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I love sequels to great movies, but a second sequel usually brings no surprises that aren't silly and contrived. (The ROCKY and LETHAL WEAPON series spring to mind). Not this sequel--maybe because it begins as a prequel: we go back in time to meet Indi as a boy in 1912 Utah (played by River Phoenix). We discover his real name and why he wears that hat, and glimpse the odd relationship between him and his father, the professor of medieval literature "..that students hope they don't get." This is the best in the Indiana Jones trilogy, and Spielberg's casting of Sean Connery as Indi's dad has much to do with it. What has kept stars like Connery and Clint Eastwood on Hollywood's payroll is the ability to keep reinventing oneself as one ages to take on roles that are completely opposite the characters that made them famous. (See Rising Sun.) There's no mistaking the elder Dr. Jones for James Bond. Clearly he's a person who's devoted his life to academic studies and avoided manual labor--my grandmother would call him "book smart and life dumb". Dad is so lovably inept that he's as much trouble to Indi as the people trying to kill him. (But yet in one great scene his knowledge of the Classics saves them from an angry Nazi.)

The movie opens in Utah's wondrous red rock country where Indi and his friend get separated from their boy scout troop in a cave just as a gang of mobsters unearth the Cross of Coronado, the gold cross given to him by Cortez in 1520. "That belongs in a museum," Indi reasons for stealing the treasure and facing snakes, lions and every other circus animal to escape the men. He runs proudly into the house to show his father who's busy translating, only to have the the senior Jones make him count to ten (in Greek) before interrupting. "You were more interested in people that were dead for 500 years than you were in me," Indi accuses him years later.

The film forwards to the 1940's where Indi is discouraging his archaeology class: "Forget lost cities and buried treasure maps. Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library researching...and X never, ever marks the spot." This of course is just before he's summoned to the home of Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), an art and antiquities collector who's acquired a stone marker that leads to the whereabouts of the Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus at the last supper, said to bring eternal life to anyone who drinks from it. Legend is that the last person to have seen the Grail was a knight from the first crusade of the Middle ages (hence the movie's title), and that same knight still guards the grail at its resting place. Another marker is buried with the knight's dead brother somewhere in Italy. Donovan is currently financing an expedition to find the other marker and then the Grail itself. The expedition was going well until the leader disappeared, and Donovan wants Indie to take over. But Grail lore was his father's hobby, not his. "You've got the wrong Jones. Try my father."

"We already have. Your father is the man who disappeared."

So off he goes to find his father, aided by MARCUS BRODY (ELLIOTT), who got lost once in his own museum, and DR. ELSA SCHNEIDER (DOODY), an art historian who'd been doing more than working with the elder Dr. Jones in Venice. JOHN RHYS-DAVIES as Sallah joins the cause in Egypt in one of the most amusing scenes. Along the way Indi battles the Knights Templar, and Nazis, much as he did in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. (If you pay attention there's a clever reference to the ark in the catacombs scene.) This fast-paced adventure takes Indi and you the viewer from the canals in Venice to Hitler's Berlin (Indi even manages to get Hitler's autograph) and finally to the Middle Eastern deserts through "the valley of the crescent moon." The same invigorating musical score by John Williams that was composed for the first movie also permeates this one, and the photography is spectacular. The final scenes were filmed at Petra in Jordan. I don't know if it's a coincidence that the movie opens with red rock scenery in America's Southwest and ends in Middle Eastern red rock country. Maybe Spielberg is as partial to that type of landscape as I am.

The message in this film is about the destruction that greed can bring--when a sacred artifact is sought for monetary or vain purposes. "You must ask yourself why you seek the Grail. Is it for HIS glory, or for your own?" Does the Grail really exist? Spielberg and George Lucas make a good case for it. I wonder how many priests would have the amount of faith that Indi and his father have to muster up in those final moments. It's nice to speculate that such a powerful relic is just waiting for somebody to find it again after thousands of years. As Donovan tells Indi, "It's a bedtime story I'd like to wake up to."

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