It seems that Lance watched Raiders of the Lost Ark with his family the other night, and while he still likes the movie as a whole, he doesn't care for the film's climax, what with the Ark of the Covenant unleashing the Power of God to melt the faces of the Nazis and make Belloq's head literally explode. If he doesn't like the ending, that's his prerogative, obviously, but look where he places the blame:
It's funny how that George Lucas, having originally conceived of the Indiana Jones movies as being full of the occult and the spook-tacular, had to have all that wedged into each movie, as if he looked at each of Spielberg's first edits and said, "Where's all the scary mystical stuff, Steven? Go back and put some in, ok?"
"Wedged into each movie"? When I saw Raiders as a kid, I thought the whole opening of the film was deliciously creepy; it didn't feel "wedged" in there at all.
Lance also backs his point by appealing to John Williams as a gigantic factor in the success of Star Wars, saying:
A third if not half of the original Star Wars' contagious joyfulness came from Williams' score. A lesser composer and Star Wars might easily have been a one-shot, a cult favorite, kept alive by repeated late night showings on the Sci-fi channel back when the superimposed cartoon aliens commented on every film.
Ouch. There you have the standard thinking on George Lucas: it's always to someone else's credit when something of his is good. Now it's John Williams keeping Star Wars out of MST3K oblivion. Not that I don't revere the score to Star Wars, because I do, but let's be realistic: there are lots of movies with great scores that have nevertheless sunk into obscurity. I don't think a score has ever saved a movie, no matter what the Jerry Goldsmith freaks at the FSM board will tell you. (The Final Conflict has a great score. It's still a piece of crap of a movie.)
This kind of thinking happens all the time. I have a friend at work who seems to loathe George Lucas, and like all such sufferers of Lucas Derangement Syndrome, he loves to toss Howard the Duck into the conversation whenever Lucas's name comes up. And he won't be dissuaded by the obvious point that Lucas neither wrote, directed, scored, nor starred in Howard the Duck: "Hey, he produced it! That means he's responsible for the whole thing!" Well, OK, but if we're going to go by that logic, then I think it's probably time we all let Michael Bay off the hook for Pearl Harbor, Steven Spielberg for 1941, Eddie Murphy for The Golden Child, Joel Schumacher and George Clooney for Batman and Robin, and...well, you get the idea. Now, there is something to be said for magic happening when certain creative teams get together, but this is by no means a sure thing. Not every Astaire-and-Rogers musical is a gem; Fierce Creatures is an entertaining comedy, but despite sharing the same four leads, it's no Fish Called Wanda.
But to return to Raiders of the Lost Ark, I've never had a problem with the ending. Lance and his commenters seem to think that the ending doesn't fit the movie that precedes it, but of course it does! The early briefing scene, when Indy and Marcus Brody are explaining the Ark of the Covenant to the two Army guys who seem to never have attended Sunday School, has Indy opening his Bible to an engraving of the Ark blasting its enemies with "Lightning, fire, or the Power of God or something"; Marcus points out "The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions. An army which carries the Ark before it is invincible." It's set up very early on that the object the Nazis are looking for contains within it the very power of God, and it's referenced again in the hold of the cargo ship when the Ark burns the swastika right off the crate, so at the end, when it's the Power of God which strikes them all down, it comes as no surprise. Nor, really, does the grisly nature of God's punishment toward those who touch his Ark seem inappropriate to anyone who has read any of the Old Testament at all. This is an instrument of the God who turned Lot's wife into salt because she looked back at where she'd come from. So yeah, melting the Nazis? I can see Old Testament Jehovah doing that.
What doesn't quite add up is Indy's sudden realization that he and Marion will be safe as long as they shut their eyes and refuse to look openly on the power of the Ark. How did he know? Was it pure intuition? We don't know. In the novelization, there's a line from that old wise man Indy and Sallah visit for the translation of the writing on the Headpiece; the line seems to be prefaced in the movie, when he says "This is a warning, not to disturb the Ark of the Covenant." In the movie that's all he says, but in the book he adds something like "He who would open the Ark and look on its contents will surely die", reading from the Headpiece. So at the end, it's that bit of wisdom that Indy suddenly remembers. That would have made the ending of Raiders make a little more sense.
I'm not sure how Lance would have Raiders end, but the Ark is the gun on the mantelpiece, and it's got to go off in Act Three. And since we're dealing with not just any gun, but God's gun, it's got to go off something fierce. What else would have done? One final big action set piece? Without the Ark ever being opened? That would have just been silly.
(And here's a thought: we all know that the Ark is locked away by the US Government by the "bureaucratic fools" Indy rants about at the end. But is that the right way to look at this? I imagine that Indy had to signal for a rescue from that island in the Mediterranean; assuming they're picked up by an American ship, they'd find a man, a woman, a golden box, and...a whole bunch of dead Nazis who have been slain in spectacularly nasty fashion. Upon returning to the US, these Army guys (one of whom is played by William Hootkins, who was the first Rebel pilot to die above the Death Star in Star Wars) learn all this, and now they've got a dilemma: Now that they have the Ark, what the hell do they do with it? If it's that powerful and indiscriminate in meting out punishment, then they can't very well use it in any meaningful sense; and they can't put it back where it was found, now that the Nazis know where Tanis and the Well of Souls are. So, they take the last option that makes any sense: they seal it away themselves, someplace secret and safe. Makes sense to me, and Indy's "bureaucratic fools" are actually doing the only responsible thing they can. How about that?)
One thing I really like about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is that Indy is never really questing after the Holy Grail because he really wants it, whereas the younger Indy in Raiders wanted the Ark all along. At first, in Last Crusade, Indy is searching for his father; he only ends up going after the Grail because everybody else is, and he doesn't want it falling into Nazi hands. He's able to use some of the wisdom he gained in his quest for the Ark in his search for the Grail: when he realizes, for instance, how to get past the whirling blades by kneeling before God, but even moreso when he shows the insight that the Grail would not be a beautiful golden chalice encrusted with jewels, but rather a worn and dented and beat-up old cup befitting a King who showed up to claim his kingdom by riding on a donkey. That's one really good thing about Last Crusade, a movie which otherwise has quite a few problems.
Lance also seems reticent to watch Temple of Doom again. Frankly, I've come full circle on Temple; when it first came out I loved it owing to its constant action, but then I liked it less when I decided I didn't much like Willie Scott or Short Round. But even later after that, I decided that Willie and Shorty weren't quite as annoying as all that, and I really liked the film's set pieces and exploration of a whole different milieu. And I think it's cool that Indiana Jones's adventures establish as real the power of Jehovah, of Christ, and of the Gods of the Hindu pantheon. Of course, Temple is a lot more gory than Raiders and Last Crusade; in fact, if memory serves, it was Temple that was largely responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating in the first place.