusade, all you need to do is say 'it's the one with the mine car chase'. 'Ah yes, of course' will be the reply. The blue screen work looks a little dodgy to twenty-first century eyes but thankfully Willie takes a back seat and can any other action sequence in the series compare for pure entertainment?
14. ‘Hold on lady, we're going for a ride’
Looking back at Temple of Doom, there are plenty of great moments and many of them are pretty brutal, not least the final showdown with Mola Ram and his buddies on the rope bridge. This is classic adventure-serial action, only with a budget large enough to realise the director's vision. Who would have thought it was co-written by the same guy who directed Howard the Duck? Short Round and Willie may not have fallen to their death, but you can breathe a sigh of relief—it's the last time you'll see them (unless Mr Spielberg puts his missus in the mooted Indy V of course...).
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Whether or not Spielberg and Lucas had intended Last Crusade to be the final chapter in the series, the third part of the original trilogy definitely has an air of introspection and finality about it. With themes of life and death, we also learn out about what made Indy the way he is and then there's the introduction of a certain Henry Jones Senior...
15. The birth of Indy
It may be one of the most contrived sequences in the whole series, but it is still essential to understand what made Indy the way he is and it's one of my favourite moments across all three movies. If you wanted to know where Indy got his name, his dress sense and fear of snakes from, it's all here. In a very nice touch, we're also shown where the boy who grows up to be Harrison Ford got the scar on his chin.
16. Rats and a flammable sewer
Coming soon after one of the lesser comedic moments in the movie, the sequence in the sewer with bad-girl-to-be Doctor Schneider is everything that we love about Indy movies. Ancient artefacts? Check. Bad guys on their tail? Check. Claustrophobic conditions and swarms of beasties? Check and check. Originality isn't the order of the day where this scene is concerned, but it's the first time Harrison Ford's Indy gets his hands dirty on the trail that will lead him to...
17. Joneses junior and senior
... his father. In an inspired piece of casting, Sean Connery (just twelve years older than Harrison Ford) is a welcome addition to the series as Henry Jones Senior. There are many verbal toings and froings between the Joneses but I've picked out this moment at a physical and metaphorical crossroads as the pick of the bunch. Incidentally, the relationship with Short Round aside, this is the first time Spielberg touched on the theme of father-son relationships in this series, which is a strong motif in almost all of his movies, going right back to Jaws.
18. Farewell, Indy
Given that the Indiana Jones movies were based on the cliff-hanger serials of the 1930s, it makes sense to give a nod to a moment where our hero seems to go over the end of a cliff, only to come back from the dead. The sight of Indy stumbling into his own impromptu wake is both funny and moving, with his father offering some sentiment of reconciliation. From a film appreciation perspective, widesceen also allows Spielberg to frame four great actors (and favourites of the series) all on screen at the same time.
19. Penitent men pray
After literally seeing Nazi heads roll, Indy is given all the reason he needs to venture into the caves when his father is shot and faces death unless he can be revived by drinking from the Holy Grail. To get to the Grail, Indy must get past three traps but he has the one thing the Nazis didn't—his father's diary. One thing always troubles me about this scene though—penitent may pray, but when did they have to do forward rolls to get out of the way of spinning blades as well?
20. Riding off into the sunset
And so the saga ends... for nineteen years at least. In an homage to the great Westerns, the Joneses, Sallah and Brody all ride off into the sunset, drawing the curtain on a great series of adventure movies that have seen many pretenders down the years but never any true challengers. Maybe it was intentional or not, but looking back at the closing shot of Last Crusade you expect to see 'The End' written across the screen, but it never appears. Maybe a fourth part in the saga was part of the plan all along.
Editorial by Scott McKenzie
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