On New Year’s Day 2013, three generations of my family walked into an exhibit at a kids’ science museum called “Indiana Jones And The Adventure of Archaeology” (still touring the U.S. as of this writing). The exhibit features film clips, costumes and props from the four-movie series, as well as photos, videos, and interviews with archaeologists and historians highlighting great archaeological finds of the last century-plus. There’s a section in which kids can position a replicate of the Staff of Ra artifact in a mock-up of the movie’s map room model to find the location of the Ark of the Covenant, and a spot where they can lower and raise themselves on hoists with seats used at archaeological digs.
It’s all good fun and educational in a way that doesn’t feel like school — the education goes down like ice cream — but what really elevates this from being a straight-up museum experience is an interactive, treasure-hunt component. At the exhibit’s entrance, each visitor is given audio headphones and a rough-hewn leather-encased tablet pre-loaded with a program that provides clues to be followed and mysteries to be solved in each exhibit area. Every correct answer adds a piece on your screen to a virtual ancient artifact. The room at the exhibit’s end features a big-screen, re-assembled rendering of that artifact, attributing the find to you — that is, if you’ve solved the clues.
My family members attending the exhibit ranged in age from 8 to 83 years old, and each one of us was thoroughly entertained by this “adventure” — the kids by the interactive treasure-hunt and hands-on play, the adults by coming within inches of the movie’s Lost Ark of the Covenant and other beautifully crafted props, and all of us by revisiting highlights from the films together. We each got to play archaeologist, and come to a greater appreciation of what they do. And our curiosity about the ancient world and far-flung, past civilizations was fired up by viewing and reading about real-world finds, from Egypt to South America and beyond. We all left wanting to revisit Indy and his adventures again, united in our enthusiasm for an enriching piece of popular culture.
For me, the biggest take-away was that great movies can bring generations within families together, entertaining and enlightening kids, parents and grandparents – not to mention aunts, uncles and cousins — in a shared experience everyone enjoys. It inspired me to start this blog, in hopes of inspiring you to share the movies you love with the kids in your life — whether they’re your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins. If you’re a grown-up whose parents are still around, take some time to watch the movies you love with them. And I hope you’ll let the kids and parents in your life share their favorite movies with you.
In addition to prompting me to launch this blog, “Indiana Jones And The Adventure Of Archaeology” convinced me that there is no greater adventure movie than RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, which introduced us all to rakish archaeologist/professor Indiana Jones.
Though when it was made, it harkened back to the movie serials of the 1930s and 1940s, it’s eons better than the cheesy Saturday matinee movies that inspired it … and way more watchable for today’s kids. It’s edge-of-your-seat filmmaking, director Steven Spielberg, storytellers George Lucas & Philip Kaufman, and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan at their best. It’s a movie you can’t stop watching if you happen to find it on TV and tune in at any particular moment. It enthralls at every viewing, no matter how many times you’ve seen it.
For kids, it’s a thrill ride that’s also wildly educational without ever seeming to be.
Its opening sequence/prologue has no doubt inspired many a video game, but there’s nothing like the real thing. It’s a treasure hunt for a golden idol, and Indiana must run a gamut of perils in a booby-trapped cave to get it out of there. The place is replete with cobwebs and rats and snakes coming out of skulls, sharp objects that dart out, and let’s not forget that hurtling giant stone ball. Once you’ve seen it you never forget it, and while the ride at Disneyland duplicates bits of it and is certainly worth the wait in line at the park, watching the sequence is actually more thrilling than experiencing any simulated version.
In case it’s been awhile or you live under that big stone rock, here’s a quick reminder of what the main story’s about. The Nazis, a Frenchman in their pay called Belloq (Paul Freeman), and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) are all on the trail of the Ark of the Convenant, perhaps the coolest McGuffin ever thought up (McGuffin is a term popularized by director Alfred Hitchcock to denote the object in a movie that all the fuss is about). The Ark is a container, an ornate box thought to hold the Tablets of Stone God gave to Moses atop Mt. Sinai — the ones with the Ten Commandments inscribed on them. (If you’re a believer in the gospel according to director/writer/producer/actor Mel Brooks, there were originally three tablets, not two … that is, until Moses, played by Mel, dropped and broke one in a silly movie that features some memorable comedic gold called HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART 1). The Nazis suspect the Ark may have some bad-ass magical properties, and it’s not the kind of thing you want a bunch of Fascists bent on world domination to get their hands on.
Kids watch much of this movie in wide-eyed wonderment, and that’s no wonder. It’s fast-paced, it takes us to exotic places, and it’s loaded with memorable action sequences. In addition to the prologue, there’s the breathtaking six-minute truck chase, and the marketplace chase, which culminates with Indiana facing down the scimitar-wielding man, and that moment’s memorable climax.
It’s frequently funny (“Why’d it have to be snakes?” “Bad dates!” “Nazis. I hate these guys.”) The Indiana/Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) relationship is appealing even to kids: it never gets mushy (“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage”) or inappropriate: she kisses his scars, which is sexy without being too suggestive for small fry. And kids love the feeling of solving the mystery along with Indy. Indy positioning the Staff of Ra just right in the map room so the light shines through it and illuminates the ark’s location makes kids feel like they’re taking part in a treasure hunt.
Education slips in under the radar. The movie presents opportunities to talk to kids about World War II, Nazis and their twisted ideology, the supposed origins of the Ten Commandments, what an archaeologist really does, etc. If kids are into science or even just arts and crafts, they’ll be intrigued by the special effects, and even kids who are grossed out by the melting faces of the bad guys will want to watch the DVD extras to find out just how that was done. One topic very much worthy of any post-movie discussion is why the filmmakers chose to end the movie the way they did — arguably an ending so fitting that it rivals CITIZEN KANE‘S in its power to somehow simultaneously exasperate and satisfy.
Kids who see RAIDERS will likely be hungry for more of Indy’s adventures. Lots of people argue about the relative merits and weak points of the rest of the movies in the four-film INDIANA JONES series, but the only issue that matters here is which ones are best to watch with kids.
The very best follow-up choice for kids after they see the first movie is INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. The father-son relationship between Henry Jones (Sean Connery) and the son he calls Junior is tremendously fun, the ancient knight who guards the Holy Grail is a character straight out of a fairy tale, and the Nazi book-burning sequence presents a great opportunity to talk to kids about freedom of thought. When it comes to sheer entertainment value, there’s a terrific climactic sequence in which Indy has to take a literal leap of faith and walk across an invisible bridge. And Indy’s brilliant deduction process when he must choose which Grail is genuine is another of those great treasure hunt “aha!” moments kids enjoy.
I don’t think INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM is an age-appropriate experience for younger school-age kids, even though it features one, the character named Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), and the mine cart sequence is a lot like an amusement park ride. It’s genuinely frightening a few times too often. There’s a harder edge to the proceedings. At one point, a heart gets ripped out of a body by someone’s bare hands, and Indiana faces the threat of being the perpetrator’s next victim. It may be more nightmare-inducing than it is fun for some, so exercise caution. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is a somewhat better choice, but its Cold War politics are a bit harder to boil down for elementary school kids, and some tweens and teens may have as much trouble as grown-ups buying some of the harder-to-swallow plot devices (Indy survives a nuclear explosion by getting inside a refrigerator, for instance, and then there are those mind-reading aliens with the crystal skulls).
Kids who become Indy-hooked may want to delve further into the canon by watching episodes of the definitely kid-appropriate, under-appreciated TV series THE ADVENTURES OF YOUNG INDIANA JONES, which can be found on Netflix.
So go have a great on-screen adventure with kids. The world of INDIANA JONES beckons.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, Story By George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. With Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott.
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989) Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Jeffrey Boam, Story by George Lucas and Menno Meyjes. With Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody, Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies.