Make Indy Great Again
It pains me to paraphrase the campaign slogan of a racist, misogynist, hate-filled demagogue, who’s also a sociopath, pathological liar, and serial asshat, but in the case of the fifth Indiana Jones film I think it’s apt.
After years of speculation and hearsay, on Tuesday The House of Mouse Chairman Alan Horn unveiled to the world that Disney will be moving ahead with Indiana Jones 5. The film is tentatively scheduled to hit theaters July 19, 2019. Currently the only parties confirmed to return are Harrison Ford, director Steven Spielberg, and producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. As for story and plot details we know less than Ted Cruz does about climate change.
This marks a gigantic first step in the quest to bring Indy back to the big screen. Before, all we had were less than reliable bloggers and even more unreliable sources. Mostly what you heard was either, “we’re getting close” or “it’s in development.” However, if the chairman of Disney says it’s official, then you can take that to Scrooge McDuck’s Moneybank as fact.
When Disney acquired Lucasfilm Ltd. a few years ago, I think it was inevitable that they’d bring the eponymous archaeologist back for a fifth go round. After all, the fourth film grossed $786 million worldwide and was the third highest grossing domestic film of 2008. While many fans saw the film in a negative light, it does hold a 78% “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
So why did they wait so long? Predominantly it was probably Disney’s desire to focus on the new Star Wars films. Aside from nailing down the principal players, my gut tells me they also wanted a solid story and at least a partial script before giving the green light.
Not surprisingly the announcement was met with a certain amount of…contentiousness. It’s no secret that many fans detested Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Even South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone made their thoughts ABUNDANTLY clear:
Initially I was one of those people. I wrote a particularly vitriolic review when I first saw it. However, later I went back and watched it again and it’s now my third favorite Indy film ahead of Temple of Doom. (I await your roasting in the comment section.) However, it’s clear that the people behind this next film need to learn from the mistakes of Crystal Skull, if they want a film fans will enjoy. I’ll freely admit that even though I liked Crystal Skull, if the Indy franchise is going to end, it needs to go out on a higher note.
So what can be done to improve upon Dr. Jones’ next excursion?
KEEP GEORGE LUCAS FAR AWAY
This one is patently obvious. There was plenty of blame to go around regarding the last Indy film, however the majority of Crystal Skull‘s problems can be laid at the feet of George Lucas. Crystal Skull was technically directed by Steven Spielberg but honestly it didn’t FEEL like a Spielberg movie. Lucas’s hands were all over that film and it was clearly more his than Spielberg’s. George Lucas clearly no longer cares about his fans, and it’s time to pass Indiana Jones to a new generation of writers. Fortunately, when Lucas sold Lucasfilm Ltd to Disney, the property rights to Indiana Jones went with it. If Disney is smart they won’t even let him fetch coffee for a grip.
I’m sorry, inter-dimensional space beings. Either way, they don’t belong in Indy 5. I get what George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were trying to do. If you look at the real life myths surrounding the crystal skulls, there are theories that the skulls possess inherent psychic powers and were not of this Earth. However, it really put people off and like Lucas, needs to be kept out of this movie.
MAKE THE MACGUFFIN/ARTIFACT BE OF JUDEO-CHRISTIAN ORIGIN
The two best Indiana Jones films are unquestionably Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. One commonality between the two films was that the MacGuffin in each was of Judeo-Christian origin, The Ark of the Covenant and The Holy Grail. Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull had the Sankara Stones and South American Crystal Skulls. Both were weak MacGuffins and not as well-known as The Ark or The Holy Grail. From a global standpoint the three most recognized religions in the world are Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. A Judeo-Christian artifact will de facto appeal to a broader audience.
Off the top of my head two MacGuffins spring to mind. The first is the Spear of Destiny, also known as the Holy Lance. For those of you unaware, it’s the spear used by the centurion Longinus that pierced the side of Jesus Christ at the crucifixion. The legend behind it is rich with myth and definite fodder for Indy. (Spear) Another is the Cross of Jesus, last seen during the Crusades. Its origins and myths are just as intriguing. (Cross)
BRING BACK SALLAH (JOHN RHYS-DAVIES)
One universal truth about any Indiana Jones movie: he always has a sidekick. The best one by far has been Sallah, played in two films by the brilliant John Rhys-Davies. The seventy-one year old actor is still hale enough to play this role (and why not Harrison Ford will be 75 or 76 by the time they start filming) and the producers would be crazy not to bring him back. Sallah provides plenty of comic relief without being overtly hammy. Additionally, he’s intelligent and somewhat of a badass too. Sallah is the perfect complement to Indy and I sincerely hope Spielberg and crew bring him back.
FILM ON LOCATION
One of the great things about the Indiana Jones series is the sense of authenticity you get when you watch the films. Even though Dr. Jones is chasing after an artifact with supernatural powers, it still seems grounded in a believable reality. Part of that authenticity comes from filming on location. Just look at Raiders. Desert scenes were actually filmed in a REAL desert. In Raiders‘s case it was Tunisia. Skull never felt like the jungles of South America mostly because it wasn’t. All the jungle scenes were filmed in Hawaii. It’s been rumored that one of the reasons the last film wasn’t filmed on location was because of Ford’s desire not to film outside the United States. I guess if you get dysentery in Tunisia though it kind of sours your attitude.
HIRE A SOLID SCREENWRITER
God bless whoever Disney hires to write the screenplay for Indy 5. They’ve got their work cut out for them. Every line of dialogue, every fight scene, every time a character goes to the bathroom is going to be picked apart like Val Kilmer removing broccoli from his sesame chicken. That’s why a strong screenwriter is key. Frank Darabont might not be a bad choice. His original screenplay for Indy 4 (once titled Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods) was far superior to the final product. Even though Ford and Spielberg loved the script, (SHOCKER) George Lucas did not. Darabont however has been known to hold a grudge so I’m not sure if that fence can be mended. Barring that I’d say bring in a young talented screenwriter like Duncan Jones (Moon) or Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation).
RECAST MUTT WILLIAMS (AKA HENRY JONES III)
I didn’t mind Shia LaBeouf as Mutt Williams in Crystal Skull. In fact I actually thought he was good, swinging-with-monkeys-in-the-jungle scene not withstanding. However, he’s not exactly stable right now and not super bankable at the box office. I know this sounds like a callous decision and no major character has ever been recast in an Indiana Jones movie, but I think it’s the right move. Although they probably couldn’t afford him at this point, I’d go with Chris Pratt. He’s young enough to be Indy’s son but could also bring charm, toughness, and humor to the role.
KEEP MARION RAVENWOOD (KAREN ALLEN)
If I had to provide a list of the best female action characters ever put on film, Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood would definitely be in my top five. Marion was Laura Croft before there was a Laura Croft. I thought she was great in Crystal Skull and is Indy’s equal in both intelligence, guile, and general badassery. They are the perfect pair. Probably explains why they got married. My only concern is that if they bring her back it will be in a minor role. I’d like her to be an integral force in the film. Otherwise why bother?
STOP CALLING HIM HENRY!
One of the most annoying things in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was people continually calling Harrison Ford, “Henry” rather than Indiana Jones. I get the impetus behind calling him “Junior” in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but what happened in Skull was stupid. He’s not Henry. He’s Indiana Mothereffin Jones.
INDIANA JONES DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A TOTAL BADASS
People are concerned about Harrison Ford’s age when it comes to this movie. I get it. Assuming the movie starts filming in early 2018, Ford will be almost 76 years old. Can Indy really be as physical as he was in the past? Maybe he doesn’t have to be. Granted I still want to see Ford sporting the Fedora, leather jacket, and whip, but that doesn’t mean he has to punch everything that moves either. He can throw an occasional punch and wield a gun but maybe let some of the others around him do the heavy lifting too.
SET THE FILM IN 1959
The time between Last Crusade and Crystal Skull was obviously the biggest leap at nineteen years. If Indy 5 releases in 2019 as projected, then that will be an eleven year gap between films. However that doesn’t mean there needs to be an eleven year gap in the Indiana Jones universe. (There was an eight year span between Raiders and Last Crusade, but only two years in the actual Indiana Jones timeline.) I still think it would be appropriate to go with the 50s motif again. It worked in Crystal Skull and revisiting the period would be a welcome return.
MAKE THE ENEMY THE SOVIETS AND/OR CHINESE COMMUNISTS
The beauty of keeping the setting in the 50s or early 60s is that America was still deathly afraid of Communists. McCarthy’s Red Scare and the House Un-American Activities Committee were very vivid in people’s memories. The Nazis have been done to death so why not keep it rolling with an enemy relevant for the era? You could even throw in a love interest for Mutt from the Russians or the Chinese.
KILL INDIANA JONES OFF
This may sound like sacrilege but hear me out. If we’re not going to recast Indiana Jones and go the James Bond route, there’s no reason to not kill Indiana Jones. Let’s send him out right with a great film but definitively make sure that it’s the end. I know this runs contrary to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (in the show a ninety-three year old Indy recounts the tales), but no one ever said that show was canon. Plus there’s precedent here as one of Ford’s other characters, Han Solo, was killed off in The Force Awakens. I also have a strong suspicion that his character of Rick Deckard will be killed in the upcoming Blade Runner sequel as well. Why not make it a clean sweep? And just in case Disney wants to keep the mojo going, the franchise torch can be passed down to Indy’s son. (Hence one of the reasons I suggested recasting Mutt Williams.)
I know fans of Indiana Jones are leery of a fifth installment in the franchise. That’s understandable for reasons that are patently obvious. However, I don’t think that’s a legit enough reason NOT to do the film. The principles are still involved, Ford’s got stuff left in the tank, there’s plenty of MacGuffins out there to chase, and young creative screenwriters abound.
After having seen The Force Awakens several times I can honestly say that I have faith in this film. Disney takes a lot crap for different things. However, one fact is undeniable. They almost always put out an amazing product. Whether it’s Disney films, toys, or Walt Disney World, they want to make the experience perfect. I expect nothing less from the House of Mouse this next go round as well. I am beyond thrilled for this movie and think it has vast potential.
Even though it’s three years away, I can already hear the whip cracking.
You can follow me on Twitter at @DarthGandalf1