Something struck me about the three theatrical adventures of Indiana Jones: the films never take themselves very seriously. As a twelve year old kid, I really thought Raiders of the Lost Ark was a serious film. But watching them over again yesterday, I noted a bit of whimsy, especially within the fight sequences. They are so overtly choreographed that they appear, well, overtly choreographed.
The Market Place fight from the first movie is the perfect example.
The German intelligence operative stands in an alleyway flanked by his Arab henchmen ready to attack our heroes. Indy and Marion continue to talk about their past, when she drops an article to the ground. Stooping to retrieve it, she inadvertently causes the first attacker to jump over her only to meet Indy's fist. Later, Indy dodges a sword thrust which impales an attacker behind him. A beat later, we see a reverse angle of the impaled victim which reveals the tip of the sword has fruit from the nearby stand on its end. Marion uses a frying pan to bean an assailant on the head when he follows her into a darkened doorway. And of course, the famous Sword Man who flourishes his weapon with great aplomb, only to be shot by Indy.
How do you take that seriously?
In Temple of Doom, the opening sequence is so un-Indiana, that you wonder if you put the right disc into the player. Even when the dancers do a split, and then the editors run the film backwards so that it appears the dancers are magically "un-splitting." Last Crusade has its jousting motorcycles and a close encounter with Adolf Hitler.
In a weird way it works by evoking the movie serials that are a bygone product of our parent's youth. And, I think that is what Lucas and Spielberg were going for. The question is, will Kingdom of the Crystal Skull continue to honor the movie serial? Perhaps this is what Lucas has been alluding to when he fears that fans might be disappointed with the film (he certainly took a bashing from the new Star Wars films). Maybe he fears that after a nineteen year hiatus, the twelve year old kids who saw Raiders in 1981 will have grown up too much and be too sophisticated for the cheesy traditions of the movie serials and the elements that made the first three movies so much fun to watch.