INDIANA JONES AND THE NEVER-ENDING PROCRASTINATED RE-WRITE
INDY 5 Delayed Again. We ARE getting one for 2021. But yet ANOTHER re-write begs the Questions:
Why the Delays? How Hard can it Be? And yes, Should they now Bother at all? What would I do, as a writer and a ‘fan’?
Let’s have a look. Opening that Ark..NOW..
So, another year, another delay for Indiana Jones. A fifth film IS happening. Great! A date in 2021 now put aside. But this is now almost THREE years beyond the initially projected date. With Star Wars now balancing television and film commitments in tandem..As Marvel continue to deliver 2-3 films per year and DC get their act together again via JOKER et al..with James Bond now back in action..why is Indiana so far behind? Even HERCULES POIROT has a sequel in production (giving Ken Branagh work: public service, thank you?). Even FAST AND FURIOUS has a spin off franchise!
Yet poor old Dr Jones, stumbling behind. I addressed this last year and even hinted at more troubles being on the way as they hired yet ANOTHER screenwriter (Jonathan Kasdan) to take a pass at the script. Little if anything has moved or changed.
Indeed, the hiring of Kasdan arguably delayed rather than advanced the project. It is thought that his pitch was something to do with a Nazi train of Gold and other treasures, that Indy would go after. That would be fine if it were simply the opening teaser or had some big supernatural twist at the end. But no such indications have emerged.
Just Indy vs a Train? He’s done that, as a kid and yes it’s CANON: ‘The Phantom Train..’. The Nazi angle had promise, but remember, they are just one antagonist and even as a renegade Boys from Brazil post war faction, it is unlikely that Steven Spielberg, as director, would have felt comfortable ‘going there’ after his pledge to never use them as cartoon baddies post Schindler’s List (understandable, fine).
What a waste of valuable development time? Another year: GONE! And in an increasingly busy blockbuster market, over a decade since Dr Jones last graced our screens. TIME IS TICKING! Surely the initial pitch should have immediately raised the inherent problems? Now, I am not a nasty troll so will not shout ‘nepotism’ about Kasdan Junior. Yes, his Dad wrote Raiders..but no, it’s not unfair that the boy be promoted. You would do anything you could to advance one of your kid’s careers and ultimately they must work hard, have ideas etc. Ron Howard clearly has confidence in the boy, as Willow is being commissioned for a sequel with Kasdan on writing duties, too.
There are surely other writers out there who could nevertheless deliver a more effective pitch? Dan Fogelman of This is Us is apparently now reworking the script. Clark Gregg would surely be an obvious go to guy? He wrote What Lies Beneath (more on that, later) and is familiar with the current Marvel idiom?
So: ok, yes. There were false starts and rewrites and a fixed release date is now in place. Studio space MIGHT be a factor but surely even that could have been re-booked/shuffled/navigated.
We are also not accounting for Spielberg, who simply needs a year longer to perfect his West Side Story remake. Given that he is the greatest director of all time and indeed that Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (1984) first showcased quite how great his musical numbers could be (just watch THAT opening again)..I think we can let him off? There may also have been serious discussions about whether this IP begins and ends with Spielberg/Ford.
IE: is it worth Disney investing in a fifth/final if it is not clearly launching a subsequent spin off /reboot?
Equally, if the appeal of the series IS down to its lead actor and director..is there any point in making this at all, given how difficult it would be to replicate that magic with differing personnel as successors? Why not just start afresh? I suspect that very conversation was ‘there’ and indeed Spielberg sort of answered it all and neutralised doubts last year, remarking that a lady in the lead was possible, post Ford. Indiana Jane, anyone? It could work, moving forward. And this is a brand with good will and limitless potential for expansion. This is not simply misplaced nostalgia for a generic action-adventure series. It can run and run, if done ‘right’?
Minor book-end flashbacks, setting up further possibilities without grandstanding too much in case it all backfires? Think a more commercial take on The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the BigFoot?
But Harrison gets final crack at whip, first. He is NOT too old to play this part; having aged credibly whilst retaining that movie star magic and weathered action hero machismo via academic curiosity that define this franchise and character. By all means have a teaser with a younger actor (Bradley Cooper? Chris Pratt? Same way River Phoenix played Teen Indy in ‘Last Crusade’..? But no, NOT Dan Stevens or Ryan Gosling ffs..just because they have done recent films with Harrison?). Tom Hardy has also been cited as a possibility for younger Indy and yes, that works.
It’s also possible to have ‘the hat’ etc in shadow for a younger flashback and allow for a recast in next film, without ‘going there’ just yet. Let Harrison have this one, maybe? Just a thought. I would avoid ‘uncanny valley’ de-ageing, for now, if possible, though. Either have an Older Indy or don’t. You can always get Ford to voice video games and animated spin-offs when he has retired, properly?
So: yep. Understandable delays. Spielberg busied. Question mark over franchise future. And how to deploy Harrison Ford. Fine.
But there is STILL no excuse for failing to nail the basic pitch /tone/premise a LOT earlier.
There is a formula, ready made!
And, whilst one should ‘subvert expectations’ (copyright, Rian Johnson, 2017); it’s not that difficult to adhere to said system in plotting one of these movies, whilst delivering something fresh.
Four to five movies in under 40 years is not that much and hence the series should not feel THAT tired, however daring or safe they choose to play things?
Whatever they do? I am a massive fan of this series. I also want to see an ageing hero served well onscreen rather than killed off or neglected. Vested Interest!
So: I will make it VERY SIMPLE. And yes, hire me. If you want. THIS IS HOW YOU DO INDY 5. You’re welcome. Now HURRY UP 🙂
Self contained adventure that closes what could be a movie in itself and we are just seeing its ending sequence. The item Dr Jones is collecting need not be known or mythical or significant. Make it up! Or delve into wealth of unused material from old drafts of abandoned sequels past. Indy and dinosaurs? Haunted Castle/House/Burial Site? Perhaps revisit an old case and clear up an age old loose end (hence the part prequel /younger Indy opportunity?).
A grown up Short Round and Indy finally take down Lao Che, 35 years later? Heck what if Dr Jones himself IS the macguffin at the start..perhaps he actually is dead from some former mission and gets resurrected..really surprise jolt the audience!
Or just keep it simple. One object. Our hero (maybe in flashback?) is trying to get it. He stumbles, maybe even fails? But escapes back to a Uni campus in great style.
WHERE IS INDY ‘AT’ IN LIFE?
Establish his position / academic rank. Harrison is pushing 80, so Indy is probably retired, in his 70s. ‘Professor Emeritus, Henry Jones, Junior’.
It’s possibly the 1960s so perhaps JFK or whoever is consulting him on some top secret government business? Dr Jones probably finds the new cultural movements annoying but he’s not anyone’s Grandad! Possibly a widower, with second wind in late life? Keep it obscure, even comedic in detail (‘Marion: you HAD to go off on your own expedition. Bermuda Triangle, of all places..’).
Our hero is grumpy, of course! ‘GET OFF MY CAMPUS’? ‘Hippies..I hate these guys’. Remember, Indy is a good person, ultimately yet not a ‘nice’ one. The grave robbing roguish adventurer is never that far removed from his more civilised yet worldly academic gentleman persona.
He’s not playing younger but full of life and sufficiently aware of trends as anyone; even amused by them? The 1960s has much to mine: from THE BEATLES to free love (which Dr Jones probably considers trying out, before a ghostly apparition of Marion Ravenwood reminds him his house is haunted and if he so much as tries it with a woman at home..there will be trouble?).
So: older, yes: a neat reversal of lines past: ‘Not the mileage..the YEARS!’. Just don’t have him at pipe/slippers or brooding about time passing. This is still a vital man. There’s still a fight in him.
Ever the lone warrior / academic, a lady research assistant might be an idea, nonetheless? A kind of daughter surrogate rather than love interest; perhaps she’s editing Indy’s memoirs. A French style frisson , akin to Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud; with action thrown in?
Carey Mulligan? Gwyneth Paltrow? Rosamunde Pike? That calibre. A Rear Window-esque visitor to Indy’s pad, but with a quasi- paternal rather than romantic connection between the characters, without precluding cross-generational chemistry.
I know a real life, lovely Archaeologist that could fit the bill; high standards were set by Alison Doody in ‘Last Crusade‘. (Trivia: Doody herself is an old pupil of Mount Anville Convent School, near Dublin. They only take and train the very best. My own beloved Mom went there, too. I should ask her to pull some Old Girl network magic trick and fix me up for a tea interview with Ms Doody?).
BRIEF INTERMISSION WHILE I DRIFT INTO DOODY-LAND. Sorry. Yes. Back in the room.
Moving swiftly on..back to topic.. 🙂
Jeb Stuart wrote a draft for an Indy film once where our hero was accompanied by a lady academic called Elaine. Tweak that template, maybe? It’s all ‘there’ in previous drafts even if the recent attempts behind the scenes have stalled. Once again..the Hitchcock template? The blonde heroine/damsel/possibly villainous yet not necessarily so, muse..to set our hero on the quest/trail. This works well for Ford as leading man, at any age.
Harrison Ford has ‘done’ Hitchcock tributes before, outside Indy: What Lies Beneath (2000). So it can work! Indeed, provided we have a teaser with hints of globe trotting and a worthy finale? There is no reason why Indy could not simply solve a mystery, with supernatural undercurrent, and looming, villainous sect /threat to match, entirely ON Campus? Just a thought: age appropriate, differing take and with plenty of potential to honour that ‘Raiders’ spirit, without a simple retread.
Stage is set: Jones has a place, a role, a goal (get his book finished and prep lecture to launch it..but a clock is ticking as dark forces want him stopped in pursuit of..)..
This is critical. Where Hitchcock and JJ Abrams make it clear that mystery boxes and the like are ok and one need not know what the prize is? Here it is EVERYTHING. The prize at stake MUST generate 3 ‘Ms’:
And it must be Biblical /religious. That is why ‘Crystal Skull‘ lost momentum half way through: once we know it’s just an alien artefact with minimal power? We lose all interest.
The Macguffin is also the antagonist / misunderstood threat, with which our hero must contend. 1999’s THE MUMMY ‘got’ that element and used it, wisely, thereby making it among the better ‘Indiana Clones’.
As an Oxford Theology grad myself, I suggest the Book of Job as doorway to all the woes of man but also all the treasures, a kind of Old Testament answer to the Pandora’s Box?
Hints of real darkness like the Ark but enough of a light touch to evoke the Grail. Also, portable like the Grail Diary /Sankara Stones. Possible set up for a deus ex machina mass bad guy wipe out but equally allowing for a gentler, even bathetic revelation, without precluding some Biblical power / threat /associated special effect. You won’t top ‘Raiders‘ and the melting faces; but one need not be as sedate as the last two movies’ endings?
Spielberg needs to invest in this and apply his imagination.
There must be some standout vehicle chases and a sense of danger in the landscapes.
Harrison has just finished a spell in the cold (Call of the Wild?) so why not let Indy face some ice, as it suited the older Han Solo? Snakes and spiders have been done but we are yet to see our hero swim against a shark. There are countless creepy crawlies out there yet to be immortalised in these movies and there is nothing wrong with a returning Cobra /rat/tick.
Even a tick bite on a run can be deadly..trust me!
Something in a University / Library always works so why not have Indy visit Oxford and a foot-chase ensue after a spot of detective work in the Bodleian? Maybe Dublin: a religious text in the Trinity College archives? It’s all ‘there’! How about Africa? It is cool after Black Panther. And one can never go wrong with a spot of jungle / desert warfare, en route to a final face-off with the villains and the power of God, be it an Atlantis like water-palace or lush Garden of Eden.
And yes, dammit: give Indy a man on man punch laden fight. He can still do it, even at 80!
BADDIES/ SIDEKICKS /TONE:
You don’t need Nazis for a good Indy film! Thugees were great in Temple of Doom. Kids love that, by the way. Want to liven up a Religious Ed class in a mostly Asian/teen demographic? ONE mention of that movie and they are fascinated! Seriously: a great way into teaching about Hinduism /Polytheism, culture clashes and the legacy of colonialism. ‘TUG LIFE INNIT’ = ‘No, Thugee’ = way into GCSE syllabus. Sorta. Today’s more sensitive politics make any casual or comedic /comic book racism problematic, naturally. And that’s fine!
But I suspect that even the most ardent of social conscience would not begrudge us an Arab swordsman/ South American bandit/bout of neo-Nazi nastiness in this movie? Do it as a post-modern nod, perhaps via a comedy cameo. Mike Myers springs to mind; a take on Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove, perhaps, or his token Brit exposition? Myers owes Indy, as he used the Father/Son dynamic for the third adventure template in his own Austin Powers series.
Then there’s the Communists. They did not work in the last Indy film.. but they can menace a hero, done ‘right’.
Renegade government elements, Illuminati wannabees in a sinister University fraternity; vengeance bent relatives.. crime-lords and yes, ok, if need be, some old Nazi remnants..all possible. The ‘champagne villain’ (as Spielberg termed the lead baddie) probably needs a stunt-casting to truly challenge Harrison’s Indy. Someone you would not expect. Some sort of post war, outright evil version of Douglas Chandler?
Tom Hanks? Tim Robbins? Mark Rylance? Michael Kitchen? David Tennant? Hugh Grant? Ewan McGregor? You get the vibe I am going for..that James Mason in North by Northwest factor (Hitchcock again!). The head villain could well be connected to a past film in the series if that feels ‘right’. If in doubt: just get a ‘go-to’ rent a villain. Mark Strong is always reliable..Eric Bana..Vincent Cassel..Javier Bardem, Sean Bean, Michael Shannon etc.
Why not unite ALL those elements and give Dr Jones his very own SPECTRE counterpart? He was born from James Bond, after-all! That would feed very nicely into this being a tribute to 60s/70s conspiracy thriller cinema, just as parts 1-3 were 30s serials and 4 was ‘supposedly’ a nod to 50s cold war /sci fi paranoia. Spielberg once resisted making an Indiana Jones ‘techno-thriller’ and that’s fine. But Indiana meets Ipcress File/President’s Men? That works. Nicely!
And with an enemy you cannot see and nobody believes exists? Well, our hero would need help from some old allies en route.
Give them relevance and purpose, just don’t draw it out or contrive it too much, either. Sallah and Marcus really had no business helping with the Grail Quest and John Hurt/Ray Winstone simply did not ‘fit’ in the subsequent fourth movie.
So yes: Sallah, Short Round, Willie Scott, Charles Stanforth, Jock the Pilot, Captain Katanga..bring them all! Why not?
Give Shia/Mutt a cameo: he reformed, became a Pastor or something..or he’s a rogue like his Dad and they are estranged again? Once again: keep it comic in those scenes, whilst hinting at an almost soap operatic family conflict to resolve.
Heck, throw in flashback cameos to a young Marion (Jennifer Lawrence?) and even Abner Ravenwood (could we lure Clint Eastwood?).
Indeed, I proposed Harrison Ford just play Abner, years ago: thereby facilitating a reboot of sorts/prequel that places him front and centre as mentor/antagonist, without the stench of people bitching about Indy’s age or the need to stage an awkward baton passing to a new lead? Just a thought! ALL GOOD: IF it somehow reflects/advances PLOT.
Sir Sean Connery won’t be back as Indy’s Dad as he made clear last time round (cover story diplomacy: he did not want to come out of retirement..but one suspects he, like Harrison, would fight any notion of being reduced to Grandfatherly sage cameo?). But Connery’s absence in ‘Crystal Skull‘ enabled that film to model, so expertly, how one can kill a character, off-screen, via passing reference, with a warmly respectful sentiment, and acknowledge the passing of time, whilst avoiding either mawkish manipulation or dour, drab darkness.
Above all? This MUST be an upbeat film, but that does not preclude glimpses of grim(m), of horror, the occasional jump scare and mystical peril. Don’t go ‘dark’ for its own sake but equally, do not remove peril to the extent that the whole affair feels bland.
And whether he be 18 or 80..you have to FEEL our hero’s every punch and snap and crack of whip /atmospheric smash of glass, before a truly Biblical finale.
The close should somehow be optimistic and open to further adventures, our hero looking to a sunrise just as he rode off to sunset before. A shut and re-opened case..adventures still ahead be they future or past.
Cue Harrison’s lop sided grin, a tilt of the Fedora Hat and THAT John Williams score, as credits roll. Oh and if we can somehow keep the old Paramount logo at the start, despite this now being distributed by Disney? Added Bonus. 🙂
So: Lucas-Film/Disney/Amblin: am I hired yet? No? Ok. I’ll just invent my own hero. Not such a bad idea.
Remember: Indy was born from the Lucas/Spielberg desire to make their own Bond movie. Stranger things have happened.
Good luck with the fifth Indiana Jones film: coming 2021! I look forward to seeing it as both fan and critic. It’ll be great, in whichever direction you choose to take it.
James Murphy..lecturing students on the location of the Lost Ark..