Today: February 22, 2024

Indiana Jones

The whip, the fedora, the scar, the occult, Nazis, “I hate Nazis” and a theme tune like no other.

The whip,
the fedora, the scar, the occult, Nazis, “I hate Nazis” and a theme tune like
no other.
With
The Indiana Jones films getting a hotly anticipated Blu-ray box-set release,
FilmJuice Editor Alex Moss thought that now was as good a time as any to look
at why Dr. Jones has become such a cinematic stalwart.

Towards the end of the ‘70s, George Lucas and Steven
Spielberg
were riding the box office wave as high as anyone at that point
in Hollywood history. In 1975,
Spielberg had almost single-handedly created the Blockbuster with Jaws. Then, in 1977, his old mucker
Lucas came along and blew everything before it out of the water with a little
film called Star Wars. Between the pair, they had essentially
been given the keys to the Hollywood Kingdom. It’s normally at a time like this that filmmakers go off and
start to make ‘important’ Oscar-bating films. But Lucas and Spielberg had other ideas. Ideas born out of
childhood memories of swashbuckling adventure. Memories of escapism, not reality.

Both Lucas and Spielberg had grown up with film
serials of the 1940s, the most famous being the Republic Pictures serials featuring characters such as Captain Marvel. These movies were, in no small way, a
direct influence on Lucas’ ideas for Star Wars and on, what he was calling it
at the time, Indiana Smith.

Meanwhile, Spielberg wanted to make an adventure
movie akin to Lawrence Of Arabia;
something that reminded him of The
Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
. In his head, Spielberg wanted to make a
Bond-like action movie. Lucas
convinced him otherwise, telling his friend that he had a better idea for a
film about, of all things, an adventuring archeologist. Spielberg loved the concept of James Bond without the hardware. But
the name Smith simply didn’t sit right. The answer was simple. He changed the
character’s name to Jones, Dr. Jones.

Big Ideas
B-Movies

The Indiana Jones films were designed to have the
scope of a David Lean feature but
the ideology of a B-Movie. So it’s no surprise that the influence of popular
filmmakers such as Hitchcock are
never far away. But the most
important ‘trick’ which the Indy movies picked up from the master of suspense
was ‘the MacGuffin’. A MacGuffin
is something within the story that all the characters want to get their hands
on. Be it The Maltese Falcon or the Ark Of The Covenant, a MacGuffin
doesn’t necessarily need to be explained. It’s a pot of gold at the end of a
rainbow. Something so desirable that people are willing kill or be killed to
own it.

Indiana Jones takes this to brilliantly exaggerated
heights. Look at any Indiana Jones
film and the plotting is simplistically brilliant; Jones wants something, he
sets out to get it, someone else is after it too, but it’s not a pint of milk
down the local shop but an ancient, almost forgotten treasure that potentially
holds unbridled power. The use of
the MacGuffin became synonymous with the B movie but Indy took it greater
heights than ever before.

Next came the man himself. Indiana Jones couldn’t be played by just anyone. He was to be iconic, a hero like no
other. The list of names who
auditioned for the part of Indiana Jones reads like a who’s who of Hollywood in
the early ‘80s. Nick Nolte, Jack Nicholson, Bill
Murray, Chevy Chase
and even Steve
Martin
were all considered at one time or another. The last three names on the list give
an indication as to where the tone was going. Indiana Jones is meant to be a romp; a journey into the
unknown, with all the associated perils, but faced by a man who could laugh at
danger, while running away from it.
Spielberg knew who he wanted, he’d had him ear-marked from the moment
he’d entered the Mos Eisley Cantina
on Tatooine in Star Wars. That man was Harrison Ford. With
his matinee idol looks and dry delivery he had everything required to wear the
famous fedora. But there was a
problem. Lucas didn’t want Han Solo to carry another of his
franchises. He’d been there; he’d
done that and wanted to move on. Tom Selleck was number two on the list
and for a long time looked to be the man to wield the whip. That was until his Magnum PI contract got in the way, paving the way for Ford to take
the role.

Ford brought something fresh to the adventure
genre. Unlike in Star Wars, he
wasn’t the laughable rogue. Yes, there
are clearly parallels between Solo and Jones but, more than anything, Ford
brought humanity to Indiana. He wasn’t effortlessly cool. He did bleed and he
wasn’t immune to the perils before him.
Indeed in Temple Of Doom it’s
down to Ford’s darker reading of the character that allows us to buy into him
being seduced by The Blood Of Kali.
At the same time, it’s Ford’s playful side that allowed for some natural
banter between him and Jonathan Ke
Quan’s Short Round
. By the
time the third film came around, it was in no small part down to Ford’s ability
to deal with anything Lucas and Spielberg could throw at him that he developed
such memorable father-son chemistry with James Bond himself Sean Connery.

A Great
Adventure

Indiana Jones is a rarity in franchise terms. Unlike, say, the Alien, Terminator, Star Wars or Lord Of The Rings films, each title is stand-alone. Rarely do franchises that are not a
continuing story find such success.
Toy Story and Indiana Jones
are exceptions to that rule. That
Toy Story, at various points, has paid homage to Indiana Jones (see Buzz running from a globe in the first
film) goes some way to highlighting Indiana’s importance in the pantheon of
cinema.

So how does Dr. Jones keep audiences coming back for
more? With each film Lucas and
Spielberg brought something new to the table. Like Madonna, Indiana Jones is a master of reinvention. Each film feels fresh; they’re never a
re-hash of previous films. In
Temple Of Doom, you see Jones as a father figure to Short Round and the film
goes dark, almost gothically so, compared to Raiders’ more adventuring
ways. The Last Crusade introduces
us to Henry Jones Snr. a man who frowns upon his son’s rough approach to
history. And, immediately, the
franchise has a new dynamic. The
Nazis might be back, but this is more than a search for fortune and glory,
Indy’s trying to keep the old man out of trouble as well as looking out for
himself – and indeed the world – given Hitler’s intentions towards the Holy
Grail. Even the frowned upon Kingdom Of The Crystal Skulls flips
that construct on its head by having Indiana as the old man with the young
buck, in the shape of Shia LaBeouf’s
Mutt
, trying to prove his worth.

Without fail, all the Indiana Jones films have
something hugely memorable.
Something that gives them the wow factor. In Raiders it’s the boulder and the wonderful stunts,
performed by Indiana and Bond stalwart Vic
Armstrong
. In Temple Of Doom
it’s the dark, bloody catacombs where the film is set. A positive labyrinth of
terror, occupied by, of all things, children. By the time The Last Crusade came around you wondered how
the franchise could keep such a level of engaging excitement going. Yet, with Connery’s introduction, a
simply brilliant boat chase that rivals the truck scene in Raiders, and enough
rats to make your mum faint, the adrenaline just keeps coming. Of course the latest installment,
Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull will also be remembered but possibly for the wrong
reasons. Few Indy fans can stomach
the alien, sorry, inter-dimensional-beings, climax combined with the anti-Indy
CGI effects. But seeing Indy old
and reconnecting with Marion for the first time in years does breed a certain
nostalgic charm.

The poster for Raiders Of The Lost Ark stated that it
was “The Return Of The Great Adventure” and it certainly marked the beginning
of something special. But it’s
worth looking at the films that Indiana Jones has inspired. The likes of Romancing The Stone, and its sequel The Jewel Of The Nile, clearly came about as a result of the
appetite for adventure Raiders had spawned. Then came Stephen
Sommer’s The Mummy
franchise, films that are so entrenched in Indiana law
it’s bordering on rip-off. The
period setting, the supernatural element and Brendan Fraser’s swash buckling Rick O’Connell is nothing shy of an Indy clone, minus the
charm. More recently films such as
Sahara have tried, and arguably
failed, to capture the Indiana vibe.
And of course where would a certain Lara
Croft
be without Indy’s guiding torch in the action adventure genre. Lara Croft Check-Out Girl doesn’t quite
have the same ring to it.

Over the years adventurers
have come and gone, and the adventure genre has seen pretenders to the throne
try to out run the hurtling boulders of change and yet one name remains on
every generations’ lips. As The
Temple Of Doom tagline states “If Adventure Has A Name … It Must Be Indiana
Jones”. Dr. Jones is one of a kind
and, frankly, we wouldn’t have him any other way.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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