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INDIANA JONES and the ARTIFACTS of HOPE
What the Next Indy Needs
By Sean Owens
December 17, 2013
INDIANA JONES and the ARTIFACTS of HOPE
© Paramount Pictures/ Walt Disney
"Indiana Jones. I always knew some day you'd come walking back through my door. I never doubted that. Something made it inevitable."
Marion knew what most of us now know - Doctor Jones wouldn't, couldn't and probably shouldn't end on the note that is "Crystal Skull". However you feel, the official announcement was made last week that distribution rights have been hashed out to pave the way for the fifth installment in one of the most successful film series in history. When looking forward to the inevitable, blind hope would, admittedly, be naive at best. However, the worst thing we could do to ourselves as fans is give into total cynicism. It's happening so no amount of cringing, grumbling and complaining will stop the juggernaut, something fans only complain about because we love it so much in the first place. I would argue any further adventures hinge on specifics getting the attention they got in the beloved trilogy set in the '30's and produced in the '80's. Let us find the middle ground and offer some constructive ideas in the hopes that we'll be whistling our hero's theme as we leave the theaters once again.
Character, character, character! Many things are cited when I hear someone criticizing "Crystal Skull", most of which are the least of my problems with it. "He's too old"; I don't think they capitalized on age enough! Is aging still a cardinal sin in our fantasy worlds? We're always talking about how we want to connect with our movies, most of which deal with death, constantly, but aging? Oh no, don't remind us! The fact that we had time to focus on such a silly aspect means we didn't buy the characters in those situations. What we need Indy to do is to use his wits as well as his brawn. We need him to outsmart our villains and no matter how many times he tried to escape the Russian's grasp, it came off like he was mostly helping them. Why? Because it didn't FEEL like the Jonesy we know and love. Somehow, the crotchety overshadowed the professorial aspect to the character and it felt like he was regulated to uttering more one-liners than ever before and getting dangerously close to a Sly or Arnold delivery, which the series so perfectly separated itself from in the 1980's. Again, it might not have been that way on the page, but the character didn't feel true. "Marion wasn't the same and I don't like Shia." Most would agree there is no better Indy Girl than Marion Ravenwood, but the excitement of seeing her spar with Jones was quelled when there was not much sparring to speak of. Every character conflict was resolved in the very scene after which it was introduced. If Marion is to be included, she will need to butt heads with our hero through most of the story in her classic "Girl Friday" give and take. When it comes down to it, complaints regarding Marion and Mutt (LaBeouf) don't mean much when the actors aren't given much to do in the first place. It's all about the writing, but the actors are the most visible cannon fodder for such complaints.
If the characters are well written, thought out, and have good dialogue, then story isn't the first priority and we'll enjoy them in almost any situation they're put in......almost. Which brings us to
The artifacts in the Indiana Jones universe are a perfect example of what Alfred Hitchcock called the "MacGuffin", a plot device used to set the action and characters into motion, but essentially unimportant as to the detail of that device. In other words, the audience doesn't always care or need to know what is on that microfilm everyone in the movie is chasing. The Grail is simply the impetus for Indy and his Father reconciling with each other.
In "Crystal Skull's" case, the MacGuffin threw everyone out of the story. We're used to magical religious artifacts, the powers of which are only revealed in the final act, but aliens and spaceships proved too much of a stretch, even in a universe where looking at God's power can melt your face off or a knight can live for centuries.
Since the odd numbered films revolve around the more anglo saxon or Christian artifacts, here are just a couple of treasures which might lend themselves to the the upcoming story. Some of which could be taken from various comics, novels and "Young Indy" episodes that already exist in Indiana Jones cannon.
The Spear of Destiny is a real object surrounded by more questions than answers. Reported to be the actual spear head used by a Roman Soldier to pierce the side of Jesus at the crucifixion, it later had a nail from the cross added to the middle of the object, essentially making it two Holy relics in one. To add to the mystery, there is more than one floating around. Carbon dating and various other tests have been inconclusive as to its age and authenticity. It was yet another object Hitler gained possession of in World War II hoping to utilize its "power". That spear seized by General Patton's forces is currently housed at the Weltliches Schatzkammer Museum in Vienna.
The Roman Eagle of the Ninth was a standard carried into battle and acted as a figurehead of Rome's power. Akin to eagles which adorn the the tops of American flagpoles, the Ninth Spanish Legion carried the Eagle Standard while invading Britain around 117 AD where both the eagle and men disappeared into history. There are many speculations as to what befell the Ninth - anything from marching into a military slaughter or scattering and being reassigned to other legions to records of their movement simply being destroyed. Whatever their fate, most of the Caesars and other Roman Emperors held the Eagles as not just a symbol, but as literally holding the power and glory of Rome and to destroy their enemies, as well. Such was this belief that many soldiers died under orders to retrieve, at all costs, any eagles lost to the enemy in battle all over Europe. After the "disappearance" of the Ninth Spanish Legion, that eagle became the most famous of these lost standards.
Lastly, I would love to see a twist regarding the MacGuffin leading us to discover that the initial artifact turns out to be a sham, but leads us to an even more intriguing treasure. Perhaps bringing us full circle to something like the Ark or the Jackal from the very first adventure in the "Young Indy" television show.
Must we even make mention of fridges and monkeys? In the supplemental documentaries on the original trilogy DVDs, the running theme is that the films are great because they're truly old fashioned filmmaking. All were produced just before the computer took over Hollywood. Creative people, especially directors like Spielberg, really shine when restrictions such as budget, schedule and technological limitations impede on their canvas. True ingenuity and creativity grow from stretching an artist's intellect and imagination. So when we were promised Indy's further adventures would match the look of the original films, our own imaginations ran wild. Imagine a modern Hollywood blockbuster which rejected modern techniques for classic in-camera visuals?! The thought was invigorating even if they worked subtle CGI into the mix to further the story and open up the world to more epic globe-trotting proportions. Unfortunately, that promise was broken to the point that the canvas, even inhabited by our familiar characters, seemed unrecognizable. When anything imagined can be done, it doesn't mean you should throw it up on screen. Spielberg, himself, has admitted he pushed the envelope too far by designing sequences that would have been too expensive and complicated before computers and ignoring Harrison Ford asking if anyone is going to buy this. Stunts have always been an awe inspiring tentpole of the franchise, including impressive stunt work, the likes of which television has never seen in the "Young Indy" series. Actors pretending to be on moving vehicles in front of a green screen is a pale replacement for the daring men and women of the stunt world. Forget for a second what the eye is meant to focus on in these sequences and take into account that over half the outdoor scenes were shot on a sound stage. The simplest thing like sunlight being artificial and not actually shining down on our cast and sets gives your brain pause of believability even if not on a conscious level.
The solution? Take a cue from directors like Christopher Nolan and JJ Abrams who produce heavy effects films but only use CGI when absolutely necessary. This results in enough practical visual elements either intercut or included in a shot to help your brain suspend disbelief.
....and for goodness sake, let the stuntmen do what they do.
Even in these fun adventure films where Nazi soldiers occasionally fall "Hogan's Heroes" style into a river, there are enough moments of suspense and dread that we momentarily forget our hero will make like a bad penny and "...always turn up." There are no better bad guys than the Nazis and when not as familiar historical villains like the Thuggee are involved, the tone is so dark we can almost feel the heat from the molten lava flowing through the bowels of the Temple of Kali. The stakes for each artifact falling into the wrong hands spelled doom for the world and, in the "Temple's" case, an immediate threat of children enslaved. The Russians could be menacing, but the Cold War having never heated up and still boiled over lets our hindsight take some of that menacing power away. The repercussions of the artifact's power and the individuals our hero is up against have to raise our level of unease.
Admit it, we love George Lucas for all the joy his imagination and creations have brought us. Star Wars and Indy fans alike feel that perhaps he grew too close to those projects to see the forrest for the trees in recent years. Unlimited resources and control falls in the same realm as discussed regarding effects. In other words, be careful what you wish for. If you get everything you want, your creativity and critical eye might suffer. Now semi-retired and acting on a pure consultant basis, it seems he has truly handed the reigns of the Star Wars universe over to other film makers. If this is true of Indiana Jones, his input and imagination will most certainly be welcomed and encouraged by best friend Steven Spielberg and long time colleague, Harrison Ford. Spielberg, producers and cast members alike have all expressed a desire to produce better work and give the fans what they feel they deserve. If George presents these filmmakers with more elbow room and allows them to work with only one or two screenwriters form start to finish, we may just get the episode we have been waiting for since Indy, Henry, Marcus & Sallah rode off into the sunset.
Pictured below is the writer of “INDIANA JONES and the ARTIFACTS of HOPE ”, Sean Owens. Sean is avid fan of Indiana Jones, which should be obvious for numerous reasons.