Even though Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was a huge financial success, the controversy and mixed reception surrounding it made director Steven Spielberg feel guilty. After the mixed reception, Spielberg decided to complete the trilogy, not just to fulfill his promise of an Indiana Jones trilogy to his friend George Lucas, but “to apologize for the second one.” They both wanted to revitalize the series by bringing back the more optimistic feel of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Also due to Spielberg’s commitment to completing the trilogy, he dropped out of directing both “Big” and “Rain Man”.
Fun fact – Big was co-written by Steven’s sister, Anne Spielberg.
Lucas first suggested a “haunted mansion movie”, for which Romancing the Stone writer Diane Thomas wrote a script. Spielberg rejected the idea however, because it was too similar to “Poltergeist”, which he co-wrote and produced. Lucas then suggested the Holy Grail as an idea for the film’s prologue, to be set in Scotland. He intended the grail to have a Pagan basis, with the rest of the movie revolving around a separate Christian artifact. At first Spielberg didn’t care for the Grail idea. Lucas then completed an eight-page treatment titled Indiana Jones and the Monkey King, where Indiana Jones would battle a ghost in Scotland before finding the Fountain of Youth in Africa.
Writer Chris Columbus, who previously worked with Spielberg on Gremlins, The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes, was hired to write the script. His first draft, back in May of 1985, changed the main plot device to the Garden of Immortal Peaches. It would begin with Indiana battling the murderous ghost of Baron Seamus Seagrove in Scotland, and he’d later travel to Mozambique to aide Dr. Clare Clarke, who found a 200-year-old in Africa. The African would then be capture by the Nazis in a boat chase. In the script, Indiana would also die in the climactic battle, but the Monkey King resurrected him. Some of the characters in that script include a Nazi Sergeant with a mechanical arm, a stowaway student who is suicidal in love with Indiana, and a pirate who dies eating a peach because he’s not pure of heart.
That sounds like an absolutely bizarre movie. They eventually scrapped the Monkey King idea, not only because of its potentially controversial portrayal of Africans, but the script became way too unrealistic. The Monkey King script eventually leaked to the internet in 1997, and some people mistook it for an early draft for a fourth film, as the script was dated to 1995 by mistake.
Spielberg suggested introducing Indiana’s father, Henry Jones Sr. Lucas didn’t like the idea at first, thinking the Grail should be the main focus, but Spielberg convinced him that the father-son relationship worked as a brilliant metaphor for Indiana’s search for the Grail. Spielberg hired Menno Meyjes to write the script, having worked with him on “The Color Purple” and “Empire of the Sun”. Some of the early drafts include Indiana ascending to heaven after he finds the grail, and another one where he fought a demon at the Grail sight, defeating him with a dagger reading “God is King”. Both of his early drafts included a prologue with Indiana battling for Montezuma’s death mask in Mexico.
Spielberg then hired Jeffrey Boam for the next rewrite. Boam spent several weeks reworking the story with Lucas, which ended up with a treatment very similar to the final film. It was Boam’s suggestion that Indiana actually loses the artifact at the end of the movie, and that his father-son relationship would be the main point. He pushed for Indiana to get more character development than the first two films. Sean Connery, who plays Henry Jones Sr., helped add a lot of the movie’s comedy to the script, and he also suggested the prologue that made it into the final film.
On that note, part of the reason they hired Connery was because Indiana Jones was kind-of created to be a “better James Bond”. They wanted Connery to tie into that legacy. On that front, there’s only a 12 year age gap between Connery and Ford, despite playing father and son on-screen.
All of these rewrites eventually delayed the movie a full year. Instead of the usual 3-year-gap between George Lucas movies, The Last Crusade released in 1989, 4 years after The Temple of Doom. Filming locations include the Tabernas Desert in Spain, Arches National Park in Utah (United States), Bürresheim Castle near Mayen, in what was then West Germany, and Venice, Italy.
I actually went to the church seen in the movie in Venice when my family visited Italy in 2012. At least at the time, the building was being used as an art gallery. It looks completely different on the inside than the library in the movie, which was actually a set in London, England. That was also the year I started growing a moustache.
As for the temple built out of a canyon in the movie, that’s a real temple in Petra, Jordan, believed to have existed for nearly 2000 years. This movie made the ancient city again, increasing their annual tourists from hundreds to millions. Although after years of the inside being worn out by thousands of tourists a day, nobody’s allowed inside anymore.
Also, the tank seen in the movie was actually custom built for the movie, based loosely on the Tank Mark VIII, which was co-built by the Americans and the British to solve some of the mechanical faults with the earlier tanks in World War 1. That tank was planned to be used in an offensive in 1919, but only a few of them were even built before the war ended on November 11, 1918.
The movie’s prologue also refers to a number of events in the creators’ lives. When Indiana cracks a whip at the lion to defend himself, he accidentally scars his chin. Ford’s chin scar happened in a car accident when he was young. Indiana taking his name from his pet dog is a reference to the character being named after Lucas’s dog. The train carriage named “Doctor Fantasy’s Magic Caboose” is named after Executive Producer Frank Marshall’s magician stage name. That scene with the magic box with a false bottom was done in one uninterrupted shot.
Other new cast members include Alison Doody as Elsa Schnieder, an Austrian art professor who works with Indiana, but is in league with the Nazis. You’ve got Julian Glover as an American businessman and antiques collector who sends Jones on his quest to find the grail. Michael Byrne portrays Ernst Bogel, a brutal SS colonel. There’s also Kervork Malikyan as Kazim, the leader of a brotherhood dedicated to protecting the Holy Grail. Malikyan wanted to audition for the role of Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but a traffic jam delayed his meeting with Spielberg. On that note, John Rhys-Davies returns as Sallah, and Denholm Elliot returns as Marcus Brody, a colleague of Indy’s whose role is greatly expanded in this movie.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was a major success, earning $474 million worldwide on a $48 million budget. Despite heavy competition from Tim Burton’s Batman, The Last Crusade became the highest grossing movie worldwide in 1989, breaking records in France by selling one million admissions within two and a half weeks, and breaking the 7-day box office record domestically. It’s Opening weekend Saturday gross of $11 million made it the first movie ever to earn over $10 million in one day.
It also received mostly positive reviews. The Rolling Stone called it “the wildest and wittiest Indy of them all.” Roger Ebert particularly enjoyed the prologue with Indiana as a Boy Scout, comparing it to the “style of illustration that appeared in the boys’ adventure magazines of the 1940’s”. The BBC praised the action, but said that the drama and comedy between the father and son was more memorable. Variety said in their review, “Cartoonlike Nazi villains of Raiders have been replaced by more genuinely frightening Nazis led by Julian Glover and Michael Byrne.” They also found the moment where Indy meets Hitler “chilling”. A handful of magazines panned the movie though, including The New Republic and The Village Voice. The Washington Post actually reviewed the movie twice – the first panned the movie, and the second praised it.
The movie won the Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing, and also received nominations for Best Original Score and Best Sound (losing to “The Little Mermaid: and “Glory” respectively).
I love this movie. This was actually the first Indiana Jones movie I saw, at my babysitter’s house almost a year before I saw the other two. You could make the argument that Raiders of the Lost Ark is overall the better of the two, but The Last Crusade is the most entertaining entry in the series. It’s full of brilliant comedy, especially once Indiana reunites with his father. Despite their dysfunctional relationship and very different levels of experience with people trying to kill them, they work instinctively well together. It’s also very convincing how they repair their relationship by the end, and they both realize how important they are to each other.
This movie also features by far the best action scene in the series – the tank battle in the desert. Considering all four movies have at least one great action scene, that’s saying a lot. Even with the sillier fight scenes like the boat chase in Venice and the train scene in the prologue, there’s still a sense of danger. You didn’t always get that in every action scene from the first two entries. This movie is also loaded with brilliant scenery, top-notch special effects and overall good cinematography.
On that note, the motorcycle chase was added after test screenings. Apparently the original version was too dialogue heavy.
The acting is top-notch across the board. Harrison Ford shows a more emotionally venerable Indy than we’ve seen before, and Connery gives what is up there with his most well-rounded performances of his career. Doody is fun as the Austrian researcher, convincing in the way she seduces Indiana early on, yet you still buy that she cares about the Jones boys on some level.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is my favourite movie in this series. Raiders of the Lost Ark is arguably the better movie with a more even tone, but The Last Crusade is just so much fun. It also delves deeper into the title character. Despite being the first movie in the series to be rated PG-13 (that rating famously didn’t exist when Temple of Doom released), it happens to be the tamest of the first three movies. This is an easy recommendation for fans of adventure movies.
Sometime later this week, we’ll conclude with the very polarizing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Then next month, I’ll be watching a handful of classic Christmas movies that I’ve never seen before.