Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Is an Old-Fashioned Good Time

Laura J. Burns
Laura J. Burns writes books, writes for TV, and sometimes writes TV based on books and books based on TV. She will never, however, write a poem. She’s the managing editor of The Antagonist.

You should go see Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. It’s fun! I’ve read all the complaints and honestly, people need to stop complaining about movies. Back in the day, you went to movies because they were fun, and the most fun movie of all time was Raiders of the Lost Ark. None of the sequels ever quite lived up to that, but still they were fun (except Temple of Doom, it’s the worst one and I will die on this hill, Short Round is the only good thing in it).

Did they de-age Harrison Ford and Mads Mikkelsen? Yup. And who cares? It’s not terrible. They didn’t have to make them 22-year-olds, they just had to make them vaguely middle-aged. Nobody cares what handsome middle-aged men look like when they’re swashbuckling on a train in the middle of the night and there’s a whip and some ancient artifacts and one of them’s a Nazi. It’s Indiana Jones, for god’s sake! Lighten up. Eat popcorn and watch the damn movie!

Have I mentioned that I’m old? I talk about it a lot in The Antagonist writers room and they laugh at me because in terms of actual life expectancy I’m not old, nor do I think I am. What I mean is that in pop culture terms I’m old. I remember things that younger adults experienced only as, say, re-runs (which is a word we used in the 1970s that later fell out of style and became “in syndication” and then “on demand” and then “streaming”). I watched Fantasy Island and Hawaii Five-0 and Magnum P.I. in their first iterations. I remember that the reason My So-Called Life, which launched the careers of Jared Leto and Claire Danes, flopped in spite of being amazing is that it premiered the same year in the same time slot as Friends. I was bitter about it, in fact. I remember the pop culture of the 1990s, and so do all my beloved colleagues here at The Antagonist, but they remember it as the shows and movies of their youth and I remember it as stuff I watched in my 20s to rip off for plot ideas at the YA book company I worked for. It’s different.

ANYWAY, my point is that I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark when it first came out–when I was 12. And then I saw it ten more times while I was 12. Movies were cheap then, and also I still got the child price and my best friend was as obsessed with Harrison Ford as I was. We went to the movies a lot. Because movies were fun. We also saw The Empire Strikes Back a ton of times. And when Temple of Doom came out we saw that probably ten times. We saw Return of the Jedi for my birthday sleepover party on opening night, even though it was a month before my actual birthday. But we saw it again five more times before my birthday.

You see, children, back in the ’80s, you had to go to the movies over and over because once those films left the theaters, they were gone. You were shit out of luck until they finally came on TV–heavily edited–years later. YEARS LATER. If you were rich enough to afford HBO or Showtime, you could watch them without edits a little earlier, but it was still years after they left the theater. So you saw movies you loved as many times as you could and you memorized the lines and you just had a blast. You might not see them again, as far as you knew, ever. The important part wasn’t whether the movie was perfect or got every single special effect just right or met the expectations of each individual market segment. The important part was that you had fun watching it, it made you laugh and cry and whoop in excitement and cover your eyes when you were scared, and maybe you saw it with your date and that was fun, or maybe you forged a friendship with somebody because you both loved Ancient Egyptian archeology so much that you wanted to see Raiders eleven times. It was just thrilling to sit in a big dark room with a bunch of strangers and feel all the feelings together. Movies are about the story, the characters, and the experience of it all. Movies–big, popcorn adventure films like the Indiana Jones movies–are about having fun.

I hate to agree with Tom Cruise about anything (even though he’s right about seeing movies in theaters), so instead I’ll just let Harrison Ford tell you why you should go to an actual movie theater and watch Dial of Destiny.

As for the hater reviews of this film? Here’s my Gen X response: Whatever. It’s fun. It’s an Indiana Jones movie. There are some jokes, there are some great set pieces even if they go on too long, there’s the hat and the whip and the unrivaled John Williams score, and there’s Indy as an old man. And really that’s the best reason to see it. Indy has been with us for decades, and he’s an iconic character. Dial of Destiny, whatever its minor flaws, gives Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones a truly satisfying end to his character arc, and he deserves that. 

Indy himself knows his best days are behind him, that the world doesn’t really appreciate men like him anymore, that the culture has moved on. (I could say the same about this movie and the general critical response to it.) But he’s still there, as true to himself as ever, a little older, a little sadder, with some more aches and pains. And he still knows what’s important: having friends who will help you, loving the people you love, and always, always fighting Nazis whenever they appear.

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