Jonesing For The New Indy Film By Mike White. A Bold Proposition
Before this discussion gets going, I would like to propose that there have thus far only been two Indiana Jones filmsIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade...
A Bold Proposition
Before this discussion gets going, I would like to propose that there have thus far only been two Indiana Jones filmsIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. These films, though they share the same lead character as Raiders of the Lost Ark, are as different in their monikers as they are in spirit. Certainly some ardent fans of the so-called "Indiana Jones Trilogy" tend to find some redeemable qualities in Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade (more in later than the former). However, neither of these films comes close to capturing the vitality and filmmaking prowess of Raiders of the Lost Ark. They simply pale in comparison.
Temple of Doom could have been a strong, if simplistic, adventure in which Dr. Jones battles Thugs to recaptures an impoverished village’s sacred Shankara stone. Written by husband and wife team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, this narrative could be seen as overly simple when compared to the globetrotting tale of biblical proportions from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Also, the film suffered under the weight of the highly annoying Mrs. Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw, as well as being plagued with the "Cousin Oliver Syndrome" by employing a "cute" kid, Ke Huy Kwan. These factors along with a xenophobic script and the controversy surrounding the use of violence in the film (this and the Spielberg-produced Gremlins provided much of the basis for the introduction of the MPAA’s PG-13 rating) made Temple of Doom a half-hearted prequel at best.
In making a sequel (or in Temple of Doom’s case, a prequel), filmmakers often dissect the film’s predecessor(s) and try to give audiences more of what they seemed to enjoy. This is also known as playing to the lowest common denominator and it often gives way to scenes like those in Temple of Doom where our protagonists are faced with a bevy of bugs reminiscent of the tarantulas and snakes of Raiders. We also see not one but two swordsmen face off against Indiana who simply chuckles and reaches for his gun, referring back to the big laugh in Raiders of the Lost Ark where he simply shoots the guy. Indiana’s cavalier attitude makes no sense at this point because, as Temple of Doom is a prequel, he has not yet encountered the swarthy scimitar-wielder. This recycling of material appeared to reduce Raiders to its base elements instead of either giving the original film the reverence it deserved or breaking new ground and braving the audiences’ reactions.
With the benefit of hindsight, writer Jeffrey Boam could have attempted to recapture the essence of Raiders but, instead, took the low road and created The Last Crusade.
The character of Indiana Jones has been, since his inception, larger-than-life. However, the Jones of The Last Crusade resided somewhere between James Bond and Jesus on the mythical hero scale, which is only appropriate, I suppose, since Jones is on the hunt for The Holy Grail. While Boam recycles material from Raiders (Nazis, biblical relics) he also mimicked some of Temple of Doom: Tarantulas? Snakes? Bugs? No, this time it’s all about rats, kids.
Amid the grumbling Mike Thompson mentioned in his recent online article about The Phantom Menace, a constant murmur of rumor and speculation has surrounded the possibility of a fourth Indiana Jones film. At the time of writing this article, the rumor was that Jeffrey Boam was returning to his typewriter to bang out the next Indiana Jones installment: Indiana Jones and The Sword of Arthur . However, at least two other viable scripts have been proposed: Indiana Jones 4 by Chris Columbus and Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars by Jeb Stuart.
Jeffry Boam is definitely treading water with The Sword of Arthur in which an older, grumpier Indiana Jones reluctantly helps a former student, Collins, and his female partner, Arianna Smith (alas, Smith and Jones!), in their search for the journal that will give directions to the mysterious Enigma Islandburial place of the sword, Excalibur. To say that this has shades of The Last Crusade with Indiana’s father’s journal and the search for another artifact of legend, The Holy Grail, would be an understatement.
It is in the search for a relic as famous as Excalibur that Jones passes from a rollicking archaeologist to the stuff of legends. The Ark of the Covenant may have been big stuff but it wasn’t one’s typical adventure film focus. It wasn’t a weapon in the traditional sense and it wasn’t as well known as the Holy Grail (perhaps due to the popularity of the New Testament or perhaps due to Monty Python and the Holy Grail). The Ark and its abilities were shrouded in mystery until the end of the film (and nothing is ever clearly explained which makes it even better) unlike Excalibur, which even the most casual of observers will know to be a powerful sword.
As he was in The Last Crusade, Indiana is betrayed. This time, however, it is his Collins who betrays him which would tend to make Arianna a bit easier to get along with, except that she is a figure from his past. It seems that she and Indiana were both students under Abner Ravenwood (along with Belloq). In a convoluted flashback, we see the young Indiana Jones searching for the headpiece to the Staff of Ra with his fellow novice archaeologists in a race to be Abner’s assistant. Not only does this flashback feel forced but also it seems to tie up too many loose ends. Like the beginning to The Last Crusade, we see young Indiana doing something that the audience doesn’t necessarily need to see as it wraps up his life a bit too neatly, removing the mystery to his character. Also, the idea of a series of flashbacks to a young Indiana character is a bad idea. I say that based on the show "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" as well as the fact that River Phoenix, who did a splendid job of capturing Harrison Ford’s nuances, would not be able to repeat his performance due to the fact that he’d dead.
Why does Collins betray him? The answers Collins gives is very unsatisfactory, "This thing is about power and glory. Two things which I am destined to possess." However, later in the story it seems that Collins is peeved more by the fact that he’s a poor archaeologist. I guess I should just take him at his words, "Why keep asking a question you know won’t be answered to your satisfaction?"
Collins is working for descendants of The Black Knight, Mordred. Of course, Indiana and Arianna meet up with the secret society of folks who represent the Knights of the Round Table. The two have been locked in a struggle for power for centuries, unbeknownst to the rest of the world. The knights still dress in armour but now they arm themselves with shotguns and automatic weapons. I can’t imagine how ridiculous that might appear on screen.
The script moves from set piece to set piece with flashbacks and verbal sparring thrown in between. Boam’s writing is not splashy nor does it work at holding one’s interest for any length of time. He utilizes lots of speaking roles, which makes keeping the knights straight a chore. The only time I didn’t have this problem is when he introduced a group of knights who happened to share the names of members of Monty Python.
Instead of being engaging with his storytelling, Boam prefers to punctuate the script with suggestions to end scenes with shots of characters’ faces. "OFF JONES’ REACTION:" is a popular line. Without being able to provide adequate writing, Boam chooses to write things like, "What ensues is the greatest double-decker bus/Car chase ever put on film." By the way, this comes in the movie at just about the same time as the boat chase in The Last Crusadethis time Indiana is being chased by the guys in the "secret society" instead of the other way around.
The inevitable conclusion deals with the theme of what happens when Evil tries to control a tool meant for the righteous. Parallels could be drawn to the Nazis desire to control the Ark but in the film’s context, it rings more of the end of The Last Crusade than Raiders. Boam struggles to provide more closure in the story with a passage in which Indiana describes the unlucky fates of most of the major characters in the previous films (Brody poisoned, Sallah pissed, Marion missing, etc.). He even makes sure to end the film with Indiana minus one eye to better fit into the Indiana Jones lore and the monocular narrator of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Robbing our hero of his eye and his friends adds a layer of malaise to Boam’s attempt at an upbeat ending.
Much hullabaloo was made when Temple of Doom was released in regard to it being a prequel, not a sequelit was set before Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, I have yet to read a compelling argument as to why this was necessary. The film’s narrative was not dependent on any specific date. It merely related the feel of an era in India’s history and could have been set after Raiders just as easily. If "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" could teach us anything, it’s that history should play a role in tales of his adventures.
That is not to say that Indiana Jones’ history should be inexorably intertwined with known history. By including Indiana at every major event in the Twentieth Century he begins to resemble Zelig. This also detracts from the slight believability of his character. Characters who appear at crucial turning points in history would be better fit to exist in a show like "Voyagers" or the Bill & Ted films. Instead, Indiana Jones should exist within history and this backdrop should enrich his adventures.
Setting The Sword of Arthur in 1950 served no other purpose than portraying an older Indiana Jones whom is ready to turn in his whip and retire to a safe life of obscurity. Jeb Stuart’s Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars is set one year earlier and also has Jones feeling the aches and pains of his rough and tumble life. However, Stuart is effective in his use of history as he employs the paranoia of the Cold War in his script.
Intrigue and Espionage
The opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indiana ventures into the rain forest of Peru for the golden statuette is a great way to grab the audience’s attention. It’s filled with stunts and scares: reminiscent of the vignettes that begin every James Bond film. This scene can stand on its own but is skillfully integrated into the rest of the film, unlike the opening scenes of the films that followed.
Temple of Doom’s nightclub scene introduces Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott and puts she and Indiana on the path to India via villain Lao Che’s men scuttling their airplane. The Last Crusade, on the other hand, gives brief introduction to Indiana’s father who will play a role later in the film but, otherwise, it is independent of the rest of the film.
The beginning of Stuart’s Saucer Men from Mars is similar to that of Temple of Doom with its revelation of the film’s love interest, Elaine McGregor. Like The Sword of Arthur’s Arianna, Elaine is armed with the fighting spirit of Marion Ravenwood (unlike the ultra-femme Willie) and the archaeological expertise of Indiana. There’s little pent-up sexual sparring between these characters as they follow their hearts and are on the way down the wedding aisle by the end of the first act.
Unfortunately for Indiana, he’s left waiting at the altar as his bride-to-be is escorted out of the church and driven away just minutes before the ceremony. Is it cold feet or did Indiana’s whirlwind romance leave a few stones unturned in regards to his betrothed’s past?
Unlike The Sword of Arthur, Stuart allows Indiana some happiness with his wedding guests consisting of past characters like Sallah, Short Round, and his father. Indiana even gets consolation from Willie and Marion after his fiancé heads for the hills.
With no explanation as to her departure, Indiana’s quest is to cherchez la femme. The trail takes him to New Mexico where he finds Elaine working as an intelligence agent for the U.S. government where her skills as a linguist are in need to translate a stone cylinder that’s been found in the desert. Of course, it was found clasped in the dead hand of an alien who had crawled four miles from the creature’s crashed spaceship.
The cylinder is marked with Egyptian, Mayan, Sanskrit and Chinese pictographs and an apparently limitless source of power. The government aims to harness it, Indiana and Elaine work to translate it and Russian spies maneuver to steal it. As can be expected, the Russians get their commie hands on the cylinder. The rest of the film consists of Indiana and Elaine chasing after them, trying to recapture it and take it to the destination of our little alien friend where its placement will avert armageddon.
Stuart keeps his villains adequately ominous and plentiful. The aliens, though well intended, are singular of purpose and mean to fulfill their cosmic obligation and retrieve their cylinder regardless of who may be standing in their way. In addition, neither the Army nor the Russians wish to give up a powerful item despite the consequences.
The date on the cover of the script indicates that this draft of Saucer Men from Mars was written 2/20/95. Years of "X-Files" may have lessened the impact of UFO cover-ups but at least the idea that the government not being trust-worthy is consistent with the spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark and their use of the Ark.
Stuart does a fine job of keeping the story moving while avoiding action scenes for the sake of action scenes. He avoids excessive camera direction and trite description while giving the reader a clear image of on-screen events.
The Pit of Agony
February of ’95 must have been a popular time for writing Indiana Jones films. Chris Columbus’ first draft of Indiana Jones 4 is dated ten days before Stuart’s crack at it which leads me to believe that LucasFilms/Amblin commissioned several writers to work on scripts, to later choose the best one to shoot.
If Columbus’ version had to have a snappy title, I’d call it Indiana Jones and the Monkey God of Africaa silly, albeit appropriate title. By far, this is the worst of the three scripts. It exemplifies nearly everything wrong with the Indiana Jones films. First off, the film is set in 1937, which makes it a sequel to Raiders (1936) but a prequel to The Last Crusade (1938). The reason for this is even more mysterious than the need to make Temple of Doom a prequel, especially with the film’s cockamamie conclusion that would not lend itself to be followed by The Last Crusade.
Like The Last Crusade, the opening of The Monkey God of Africa spotlights an isolated incident. However, it neither introduces significant characters nor develops Indiana. Instead, we see Indiana being pulled away from his fishing on the Scottish moors to do a little ghost busting in a creepy castle. He fights suits of armour (The Sword of Arthur?) and vicious dogs to capture a cackling crackpot who may, or may not, be an apparition.
From there the story takes us back to Indiana’s University where we see him trying to deal with his students who are anxious for their exam grades in one of many scenes that hearkens back to The Last Crusade.
Like his father’s quest for the Holy Grail, Indiana has long been searching for the remains of Sun Wu-Kung, the Stone Monkey God, the half-man half-monkey guardian of the Garden of Immortal Peaches. Marcus Brody shows Indiana a film of anthropologist Clare Clark and her latest discovery, Tyki, a two hundred-year-old pygmy with a peach-pit necklace.
Indiana wastes no time in heading to Africa where he hooks up with his old friend Scraggy. Matters instantly become complicated when it’s discovered that Indiana didn’t travel alonehis teaching assistant, the love-struck, low-class Brooklyn babe Betsy, has stowed away and is determined to win the love of her paternal professor (Betsy Lewinsky?). Betsy is a constant source of embarrassment to Indiana and to herself. Her presence doesn’t do anything to win Claire’s admiration and doesn’t do much for the story other than to provide some cheap laughs.
The Monkey God of Africa, yet again, pits Indiana against Nazis who are curious about his activities after his involvement with the loss of the Ark of the Covenant. After fits and starts the narrative becomes a ho-hum chase through the jungle with our heroes on the run from a battalion of Nazis armed with a souped-up supertank and teaming up with a group of bloodthirsty pirates. As if you couldn’t get any worse off than that, the trail to Tyki’s home leads the narrative into something that out-does the cheesiness of Congo with Tyki’s "Land of City in Clouds" being guarded by hyper-intelligent killer apes.
The story spirals further into the realms of the ridiculous with the head Nazi, Gutterbuhg, with his machine gun arm (shades of Enter the Dragon) taking control of the city, Indiana’s death, the resurrection of Sun Wu-King and the subsequent granting of Indiana his life and mystical Golden Hooped Rod. Hey, if Indiana is so righteous that he can capture the Holy Grail, why not make him a demi-god?
Suffice to say getting through The Monkey God of Africa was something of a challenge. Not only was the story outlandish but it was poorly written. Columbus’ script was packed full of description that leant did nothing to either enrich the narrative or move it along. In order to denote that a scene was exciting, Columbus would write the cue, "SOUNDTRACK MUSIC SWELLS". The ongoing recurrence of this began to tire me and felt contradictory as the story lacked any real thrills.
The Unofficial Story
Each of these potential sequels takes the Indiana Jones legend along a completely different paththough the scenery may look more familiar along some more than others. As one can surmise by the titles, these are "Indiana Jones" films and still fail to capture the spark of unabashed thrills that was Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although, it feels like Jeb Stuart was attempting to get to that level instead of continuing to degrade the reputation of that fine film.
I’d like to make clear that I don’t make any claims to the legitimacy of any of the aforementioned scripts. I have read synopses for a myriad of other scripts with titles like Indiana Jones and the Lost Continent(not to be confused with the "Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis" video game), Indiana Jones and the Sons of Darkness, Indiana Jones and the Garden of Life, and Raiders of the Fallen Empire with storylines of Indiana being after everything from the Garden of Eden to Atlantis to Noah’s Ark. Word of Tom Selleck, Mark Hamill, or Kevin Costner playing Indiana’s long-lost evil brother has also surfaced.
It is often said that rumors contain a grain of truth. In this case, the roots of some of the aforementioned dubious storylines can be traced to video games (like LucasArt’s Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis) or books (like Rob MacGregor’s Indiana Jones and the Genesis Deluge). There is a chance that one (or more) of the scripts might have been written by fans.
At the time this article was written the writing credits on both The Sword of Arthur and Raiders of the Lost Empire were being disputedbeing credited to Michael Prentice and Garrett Brown. Though I can say for certain that Film Writers Guide (ISBN: 0943728983) reports that Jeb Stuart has an Indiana Jones script listed under his unproduced work.
So why discuss possibly bogus scripts, especially when none of them may become the next Indiana Jones film? They are valid in that they show the possibilities of the future of the series. At times this vision may appear bleak (The Sword of Arthur, The Monkey God of Africa) or fairly good (Saucer Men from Mars). Regardless, one can hope that any future chapter in the Indiana Jones saga will avoid the trappings that have been discussed here and not mimic the mistakes of the past. I suppose that screenwriters who don’t understand the past are doomed to repeat it.
Since this article come out, Indiana Jones has found new life on DVD as well as in video games. Along with the aforementioned "Fate of Atlantis", Indy has appeared in at least two other games; "Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine" (Indy Vs. Russians) and "Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb" (Indy Vs. Nazis).
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