Tony Black on Indiana Jones and the future of the franchise…
Ask almost anyone what they thought of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the 2008 long-gestated sequel known forever and a day simply as ‘Indy IV’, and you’ll probably get much the same answer. “Awful!” “Rotten!” “Should never have made it!” “Nuke the fridge???!” You get the drift. It’s about as popular a sequel as World War Two, the fourth in, to many, a near-perfect trilogy of adventure films that helped define their decade, and the childhoods of millions. Indeed many try and revise history to erase it from their minds, considering Last Crusade the last hurrah. Like it or not, however, Disney know Indy = money given the near $800 million the fourth movie made on just shy of a $200 million budget. Almost nobody liked it, yet almost everybody went to see it. Therefore, after Disney’s epic purchase of LucasFilm, Indy V was back on the table and, it seems, is now a genuine reality hitting screens in summer 2019.
Harrison Ford has expressed a desire to continue playing the character, despite being well into his 70’s. Some have questioned whether he’s up to the action man theatrics, given he looked creaky in places a decade ago in KOTCS, but many have been assuaged given how nimble he looked as Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Maybe he still has one more crack of the whip in him. Ditto director Steven Spielberg, himself now heading for 70 but showing no signs of slowing down as old age approaches, and he too feels there’s mileage despite the years. George Lucas may no longer have any executive control but he’ll almost certainly be involved on storytelling duties at least, alongside David Koepp returning from the previous film to script. Frank Marshall too is back as producer, alongside Kathleen Kennedy, and recently clarified long-term rumours that Indy would be recast with a younger model by stating, “we’re not going to do the Bond thing,” by which he means employ the 007 model of swopping Indy out with a new actor whenever the previous one gets a bit old and leathery. To them, Ford and Ford alone is Indy.
Marshall also stated that the fifth film would be a ‘continuation’ of Crystal Skull, which immediately launched a million questions and concerns about what that might mean. Will the extra-dimensional ancient aliens be returning to torment Indy? Will the extremely divisive Mutt Williams once again be his sidekick? Are a married Indy and Marion Ravenwood-Jones going tomb raiding? Most likely, Marshall was talking in a thematic and location sense. KOTCS updated Indy from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, paralleling his age, with the older archaeologist out fighting B-movie monsters & Russians in the age of teddy boys and Cold War paranoia. Despite certain issues with story, script and character, so much of that setting resonated, and had they perhaps used Frank Darabont’s now legendary, free-to-read draft for Indy IV which sowed the seeds for much of KOTCS, it may well have been a much more fondly considered picture. If Marshall then does mean a continuation in the literal sense, where then does the Indiana Jones franchise go from here?
Firstly, let’s consider Harrison Ford. They’re shooting this film in 2017. He’ll be 75 at that point. Without being ageist, 75 is not the traditional age of an action hero. Ford admittedly, like Stallone or Arnie, is a cinematic legend who people will make hundreds of concessions for, but realistically Spielberg is going to struggle having him convincingly get battered by tanks or swinging over ravines without some serious trickery. Surely it would make more sense to bring in a younger actor to do the heavy lifting action, while Indy assists and figures out the McGuffin? Now, before you suggest Shia LeBeouf… don’t bother. The chances of him returning as Indy’s son are minimal. He’s not exactly box office gold, he now has a reputation that precedes his acting ability, and he burned a fair few bridges after KOTCS by publicly calling out its failures. Plus given the extreme negative fan reaction to the character, expect Mutt to be quietly forgotten or given merely a passing mention, a la Henry Jones in KOTCS when Sean Connery sadly turned down the opportunity for a cameo.
So let’s say we have Indy. We have a younger action man, perhaps a Chris Pratt-type, a younger version of Indy with similar whip cracking smarts, who can do everything Ford may find difficult. What about the romance? Every Indy film had a love interest, not just with the archaeology but also the women in his life. Sure Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott in Temple of Doom was annoying, Alison Doody’s Elsa Schneider in Last Crusade disposable, but we’ll always have Karen Allen; she was essentially the template in Raiders of the Lost Ark in Marion as the quintessential fiesty, sexy leading woman who could hold her own, a Bacall to Ford’s Bogart, and while KOTCS didn’t quite have the re-team appeal of Ford and Carrie Fisher in The Force Awakens, it maintained that sense of romance. At the end, they were married, so do we have Indy and Marion together out on an adventure in Indy V? Or do we give the new action archaeologist a similarly fiesty younger love interest? Perhaps two mirrors of Indy & Marion reflecting, reminding them both of their electric past together? Would that add emotional weight, that exploration of their marriage, to the theatrics?
What about the other crucial element – the MacGuffin? Famously first popularised by Alfred Hitchcock, every Indy movie revolves around the object, goal or discovery that drives Indy on; the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders, the Sankara Stones in TOD, the Holy Grail in Last Crusade, or the crystal skulls in, err… Crystal Skull. What could it be for Indy V? Speculation since the release of KOTCS, before the film was officially announced, suggested the Bermuda Triangle was being mooted as a possible location for the movie, but few other details have emerged. Lucas reputedly had come up with a story everyone involved liked and had been sitting on for some time, but he’d yet to find the ‘MacGuffin’. Was he looking in the Triangle? It would make a time-appropriate setting, given interest in the phenomena started surfacing in the age of other occult speculation such as UFO’s & Men in Black in the 50’s and 60’s, when the new film could well be set. Where else could Indy go? Many have expressed a desire to see the lost city of Atlantis as a location (which would also work as a MacGuffin), following the critical adoration for the 1993 LucasArts point’n’click game The Fate of Atlantis – not necessarily a direct adaptation, but that game proved if nothing else that the ancient lost civilisation would be a fascinating, epic enough setting for an Indy film.
And finally, the villains. Most people associate the villainy of Indiana Jones with the Nazis, at their most camp and resolutely cartoonish, with good reason – they appeared in Raiders, with Ronald Lacey’s memorably leather-clad Toht, and later in Last Crusade. Yet they’ve always been in league with an unscrupulous bad guy with the knowledge and background matching Indy’s to a degree. Julian Glover’s slimy Walter Donovan is perhaps best remembered for his terrifying fate in the Grail Temple, but Paul Freeman’s Rene Belloq in Raiders could be the way to go; an immoral reflection of Indy, the darker side of the coin as an archaeologist willing to sell his soul to, as Henry Jones would describe about Donovan: “the slime of humanity”. They always saw themselves as greater than the nations they represented though, above their petty wars or concerns – even Cate Blanchett’s Russian Colonel Irina Spalko had aspirations beyond winning the Cold War, psychically tapping into the power of the skulls. So following this template, could Indy face another more independent bad guy, perhaps older and closer to his age, maybe even a face from his past (if a new character), who provides a personal connection to whatever dark, ancient secrets he’s looking to uncover.
Collating these ideas together, here’s how a conceivable Indy V could look. ‘Indiana Jones and the Hunt for Atlantis’. Set in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, the aged Indy—married to Marion—is dragged by a reckless young archaeologist into the search for his missing girlfriend, who disappeared after becoming involved in the machinations of a dangerous independent occultist from the Mediterranean (or perhaps even an escaped Nazi – some of those guys certainly got away!), looking to expose the secrets of Atlantis and change the world forever. Indy, Marion, his younger reflection and eventually his sparky, counter-culture loving girlfriend are thrown into an adventure to uncover the world’s most legendary lost civilisation…
How’s that for a story? Are you listening Harrison, Steven, George? That one’s for free. Indy VI will cost you. Let’s hope whatever Indy V does turn out to be, it’s beloved and successful enough to warrant us hoping the good Doctor Jones will return for another go around.