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Old 06-19-2017, 08:43 PM   #1
Raiders112390
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Indiana Jones and the '80s Zeitgeist

I've noticed now, while it may be coincidental, that every one of the original three Indiana Jones movies managed to capture the zeitgeist of the time in which it came out. What do I mean by this? Well....

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

The year is 1981. The United States has a brand new President, who promises a rollback of the permissive values and mores that have altered the social landscape of the country in the past near thirty years. He also is perceived as a hardliner; a Cold Warrior; a personal friend of John Wayne; a tough guy President. A President who got shot - and survived. He was also, during the WWII era and shortly after, a B movie actor - the same sort of B movies that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas grew up watching and enjoying. The Religious Right was arguably at its zenith in America. There was a movement to turn back to God. America was looking forward, while at the same time reaching backward. 50s nostalgia was still in the air. More conservative clothes began dominating fashion in a counter to the louder looks and bright colors which had dominated the 60s and 70s. John Lennon, in a sense the spiritual leader of the 1960s and 1970s, is deceased.

Into this mix comes Indiana Jones. On the surface, Raiders was for its time new. But it was, as we've learned, pretty old, with some scenes even recycled or borrowed from films released nearly thirty years prior. Indy's outfit is even exactly to a tee what President Reagan wore in his 1952 film, China.

The film has an ambivalent message about God as viewed through Indy's lens, but God is revealed to be real in some form with the Arc. In contrast to the more avant garde films of the decade prior, Raiders is more at home with films of the 1930s-1950s than it is with the "indie" films that colored the decade prior. While Indy mutters a curse or two, there is no drug use, no full on profanity, no nudity. Raiders is both bold and daring, while also conservative and nostalgic. Like America, Raiders is looking forward and reshaping the action film genre, while also looking back.

The Temple of Doom

It's now 1984. A year destined to be drenched in darkness and gloom ever since Orwell had written his dystopian masterpiece decades prior. 1984 was to be the year in which darkness reigned, and freedom died. The year in cinema was fraught, in turn, with dark overtones: Horror movies such as Gremlins, The Terminator, A Nightmre on Elm Street, Children of the Corn and other freakshows were all over theaters in 1984.

At the same time, films had taken on an over-the-top, goofy, campy tone: humorous and lightherted films Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, Romancing The Throne, and others reigned at the box office.

The conservative mood which had reigned in America in 1981 was now replaced with the "Greed is Good" mantra of the mid 1980s - a time of bright colors, excess, rising crime rates, and in which the Yippies fully transformed into Yuppies. No longer was the decade looking backward; now was the moment that mattered, and every day was an urgent party. Might as well get all your kicks in now before the ship sinks. The Cold War was its most tense in over twenty years; the world could very well end the next day, so you might as well party now, because you might not be able to tomorrow.

Indiana Jones' second outing reflected these times. Veering between light and utter darkness; between hope and despair; Indy himself was now parroting a mantra very similar to "Greed is Good", proclaiming his motivation to be "Fortune and Glory." Indy was reinvented from being an anti-hero who desired to have his trophy in a museum in Raiders to being an all-out grave robber in Temple of Doom; a guy who lives in the moment and trades precious, invaluable artifacts for quick cash. The second film did away with the exposition of the first, and instead was a taught, lean, very unrelenting outing full of all the horror that was permeating the cinema in other films. Indy was not looking nostalgically backward so much as he was competing in the moment with other action flicks full of blood and guts.

Greed, Fortune, and Glory were all good in 1984 - in both real life, and in Temple of Doom.

The Last Crusade

As we flash forward half a decade to 1989, we look upon a greatly changed landscape from the one in which Indiana Jones had first emerged. Ronald Reagan had left office, and had been replaced by a President mired in image problems who promised a "kinder, gentler" America. The Cold War was winding down, and so was the decadence at home as the S&L crisis had brought Wall Street's party down to a screeching halt. The Baby Boomer generation was finally settling down, marrying and having kids at a rapid rate.

This was an era of increased introspection as the Boomers hit midlife, and the world came to the last decade of the 20th century. They began taking their kids to Disney movies again that Fall, and Disney's animation department saw its largest success in almost twenty years. Older stars gone dormant like Al Pacino and John Travolta saw their careers revived and brought back into the mainstream this year. The scars of Vietnam were beginning to heal. Watergate receded into memory.

Old, established favorites were what was on everyone's mind in films in 1989. Batman, last seen on the big screen in the Go-Go years of 1966 now roared back to the top of Pop Culture, but with a more mature, inward looking edge. Back to the Future saw its second entry examine Marty McFly's future as a father. Star Trek V, also released that year, touched upon the very idea of God, and the meaning of life itself. The Little Mermaid saw its protagonist, Ariel, aspiring to be more than she was - trying to discover who she was, and where she belonged.

Nostalgia of a different kind than 1981 was in the air. Those who survived the 80s now looked backward - and inward.

In Last Crusade, we now saw a somewhat kinder, gentler Indy. We found out who Indy was, and where he came from, and what made him who he was. An Indy not going on an adventure of his own accord, or because he's asked to as a government agent, but on a sentimental journey - to rescue his father, portrayed by none other than Sean Connery - one of the biggest movie icons of the 1960s, James Bond himself. Indiana Jones thus not only met his in-universe father, but one of his cinematic precursors, a star whose very presence would be enough to bring Baby Boomer audiences in - a star who also was starting to have a second wind of his own. We see Indy as more human, more vulnerable - belittled and berated by his father, and in LC, Indy is again rewritten, now as a traditional hero, robbed of any real anti-hero overtones; a hero who simply longed, all his life, for a good relationship with his father. He becomes, somewhat akin to Batman, more a tortured hero than a rogue. The film, like others of the year, is slick - especially in comparison to the two films which preceded it - it is well-made, an assembly line Indy film hitting all the right beats (Nazis, Desert chases, Sallah, Marshall College, tough leading lady, Marcus Brody)- the perfect comeback album, so to speak.

This is a film which has Indy searching not for some dangerous artifact to destroy some enemy, but for an artifact which can perhaps provide both immortality - and illumination from within. And as The Cold War came to a close, the Berlin Wall fell, Batman looked and saw his origins in his greatest enemy, and the Baby Boomers had kids and settled down - 1989 was a year of illumination.

And as the 1980s ended, so did Indy's career as a globe trotting adventurer (at least, it seemed so at the time). Indy went with the Zeitgeist of the 1980s as it too proverbially rode off into the sunset - with a new decade ahead, and an era of new adventures and new heroes on the way.

Last edited by Raiders112390 : 06-19-2017 at 09:11 PM.
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Old 06-20-2017, 04:26 AM   #2
Kai Hagen
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Interesting ideas... makes me wonder how different an Indiana Jones movie would've been if the original was made after the 80s. During the 80s, a significant number of people remembered the years prior to WWII. It probably felt not as old as it does now.... probably how we feel about the 70s now. I think the movies that depict the Nazis are being made much less in this decade than during the 70s and the 80s. A modern original Indiana Jones movie would have different villains, and perhaps a different time plot.
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Old 06-20-2017, 09:37 AM   #3
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In many ways I feel the 80's was the last truly great decade for cinema. After that the classics became fewer and far between, with an over-reliance on CGI and more quick sequels being dished out without much thought or substance.

I went to see Raiders on the big screen this past Sunday and it made me both happy and pensive. Films like Indy, The Empire Strikes Back, Ghostbusters, Aliens, Predator, Blade Runner, Die Hard, and Airplane! have stood the test of time and still feel fresh and exciting. I would be hard-pressed to pick more than a handful from the last 20 years that have stuck with me in that regard. Maybe I'm just an old soul but most of the films after the 80's just don't hold my interest or feel as satisfying.
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Old 06-20-2017, 10:13 AM   #4
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No offence but you position is steeped in nostalgia and greatly misses fabulous films from the nineties and noughts.

90s: Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, Titanic, Goodfellas, The Matrix, Shawshank, Fight Club, Saving Private Ryan..... And dozens more

00s: Gladiator, Nolan's Batman movies, The Lord of the Ring trilogy, Catch Me if you Can, Lost in Translation..... Harry Potter?!

All thought out, crafted and represent more than a handful to remind you of the quality classics there in.,

I'll throw in John Wick, Whiplash, The Social Network, Inception, and Ex Machina from this decade too...
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Old 06-20-2017, 02:52 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pale Horse
No offence but you position is steeped in nostalgia and greatly misses fabulous films from the nineties and noughts.

90s: Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, Titanic, Goodfellas, The Matrix, Shawshank, Fight Club, Saving Private Ryan..... And dozens more

00s: Gladiator, Nolan's Batman movies, The Lord of the Ring trilogy, Catch Me if you Can, Lost in Translation..... Harry Potter?!

All thought out, crafted and represent more than a handful to remind you of the quality classics there in.,

I'll throw in John Wick, Whiplash, The Social Network, Inception, and Ex Machina from this decade too...

There have been some solid films from the last 25 years, not doubt about it, but they seem so few and far between. Today's movies just lack that special "something" that older films have. I enjoyed Jurassic Park, The Lord of the Rings, District 9, Interstellar, and a few others, but most modern films just don't hold my interest. I guess I feel producers and directors kind of stopped trying after the 80's, realizing it was just easier to shove in tons of CGI effects without a coherent story or interesting characters. By the end of the 90's you can really see the drop off and we've never recovered.

Just look at the summer of '89 release schedule. We'll never have another bundle of such fantastic films being released at the same time like that again. These days I'm lucky if there are five films a year that pique my interest.

Or maybe I'm just out of touch and can't understand the appeal of another superhero or disaster movie. That's quite possible too. I miss the days of practical effects and storytelling that really took its time. Everything now is so loud and action-heavy that much isn't required of the audience. Prometheus has its flaws but I loved it precisely because it asked more of me as a viewer. I want more movies like that.

Last edited by IndyBuff : 06-20-2017 at 02:59 PM.
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Old 06-20-2017, 03:51 PM   #6
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@Raiders112390

Are you suggesting that Indy 5 should prominently feature the Great Wall of China, or the Vallum Aelium?
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Old 06-20-2017, 05:52 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Z dweller
@Raiders112390

Are you suggesting that Indy 5 should prominently feature the Great Wall of China, or the Vallum Aelium?

No, just suggesting that part of what made the original three films work was Spielberg & Lucas read the atmosphere of the times they were released in well, and responded in their own way via Indy. This is (but a small part of) where KOTCS missed the boat. KOTCS felt out of place in 2008, thematically, stylistically, and in terms of tone as well when put against some of other films of the year/year before/year after. It felt like a dumb, over the top 90s action film when people wanted The Dark Knight. It felt outdated and formulaic, like one of the Roger Moore Bond fims did in the 80s. Bad CGI aside, it didn't feel contemporary to the times it was in. Even though the original trilogy were period pieces, they could in tone, theme, pacing, and style directly compete with other films in their respective years. The films were a part of, and reflected, the zeitgeist of the 1980s in America.

Some of the casting choices, especially in LC, even reflected this, like River Phoenix (A rising star who was also a great, celebrated actor), and Sean Connery (an old hand who was having a second wind, whose presence brought nostalgia). KOTCS offered us Shia LeBeouf and a botoxed Karen Allen. Even the actor who played Short Round - we can mock him perhaps as a bad actor now - but he was part of it the mid 80s movie scene in a way too. He's not the best actor, but he'll always be remembered for being Short Round and for being the brains in The Goonies.

KOTCS was like an old out of touch band going on tour with some flashy new lights and pyrotechnics, but ultimately wearing the same stage clothes and playing the same setlist they used 30 years prior, and attempting to be hip and relevant in the process.

Last edited by Raiders112390 : 06-20-2017 at 05:59 PM.
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Old 06-20-2017, 06:02 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Kai Hagen
Interesting ideas... makes me wonder how different an Indiana Jones movie would've been if the original was made after the 80s. During the 80s, a significant number of people remembered the years prior to WWII. It probably felt not as old as it does now.... probably how we feel about the 70s now. I think the movies that depict the Nazis are being made much less in this decade than during the 70s and the 80s. A modern original Indiana Jones movie would have different villains, and perhaps a different time plot.

I would say imagine a blend of the YIJC, and Spielberg's 90s action films, to get a feel for what an Indy 4 made in the 1990s might have been like. Perhaps even more reflective and deeper than LC, with some environmentalist overtones ala The Lost World. The big bad might have been associated with big business in some way looking to use the artifact to enrich themselves rather than take over the world, with overtones that in doing so they'd destroy the planet. You'd have seen a more intelligent Indy, probably with a bit less emphasis on action and less of a body count.
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Old 06-20-2017, 08:02 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Raiders112390
No, just suggesting that part of what made the original three films work was Spielberg & Lucas read the atmosphere of the times they were released in well, and responded in their own way via Indy.
I suspect you didn't get my joke...
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Old 06-20-2017, 09:58 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Z dweller
I suspect you didn't get my joke...

No? I don't get what it's a reference to.
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Old 06-21-2017, 12:39 PM   #11
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No? I don't get what it's a reference to.
Wow, really?

Who's the current prez, dude?
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Old 06-21-2017, 03:35 PM   #12
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Wow, really?

Who's the current prez, dude?

Well you coulda taken a more direct route to it.
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Old 06-21-2017, 07:51 PM   #13
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Well you coulda taken a more direct route to it.
Yeah, maybe I should have known you don't do subtle.
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Old 06-25-2017, 07:47 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Raiders112390
No, just suggesting that part of what made the original three films work was Spielberg & Lucas read the atmosphere of the times they were released in well, and responded in their own way via Indy.

I don't agree that was the case at all. I think you're seeing things that aren't really there.

Last edited by Major West : 06-25-2017 at 08:03 AM.
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