Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Question for the Week of Sept 10-16: Indy's Last Crusade Plan

What was Walter Donovan's plan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?
There's a charactor actor named Julian Glover. I know him from Crusade. And as the most competent admiral in The Empire Strikes Back. He's at the 2:25 mark of a great, great scene:

Know the guy now, right? I guess Lucas saw him as a villain - first, the shields on the rebel base, then the holy grail. Don't worry, I'm sure Mr. Glover is a nice guy...

I had problems with Last Crusade. It was my second-favorite of the series, until I rewatched all three a decade ago; my opinions changed. Honestly, the third installment is full of mistakes - continuity, editing, bad choices... Yet, if I let myself think about the plot issues, though, this fun popcorn flick gets really iffy.

I could do a full review, but let's just ask: in Last Crusade, what is the villain's plan for our hero? If you just spell it out, it gets pretty incompetent less than halfway through; after that it just spirals into complete stupidity.

Ok, so let's be clear about this: Donovan's plan is
  • (1) Meet Indy, (2) tell him about the Grail and (3) inform him that his dad vanished while hunting for it.
  • (4) Get Dr. Elsa Schneider to join Jr. in Venice. In addition, Walter probably (5) had their rooms searched, to look through Jones' bags for the treasured diary and maybe also establish trust between the two Doctors.
  • Next, Wally must (6) hope that Indy can solve the problem that Jones Sr. couldn't (or wouldn't because "she'sh ah Nazshi?") figure out.
  • So our arch-villian can afterwards... (7) let Indiana and Elsa go to the German-Austrian border to find the missing father?
  • The reason for which, I guess I have to assume that he assumes, is that (8) the archaeologists will either give this Nazi cabal the correct path to acquiring this Grail, or they will otherwise collectively lead them to do so.
  • At some point after which it's okay to (9) kill the Joneses, even at the potential risk of wasting all this effort and not having sufficient info to complete the goal.
  • Having rolled with the circumstances for so long, this evil American industrialist (burn. Ayn Randian-burn.) will (10) make the previously-expendable experts secure it.
  • He'll next (11) wait about 30 seconds anyway after Indy shouts that he beat the first challenge, then follow with only Elsa as backup/trap fodder.
  • Then finally, (12) drink, himself, from the cup that Elsa chooses for him - he won't make Indy choose, won't wait to get back and try it on Jones Senior, and won't make the other 3 people in the room drink first.
  • And if he had succeeded, his most likely moves (13) were (a) taking power from the Nazi movement, using... his immortality (snicker/this is unlikely), or (b) fulfill... some other purpose, one he himself clearly leaves undefined, via the fact of his eternal life.
  • Ahem. Worst major villain ever.
Yes, there are problems, even allowing for improv plans. Let's start with steps 4-7, since it's a little silly to nitpick the first 3 parts, which set up the story; I suppose they get a pass for now. Donovan's choices do start out ok, but once Elsa hooks up with Dr. Jones, Jr.... Let's follow Elsa's lighter for a glimpse of what our hero goes on to do:

After the initial Venetian booty call, there's just no reason for Walter to lie about loyalties, or Indiana's dad. This main villain could've played the blackmail card and kept Elsa as a spy, so long as Henry Sr. didn't see her again.

I point that out because of the massive flaws that come in step 7: the last thing that Donovan should want is Indy going to the German-Austrian border. Every step risks Junior getting killed before giving up the map. And what if he doesn't die on the trip from Italy?

Think about everything that Indy did inside that castle: Indy shot guys before he was even captured. He later burns the place down and escapes with his pop! Why let him go there? Why let him do any of that?

After Indy had found that tomb with the shield, Donovan could've revealed that he'd kidnapped Poppa Jones, and our hero would've been helpless. If Indiana then refused, Wally D could bring both men together and force them to cooperate. I don't know why Walter didn't stop Jones from going to that castle, or have men intercept him! At least the audience witnessed a nice intro for Connery, right?

That big, bright flaw is followed by the doozy of #9, but it's not WD's fault. The German High Command decided that the Joneses had no value - that chestnut of movie villain mistakes, killing the good guy(s) too early. The more I consider it, though, the castle sequence exists only to impress the audience with set-pieces and introduce Daddy.

That room is saying "go away!" It's like a cat hissing.

After all this, Donovan's really marked as a dummy. Our hero enters a trap that just shot a severed head back at the onlookers. The archaeologist succeeds, and (though I've no idea why) shouts that he got through. Seconds later, with no idea that Indy carefully disabled the traps behind him as opposed to merely getting past them, Walter follows with Elsa.

Imagine if Indiana had left the trap operational. That would've been hysterical.

Now, it's all become super-stupid - directly resulting in the antagonist's death. What's the point in sending someone ahead into danger if you follow half a minute behind? Why not just wait for Indiana Jones to come back? Clearly, WD's plan was to make him come back for his father...

Why not send more soldiers? Or take them along? Clearly, another sacrifice might come up. And if Indy had failed, Donovan and Elsa wouldn't get by unaided. I still don't know how that greedy pair passed the "word of god" room. Maybe they saw the letters that were left and guessed, but it's a stretch - they don't even have the book of clues!

And since Donovan has already tossed all caution aside, he charges in and drinks from Elsa's cup. Yes, the Austrian double agent makes a choice - though Indy solved every test, not her - and Big D just goes along with it. Why not make Elsa drink? Or Indy? Did Donovan think the Cup only works on one person?

Don't get me started on IJatLC's Templar Knight. If Walter realized how really old and in poor shape the dude was, he'd have reconsidered drinking. It's pretty obvious that eternal life means very little without eternal youth. And there's even less value in eternal life stuck in a freaking cave.

So, yes, I think Last Crusade's bad guy is cartoonish-ly dumb, in that way that escapes notice when plots race along too quickly. I can't begin to rationalize what went through that industrialist's mind - or the choices that he made - from his second appearance onwards. Then again, if you're just along for the ride, a film fan may not need Indy III to make much sense...

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