Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My own private Indiana Jones 4, part 1: Past greatness and present themes

After listening to an excellent podcast analysis of Raiders of the Lost Ark by John August and Craig Mazin on Scriptnotes, I was reminded again of how disappointed I was by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In fact, I was so disappointed when I first saw it that I started sketching out a bit of fan-fiction, something I've never done before.

This wasn't some completely original adventure, insofar as I wanted to take some of the same themes and issues of Indy 4 and make it into a better film; much as if I were hired (ha!) to fix the script before it went to production. And now that I'm thinking about it, I think I just have to go ahead and write it down in outline form.

But first, a quick reminder of the tone, themes, and formula of the first three Indiana Jones films, in list form (my favorite form of all):

  1. Formula: All three movies mimic serial adventures by starting out with the end of some crazy adventure, which might connect to the current adventure by: 1) introducing a major antagonist (rival archaeologist Belloq), 2) leading directly to the current adventure (getting into a plane owned by gangster Lao), or 3) showing Indiana's childhood. (That last one isn't really connected to the new adventure except for the introduction of his dad.)
    1. Lesson: start with some unrelated adventure.
  2. There's crazy paranormal stuff in this world, but it's often considered crazy and paranormal. When American agents come to Jones to ask about the Ark, he kind of shrugs, as if to say, "That's the power of god or whatever."
    1. Lesson: Indy can never take the paranormal for granted
  3. In fact, Indy 1, 2, and 3 all chart something of the same character arc: Indy starts out as an unbeliever and becomes a believer. He starts out interested in the artifact (Ark, Grail) or in plain injustice (the exploitation of the village); but he's not interested in what the artifact says about the world (God exists, Shiva is awesome, Jesus is awesome). Only through the action of the film is he able to pay reverence to the artifact--and let the physical object go / return it to its rightful place.
    1. Lesson: Indy's arc tends towards wonder and belief
  4. While each film charts Indy's growth as a believer, they also focus on some other, related theme: in 1, it's about his relation to the Ark and his relation to Marion--he never treated either good enough; in 2, it's about his relation to his quasi-son, Short Round, a stand-in for the exploited kids of India; in 3, it's about his relation to his dad.
    1. Lesson: Indy's arc is also towards relationships
  5. Indiana Jones is in over his head, but still pretty awesome and action-oriented. For instance, take the idol-stealing scene from the first movie, where we see him replace the idol with a bag of sand very carefully, which looks awesome--but is also not entirely correct. But then, when the temple traps start to go off, he doesn't stand around looking worried; he runs away and does so in a way that looks flustered and great at the same time.
    1. Lesson: Indy is smart, athletic, resourceful--and fallible as any human.
  6. Indy may be over his head, but he's the one who figures things out: in Raiders, he finds the Ark; in Temple, he frees the kids and kills the cult leader; in Crusade, he figures out how to get through the traps to the Grail.
    1. Lesson: Indy is active, never just an observer.
Now that's all the past greatness from the first three movies. Instead of going through Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and noting where they failed, let's just look at what they tried to do and what I can copy. Again, lists are great.
  1. Primary Enemy: the Soviet collective (Irina Spalko, psychic agent; Dovchenko, the bruiser)
  2. Artifact: The crystal skull of Ancient Alien visitors
  3. Relationship: Son, Marion (again) 
  4. Theme: Experience vs. knowledge (according to Todd Alcott's analysis)
  5. Set-pieces: Red ants, attacked by natives, quicksand, vine-swinging, three waterfalls, etc.

So, no promises that I'll keep all--or any--of that, but what would I rather watch?

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