70mm Reminds Us 'The Last Crusade' is Biggest of the 'Indy' Series
by Jeremy Kirk
September 2, 2012
There's no denying the grand scope of the Indiana Jones films, three classic adventures that will continue on in history as some of the greatest of their kind ever put to film. Yes, THREE classic adventures. We'll just stick to that assessment from here on. Steven Spielberg and crew came out swinging with these films, only three and five years separating them, but they've since been lumped together, an amazing trilogy that some say rivals Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and The Godfather. But this is all information you're already privy to. What might not be so apparent is how grand, how epic even something we've seen dozens of times like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the last of the three and arguably the most fun.
As big, as fun, as adventurous as the film is, there's no equal to watching it shown in glorious 70mm. The movie-watching world is trading in film prints for digital keys left and right, and the idea of stringing strips through a projector is becoming a thing of the past. It warms the cinematic spirits knowing the Alamo Drafthouse is around and still fighting for film as it is defined. That's why they've decided to show a series of films all in 70mm - AlamoScope. The first of these was West Side Story last weekend. This weekend, it was The Last Crusade, and there was no way this this particular writer was going to miss this screening.
First, a little history lesson for all you junior archaeologists out there. 70mm film was developed as early as the late 1800s. The larger frames of film give a higher resolution to the picture, therefore giving the overall quality of what we're seeing a deeper, richer, and ultimately grander look. There's so much depth in certain frames of 70mm film that, when projected, it makes standard 35mm look downright flat. Similarly, the larger frame allows for more room, more channels, of sound, giving a clearer and, again, richer, texture to the soundtrack as a whole. John Williams' score has never been as enveloping.
Westerns, musicals, and sword-and-sandals epics like Ben-Hur and Cleopatra—which are also included on Drafthouse's 70mm schedule—were all filmed on 70mm, a fact that made the format very popular in the '50s and '60s. However, due to the high costs to develop and the extremely high costs to upkeep 70mm projectors, the format lost popularity quickly. Only a handful of films since 1970 have used the format, some directors of blockbusters choosing to shoot certain special effects shots in 70mm to force the effects to pop off the screen more so than they already were.
In 1989, no one was shooting features in 70mm, but some films were blown up to the format. It didn't create as flawlessly a change from 35mm, but the upgrade in both picture and sound—especially the sound—is quite noticeable. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was one of these movies blown up to 70mm, and as we were informed in the film's intro, this was one of roughly 200 original prints struck in 1989 that the Drafthouse was now showing. Before the intro was standard Drafthouse, pre-show fun with the opening of UHF and clips from old Jungle Jim comic strips to keep us entertained before the main attraction. Back-to-back Last Crusade commercials, one for Pepsi, the other Coke, can only be assumed that George Lucas had a heavy hand in the film's promotions.
Then, with the old-school Paramount logo appearing just as I remembered and loved it, The Last Crusade began. From the opening chase with River Phoenix—it makes me sad every time I think about that lost talent—doing a pitch-perfect impression of Harrison Ford, a feeling from a little over 13 years ago came flooding back. The massive bowl of popcorn helped, but it wasn't necessary matched with the joy of watching Ford and Sean Connery play off each other with flawless timing and unforgettable expressions. Watching Henry Ford's disapproving look at his son after Indiana has dispatched of a few Nazis is timeless.
For all of its grandeur, and The Last Crusade has this in droves, the film is mesmerizing in the story it tells of a man being reintroduced to his father. The Indiana Jones of The Last Crusade is an older man, one who has countless adventures behind him, and in all that time, he has never connected with the man who raised him. You can't even assume there were random chats here and there between the two, since, as Indiana says himself in the film, he hasn't even spoken to his father in 20 years. The two even live in the same town, and yet their paths never cross after a certain point. It takes the biggest adventure of each of their lives to finally bring them together, to finally mend that father/son bond that didn't break but was never fully developed.
Indiana's arrogance, always a factor in these films, is on full display in this as well. The character even notes verbally on more than one occasion how others are "lost" yet he knows exactly where he is. It doesn't help ease that arrogance that he's always hanging around Marcus Brody, who got lost in his own museum once. But that arrogance is finally subdued in the film's final moments when, while Indiana is struggling to reach the Holy Grail while dangling down a chasm, it's his father's voice that snaps him back into reality.
Up until that point, Henry Jones has only called his son "Junior." As we're told later, Indiana was the dog's name. But Indiana is the name our protagonist yields like a title. He feels he's earned the name that calls into mind high adventure and daring excitement. It's in The Last Crusade's climax when Henry finally addresses him as "Indiana", finally giving his son the respect he has earned. This kills our hero's arrogance, making him literally choose family over a relic, even one as remarkable as the cup of Christ. It's the most moving point of a series that's been more or less all adventure up until that point. Yes, Spielberg manipulates with his stories, but the feelings that result are unquestionable, and the emotion this scene brings out makes it one of the best he has ever constructed.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the biggest and most exciting of the entire franchise. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the film that introduced us to the character, and for that fact alone, it'll always be considered the best. But for pure entertainment and eye-popping spectacle, my choice has to go to The Last Crusade, a film that steps from action scene to action scene with effortless grace. Every one of those action scenes is amazing, too, each packing in as many WOW moments as it possibly can. The pace of action beats and spits of perfectly timed humor is possibly Spielberg's best. Ford has never been better. Connery was not only the perfect choice for Indiana Jones' father, he was the obvious choice. Sometimes that marriage of iconic character and ideal actor actually happens, and this was the point in the Indiana Jones series where lightning was caught in that bottle for a second time.
We never got another adventure with these two, but it's a testament to the quality of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that we can always go back to it, and it's never unfamiliar or unwelcome to us. In years and decades to come, film prints will become as rare as the artifacts found in this film, and 70mm will become even rarer. It's a series of films that any fan of the art shouldn't pass up. Check out the full slate here of 70mm films the Alamo Drafthouse is showing for AlamoScope, if you're interested.