Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Arthur Chappell critiques possibly the last film
of the Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones franchiseÖ

 

Despite his heroics, Indiana Jones is a preposterous character: an adventurer-archaeologist fighting his way through countless pre-Christian, yet still functional booby traps and combating Nazis. Tony Robinsonís archaeological show Time Team was never this exciting.

Raiders of the Lost Ark has been criticised in that Indy actually achieves little if anything. As highlighted in a classic 2013 The Big Bang Theory episode ('The Raiders Minimization' relevant clip here) showing how had Indy not even turned up, the Nazis would still have opened the Ark and still have perished. Additionally, despite his constant insistence that the artefacts pursued belong in a museum, he never gets one there: the Ark is taken away to a secret warehouse by CIA agents!

Turning to the other films, The Temple of Doom's stolen Kali baubles are returned to the Indian villagers from which they were taken, and the Holy Grail is lost in a collapsing cave. The later film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2014), sees the Skull fly off in a UFO. Meanwhile, in the Dial of Destiny the fate of the two Dials is unclear. One has still to be made and hidden by Archimedes, even though he was, in reality, killed at the battle where Indy meets him and where he sees the dial he was supposedly to create for the first time. The other Dial remains in the hands of Helene (Wombat) and her Short Round-esque sidekick, Teddy. Putative plans for a follow up TV series of Wombatís adventures may have seen her using the Dial to zap through time on her own wacky quests, but the box office failure of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is likely to crush that proposal. Compared to Temple of Doom, which grossed US$333.1 million (£226.5m) worldwide which made it the highest grossing film of 1984, Dial grossed US$356m worldwide the first month of its 2023 release. However, the film's budget was US$294.7 million (£236m) and as the studio gets half the gross box office take it will have to almost double its revenue over the year for the studio to break even. It probably will, but Dial will not have been the cash cow the other films have been.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull divided fans for its extreme plot contrivances, with the nuclear fridge giving the Happy Days shark jump a run for its money, not to mention the triple water-fall plunge, Mutt playing Tarzan, cartoon soldier ants and that spaceship finaleÖ.

Indy always stretches credibility if over-analysed. In 1981ís Raiders, Indy rides the deck of a U-Boat for many leagues, even though it is submerged for much of the journey. He claims to be sceptical of occultism in Raiders, though he experienced Thuggee-Voodoo in the 1984 Temple prequel. 1989ís Crusade had a thousand year old Grail Knight and an invisible bridge, but the UFO was seen as too much. Dial, with its time-travel, is raising more hacklesÖ

The 5th outing breaks the franchise. Harrison Ford is clearly too old at 80 for such shenanigans. His age was a major criticism even in Skull. He retains his croaky pensionerís voice even in the passable, artificial intelligence de-aging Indy prologue scenes set during the 1940s.


An artificially de-aged Indiana Jones.

Poor CGI makes Dialís weaknesses glaringly obvious in many scenes, (notably the confusing underwater sequence where the eels are never seen clearly in a single shot). This comes after the ground-breaking on-location stunt work in the main trinity of films arc.

My biggest criticisms level at Wombat and Teddy. Phoebe Waller-Bridgeís (Helene/Wombat) character is quite a Mary Sue, in that she seems to be absurdly perfect at everything she does. As the film progresses, she relegates Indy increasingly to the status of her sidekick and companion rather than the other way round. Virtually the entire third act of the film is Wombat rescuing a wounded, helpless Indy.


Wombat (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford).

Indy is a broken, embittered figure for much of the film, much as Dial producer Kathleen Kennedy did with Fordís Star Wars franchise character Han Solo and Mark Hamillís Luke Skywalker in 2017ís The Last Jedi. Indyís misery has pushed him to the brink of divorce with Marion, destroying the happy ever after at last optimistic note that closed Skull in a stroke. By the finale of Dial, mojo-less Indy seems intent on giving up. Heís robbed of the choice by Wombat literally punching him into a coma from which he recovers to a bittersweet reunion with Marion that largely puts him right back where Skull left him (though without a son).

More problematic than Wombat is the largely pointless Teddy, a morose pre-teen sidekick to Wombat. Teddy is abducted in Sicily by the villains who somehow just happen to turn up where he is (without explanation of how, just as happens in many key scenes in the film). Teddy escapes his captors by clamping himself to the biggest of the killers and dragging him underwater, chained to a grating and leaving him to drown. This despite Teddy earlier admitting he canít swim himself in an earlier conversation with pointlessly cameoing just-to-be-killed-off Renaldo (Antonio Banderas).

Teddy later steals a plane despite having zero flying experience. Teddy hotwires it, takes off perfectly in a raging storm, which would challenge any pilot, and flies right into the turbulent sky-centred wormhole in pursuit of another plane that was bearing Indy and Wombat. Indy has been shot in the chest, and despite being an 80 year old with a bullet close to heart and lung, he manages to carry Wombat and parachute from the plane.


An 80 year old, with a bullet close to heart, about to parachute carrying another person

Uber-Nazi Vollerís plan to travel back to 1939 is foiled by a time travel glitch. As Indie realises, the Dial calculations donít account for Continental Drift. This should not however affect the Dial at all, as the wormholes it locates are not on the ground but in the sky.

Indy just seems dragged along for the ride by forces and characters (especially Wombat) throughout. He rarely achieves anything by his own ingenuity or the thinking on his feet in increasingly dangerous situations seen in earlier outings. His first serious imperilment in The Dial of Destiny is where he is about to be hanged by the Nazis. His salvation comes through a deux ex machina convenient landing of an unexploded bomb that sinks through the floor, and finally detonates, killing every one of the Nazis present. It somehow just throws Indy free of the nooseís threat unscathed. It is horribly anti-climatic, as is Voller receiving his own final fate off-screen rather than through anything Indy does.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a disappointing end to a brilliant film franchise. The first three films (and TV spin-offs) were excellent. Skull was entertainingly bad, like an Indy film made by Ed Wood with a budget. Dial is simply a shambolic travesty.

Arthur Chappell

 

 


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[Posted: 23.9.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]