Lately I’ve been on an unintentional INDIANA JONES kick. I watched RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK a day or two before seeing CRYSTAL SKULL. I intended to watch all three of the movies, but after RAIDERS, I didn’t really have any interest in the other two. I got INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL on Blu Ray for Xmas. I still haven’t watched it. I saw it at the midnight screening of the first night and haven’t seen it since. One of my greatest fears for the film would be the over-spectacle trying to compete with THE MUMMY trilogy or the TOMB RAIDER movies, which to me are grossly exaggerated CGI fests with little to no heart and soul. Unfortunately my fear became somewhat realized with the 4th Indiana Jones movie. Now I didn’t HATE the movie like most fanboys and even the majority of my peers. Don’t get me wrong, I hated the whole Alien-extra dimensional thing as much as anybody else, but I’d rather see a decrepit, aging Harrison Ford doing this than put up with a cheap imitation with Brendon Fraser or even Angelina Jolie in a tight form fitting outfit (hey, I’m secure enough in my heterosexuality to admit this).
Part of what I am coming to realize as my years increase is that many of the things I liked or accepted as a youth are just not with me today. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK changed my life just as much as STAR WARS had. This movie is as close to perfection as a film can be. It plays on the emotions just as much as it titillates the eye with action. What most people don’t see in it now is how subtle the supernatural is in that film. There really is only a few subtle hints with the Map Room (which is not supernatural, but it’s almost laser like), then the Ark of the Covenant burning off the German writing on its own box, and then the big FX spectacle at the end. The film is so grounded in reality and so believable, we the audience were ready to take the leap of faith for the ending being an FX and supernatural extravaganza. The same was not true for me in any of the sequels.
RAIDERS was taking itself seriously. There was no detail overlooked and so much passion was put into every aspect. From the incredible dialogue that gets out exposition at every turn without ever being hokey was a miracle of writing. Set design by Normal Reynolds melded the real exteriors in the desert with his sound stage work in London, nonetheless matching Hawaii (pretending to be South America) to those same sound stages. I’m still floored by these simple Hollywood tricks, as I’m so into the STORY and the CHARACTERS, that I forget I’m watching a movie. That’s not true with any of the sequels.
I don’t hate INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. What most people don’t grasp is that it is a Prequel to RAIDERS. RAIDERS takes place in 1936, and TEMPLE OF DOOM clearly states 1935 at the beginning (shot 3 years later). Supposedly this film helps explain how Indiana Jones goes from being a grave robber to a legitimate archeologist. Now I’ll be the first to say that this is nowhere near as good as the first film, and to be honest the action just goes way beyond reality with the mine car chase and some of the other elements, but I didn’t hate this film.
Now I was never a big fan of INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. I felt the “McGuffin” (the Hitchcockian term meaning, the item that serves as a plot motivator) of the film being the Holy Grail rang somewhat hollow. What bothered me; even in 1989 was the very cartoony way they dealt with action and how unrealistic it started to become. When Indy and his father arrive at the Berlin airport, it looked more like a Warner Brothers cartoon, and when they drive into a crater from the Messerschmitt plane and get out unscathed and dust off, I truly hated what the series had become.
Next I found and read the Frank Darabont script for Indiana Jones IV, entitled INDIANA JONES AND THE CITY OF THE GODS. I’m a huge fan of Frank Darabont after SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE GREEN MILE (and even THE MIST). As many people already know, Frank was a writer on the YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES, the TV series by George Lucas that really was more of an educational show than a real drama or action series. Frank developed into an amazing writer and director in his own right. Frank was understandably upset when George Lucas trashed his script for the latest Indiana Jones feature and was quite vocal about it. I thought for sure it would be every bit as amazing as Frank’s normal writing, but sadly I prefer the movie that was made to what his script turned out like. I was shocked to be disappointed in a Frank Darabont Indiana Jones screenplay. The basic plot is the same, but many of the minor players are different, and sadly I was really disappointed in both this scripts and the final movies’ dialogue with Marion Ravenwood. Ugh, someone should have asked Lawrence Kasden to at least make a PASS at the dialogue, as that is his greatest strength as a writer. He did after all have a strong hand in her character’s creation. Her name is his wife’s grandmother’s first name (Marion) and a street they lived near (Ravenwood).
I read the coffee table book on the making of all 4 Indiana Jones features by J.W. Rinzler and Laurant Bouzereau (Spielberg’s most common chronicler of Behind the Scenes). It was insightful and a nice overview of some detail on the making of the entire series. Luckily I bought it used as this puppy costs a lot.
Next, I found a used copy of THE MAKING OF RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK from 1981 by Derek Taylor. I’m done reading this and it has been a great in depth read at various perspectives of a semi-outsider on set writing about what everyone does and how it plays a part in the whole. Since I’m much bigger fan of this first film, I enjoyed this a lot as a standalone read.
Now I’m reading the transcripts of the story conferences for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK with Lawrence Kasden (screenwriter), George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg. Lucasfilm had taken the cassettes and someone internally typed them up, and now they are on the Internet where they are being enjoyed by many.
For several days these three guys sat around and talked out the screenplay from the earliest concepts to detailed scene descriptions. What will shock most readers is how evocative George Lucas’ visual descriptions are of some of the scenes and how intact they are in the final movie(s). Also, they had the mineshaft chase from TEMPLE OF DOOM and several other ideas that wound up in all the other films discussed in these early meetings. The original name being “INDIANA SMITH” changing to “INDIANA JONES” by Spielberg because of the Steve McQueen movie “NEVADA SMITH” being too similar, and other tidbits are brilliant.
THIS should be required reading for any aspiring screenwriter, as it is indicative of the creative process when you are hired to write a screenplay for a director and producer. Most movies are made from a story idea from the PRODUCER, not a spec script written by a writer and sold. A screenwriter has to adhere to what the producer and director dictate, so reading a fairly extensive transcription of several of these story sessions was insightful in a way that most people will never know. For those hoping to make a film within the industry and not some homemade, “let’s put on a show” no-budget indie film, then this should be a priority to obtain, print, and immerse yourself in it.
Seeing how the germ of an idea from the writer, producer, or director gets bounced around the room and then winds up being written in another form demonstrates the collaborative process. Combine that with the insights from the previous sources (books, DVD extras, etc.) and seeing how it is then filmed, and you have a complete view of the creative process of what goes into making a movie.
Sooner or later I’m going to watch KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL again. I’ve only seen it once, so I’d like to give it another chance, but I already know that basically I wish they had never made a sequel to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. It was too perfect and worthy of Oscar ® consideration while the sequels are pale imitations with too much action and nowhere near the passion and heart of the original.
– Peter John Ross