This feature was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated to reflect today’s announcement.
Welcome to Producer’s Chair, a mini-column in which Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman offers his own career advice to artists and various figureheads in the film and music industry. In this installment, he pulls a classic Satipo on ol’ Indy.
Indiana Jones will return in 2019. Now that Disney has conquered every box office record with Star Wars, they’re starting to turn their macrobinoculars on the famed archaeologist. CEO Bob Iger, chairman Alan Horn, and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy have all expressed enthusiasm for the action-adventure franchise, and, finally, both director Steven Spielberg and the man himself Harrison Ford are confirmed for another adventure.
Despite incessant rumors of recasting, from Bradley Cooper to Chris Pratt, Spielberg stuck to his guns, always insisting that he couldn’t see the role belonging to anyone but Ford. It’s an admirable and agreeable decision, but if they’re going to keep stamping Indy’s passport, they need to hurry things up. At 73, Ford can still crash planes and run with ease, but it’s going to be tougher as the clock keeps ticking, and we still haven’t figured out how to stop time.
By this point, though, Disney knows how to turn around a blockbuster, especially of this magnitude and size. The narrative behind The Force Awakens is no nuts it’s crazy: The company bought Lucasfilm back in October 2012, snagged J.J. Abrams by January 2013, and ushered The Force Awakens into theaters worldwide by December 2015. So, it’s not unreasonable to think that a proper Indiana Jones sequel could swing into theaters in three years.
Similar to Star Wars, the franchise has a few nasty wrinkles to iron out, and they all stem from 2008’s disaster of a sequel, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. You remember that one, right? No? It was the second highest grossing film of 2008! There were aliens! Shia LaBeouf swung with monkeys! Academy Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett was a Russian villain! Still nothing? Well, then you must have let it go…
You chose wisely. After all, the film was riddled with humdrum storytelling, excessive CGI, an irritating family reunion, an equally irritating ensemble cast, and an impressive glut of stupidity, ranging from nuked fridges to a canine John Hurt. Aliens didn’t obliterate this sequel (and neither did memes); the lack of magic did. It felt like no one had ever seen an Indiana Jones film before, which is baffling given the behind-the-scenes talent.
Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. needs to (actually) solve puzzles, he needs to (actually) travel, he needs to outrun (actual) threats, and he doesn’t need four or five people to do it. Hell, the stakes were so low in Crystal Skull that they resorted to ants and bombs and marriage to heighten the tension. And if you’re like me, you probably removed your fedora slowly as he kissed the bride and left the theater in search of the cheapest bottle.
Bad dates, indeed, which is what makes the fifth entry so daunting. Where do you go from here? How do you skip out on his son, Mutt Williams? What era is even worth exploring at this point? These are all obvious questions to consider and a few that will plague whoever winds up sitting down to actually write the next chapter. As a longtime fan, these are pivotal points I’ve tried to stomach for years, which is why I’ve hammered out an outline of sorts.
Mind you, this isn’t a collection of potential MacGuffins for the aforementioned brain trust above. I’m not going to argue for an adaptation of the Fate of Atlantis game, champion the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle, or even turn a single page in my history books. I’m more concerned about the overall mechanics of the film and how Spielberg can rekindle the magic, which by proxy should sell any MacGuffin without burning any fingers or cracking any nails.
Then again, I could be making this up as I go…
There’s a reason Harrison Ford gets paid more than his co-stars. Contracts, obviously, but also because, well, he’s Harrison Ford. He doesn’t need to be surrounded by two yutes. It worked for The Force Awakens because they’re setting up a franchise that’s larger than Ford, but Ford is Indiana Jones, and he can handle the weight himself. Granted, it’s a go-to solution in Hollywood to match a veteran with a young star, but this franchise would do best to avoid double-dipping in that trend.
Case in point:
With Crystal Skull, screenwriter David Koepp desperately tried to capture the familial charm of Last Crusade, which memorably paired Ford with Sean Connery, who portrayed his father, Henry Jones, Sr. If you recall, though, that film eventually expanded to include familiar faces like Denholm Elliott’s hilariously gullible Dr. Marcus Brody and John Rhys-Davies’ ever-lovable Sallah. The difference between the two was that one story actually warranted accompanying pals.
Whereas screenwriter Jeffrey Boam detailed a touching reunion between a father and his son, Koepp hideously mirrored those same themes in reverse with a rushed, lazy, and altogether lame story. What’s worse is that he also expanded Indy’s entourage with a bunch of forgettable characters and one useless return by Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood. It was like watching a handful of aging adults mumble through an unrehearsed reenactment of The Goonies.
So, Disney would be wise to avoid any similar catastrophes, and they can do that by focusing on a story that involves Indiana Jones and only Indiana Jones. Rather than celebrating B-movies of the past, why not look at the great Westerns? By his very nature, Indy is a loner with friends in all the right places, a cowboy with a history doctorate, and it’s that singularity which makes him so compelling. That doesn’t mean he needs an All is Lost-sort of vacuum; he just doesn’t need any stragglers.
Naturally, it would require a little finesse on behalf of the screenwriter, but this isn’t exactly uncommon ground. We’ve seen a Solo Joneso in brief gasps throughout the trilogy, mostly in Raiders and Last Crusade, and it’s in those moments that our hero is really tested. Of course, one issue would be the source of situational humor, but there are ways around that without involving another love interest or another family member.
Regardless, some more “man vs. himself” could do some good.
It’s Not the Years, Honey, It’s The … Yeah, It’s the Years
Recasting Indiana Jones is a bad idea. I agree with Spielberg that the archaeologist isn’t Bond, and Harrison Ford will forever own the role, and blah blah blah and yada yada yada. Having said that, a younger Indiana Jones isn’t an awful idea, as proven by the late and great River Phoenix in The Last Crusade and the oft-forgotten Sean Patrick Flannery in a dollop of scenes from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Don’t let that last comment inspire you to revisit the former ABC series; I actually tried a few years ago, and it’s just not very good.
Anyways, the idea of pairing up a young and elder Jones in the fifth entry might work. For one, it tests the waters to see if audiences can actually handle another face in the role, and even better, it widens the scope of the story considerably. And because this franchise isn’t likely to pull a Superman Returns and retcon Crystal Skull, any future offerings featuring Ford will likely have to take place after said film, which is a terrifying notion worth shelving away. Still, some clever storytelling can avoid that nightmare of a snake pit.
If you recall, one of Indy’s recurring flaws in the original trilogy — oh, those sweet, sweet days when we could call it that — was how he was either losing treasures to rivals or chasing after them years later. We witness the former when the villainous Belloq snatches away the Peruvian golden idol at the beginning of Raiders and later come full circle when he saves Coronado’s golden crucifix at the beginning of Last Crusade. But here’s a thought: What if there was a larger and more vital MacGuffin? And what if that MacGuffin involved two separate eras of Indy’s life?
Similar to last year’s Mr. Holmes, only sans the Alzheimer’s through-line, the next installment could potentially follow an older Indy who’s trying to finish an adventure that began decades prior, which would then run concurrently with said earlier years. It would be a departure from the traditional narrative set by the previous films, sure, but could offer a fresh spin on the medium that might warrant a more exciting sequel and the kind of lucrative future Disney wants.
So, try and imagine a film that involves 65% Ford, 35% … eh, let’s go with Bradley Cooper. Because as Jurassic World proved last summer, Burt Macklin is no Dr. Jones, even if Chris Pratt’s Ford-esque performance in Guardians of the Galaxy was popcorn gold. Look, it’s not an ideal model. I’ll be the first to admit that (and I’m writing this damn thing), but it’s also not entirely treacherous ground, either. If you wanna talk ideal, that would have been two sequels back in the mid-’90s…
…or none at all.
Small World, Dr. Jones
There was a quote from either Ford or Spielberg, I honestly can’t find it (and trust me, I’ve looked), that basically said something along the lines of: If you want to see the world, make an Indiana Jones movie. I vividly remember that line because it’s always spoken to me, namely because I’ve lived a boring, sheltered life in the States, and most of my visual knowledge outside of this country stems from history books or cinema — but especially the Indiana Jones films.
Granted, most of the filming for each entry was staged in Hawaii, California, or England. But Raiders flew out to Tunisia. Temple drifted over to Sri Lanka. And Last Crusade, well, that production drew the red line from Venice to Spain to as far as Jordan. But Crystal Skull? It was largely a stateside production peppered with underwhelming exterior shots from Argentina and Brazil. There’s also the issue of green screens, but we’ll get to that soon.
Bottom line: Indiana Jones needs to use a lot of SkyMiles.
Contrary to Last Crusade’s Panama Hat villain, and even Disney, it’s not a small world, which is such an irrational and ridiculous statement. In reality, most people won’t ever visit a third of our planet, a sobering thought that’s depressing for us yet reassuring for this franchise. Studios and producers only need to be willing to embrace what’s out there, which is easier said than done, thanks to escalating costs and the fact that our world just can’t get its shit together.
Let’s not get political, though. To be fair, there are countless reasons why most productions stay home, but if you’re going to do justice to an Indiana Jones sequel, you need to take the audiences places. It’s baffling how we’ve yet to see a story set in Russia, Indonesia, Japan, or even South Africa! Which is a shame considering this all started from a pitch Lucas made to Spielberg that promised a franchise that was “better than James Bond.” Well, the professor’s passport has a lot of catching up to do.
Give Me The Kasdan, Throw Me The Kamiński
It makes sense why Spielberg keeps working with Janusz Kamiński. The Polish cinematographer has won two Oscars with the filmmaker — specifically, for his marvelous portraits in 1993’s Schindler’s List and 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always associated their collaboration as a turning point, the moment Spielberg decided to make Serious Movies. Looking at their shared filmography, that’s hardly a stretch: In addition to those two films, Kamiński has been responsible for lensing similar award-favoring historical dramas like Amistad, Catch Me If You Can, Munich, War Horse, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies.
In between those productions, Spielberg has traditionally veered off for the occasional popcorn flick, and Kaminski has followed. Unfortunately, his style can be incredibly distracting. For some reason, the guy has this obsession with making every scene pierce from its lighting, as if we’re waking up to a shiny, gray morning in London. It’s proven essential for a couple of these films, especially the dystopian future of 2002’s Minority Report and the post-9/11 visuals of 2005’s War of the Worlds, but it’s also sterilized a number of others. Crystal Skull suffered this fate, to the point where everything shined as if we were in a dream.
Sadly, original cinematographer Douglas Slocombe recently passed away, leaving an unbelievable legacy that rightfully ends with the sunset finale of Last Crusade. So, who could ably replace him? Spielberg would be best to call up his ol’ pal Dean Cundey, wax nostalgic about working together on 1991’s Hook and 1993’s Jurassic Park, and see if he’d like to toss on the proverbial fedora. Judging from his latest work — Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill or Mark Schmidt’s Walking with the Enemy — Cundey would be ridiculous not to saddle up. A talent like that deserves better.
While we’re reminiscing, how about Disney bring in their newfound veteran screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan for a triple dip? Now that he’s moved on from Star Wars — after he pens that Han Solo anthology film, of course — he could make it three times the charm by revisiting Ford’s other Lucasfilm hero. Similar to The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders remains the best film of the series, and Kasdan was behind the typewriter for both, so … logic? If the fifth entry is indeed Ford’s last, which by all means is probably the case (let’s hope for his sake), wouldn’t it be poetic to give the story back to the original writer?
Leave it to Kasdan to find a personal narrative that can outshine any MacGuffin, which is what a fourth sequel would truly need. He knows what clicks for Indy because he’s the one who designed him, a reassuring fact that would keep this from being construed as cash-hungry fan fiction. Also, if the story were to adopt a more Western angle, as I suggested, it’s not like Kasdan hasn’t previously dabbled in the genre. He wrote, produced, and directed 1985’s Silverado, an oft-forgotten hoot with an inspired ensemble cast of Big Chill leftovers, in addition to 1994’s Kevin Costner-starring and not-so-wonderful Wyatt Earp.
Plus, if they really wanted to keep things organic, they could consult Lucas for potential MacGuffins. Say what you will about his polarizing skills behind the camera, but you can’t dismiss the man’s imagination. His idea to embrace a more Chariots of the God storyline for Crystal Skull was a sensible step in the right direction; they just misfired completely for reasons outlined above. To his credit, the dumbest scene in the film — nuking the fridge — wasn’t even his! (Trivia Spoiler: It was Spielberg’s!) Who knows if he has any ideas left for Indy, but the least they could do is ask … and then simply let Kasdan do his thing.
CGI… Why Did It Have to Be CGI?
Ten years ago, would you have believed that photo was from an Indiana Jones film? Probably not. The good news is that practical effects are making a big comeback, and it’s a trend that has some weight to it. The awe-inspiring stunt work of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road and the lived-in environments of Abrams’ The Force Awakens both suggest that old-school magic tricks are more timeless than previously thought. That was one of the finer successes of last year’s filmmaking and one that bodes well for any further adventures in this franchise.
CGI doesn’t belong in an Indiana Jones film; it’s as simple as that. The original trilogy thrived on practical effects, which is why the best scenes of Raiders, Temple, and Crusade still resonate decades later. We still tap our feet anxiously when Indy dangles from the cargo truck, when he’s surrounded by a tomb of bugs, or when he’s wedged between a rocky wall and a German tank. That’s because these things were actually happening, which should have always been a priority from the get-go, but was somehow lost on everyone involved in Crystal Skull.
Going forward, it would behoove Spielberg to dust off his production notes from decades ago and reconnect with a few of the techniques that worked so well on earlier films. Stunts have always been a part of the films, even Crystal Skull, but how about using matte paintings again? Or creating miniature models? It’s not just feelings of nostalgia that empower these older films; it’s the imaginative wisdom and resourceful ingenuity that captured the audiences. And I’d like to believe that practicality translates to better performances and filmmaking, too.
Another case in point:
When it comes to Indiana Jones, if there’s any need for CGI or there’s a heavy reliance on green screen wizardry, odds are the sequence doesn’t belong. The excessive acrobatics of Crystal Skull, ranging from the fridge to the jungle cutter tank to the Tarzanian swinging, completely whipped audiences out of the movie, which is one of the worst sins of that film. The sequences don’t have to be incredibly realistic, but they shouldn’t be downright implausible, either. When the fridge memes started popping up shortly after Skull’s release, I recall staunch defenders pointing to Temple’s parachuting raft. Here’s the difference, though: We’ve at least seen that skydiving works, but surviving a nuclear blast? Not so much.
X Never, Ever Marks the Spot
Woof. Making this sequel won’t be easy. Do you remember that scene in Raiders when Marcus warns Indy as he’s packing to head out? He digresses about the power of the Ark, how he should tread lightly, and concludes that “it’s like nothing [he’s] ever gone after before.” That’s how I sort of feel about this film. It’s an odd and rare and uneasy opportunity to fix something that’s really only broken because of the same situation we’re currently in.
Allow me to explain: Prior to May 22, 2008, the theatrical release date of The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the overall consensus on the Indiana Jones franchise was that it was a concise and cohesive trilogy. Sure, the “Last” in Last Crusade didn’t mean it was Indy’s final hurrah, but he rode off into the sunset — with his father and closest friends for Christ’s sake! To this day, I still vividly remember my fingers touching the TV screen in childlike wonder as Spielberg cut closer and closer to the horizon.
Basically, it was agreed upon that Dr. Jones’ adventures had come to an end, and whatever remained to be told existed solely in video games, comics, novels, or ABC television. And that was absolutely okay. Why? Because there wasn’t going to be a more sacred adventure or a better ending than what we saw in Last Crusade. But, over time, the rumors would pop up, our spirits would raise, and we’d be teased again and again and again and again. Which brings us to the late aughts.
Now, back in 2007 and 2008 — right around the time this site began, come to think of it — you couldn’t talk to me without having a conversation about Indiana Jones. (Here’s a fun fact: I double majored in history just because of this goddamn series.) For two long and painful and useless years, I obsessed over the sequel, namely because the idea of seeing a new adventure was an excitement that surpassed whatever feelings I had reserved for Star Wars back in 1999. It bordered on insanity.
Somewhere in the back of my head, however, I always worried about the film ruining the trilogy. Some of my closest friends, longtime writers on this site, said these very same things to me, repeatedly pointing to the prequels and its disastrous mythology. I never disagreed with them, but I had hope, which is way too coincidental given the political atmosphere that year. “It has to at least be better than those,” I’d argue, “Everyone’s back!” Well, the movie arrived that May, and so did the devastating blows.
Disappointed doesn’t exactly sum up my feelings then. Neither does destroyed. Apathetic, perhaps. Maybe even distraught. It was more or less the first time I ever felt wholly removed from a franchise. Similar to the prequels, I picked the film apart for months, trying desperately to eschew the logistical arguments that the Internet felt inclined to hammer to death. Ultimately, I came to conclusion that the film couldn’t destroy the trilogy and that I’d just ignore it altogether.
But you can’t ignore the Crystal Skull, and what’s worse, the film did ruin the trilogy, if only for the simple fact that it’s no longer a trilogy anymore. It’s a time capsule and an asterisk, crudely bundled together like an idiot stepson that’s been adopted into a nice family after daddy made a mistake somewhere down the line. Okay, that’s a little harsh, but only for the metaphorical family I’ve drummed up. The actual film couldn’t be more maligned. It’s a lousy sequel that’s only grown lousier with age.
It’s worse than the prequels.
Which is why I’m not exactly opposed to another chapter. Sure, the conceit behind any further sequels is exactly what spawned Crystal Skull, but the difference now is that this series needs another ending. Sadly, the sun came back up, Indiana had a kid, and he got hitched for reasons that boil down to … “We’re family!” But that’s not how you end an adventure; that’s how you end a bullshit brochure sellIng foreigners on the American Dream. There’s zero imagination in that ending.
And without that, there is no fortune and glory.