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Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

During the seven years following the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, three teenagers from Mississippi - Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb - set out to express their love for it by remaking it scene for scene. The opening scroll on the finished product reads as a touching tribute in itself, mentioning that Steven Speilberg, George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan had allowed them to discover their love for movies by directing, producing and writing the first Indiana Jones film. It’s a feeling that a lot of us can relate to. 


As a thirteen-year-old who’d just started getting into movies, I’d started building my DVD collection when Lucasfilm released box sets of the original and prequel Star Wars trilogies, and what was then the Indiana Jones trilogy. My parents bought me them for Christmas, and I instantly fell in love with the sense of adventure that they all shared. For that reason, it’s easy to recognise that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny comes from a place of love for the series. 


Starting off with a sequence that calls back to the young Indy that we remember, we get what is essentially a greatest hits set where he punches Nazis and makes a few quips while pursuing an ancient artefact. To achieve this, Harrison Ford is de-aged with a CGI-rendered face. It isn’t terribly done, but it does challenge immersion considering that a lot of the scenes where it’s visible are played opposite Toby Jones as Basil Shaw. 


Basil is the more interested party, really. He’s obsessed with the perceived capabilities of what we come to realise is the titular dial of destiny, and he’s an effective conduit for us to work out why any of this is important. However, his face is very obviously his face, and when Indy’s isn’t quite so photo-realistic, it just creates a weird contrast between the two of them that’s difficult to get over. 


A breath of fresh air comes when we meet Indy as he is now, an old man with noisy neighbours in the 70s. There’s just something that feels special about seeing the character in such a relatable and relatively modern setting, dealing with mundane issues that any grumpy old man would. Perhaps part of the charm is knowing how close this persona is to Harrison Ford himself. 


On his last day of work as an archaeology professor, he comes into contact with his goddaughter, the child of Basil, Helena Shaw played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The Indiana Jones series is littered with iconic side characters, from Ke Huy Quan’s Short Round to Sean Connery’s Henry Jones Snr. - and the biggest compliment that can be given to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is that Helena Shaw appears quite comfortable as a part of that line-up. She’s charismatic, complex, and like the others, a fantastic foil for a main character who’d rather not be doing all the talking. 


For a good 80% of the film, it really is surprisingly good. After Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it felt as if maybe Indy was limited to three good films and it should’ve stayed as a trilogy rather than branching out into the never-ending franchise territory, but The Dial of Destiny did begin to challenge that thought. Here we had a film that seemed to know what it wanted to be and where it came from, and the result was something that truly felt like an Indy film. Then it all fell apart. 


The bulk of the film is so good that it’s easy to forget the uncanny valley de-ageing of the opening sequence, but then the ending sequence becomes such nonsense that it all comes flooding back. We’re used to seeing Indy witness absurd twists in reality, but in the original trilogy, they thoughtfully take us to the edge of how far we can suspend our disbelief. In The Dial of Destiny, it feels like we’re being frogmarched beyond it while a lone screenwriter whispers an apology. The worst thing is it might have been fine without the feeling that the film itself was embarrassed by the story it had begun to tell us - none of the characters seem at all bothered by the reality-shattering event that’s just occurred, which makes it impossible to gauge what on earth we should be feeling about it. 


It’s a shame that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny has such glaring flaws, because it’s mostly a thoughtful film clearly made with love. Perhaps there was pressure from somewhere to make this the biggest and most cinematic film it could possibly be, and that’s why we ended up with such a disjointed end to it all. What could have been a modern classic sadly joins the list of late-stage franchise revivals that haven’t really made any difference.

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