The 5 years between the second and third Indiana Jones sequels were pretty eventful ones in my life, as is probably typical for the years between age 14 and 19. In early 1985 (a little over 1/2 year after Temple of Doom came out), my family moved from Flint to Kenosha, Wisconsin. My parents ended up making another move to Sandusky, Ohio just 3 years after that, although I was attending college in Milwaukee by that time.
We ended up all seeing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on opening day at a theater in Cleveland, so the movie’s opening day (the Wednesday before Memorial Day 1989) must have been shortly after I completed my sophomore year of college and returned to my parents’ home for summer vacation. While there were a couple movie theaters in Sandusky at the time, they were generally older theaters and their presentation usually left a lot to be desired. As it was only about a one hour drive to Cleveland, we quickly got into the habit of going there to see most movies. My grandmother also lived in Cleveland at the time, so we were able to often combine a trip to the movies with a visit to see her as well.
I don’t remember the name of the specific theater where we saw the film, but we basically picked it out by looking in the paper for the closest theater that listed a 70mm 6-track presentation and Lucasfilm’s THX sound system, which had become pretty commonplace in larger cities by that time. Our whole family (including my mother this time) got up fairly early to head into Cleveland for the first opening day matinee of the movie. I’m not sure if there were any midnight showings of this one, but we did go to the first regularly scheduled showing at that theater.
Even with the show being fairly early in the day on a Wednesday, the theater was pretty full, although I don’t recall for sure if it was a completely sold-out show. The most memorable audience moment actually came during the previews. Just a couple minutes into them, the film broke and the lights came back up. A few moments after that, someone in the theater started loudly humming the Raiders March. It took only another moment or so until pretty much the entire audience had joined in. I strongly suspect that this was considerably more frightening to the poor employee that was tasked with getting things up and running again than the more traditional audience taunts and complaints would have been. Fortunately, they were able to get it fixed pretty quickly and the movie itself played through without interruption.
Last Crusade is a very good film with some considerable strengths. Sean Connery is absolutely great as Indy’s father and he and Harrison Ford played off each other wonderfully. It was also nice seeing Denholm Elliott and John Rhys-Davies reprise their roles from the first film and, of course, the action sequences and big set pieces were as much fun as ever. I can easily understand why most people seem to prefer this one to Temple of Doom and some even consider it to be the best of the original three movies.
For a couple reasons, though, it is pretty solidly in third place for me. While Temple of Doom was able to genuinely surprise me by going off in a different direction in setting and style compared to its predecessor, Last Crusade instead repeated a lot of key elements from Raiders pretty directly, whether it be the reuse of the Nazis as the key villains, the quest for another famous Christian religious icon, or even the use of some very similar settings and locations. I couldn’t help but feel like Lucas and Spielberg took the complaints about Temple of Doom too much to heart and responded by largely reworking Raiders for the third film.
I also can’t help but think that the difference in my memories of the films are somewhat reflective of the different viewpoints of an 11-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 19-year-old. By the time Last Crusade came out, I was a pretty avid moviegoer that was seeing a pretty wide variety of movies of many different styles and genres. As excited as I was about seeing this one, I doubt I was quite as receptive to it as I was when I was younger. I do recall still seeing the film a few times over the course of that summer, but I don’t think it was more than a handful. Even taking into account home video, I have a hunch that I still probably haven’t seen Last Crusade as many times in total as I saw Raiders in the theater during its first year of release.
With that in mind, I’m very excited to go see an opening-night showing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tomorrow night, but I also can’t help but wonder exactly how I am going to respond to one of these movies now that I’m 38-years-old, married, and a father. There is a good chance I’ll write a review of the movie over the next couple days, but I suspect I won’t really have enough distance to write another one of these "memories" articles about it for quite a few years.