Indiana Jones and the Lazy Heart of Hercule’s Hollywood:
What one film’s delay and another’s fast-tracking say about the state of Cinema..
By James Murphy
(Nb: it’s a bit of a long one..but then so are many so called ‘blockbusters’ nowadays so..yep. Far Harder to write a short piece than a long one; especially when all fired up).
Interior; Drawing Room of stately manor. Enter Poirot. Close up on that TACHE..
Poirot (aka James Murphy /Movie Viral):
My Dear Captain Hashtag/ Hastings, with readers assembled, we can begin. One of the world’s greatest cinematic detectives: I observed and assembled facts, drew conclusions and thereby exposed a crime in the darkest depths of Hollywood.
The march of mediocrity; intransigent refusal to take risks, even within the safest of intellectual property. Viewers are denied innovative brilliance; forever missing out on movies that could redefine genre rules whilst retaining existing frameworks. Unforgivable creative paralysis. Commercial cowardice.
Evidence? I begin with exhibit A: INDIANA JONES 5. I fear this film simply will not be made. Sure: the headlines say Indy 5 ‘delayed’. Granted, it’s not QUITE as bad as the near 20 years it took to give us part 4 (despite a perfectly fine first draft from Jeffrey Boam / Jeb Stuart).
Even so, it beggars belief that Steven Spielberg: greatest cinematic mind and power-broker in history, cannot get his own show on the road? Do you WANT to make this? How difficult can it be to make a good Indiana Jones film, quickly?
The formula is a flawless template that writes itself. Opening tease; mcguffin set up; hierarchy of villainy: petty criminal/ rival / military / institutional menace. Standout fist-fight; hint of horror, the mystical and supernatural mythology exposition etc. All paid off in deus ex machina climax.
Add love interest and sidekicks/family revelations. Wrapped in globe trotting race against time via creepy crawlies, tomb raiding, red lines on maps, hinted character depth and John Williams’ sublime score. Timeless. Classic. Brilliant.
This 5th one would be 60s set? Great! Cue Indy consulted on locating/verifying the Book of Job on JFK’s orders only to find the mission sabotaged and aborted when the President is murdered. Indy must run for..you get it.
Hang on, why am I doing this for free? ‘Coz i love the series. Maybe more than those entrusted with the Holy Grail of its continuation anytime soon? Plus I know the terrain. Oxford Graduate (Theology, New College). But yes ok: script edits are tough; draft and craft!
Dialogue and motifs can be punched up by big hitting script doctor (TOM STOPPARD; EMMA FREUD; DAVID MAMET; DANIEL PETRIE JR; DANIEL WATERS; SHANE BLACK?). Instead,they are asking Jonathan Kasdan. Really? Really? I never said ‘nepotism’. But he does happen to be the son of..Lawrence Kasdan (writer of: Raiders of the Lost Ark).
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan’s last effort) was a solid, fun, likeable film, though by no means great. Its assets appeared in execution (acting/action) rather than written conception. Let’s hope Kasdan has some game changing, project saving ideas to hand for Indiana Jones. ‘SO LET IT BE WRITTEN; SO LET IT BE DONE!’ (Yul Brynner, Ten Commandments: a Biblical adventure epic of its time, in the days before Indiana Jones).
In any event, the truly indispensable man that was set to bring all the assets together for Indy 5 was Harrison Ford, as leading man. And, unlike his position of say 25 years ago (where he naturally wanted some diversity /variety in career), Ford WANTS to play this part again. And again. Perhaps ‘they’ (various interested and powerful, nameless parties) feel a delay will catalyse Harrison’s stepping aside? Cue easy, lazy, uninspired, disposable reboot with Chris Pratt as Dr Jones.
Pratt is great at action and comedy. But he’s not Harrison Ford. Same way Alden Ehrenreich wasn’t, either. Think of all those conveniently leaked ‘fan made’ memes about how great Pratt would look as Indy. Every single, obviously telegraphed, kiboshed visual cue in those Jurassic World scenes. ‘Oh look! He can build houses and be charming to women’. I’m no conspiracy theorist; but the visual trends coincide with an inevitable march to get Pratt into Indy’s fedora. I can see the taglines, already. ‘This summer, get ready to meet the Pratt in the HAT’. Etc.
Fine. Except that our hero must convince as an academic AND action-man. It is for THAT reason that age has NOT wearied the character and nor should it. Indy was BORN ‘old’ and Harrison could easily have therefore taken the character into another adventure. And, despite advancing years, Harrison, round about now, could have been THE man to buck a trend: shunning the usual pitfall cliché of ‘one last hurrah/mission before hero dies’.
We do NOT want ‘Indiana Logan’, thanks. The film can go a BIT darker and even brutal in its punches and jump scares. But no mawkish meditations on mortality, please or hero in depressed slump. Indy would HATE that. He’d be far more likely to smile, reluctantly yet actively and knowingly, into an emerging sunrise, echoing the coda from ‘Last Crusade‘ where he rode off into sunset.
Had they commenced filming, on schedule, next year, as planned? It would have been perfect. One year’s further delay however risks compromising vitality. A 75/6 year old Harrison as Indy is ‘older’. Take him to 80 ish and he is then ‘elderly’, thereby falling into EVERY nasty little ageist meme trap. ‘Indiana Jones and the stairlift of Doom’: (hahaha..pathetic: he could take every single one of you in a fight even when he does reach 80 plus).
They could be clever and recast Harrison as Indy’s legendary mentor, Professor Abner Ravenwood (the kind of role Clint Eastwood was still playing around 80 before focusing full time on directing films). But they’re just not that daring. If this does get made in any form? He’ll be Indy with pipe and slippers, facilitating some soft in universe, in narrative reboot via flashback/forward. Yuck.
Just think: We could have had an uplifting message on film: that of course a 70 something is not going to be as speedy or handy as their 30 year old counterpart but can still be VITAL and face danger, adventure and fun, right into the oldest of old age. A much needed platform for an ageing population is now a much missed opportunity.
Imagine facing the march of time and mortality, but without dwelling needlessly on those realities. Escaping, with a spirit of fun and undying curiosity.
The boundless and timeless optimism of the action-adventure genre: re-tooled and reawakened for each generation of a family to enjoy, led by Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg. That’s a film I’m sure we could ALL have enjoyed and embraced. It’s just not gonna happen that way anytime soon.
Indiana Jones has failed this mission. Shame.
Don’t worry, though. Hollywood got this covered! I present, exhibit TWO. In their erroneous assumption that ‘old’ folk want cozy, easy, nostalgia? We are getting HERCULE POIROT 2!.
As an insightful mentor once noted: ‘WHAT IS ALL THIS ABOUT ‘OLD PEOPLE TOGETHER? Total bollox. Fuck. That. Shit! What? Like we all want slow moving, familiar, tea-time pats on the back? They don’t group all young people together..so why assume it’s different for the ‘old’?’. Wise and very true words.
Granted: Poirot’s is an entirely different studio / house / team to Indiana Jones. It’s not a case of one got canned because the other was fast-tracked.
But the news of one project being delayed whilst the other enjoyed a speedy activation happened to drop around the same time, thereby almost inviting comparison.
Note that Disney now owns Lucasfilm (who in turn own Indiana Jones), just as they are probably, pending shareholder approval, about to also own Fox (who distributed the Branagh take on Murder on the Orient Express).
(that girl looks very, very guilty..but even Poirot would let her off).
It’s all connected! The curse, the mentality, the correlation is just ‘there’, with minimal contrivance of thought. My little grey cells can sense it.
The absence of innovation or risk and a chronic misreading of what the public actually WANT in commissioning movies today. That guarantees the march of Hercule Poirots 2, 3, 4, 5..etc, whilst delaying Indiana Jones 5 into oblivion.
Why? Well, money plays a factor. ‘Motive’!
There is an assumption that Poirot = an instant hit, ℅ a ‘grey pound’ market. In addition, some easily poached critical gravitas, via association with Agatha Christie novels, and their tradition for attracting the best ensembles of distinguished thespians.
Critically, whilst it can look lavish and carry a massive marketing machine, the production itself can be completed, I imagine, with a sensibly modest budget by today’s blockbuster standards. Logical premise by the studios / investor. I get it. But a simplistic and syllogistic, criminal conclusion.
NOBODY NEEDS MORE POIROT! Even Poirot is now bored of over-exposure to..Poirot. That takes some doing, given his inflated sense of ego.
His own creator devised a particularly nasty end for the Belgian detective, just because she too, found him fairly tiresome. Granted, writers frequently fall out of love with their own creations.
Ian Fleming wanted to kill off James Bond (AND make him a necrophile, apparently?). Colin Dexter (lovely man; we corresponded on several occasions; RIP) actually killed Inspector Morse with a bathetic heart attack. And so on. I digress.
My point is: Hercule, even in his own universe, would not want any corporate overkill of a brand that simply does not need to exist in Hollywood now. He wants to settle down and wax his ‘tache. With Captain Hastings, watching.
Have Miss Marple round for tea and give HER a film franchise. Wasn’t there talk of that? Aren’t we all about womens’ rights and all that, now?
Paging Brie Larson: we need you to play Miss Marple. Just age up, wear elastic stockings and glasses and take up kung fu knitting. This is a truly FEMINIST part. The ONE! Do it for the sisterhood; cue Oscars, box office and..oh..no…wait: You mean they’re NOT doing that? They’re not even asking say, Dame Helen Mirren to have a go? Meryl Streep? Nobody? Blimey.
So, in addition to ignoring an opportunity to combat ageism via Indiana Jones, we miss out on a chance to have some period piece proto fun with feminism. Right On! Bollox anyway. Back to Poirot..
ITV filmed the whole of the Hercule canon, definitively, beautifully and lovingly, with a committed portrayal by David Suchet; investing his life’s best work. Read his excellent insight / reflections on his journey as Poirot here.
Previously? Peter Ustinov and Albert Finney gave us Hercule on film. Different takes. All brilliant in their way, though Ustinov has the edge on Albert. Branagh? Well his was..um..fine? Yep. Just fine. Surely a one and done curiosity? There’s nothing new to do or see here.
Neither Cinema, nor any particular demographic wanted, let alone needed remakes of these remakes. Death on the Nile especially is flawless, as is. Its intricate, pulpy plot cannot really be adapted /amended again, even for greater fidelity to what Branagh and co might assume is the spirit of Agatha Christie.
Neither update nor revamp required. I’d prefer some radical, revisionist, retelling. Poirot marries Captain Hastings and they go on a ‘gay cruise’ to celebrate. Then the murders start and the sweet honeymooners must leap into a different kind of ‘action’. No? Too daring? Then WHY BOTHER AT ALL? Might upset the homophobes in our target ‘older’ market, right?
But hang on..what about all the ‘GAY PRIDE’ and ‘ Stand against hate’ / safe space marches? Ah. Right. Well you cannot please everyone. Grey pound, pink pound. Tell you what: let’s make a Star Wars character gay / pansexual instead? Best not upset the old folk with the Poirot canon / mythology, wot, old boy?
I am of course, hypothesizing. I am not suggesting for one second that ANY such ACTUAL conversations happen around nominally ‘tough, big league’ Hollywood corporate cabals, even during the obligatory bloated bouts of brainstorming with ‘Writers’ Room’.
Even so. I think we understand one another and you get my point here. Socio-political stalemates = safe, easy money. All the while shouting loud and proud about ‘progress’.
So, so predictable. So dull. I suspect Agatha Christie might have agreed. Shame that our new and ‘inclusive’ society lacks the ‘pride’ to really go there?
Dr Who managed that, endlessly and effortlessly, under the inspired creative leadership of Russell T Davies. There were adventures each week and sometimes a character / hero was gay. No Biggie. 😉
Anyway. Moving swiftly on../ back on track..
So who benefits, besides the safe playing studio backers with a very short term investment / minor yet sure reward? ‘Cui Bono’ / ‘Cui..Poirot?’. Nice little retirement payday for Sir Ken, wot?
If it looks like an elder actor and talks like one..then dear reader, Hercule Poirot can surmise zat ze actor has earned a retirement payday, non?
And whilst Sir Ken is not THAT old, he bizarrely appears to be ageing himself rather rapidly; every bit the reminiscing raconteur on the post Parkinson / now (hilarious, btw) Graham Norton kingdom era chat-show circuit. Fellow celebs from lists A to Z, obligingly engage in a game of sycophantic footsie, all too eager for mutual promotion. Comes with a protégé like ‘Tim Huddleston’, gazing on in admiration ( though bafflingly, Ken apparently turned down a chance to mentor the lovely Carey Mulligan; referring the matter to his sister?) .
Too harsh? No. Because I can sing Branagh’s praises, too. He was the salvation of Shakespeare on screen. His film of Much Ado About Nothing enabled a generation of kids to access the boundless beauty of the Bard, through a joyous and textured cinematic experience.
Shakespeare: unfettered by stodgy snobbery yet every word and emphases savoured, neither filtered nor dumbed down. Branagh at his very best, within his Renaissance Films period, collaborating with David Parfitt and Stephen Evans as Co-Producers (read about that company in Ken’s endearing autobiography, which he wrote, aged 28: ‘Beginning‘).
This is also Emma Thompson at her stunningly sexiest as Beatrice, sharing the screen with Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves AND Denzel Washington (Denzel: possibly my most favouritest actor). ‘Next to impossible to imagine that kind of cast today united in something so daring and inspirational on film? And no, Harry Potter and Hercule Poirot do NOT count. 😉
I had the privilege of attending the Much Ado About Nothing film premiere. And I remember Branagh’s moving appeal on stage for the charity, Family Service Units (the times before celeb induced twitter bandwagons; Ken’s was a genuinely egalitarian and pastoral drive).
Subsequently, I wrote about the play for GCSE and scored the highest of high A grades, as did many other students, inspired by the film.
Then there was the sheer Arcadian joy of playing Benedick opposite a most alluring Beatrice (think Sienna Miller mixed with Julia Roberts, dash of Princess Leia/Sally Phillips?) at a College society event. Believe me when I tell you that when that girl ordered me to ‘Kill Claudio’, I would have, as would any young budding buck sat in the room.
And I can still recite obscure lines in the style of Michael Keaton’s Dogberry: one of the actor’s lesser known yet more brilliant performances (think Monty Python meets Beetlejuice; Batman meets Branagh the then boy wonder).
Thank you, Sir Kenneth! Also LOVED Peter’s Friends, Dead Again and In the Bleak Midwinter. So what went wrong? What put me off? Vanity, vanity: arguably Ken’s downfall? So eager to be commercial, viable, sexy: he neglected his innovative passion and precision for Shakespeare on film, never topping Much Ado…
Correct me if wrong but I don’t recall Mary Shelley writing in a shirtless Victor to her epic Gothic novel, Frankenstein? Neither, at ANY point, does Shakespeare’s Richard III ever cite a stage direction ‘Enter Richard. In his UNDERPANTS.’. Ken however managed both those scenes in his screen and stage adaptations of those works. It was cringeworthy.
And yet, for all that? Branagh has developed new and notable niches; bouncing back, buoyantly. He is a solid action director (THOR and Jack Ryan: both great fun to watch) and corners the market in playing distinguished supporting characters, usually of senior age and military rank.
Poirot = all those worlds fused together. Genius! Hollywood naturally thinks: fast turnaround, solid investment, guaranteed granny groupies as demographic..ergo, you have the PERFECT CRIME…Poirot 2..and 3..and..etc.
Just as he did with his Wallander remake (though that was on BBC television: both are European detectives that age, prematurely; Branagh bizarrely courting that motif as his mission / raison d’etre?).
I don’t begrudge Branagh a second wind(fall). But both he and Hollywood could do much more and far better. Whilst STILL consolidating creative and commercial clout.
Incidentally: What’s Hollywood to he or his Hercule to Hollywood? That’s a Hamlet joke, btw. Ken would laugh. And yes, I concede: Indiana Jones 5, starring 70 something Harrison Ford? For all its background and calibre, is a risk.
SO much easier to await his inevitable retirement / death / stepping down for some perfunctory cameo flashback/forward to some new, young, generic Chris Pratt/Pine/Evans/fill in blank here. Spielberg too, can probably sit it out and simply produce. JJ Abrams would probably direct it for fun, free of charge?
Maybe even ask Sir Ken? He’d be up for it, surely. In between Poirot sequels. On his lunch hour. Be similar in style, scale and scope to the late, great Sir Richard Attenborough, perhaps (a Spielberg ally and trusted friend who was almost handed post production duties on Jurassic Park as a result). Steven can do a Shakespeare film in return. Like a job swap. It’d be great!
But even that won’t happen. Alas, poor Indy! There are missed opportunities in consequence of his not cracking that whip once more in the guise of Harrison, next year, under a Spielberg stewardship. Whipcrackaway, whipcrackaway, whipcrack..you get it, I think? Forget surprise, innovation or any sense of excitement that’s founded in familiar properties whilst avoiding dull repetition or tired trope retread.
Surrender any hope for moving with the times through a beloved symbol, to combat the spectre of ageing, death and their nasty armies of related -isms. Films are not matters of life and death. They are far, far more important. Cecil B DeMille once argued that cinema is our counterpart to the Bible; its power foretold by the Prophets. He had a point.
The patterns of life are not simply reflected in cinema and its trends but driven BY what we, as audiences, are fed onscreen. The Hollywood establishment just failed us on that score; rewarding a supposedly ‘safe’ middle aged, middle class, middle road, middle England plodding Poirot product.
Same way the masses hang on every word of (admittedly rather lovely) JK’s wizarding world/ HARRRRYYY POTTTTER and its supposedly socialist / egalitarian ethos, despite the franchise modelling the imagery of the English elite establishment’s public school systems and setting up some child actors as mega millionaires, for life.
And all that while? We lost the mythological chance to recall a still vital ‘older’ symbol of transcendent fun and survival against the odds; fusing white collar academia to blue collar grit and cowboy machismo. That’d have been Indiana Jones 5.
And I’m surprised Spielberg has allowed this latest delay and resulting despondency for the brand. He makes such great action-adventure films. I still rate The Lost World as the best of the Jurassic Park/World series: Fallen Kingdom a poor remake without him.
In their way, despite the disparity in genre relative to say Schindler’s List /Lincoln and so on? Spielberg’s popcorn blockbusters are every bit as important in aesthetic and moral legacy. He should not neglect that strength.
To quote another excellent action /adventure epic, Gladiator (Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, 2000..): ‘what we do in life, echoes in eternity‘. Same is true for what we don’t do; those films we never saw from the Orson Welles’ and Stanley Kubrick canons and so on.
Please, Mr Spielberg: Don’t let Indy 5 become a ‘what might have been’. Make it. Make it great as only you can. And make it, soon?
And as for you, noble Sir Ken? Deep down , can’t you feel just a little bit saddened that your genius for Shakespeare on film is going neglected? We and indeed, you, face endless Poirot franchise entries, rather than another inspirational Shakespearean epic.
Some visionary Producer / investor (a bit like, i dunno..Steven Spielberg?) should have paid Branagh to film Shakespeare’s every play, one per year. Ken could still have had the other half of each year do Theatre and Poirot sequels, prequels etc (‘POIROT: THE EARLY YEARS..Or How I learned to stop worrying and love my Big, Belgian Moustache!’).
Sadly, nobody seized that cinematic day to truly make history in the perfect preservation and presentation of the Bard’s canon. ‘Coulda. ‘Woulda. ‘Shoulda. Think Marvel Cinematic Universe. With bigger brains and bells attached. Joss Whedon himself (director, Avengers Assemble) is a massive Shakespeare fan and referenced the plays, repeatedly within the confines of a comic book movie (‘muelling quim’; the mind control suggestibility c/o witches to initiate a destructive adventure and so on). He even tried making his own take on ‘Much Ado‘…
..Iron Man Downey himself can recite and riff /improv on the Bard, on demand, at the drop of a helmet. The Russo Brothers surely dipped into the lore when crafting INFINITY WAR? Heck, they even had Sir Ken do the opening narration! I’m telling you: the SHAKESPEARE CINEMATIC BRANAGH UNIVERSE. THAT was your missing, now Poirot shaped/filled market. Right THERE. High minded, sophisticated fun and still playing across generations, neither isolating nor patronising anyone. If only! 😉
Men of England, now in bed (Shakespeare joke #3, btw: you’re welcome), watching box sets, have no idea what they missed.
Shakespeare himself would have seen the irony? Think reversal and recognition of a hero, via the agony of the lost chance.
Hope springs eternal, though. Some last minute intervention? Heck, shared universes are all the rage now, right? ‘Indiana Jones and the Evil under the Sun’. ‘Indy and Hercule’s Shakespeare Adventure’?
Two for the price of one? Hercule meets Indy. On an archaeological quest come murder mystery action adventure. ‘The man in the Hat is Back! And this time it’s..BELGIAN?’ Mes amis, stranger things have happened. Like England or Belgium winning a world cup. Anything Goes;)
James Murphy is a consulting cinematic detective and expert on the Occult /obtainer of rare antiquities. Loves Movies (hence writing for /editing Movie Viral). Does not own a big, Belgian moustache, but has some mega five o’clock shadow to rival Indiana Jones 😉
I know: the resemblance is..just..er..well..not quite there yet. I’ll work out. 😉
Hercule Poirot will return, in DEATH ON THE NILE, Played by Sir Kenneth Branagh (oh and John Malkovich..coz the BBC are at this bandwagon now, too).
As for Indiana Jones, as played by Harrison Ford?.. Well, time will tell. It always does.