The latest entry in the Raider of the Lost Ark movie series; I mean the latest entry in the Indiana Jones movie series just released and I want to talk about it. Not the movie, the title of the movie. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny follows the pattern of every movie in the series since the original.
The question I’d like to examine today is if the movies suffer from focusing on Indiana Jones as opposed to the story in which he finds himself embroiled. Why is every movie except the first prefaced with the name Indiana Jones?
A Treasured Memory
Raiders of the Lost Ark is considered a classic by most reviewers. It is a valued memory for me and I suspect quite a few others of my age who were around in 1981 when it first released. I was seventeen and, in my little circle of friends, Raiders was everything. The boulder, we’d say to one another. The boulder.
Focus of the Story
While I do think there are plenty of people who enjoyed the subsequent movies, the general consensus is they never quite captured the magic of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think the main reason for this is the sequels focused on Indiana Jones. We learned more about more about the protagonist and the story suffered.
I can say quite unequivocally that I found Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to be rather lazy. Trying too hard to repeat the action sequences and largely failing. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was a nostalgic movie that focused largely on the relationship of Indiana Jones with his father and again, the main story suffered badly.
Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull found a more receptive critical audience but I found it more of an attempt to brand Shia LaBeouf as a new hero to the franchise. Lots of actions but not much more. No interesting story to propel the characters, to make me care.
The new movie is receiving rather tepid reviews so far but I can’t speak to it as I have not seen it.
Why Raiders is Better than Indiana Jones
Raiders of the Lost Ark is by far the best of the series and I think the reason is rather simple. Indiana Jones is marketable. The character is interesting and sells tickets. Focus on Indiana Jones, not the story. The audience wants to learn more about him and doesn’t care as much about an interesting story.
One of the things I suggest to people who come to me for writing advice is coming up with a story is easy. There are a million plot ideas. The stories behind all the Indiana Jones movies are just fine. It’s the implementations, driven by the name recognition of the title character, that fail.
I think the people who made the sequels to Raiders of the Lost Ark, like those who approach me about how to write a book, had a good idea. I’ve got a great idea for a novel; they say with eager eyes. Now what? That’s fantastic, that’s a great starting point. You can’t write the novel or the screenplay without the idea. Now, implement it. Five act play. Hero’s journey. Character arc. Voice. Theme. Inciting incident. Conflict. Have at it.
I somehow think if it was just The Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade, The Crystal Skull, The Dial of Destiny they might have been better movies. I’m probably wrong. Marketing is marketing. Making movies that make money is more important than making good movies. It probably wouldn’t have made any difference.
Still, I feel cheated out of some better movies.