The Indiana Jones series has never been lacking in jaw-dropping action stakes. And new movie Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny promises to honour the franchise's legacy with another instalment of relentless adventure that once again pits Dr Jones (Harrison Ford) against the Nazis.
The Indy series was initiated by Steven Spielberg who deployed all the resources at his disposal to make us utter, 'How did they do that?' Pre-CGI, a savvy combination of stuntwork, matte paintings, real-world locations and nifty practical effects helped give a tangible believability to even the most outlandish of set pieces. And, as it turns out, Ford was often the secret sauce in that mixture.
On the eve of the new movie's release, here are the greatest moments of stuntwork from the saga.
1. The boulder escape (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981)
Yes, that's really Harrison Ford fleeing from a 12-foot fibreglass boulder during Raiders' barnstorming opening sequence. Spielberg hits the ground rolling by introducing all of the tropes that would become immortalised in the series: Ford's laconic screen presence, booby-trapped tombs, grisly death scenes, the bullwhip and hair-raising escapes in the knick of time.
It's surely one of the most breathless and brilliant openings to a movie in cinema history, conveying a great deal of complex detail about Indy's character through physical action alone. And when John Williams' brassy trumpets kick in during the boulder reveal, it's nothing less than pure musical adrenaline.
Spielberg explained: "There were five shots of the rock from five different angles — each one done separately, each one done twice — so Harrison had to race the rock ten times. He won ten times — and beat the odds. He was lucky — and I was an idiot for letting him try it."
2. Truck drag (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981)
Raiders' blistering truck sequence in the midst of the Egyptian desert kicks the action into high gear. The fiendish Nazis have recovered the mysterious Ark of the Covenant from the Well of the Souls and Indy is truly on the back foot, having recently taken a vicious battering from a Nazi mechanic (played by series regular Pat Roach).
However, Indy isn't one to let things get him down and he sets off in pursuit of the Nazi convoy that is guarding the Ark. (If only they knew what was coming to them later on.) Michael Kahn's crisp editing and the typically flawless punch of John Williams' score, which abruptly shifts into a desperate tempo when Indy is shot in the arm, is topped by a truly brilliant stunt where Indy is dragged behind the truck.
Once again, that's Ford doing the stunt himself. The production dug out a hollowed section of road and had the actor dragged through it at high speed. He later quipped: "If it was really that dangerous, they would have left it until the end of the shoot."
3. Rope bridge collapse (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1984)
Stunt co-ordinator Vic Armstrong is the unseen hero of the Indiana Jones action sequences. The British veteran regularly doubles for Ford during the more extreme moments, although it's remarkable to note how much the actor throws himself into risky situations.
The vertiginous climax to The Temple of Doom skillfully cuts between Ford and Armstrong although the former again demonstrated his bravery on the set. While squaring off against the forces of Thuggee priest Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) on a high, rickety rope bridge, Indy decides to cut the cord, sending Ram's men to their death in the crocodile-infested river below.
The bridge was constructed for real across a 300-foot gorge outside of Kandy in Sri Lanka, and Spielberg was so terrified of being near it that he was forced to drive one and a half miles to the other side for reverse shots. Nevertheless, that shot of Indy sprinting onto the structure for the first time is Ford himself, once again assaying Indy's fearless bravado, and astonishing Spielberg in the process.
4. Horse to tank (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989)
Here's a sequence in which Vic Armstrong is very much to the fore. The Last Crusade's most ambitious set piece sets Indy against a Nazi brigade as the various factions close in on the location of the Holy Grail. Spielberg's intertwining of the action is typically balletic and masterful, turning the screw at every turn as Indy ventures to save his father Henry (Sean Connery) from the Nazis' clutches.
Take a bow again John Williams whose orchestral command exhilarates and electrifies even before we get to the showstopper stunt. As Indy fires shots at Nazi enemy Vogel (Michael Byrne) in a tank, Spielberg's camera transitions into a wide shot to take in Indy on horseback as he makes a jaw-dropping leap onto said tank. And all in one shot.
Little wonder that a Sky Arts poll voted this one of the greatest stunts ever put to film, and Armstrong has also said he's especially proud of it.
5. Soviet car battle (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 2008)
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gets far too bogged down in CG imagery to rival the action stakes of its predecessors. Nevertheless, there's an impressive and spirited early sequence that does rely on in-camera practicality and stuntwork, as Indy and Mutt (Shia LeBeouf), soon to be revealed as his son, flee Soviet agents.
It's the rare Indy action sequence to take place in and around the confines of Marshall College where our title character doubles up as a professor. The sight of Indy being dragged off a moving motorbike into a car and then back out the other side onto the big again is genuinely impressive, possessing a physical heft that the rest of the film lacks.
And in classic Spielberg fashion, the sequence one-ups itself when Indy and Mutt drive into the hallowed confines of Marshall College, eventually sliding to a stop in front of a baffled student (played by Tom Hanls' son Chet). It's one of the movie's rare sequences that perfectly distills the Indy brand.
How will the action sequences in The Dial of Destiny stack up against the earlier movies? It'll soon be time to find out. Click the link below to book your tickets for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. It arrives at Cineworld on June 28th.