Keeping Up With The Joneses, Part 1: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Harrison Ford in

Athena ScalziIn case you didn’t know, there’s a new Indiana Jones movie coming out at the end of this month called The Dial of Destiny. I keep seeing trailers for it, and I expect it to be a big hit summer movie, so I thought I should go see it. But before I do that, I knew I needed to actually see the other four first, since I never have before. Last week, I sat down and watched Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time, and I’m here to report that I did not like it.

I know, I know, sacrilegious. Let me explain.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is an action movie that is jam-packed with fight scenes, chase scenes, and overall tons of action scenes, yet I found the movie boring and couldn’t really get into it. I paused it halfway through and sighed because I still had so much to go. It was a slog to get through.

Other than it being kind of boring, I’m not a fan of the premise overall. For example, the opening scene is of Indiana stealing an artifact from a temple in order to bring it back to America and put it in a museum. That’s just not really like, good, you know? And sure, maybe it’s “a movie of its time,” but that aspect definitely doesn’t age well.

Karen Black in

Another aspect that doesn’t age well (and probably should’ve been more of an issue at the time) is the past relationship between Marion and Indiana. Some of the first words spoken between them in the movie is “I was a child. I was in love. It was wrong and you knew it!” to which Indiana replies “You knew what you were doing.”


I want you to read that again. My literal reaction was “HUH?” Turns out, Marion was FIFTEEN when she was with Indiana in the past. And maybe you’re thinking, okay well maybe he was like eighteen or something. HE’S TEN YEARS OLDER THAN HER. He was almost twenty-five and was WITH A FIFTEEN YEAR OLD. “Oh, it’s of its time,” yeah, well, maybe this time was a little fucked up!

Not only that, but for Indiana to say “you knew what you were doing.” BRO YOU FUCKED A CHILD AND NOW YOU’RE BLAMING HER FOR IT. Anyways, awful stuff, moving on.

Let’s talk instead about how they did a fake-out death for Marion. I’m not a hater when it comes to fake-out deaths. I think they’re a perfectly mediocre, if not overdone, plot device. But at the time, it probably was much more interesting and much less overdone. My issue with the use of it in this movie lies in the explanation of it later on, when Indiana finds Marion alive.

He says, “they must have switched the baskets.”

That’s it? They must’ve switched the baskets? When?! How?! And most importantly, why?! What’s the reason they switched the baskets, when did they have an opportunity to, and how did they pull it off? Where’d they even get another basket so last minute?! That is some seriously lazy writing.

Speaking of lazy writing, how about that iconic line, “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” Yes, indeed, why were there snakes in there?! Yes, while I know they were getting into the “sealed tomb” from the wall that led to the outside or whatever, it doesn’t really explain why there would be any snakes in there in the first place. There’s no food or water in there! I can understand perhaps a snake or two roaming around, there’s just no reason for there to be like, a thousand of them down there all over each other like that. It just doesn’t make any sense!

Also, how convenient is it that the bad guys opened the box before giving it to Hitler? They really just took care of themselves without Indiana having to do anything. He didn’t prevent them from getting the box, he wasn’t going to prevent them from completing their mission, the only reason he “won” in the end was because they opened it while he was tied up. He did nothing! The conflict resolved itself without his intervention. He got so lucky.

I don’t know, this movie was just kind of a mess overall. So much happened, and yet it feels like nothing did. I didn’t enjoy watching it, and I don’t like Indiana as a character. I can see why a lot of people grew up loving it, and why it was cool at the time, but does it hold up? Not really.

We’ll see if the second one fares better.


69 Comments on “Keeping Up With The Joneses, Part 1: Raiders of the Lost Ark”

  1. Ms. Scalzi, I expect I am not going to be the first one to say this, but if Raiders of the Lost Ark didn’t do it for you, I expect you’re going to find Temple of Doom a yawn.

    (Though, if you DO like it better, that will be quite an interesting article and I expect a fresh take… who knows?)

  2. Did not like. Star Wars either. Saw both in the first week of release, been baffled every since.

    But both are throwbacks to the 30’s so that is the time of which they are of.

    Untangle that preposition.

  3. I have to agree… I expect you’ll be less than impressed going forward…

  4. Well…just a heads-up, if you didn’t like Raiders of the Lost Ark, then you’re REALLY not going to like what you see in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

  5. I don’t know what the hell they were thinking with her being fifteen. Ewwwwwwwwwww.

  6. Thank you for writing that, even with the Baleful Eye of Fandom likely to turn your way. I look forward to seeing what you think of the others.

  7. While I totally get and agree with your criticisms, for the most part (I tend to tolerate deus ex machina more than most), I saw ROTLA in the theater when it was brand new, and I was 22. It was glorious! I think you might have been bored because the kind of visual effects that are in that movie are in every damned TV show now. Back then, they were new, exciting, and, as I said, glorious!

  8. Yeah, none of the IJ movies aged well.

    Did I enjoy it at the time? Sure. Somewhat less so due to a friend who saw many more movies than me giving a literal blow by blow account. Who knew my parents were going to take me to see it?

    As for the elements you mentioned and more I agree they are seriously cringe. Dunno what to tell you but it never occurred to us at the time that museum artifacts were theft.

    The age thing? Eww, had no idea it was that large. Although to be fair I was a 13yr old boy at the time and neither math nor morals were exactly priorities of mine. (Sorry, 13 yr old boys are just gross.)

  9. The last one was horrible. I liked all of the others, particularly the first one. It was written to be like the serials of the 1940’s. I would recommend going back and watching some of those and then it will make more sense what they were doing and why it was dated (for a reason).

  10. On the snakes, I guess it wasn’t that sealed, and snakes brumate underground. Not sure if those types of snakes do it, or snakes at all in that part of the world do, but finding caves and other underground spaces full of snakes is surely the inspiration.

    On the age thing, yes it’s set in a time when that kind of thing happened, and yes, it was filmed at a time when that was less shocking, but it’s supposed to be inappropriate even for the time. The movie never actually comes out and says the ages, those come from the novelization.
    In Jurassic Park, the actor who played Dr Grant was 43 while Ellie’s actress was 23, and no one made note of it until later that he was almost twice her age. So even 1990 was “a different time”

  11. I love Raiders of the Lost Ark, but you make some good points for sure.

    George Lucas wanted Marion to be eleven. Steven Spielberg talked him into going up to fifteen. Ew.

    If you didn’t like Raiders, I don’t think you’re going to like Temple of Doom. It’s kind of a mess, and there’s one scene in it that I literally can’t watch because it’s so gross. This from a person who cheerfully watches autopsies on crime shows while eating dinner.

    The third one is really good, IMO. I enjoyed that one as well.

    The fourth one…yeah, no. I pretend that one doesn’t exist.

  12. Enjoyed this review. Thanks!

    The only input that I will suggest is that Indy never really was a moral good-guy to me. He’s funny and knowledgeable about archaeology, but morals has little to do with it.

    The actual appeal of these movies was the action, which was pretty exciting at the time. You’ve seen tons of it since, and done better. Indy did it on a big scale early on.

    Suggest going forward not to assume Indy is a good-guy hero. He’s very self-serving. He gets in scary, spooky situations and does anything to get out of them, and fairness or chivalry doesn’t matter. Not really a hero.

    That’s pretty much it.

  13. As Shannon says, the key thing to know about RAIDERS (and to some degree the sequels) is that it was made as an explicit homage to/revival of the old-school Saturday afternoon movie serials of the 1930s and ’40s – and because RAIDERS is the first in the series, it’s the closest of them all to the source material. What this means is that a lot of the stuff that looks like bad or lazy writing has probably been written that way deliberately because that was the way it was done in the original serials.

    This is most especially true of things like the basket switch and anything resembling a death trap – from the standpoint of the serials, the more over-the-top the threat, the better, regardless of how implausible the setup for it might be. This is also why the resolutions of old-school serial cliffhangers often had to cheat blatantly to get the heroes out of danger. The cliffhanger itself did such a good job of making death look inescapable that the beginning of the next episode often had to roll back the scene several beats in order to show how escape was achieved, generally by showing that the buildup in the prior week’s climax had made things look much dicier than they actually were.

    The serials also had their share of deus ex machina elements, not unlike that of RAIDERS’ ending – although it’s arguably also useful to look at this as an early instance of Spielberg invoking his Jewish heritage, whereby the holy power of the Ark overwhelms the Nazis attempting to use the artifact for evil ends.

    That said, you’re absolutely right to point out that the Indy/Marion relationship as described in the movie is indeed inappropriate as h*ll. If memory serves, I think that aspect of the movie actually did come in for at least some criticism when the film was originally released, and may be part of the reason we didn’t see Marion again until the fourth movie.


    Now then, observations on going forward: to date, the rule for the Indy franchise is that the odd-numbered films are the (relatively) good ones, whereas the even-numbered films are the sketchy ones. RAIDERS and GRAIL are stronger homages to the serials (and GRAIL has Sean Connery, which helps immensely) and better action movies overall. This is, you’ll note, exactly opposite the rule for original-cast STAR TREK movies, in which the odd-numbered films are the duds and the even-numbered are the winners.

    That said, for what I find a better execution of the overall premise, track down streaming reruns of the TV series RELIC HUNTER, starring Tia Carrere in the Indy role and Christien Anholt as her partner/UST object. Carrere’s character, Sydney Fox, is much better about returning the relics she finds to their rightful caretakers, and the relationship between the two leads is kept to an amusing simmer throughout.

  14. I admit to loving Raiders when it first came out, but agree with everything you point out being problematic (how did I miss Marion being 15? Ewww!)

    After reading reviews and people’s reactions, I decided to skip the second movie. I’m glad I did, and it didn’t at all impede my ability to enjoy the subsequent ones. So if you don’t like to watch really gross stuff, feel free to skip it.

  15. No, the movies don’t really hold up, although #3 is pretty good.

    The thing is, many of the story beats surprised and delighted audiences when the movie first came out. When the expert swordsman shows up in the marketplace and Indy just shoots him instead of having an elaborate fight, audiences roared with laughter. It was a signature moment that they brought back for later movies.

    Likewise, Indy finds Marion tied up in the tent and then doesn’t rescue her because it would ruin his mission, which was Not How Movies Were Done.

    And so on. The fight scenes were thrilling and inventive at the time and that whip seemed wildly esoteric. Plus, when it came out, some segment of the audience had seen the original serials as kids.

    The third movie is better. The fourth has Cate Blanchett but is otherwise busy and dull.

    Watching the second movie feels like drinking poison.

  16. Why torture yourself with this franchise? Life is short. Don’t spend 8 more hours with Indiana Jones. Try something new or something old. “I’m going to Pass on that.” can be freeing.

  17. I’ve read some commenters argue that Indy not being needed at the end was the point – it shows the power of God to protect the Ark of the Covenant without human aid. Not saying that this is my viewpoint though – it really is more of a serial-style movie.

    Temple of Doom truly sucks, but Last Crusade is worth a watch.

  18. Very good review, many excellent points. I did not like those movies either. The special effects were a big deal for that time, and that is about it.

  19. I liked the first and thought the rest were ok but keep in mind that I’ve not seen the Raider in thirty years. And the others I only watched once.

    Over at File 770, we have the concept of the Suck Fairy who visits works we liked a long time ago but haven’t read or watched in that time. I suspect it might get the disapproval of the Suck Fairy if I watched it now.

  20. “We’ll see if the second one fares better.”

    I’m so sorry for what’s about to happen.


  21. I saw the first movie shortly after it was released and enjoyed it. The special effects were good for the early 80s. I did not realize Marion was so young.

    Hated Temple of Doom especially the Kate Capshaw character who spent most of the movie screaming.

    Third movie with Sean Connery was better.

    For me, none of these movies have aged well.

  22. Ok. As an archaeologist (my specialties are Bronze Age Greece & animal bone analysis, if you are interested), my reaction every time Indy says “that belongs in a museum” was, “in it’s country of origin!”, so I hear you. But in the olden days, prior to the 60’s & 70’s or so, that was not so much a thing. There was a museum in Egypt where some excavated artifacts went, set up by the French & British. If you are interested, I recommend Barbara Mertz’s Temples, Tombs & Hieroglyphs, 2nd edition.
    But here’s my question, if you dislike Indiana Jones so much, why do you want to watch the rest? Given your issues with I, they don’t get any better.
    My big issue with the films is that every site Indy visits ends up destroyed by the time he leaves. Every time he arrives at a wonderful site I cringe, just waiting for the inevitable destruction. I could barely watch as Petra fell apart behind him.

  23. Explanations not even pretending to be excuses:

    Jones was supposed to say a lot more than “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”, very much like he was supposed to engage in an epic sword fight instead of shooting the guy. But Harrison Ford was suffering from dysentary and its aftermath, so they did what they could while they had the locations.

    Marion’s age… creeps me out (especially regarding an “academic professional”). Just about as much as Jerry Lee Lewis’s marital history; and, for that matter, Elvis’s marital history. Both of which, if I recall correctly, had been dredged up yet again right around the time this script would have been “polished”. Or maybe they were just riffing on Princess Leia (Luke’s younger sister) and Han Solo, which also involved Harrison Ford. OK, this is starting to get squickier.

    I will not make snide comments about the certain damage to a wooden propeller (sufficient to prevent the aircraft from taking off) — not to mention the driveshaft — from another cool screen moment. Oops, I just did…

    I found Weird Al’s daydream version at the beginning of UHF more credible than this film.

  24. Hmmm. I loved the Indiana Jones movies as a kid. I had posters of Harrison Ford on my wall as a teenager. I was all geared up to be offended when I started reading this. But…hm, yikes. You’re pointing out stuff I definitely didn’t remember. I haven’t watched those movies since the 90s. It’s probably best I don’t rewatch them as an adult. Definitely better to keep all that problematic mess glazed over with hazy nostalgia. Way too much stuff you love when you’re little doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when you’re older. Sad but not surprised this is of that ilk.

  25. You feel the way you feel about it because your generation has a lot more information than we did in the past. Also nobody paid much attention to the issue of artifacts in museums and grad students dating younger girls. Even when this film was made. Because there’s action and adventure and it was a fun movie to see in its day. Also I was a teenager and the finer points you discussed made zero impact on me. I suspect they won’t make such a film today though. The 5th installment will be highly neutered.

    This is not an excuse but Kevin above mentioned the characters from Jurassic Park and I suspect that was due to Ms Dern’s comments on the subject. And strangely she dated her co star Jeff Goldblum when she was 26 and he was 40. I once saw them at a restaurant in Houston shortly after that film was released. They were a couple I assure you.

    You will hate Temple of Doom, but you might like the Last Crusade. Maybe even the next one. And yeah Indy is a jerk and a cad and he does whatever he wants to get the prize. I don’t know why they continued making these films except Kathleen Kennedy wanted it.

  26. The original three films are cultural touchstones, so it’s probably worth seeing them even if they don’t hold up decades later. As others have noted, the purpose behind the films was very specifically to have something adventurous and energetic in the vein of earlier adventure films and serials. There is also a refreshing simplicity to the plot of Raiders that has it constantly moving forward with clear goals in contrast to a lot of modern filmmaking that drowns in its own plot holes and pointless twists.

    I very much doubt Athena will like Temple of Doom, but it has a few things that commend it: the cold opening is great, and Short Round is one of the few child characters in the genre who is actually fun to watch instead of annoying. It’s also unusual to have a story inspired by Hindu mythology (albeit no more accurate than the trilogy’s take on Jewish and Christian legend), and the Thuggee cult has an interesting historical background in its own right.

  27. Also I guess I’ll add, the 4th movie is so laughably bad I sometimes forget that it exists. When I say I used to love Indiana Jones I’m only talking about the first 3 (mostly The Last Crusade). The 4th one had me laughing all through the movie in the theater, not in a good way. I’m not very excited for the newest one because I have no faith it will be better than the Crystal Skull. They need to stop beating dead horses and come up with new content instead of dredging up old franchises that fit better in another time. I fully anticipate terribleness.

  28. I grew up with Indy, but I absolutely agree with your criticisms of it. The nostalgia comfort goggles allow me to enjoy it, whereas anyone new to it will not have that same emotional experience.

    As many others have said, if you didn’t like Raiders you are most likely NOT going to like Temple. Even the filmmakers have acknowledged that they made the woman sidekick/love interest-ish character absolutely terrible, and the cultural insensitivity issues are reeeeeeaaaaallllly bad.

    Crusade MIGHT work for you. It works for me because I identify strongly with the dysfunctional father/son dynamic, and because who doesn’t love punching Nazis? There’s a lot of christian stuff going on that I don’t love, but that’s part and parcel with the Maguffin, alas.

    I look forward to your write-up of Temple. If you disliked this one in this way it’s gonna be a lot of fun seeing just HOW MUCH Temple angers you!

  29. Nah, you’re just wrong.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, you’re allowed to have your opinion and it can definitely be anti-Indiana Jones. And also, thank you for pointing out the things you did.

    But, and this is the important part – don’t you think our generation, who watched these movies in the theater and “oohed” and “aahed” with every single scene DID NOT see the plot holes? We did not see the hokey points and the inappropriate relationships?

    You complete missed the point of the movie and you therefore going to HATE all the other Indiana Jones movies. The point of the movie, and all such movies is the MAGIC of the movie, the MAGIC of the ideas in it. The suspension of disbelief.

    I have noticed that your generation is very judgemental of every single point of every single thing they interact with. Hell, you can probably “tear” this write-up of mine up. But something has been lost. You read a book NOT to analyze it and dissect it a thousand ways, but to be transported to another place, to experience vicariously something different. The magic has been lost along the way. People no longer “believe” in what can be disproven with just a click of the mouse, or with just a google search.

    Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” But somewhere along the way, we lost something and everything must be dissected. If you cannot suspend your disbelief and allow yourself to be transported, what is even the point? Maybe I’m just different, because I like to suspend disbelief, I like to imagine, I like to travel elsewhere. In short, I like MAGIC.

    And maybe that’s the reason why my all time favorite movie is Terry Gilliam’s “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” It’s main theme (quoted from the Wikipedia page): “Sally asks, “It wasn’t just a story, was it?”” The point of the movie and the story being: “Most endearing about the film is the romanticism of Gilliam’s longstanding call for imagination. His entire picture maintains that, without fantasy and escape, the world is a very dull and mechanized and over-regimented place.” That’s why I also love “Time Bandits” and “Brazil.”

    This country and this world has lost its imagination, and we’re much poorer for it.

  30. If you disliked Raiders, I doubt you’ll love what comes next. I saw the film when it came out, and loved it. I’m 63.

    It is an homage to earlier adventure films, and it enjoys both the good and the bad of the director’s love for those old films.

    You’re right, culture has changed. A lot! From my place in the timeline, some change is good, some bad; some things seem not to change.

    I’d be surprised if a person your age enjoyed all popular films from forty years ago. I know I didn’t enjoy most movies from the forties and fifties when I was a teenager in the 70s.

    Plus, I could see the cultural flaws of my predecessors that were embedded in film with ease. Those who follow me, and you, will be able to do the same. I hope so, because so-called civilization has a long way to go—and we’re slipping.

    Thanks for helping me rethink a few things.

  31. Coming back in with a side comment:

    Specifically, on “I need to watch the first four movies before seeing Dial“:

    Maybe, maybe not. Just because of the long gap between movies, Dial has almost certainly been written to appeal equally to longtime fans and new viewers – and the writers are almost certainly aware of the ways in which the franchise hasn’t aged well.

    That said….

    For anyone who aspires to the art of reviewing for an audience (whether the subject is food, movies, live theater, genre fiction, or what-have-you), I submit that it’s important to watch/read/eat a certain amount of genuinely inferior stuff alongside the great stuff. That breadth of experience is important; the wider your range is, the better equipped you are to know why and how a given technique or point of craft works or doesn’t work in each new thing you encounter. There are practical limits to this; obvious works of hate speech, or food that you know will make you physically ill, need not be on the table. But the brain-work of taking a bad thing apart to work out what makes it bad? That’s useful, because later on it may well help you figure out why one small part of an otherwise brilliant thing is making your brain go sproing.

    We Whatever readers already know Athena to be a capable reviewer from her columns on restaurants and mail-order mystery boxes (and I, at least, would also be inclined to trust her literary and musical instincts to the extent we’ve seen them displayed here). Which is why I will also trust her instincts with regard to watching the rest of the Indy films and publishing the results. I think it’s a thoughtful idea and a good journeywoman’s exercise, even if it does involve a degree of discomfort (spoiler warning: Temple of Doom is the franchise’s experiment in how to most thoroughly gross out the viewer).

    But at the same time, I acknowledge that it’s her choice of exercise, and I wouldn’t blame her for concluding, on the basis of Raiders, that she’s seen enough of Indy to last her till Dial premieres.

  32. Several reviews back when it was released pointed out that Indy would have succeeded if he had done nothing. It was an early internet and Usenet meme.

    I enjoyed Raiders when it came out. I was in my twenties and wanted some brainless fun to escape from overwork. It delivered that. It was years later when watching it again that I started thinking about the stealing of the artifacts and the fact she was underage when they were first together. Like many movies it hasn’t aged well.

  33. I guarantee you are going to hate Temple of Doom. A lot, and I mean a LOT, of reviewers at the time were disturbed by the film for a myriad of reasons. Harlan Ellison in particular was appalled, and he wasn’t wrong.

    Good luck.

  34. In a contemporary Captain America comic Steve Rogers and Bernie Rosenthal are shown leaving a cinema where they have been watching Raiders. Steve too is less than impressed by Dr Jones’s moral standing.

    How did he survive the submarine crossing of the Med?

  35. I don’t think you should expect moral behavior in an action movie. In my experience action movies are about American or British men wantonly killing people and destroying property in far-away locations people in the US or UK don’t care about or are viewed as enemies at the time the movie is made.
    The take-away lesson is usually that violence solves any problem, and often much more questionable other points are added. F.i. that the US army is by definition a force for good, that veterans are always good people, that christians are superior, etc. One of the reasons people like Tarantino is the way he satirizes these tropes.

  36. Yes, if you didn’t like Raiders of the Lost Ark, it probably isn’t going to get any better.

    But one fundamental thing to understand about these films is that the main character is not a hero in the sense of being a role model. He’s the focal character, but also highly self-serving in a way that the script is aware of.

    In part, the story is precisely about his realisation that some issues do require a moral stand rather than a self-enriching one. He starts off thinking about his treasure hunts as a mere rivalry over possession, but keeping the Ark away from the Nazis becomes a genuine moral issue. And when it turns out to be capable of defending itself, that’s both humbling (as others have pointed out) and I think an implicit rejection of his take-it-and-it’s-mine attitude that bothered you at the beginning. He’s ultimately reduced to an observer, the surviving witness to an event that didn’t really need him at all.

    None of this means you need to like the film, of course. But audiences who accept Jones uncritically as an action hero or white-saviour figure are missing a good bit of the message.

  37. Having a degree in Anthropology, I agree with you about the stealing of artifacts. But, you must remember that stealing of artifacts is how many museums got their collections, especially the British Museum but also American and German museums as well. I grew up a fan (I was 15 with ROTLA came out) but I and many others feel that Temple of Doom is the weakest of the series (at least until Crystal Skull came out) so I doubt you will enjoy it, but I do hope you watch it as I look forward to reading your take on it.

  38. Side note: I’m pretty sure the cut for tv version eliminates the part where she’s 15 (which came as a shock as adults as well), though it’s possible it’s early enough in the beginning that it got missed flipping channel, since nobody ever watched the beginning of movies on tv.

    The tv cut also got rid of some really problematic parts of Goonies, as we discovered when we showed our oldest the dvd. At first we thought it was the suck fairy and then realized we’d only seen these repeatedly on tv.

  39. There was even a Big Bang Theory episode in which Amy proved to the guys that Jones’ heroics were unneccessary. I found the second one disgusting and the fourth one forgettable, but have watched the third one several times, as it touches on not only the chancy father-son dynamic but also issues of enlightenment. For all the old serial adventure stuff, the fact that Indy has to occasionally think about stuff other than the obvious treasure-hunting goal gives the series a little depth. I liked the comment above about the benefits of experiencing the not-so-good stuff.

  40. It has been some years since I watched the movie, so I really do not remember the romantic parts at all. So no comment on most of that. Although if I remember my youth correctly, when I was very young, it was still legal n Texas to marry at age fifteen. (I was born in 1953.) No, it doesn’t make it right, and it is scary how late certain behaviors in certain places were legal, even in the US.

    The part where Indiana steals/”liberates” a piece of antiquity for an American museum DOES age well. In the time this movie was set this is how archeologists often behaved. So, the action – which we rightfully decry today, and even many decried when the film was made – it FITS with the time the movie is set in. It would be unrealistic for Indiana to start moralizing ahead of his time and era.

    I am also fine with the bad guys wiping themselves out by opening up the crate themselves – something different from the usual trope of the hero and perhaps a sidekick performing all the positive actions, and I appreciated that.

  41. Good points, Athena. Yup, museums and colonized artifacts, not so much any more. And Indy and Marion–squick. At the time her age floated right past, but that was then. Thanks.

  42. Woo you got a lot of action on that one didn’t you. I’m not sure I have much hope of being heard among the noise but I want to answer anyway.

    You have no idea how much America (and the world) have changed in the last 40 years. And also keep in mind, the period depicted in the film is almost another 40 years before that.

    With respect to the 20-something-guy/15-year-old-girl relationship, America in 1981 was probably right on the cusp between treating that as a perfectly understandable thing and thinking of it as child sex abuse. In the 1930s, when the act supposedly happened, it would have been utterly unremarkable!

    (And parenthetically, about Harrison Ford and rapey leading guy roles, there was an item at that I can’t be bothered to chase down, dealing with him and Carrie Fisher in the first Star Wars movie, detailing for the 21st-century person just how awful post-WWII American pop culture was about teaching boys to grow up to be rapey guys.)

    Something similar about “it belongs in a museum.” Of course there was not a moment’s thought given to the ethics of that! Because that was the colonial world. Colonizers have rights (including to the loot of the colonized), but colonized people don’t.

    As for the snakes and the other plot holes, c’mon. The correct standard to apply is the comic book. The film is basically a live-action rendition of a comic book story.

  43. So first – not sacrilege! You’re allowed! “I didn’t like this movie even though everybody likes it” is totally valid! The annoying twerps are the ones who dislike a movie BECAUSE everybody else likes it.

    Second or thirding the folks who noted that the first movie was explicitly meant to be a revival of the old adventure serials. My dad, who did not love many movies, loved this one; when he was a kid, “going to the movies” meant you paid your quarter for an afternoon where you watched a newsreel, a couple of cartoons, and a chapter of an adventure serial that ended on a cliffhanger.

  44. I agree that ROTLA hasn’t aged well. Honestly, a lot of stuff I was really into as a kid in the late ’70s seems pretty cringy today. Charlie’s Angels? Battlestar Galactica? Oy. Not sure if you’ll like the next 3, though Holy Grail has some great scenes with Sean Connery, who refers to Indy as “Junior” throughout the movie, much to Indy’s annoyance–the reason why is actually pretty funny. That movie, too, though, is still laden with the great white hero tropes of the first two movies. As for Crystal Skull, unless there is something in that story absolutely necessary to the plot of the new movie, I’d skip it–as you can see from the comments above, it’s pretty uniformly regarded as awful.

  45. I graduated high school in 1977. Most of us knew it wasn’t ethical to just take one artifact without easy it in situ. Taking years to dig out the whole site.
    I didn’t pick up on the 15-25 age difference. I don’t think many of us did, but most of us in a small Missouri town would have disapproved. Unfortunately not all. A naive ninth grade classmate was seduced by a 23 year old guy

  46. seconding Todd Meyer above, you’re really gonna hate Temple of Doom. :D

    and agree 100% with the ‘of its time’ cringe factors. Movies aren’t like books, you can’t go back and remove the worst offenses as Agatha Christie’s literary heir is trying to do – but having just re-watched all four of these ourselves, I think an ‘oh by the way’ featurette would’ve been a great idea.

    Like, oh by the way: white archaeologists raiding historical sites all over the globe as a side-effect of colonialism was never okay, and it’s not okay now, and here’s some of the current controversy about post-colonial nations trying to get their historical & cultural treasures back.

  47. I love hearing a fresh perspective on movies from a younger generation. Looking forward to the next one!

  48. I always thought the explanation for the snakes was God/religion/magic.

  49. I love this so much!
    I was a teen at the time this came out and literally had no problems with all the things you mention here. Now I’m all, “What the freaking heck?!?!!” but then I was all, “Ain’t that just like a woman blaming the man. Indy is so right.” ???!?!?!!?!!? I must admit I assumed by “just a child” she meant like 20 or so. I had no idea she was FIFTEEN. But, tbh, I was about that same age at the time and had a crush on Indiana Jones so I don’t think I would have minded. How messed up is that?

    It also makes me think about everyone involved in the project. I mean…were they all paedophiles or what?

    Having said THAT, back in the day people were singing about sweet sixteen like they were adults so..yeah…maybe a product of its time. BUT STILL.

  50. Back around 1980, one of my college freshman students told me about her boyfriend who was four years older than her. No big deal, right? Then she mentioned that they had been in a “serious”–exact meaning not said–relationship for six years already. I tried not to comment, but I think my eyebrows perked up. Way up.

    One friend of mine, an emigre Iranian Jew who got out during the revolution, once casually talked about his aging older sister. THIRTY years older. FULL sister, no halvesies or other tricks. It seems his mother was 12 when she married his father, aged 32 or so. He also said that that sort of age difference was quite common in Iran at the time. (And his parents both lived until soon after their 60th wedding anniversary.)

  51. M.P. Andonee:

    “I have noticed that your generation is very judgemental of every single point of every single thing they interact with.”

    (stares at the comment in the context of the whole reply it’s attached to)

    (stares into the camera)

  52. To John Scalzi:


    (scratches head: “Am I missing something”?)

  53. To M.P. Andonee:

    He’s saying you’re doing the thing you’re accusing the current generation of doing which is being judgmental of every point of this movie review.

    And maybe people today do think harder about the movies and shows they watch. That’s a good thing! Even with movies I enjoy and feel the magic of I can still look at afterward and analyze critically what did and didn’t work. It heightens my enjoyment to think of what worked well and how to improve on what didn’t.

    I often forgive plot holes and bad writing in movies I enjoy but that doesn’t mean I didn’t notice them. But other aspects like the action or characters or setting did well enough to elevate my overall opinion. And sometimes I don’t like any of it and I think a movie sucks.

    I’m sure there are movies you don’t like that I like and vice versa. I wouldn’t conclude that you lack imagination or the ability to enjoy the magic of movies.

  54. @ M. P. Andonee:

    “(scratches head: “Am I missing something”?)”


    Because the strawman is blocking your view. Take a few steps back and to the side…

    … a few more (the strawman leans a little to the side, because it’s tall, but shoddily constructed)…

    … there. It ought to be clear now.

  55. I have found that looking back on some favorite movies many are not so great. There is a lot of pro-colonialist stuff in so many that, for example, I can no longer even like Out of Africa, to say nothing of the Indiana Jones films.

  56. I have found that looking back on some favorite movies many are not so great. There is a lot of pro-colonialist stuff in so many that, for example, I can no longer even like Out of Africa, to say nothing of the Indiana Jones films.
    I love the title of this post!

  57. … yikes. The fifteen-years-old thing makes me glad I only saw the edited-for-TV version (which does not include that).

    Maybe just watch The Last Crusade for the father/son and nazi-punching? Or call it a day on Indy-watching altogether? I get that there’s potential utility in getting the context for a work via a sea of mediocrity, but yes, the effects that were so impressive then, and the scenes that were edge-of-your-seat then are just… not especially that, now. And if you don’t find Indy amusing, then (other than seeing his dad bug him and seeing him get gulled at least once) there’s probably not much point in watching even the third one. (but there are still some really funny moments, including the library stamp.)

  58. Enjoyed your review! I was idly wondering if I should rewatch these movies and I think you’ve saved me hours of time! I thought they were just okay when they came out. Something to see on the weekend and then never think about ever again. Obviously I’ve been told by some of my generation … particularly the men … how completely wrong I was/am. : )

  59. Athena,

    I think the one thing you are missing is that this is meant to be an homage to the adventure films of the 30s. Much of the film only makes sense in that context. And many of the things you didn’t like, the tomb robbing, his relationship with Marion; all make sense when viewed through that lens. The whole film is really nothing more than a collection of the classic adventure film tropes set in a new story.

  60. And that’s the problem. At what point does an homage become tone-deaf and cringey? YMMV. For myself, I can still enjoy the series as a popcorn flick, while at the same time mentally calling out the problematic parts.

  61. I’ll join the chorus of people saying the series probably won’t be worth your time. It may be more interesting to investigate the pulp writing and early serials that inspired the movies.

    @M.P. Andonee – I think John was imitating Jim Halpert from The Office.

  62. Yeah, I didn’t like it either, even when it was new, and I recently rewatched it and didn’t like it any more.

    For me, the key is that halfway through this exciting action movie you bailed because you found it boring. How can an exciting action movie be boring? Simple. As I’m sure your father the novelist could explain, nonstop action gets tedious. You need changes in pace, pauses and accelerations, to keep it fun. Also, a more coherent plot would help.

  63. Athena, you seem to have tapped a hidden reservoir of people who either weren’t impressed by the ROTLA series originally, or decided later that it wasn’t to their liking for sundry reasons. I’m surprised by the number and variety of arguments as to why the movies aren’t worth it, and how strongly people feel this about a 40+ year old story arc. I guess I shouldn’t be; fans and anti-fans can be equally vehement.

  64. “Would you be more comfortable opening the Ark in Berlin – for your Fuhrer – finding out only then if the sacred pieces of the Covenant are inside? Knowing only then, whether you have accomplished your mission and obtained the one, true Ark?”

    This is why they opened it early. I’m sure Belloq also hoped he might be able to control the Ark himself once he did so, slaughter the Nazis, and double cross Hitler.

    I won’t claim much for the second, but the third is the best of the lot, not least because of Sean Connery.

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