Forty two years ago, a fedora-wearing, bullwhip-toting, wisecracking, gruffly handsome archeology professor outran a massive boulder in a booby-trapped cave in 1936 South America, and into the arms of cinematic immortality. Battling Nazis in Egypt and an extreme case of ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), in order to get to the Ark of the Covenant, the legendary relic supposed to contain the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr (Harrison Ford) made Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), written by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg, into an instant and permanent classic. This was followed by a prequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) set in 1935 (starring Amrish Puri as the villain Mola Ram, this movie was responsible for the creation of the PG-13 movie rating), a sequel Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) set in 1938 starring the irascible Sean Connery as his father Henry Jones Sr, and then another sequel 19 years later, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) also set 19 years later in 1957. Now 15 years after that one, and set in 1969, comes the last entry in the franchise, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Although now that Disney owns the rights having taken them over from Paramount, never say never as they may milk it forever like they did with Star Wars. But given that even immortal cinematic heroes have to be played by mortal actors (though in an AI world anything is now creatively possible), it seems unlikely that at 80 years old Harrison Ford has time on his side for another outing, even if physically he looks capable of doing so even 10 years hence.
Speaking of time, it is an eternal fascination of the human mind. The ability to travel back in time and "fix things" to achieve different desired outcomes (bet on a known sports result, prevent war, get back a loved one) is a tried and tested cinematic trope precisely because it taps into a very primal human desire to have the paradoxical power of free will over destiny.
Dial of Destiny begins in the last days of World War II in Nazi Germany with Indy once again in their clutches as he tries to rescue an ancient artefact, the spear used to stab Christ during his crucifixion, the Lance of Longinus. In that pursuit, along with his partner Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), he discovers that they are also in possession of half of Archimedes' Antikythera, a dial that predicts planetary motions on the face of it, but promises to be much more. (Fans of physics and mathematics and nudity will remember the apocryphal tale of Archimedes jumping out of his bathtub and running naked thru the streets shouting Eureka ("I have found it") upon discovering the principle later named after him, that the buoyant force exerted on a body in a liquid is equal to the weight of the liquid displaced). After an extended action set piece aboard a train involving a Nazi astrophysicist Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), the story moves forward in time 25 years to August 1969, a few weeks after the triumphant return to Earth of the Apollo 11 astronauts. A visibly older Indy (his younger self has been achieved by a digital de-ageing process) is retiring from his college professor job in New York, and is visited by Shaw's daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who is his godchild. She once again invokes the Antikythera but not exactly for altruistic purposes. Hot on its pursuit is Voller, now working for NASA (as many ex Nazi scientists did post the Second World War) along with the CIA. The action shifts to Tangier, Morocco and then to Greece in search of the other half of the Antikythera. The reason for seeking that second half and the consequences thereafter shall not be revealed at this point in time.
Directed by James Mangold who directed the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line (2005), the X-men Wolverine film Logan (2017) and Ford v Ferrari (2019), this is the only movie in the franchise not directed by Spielberg. (Spielberg was probably more excited with the challenge of creating his autobiographical work, The Fabelmans, which released last year). There are callbacks to the previous movies that avid fans will recognize including the last scene. The rousing John Williams (who is now 91 !) title score - dan de dan dan, dan de dan - still gives goosebumps. It still carries the ethos of the previous movies in its pursuit of an ancient artefact, the humor and the action, and is definitely an improvement over its immediate predecessor Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, though the original Raiders and the later Last Crusade can't be beat. There's always a nostalgia factor with movies one saw during one's formative years, and one always yearns to go back to those halcyon days of yore, but the dial of destiny always spins forward and it must.
July 1, 2023