BY ANDREW MOODY
When I was six years old, my Dad took me to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the first of the Indy films, the movie concerned a race to discover a biblical artefact (in Raiders it was the Ark of the Covenant, in Last Crusade it was the Holy Grail) before the Nazis could harness their supernatural powers.
Having been raised as a Roman Catholic, I found I related to the religious references in Last Crusade. The movie transformed otherwise dull church visits, with its mysterious biblical codes and supernatural symbols.
Every Christmas as a child I would get my parents to record the Indiana Jones movies which would be, often as not, playing late at night on BBC2.
George Lucas had the original idea for the movies sometime in 1973, four years before he directed the first Star Wars movie. Then known as ‘Indiana Smith’ (named after his dog) he told Steven Spielberg about the pitch, who liked everything but the name. They settled on Indiana Jones, and the protracted journey into pre-production began. Spielberg wanted Harrison Ford, then a supporting actor in Lucas’s American Graffiti and Star Wars to play the eponymous hero. Lucas disagreed, and after numerous casting sessions, settled on Tom Selleck. After it transpired that Selleck was not free to star in the movie (he was contractually bound to the TV show Magnum PI), Lucas finally agreed with Spielberg and cast Harrison Ford as Dr. Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones, an archaeologist on the trail of the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis can use its power to take over the world.
A box office smash, Raiders of the Lost Ark earned $242 million in the US, a total of $432 million worldwide (equivalent to over $1 billion in today’s box office) and was nominated for eight Academy Awards. Talks of a sequel began in earnest.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released in 1984. Ostensibly a prequel to Raiders, it opens with a James Bond style sequence which introduces Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) a club singer who gets embroiled with Indy and his side kick Short Round in an adventure to rescue the children of an Indian village. Kate Capshaw would go onto marry Spielberg. The movie grossed $348 million worldwide, and was notable for being the first movie rated PG-13 in the US: only suitable for children under 13 if accompanied by an adult. Spielberg suggested the rating system of the MPAA be changed, in the wake of controversy surrounding the violence of Temple of Doom and Gremlins.
Five years later the team joined up for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – what Lucas, Ford and Spielberg intended to be the final Indiana Jones movie. The opening sequence featured River Phoenix as a young Indiana Jones (the late actor had played Ford’s son in The Mosquito Coast in 1986) and Sean Connery was cast as Indiana Jones’s father, despite there only being twelve years between him and Ford. Last Crusade grossed $418 million worldwide.
As far as Lucas and Spielberg were concerned, this was closure on the story and on the character. But from as early as 1994, Harrison Ford had let slip in interviews that he had been reading scripts for Indy 4, and in 1997, was asked by Barbara Walters if he would consider playing Indiana Jones again.
“In a New York minute,” he replied.
After years of development hell, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull eventually emerged in 2008, disgusting fans and critics alike. A pedestrian, half-hearted affair, which relied on unconvincing CGI and a story of Russians and ancient alien civilisations, it seemed cobbled together, and Ford too old for the job. It also included a soon to be notorious scene where Indy hides from a nuclear blast in a lead lined refrigerator. In fan circles, “nuking the fridge” became a pop culture term for the decline of a once proud and much loved property into the absurd.
Spielberg later distanced himself from the debacle.
“I was the hold out, the one who said ‘I’m done with this series, it was great, let’s walk away’. I have to give credit to Harrison for starting the ball rolling. He got very proactive with both George and me and said, ‘I want to play Indy one more time’. So he started this. Blame him.”
Internet rumours indicate that a fifth Indy film is in development, but Steven Spielberg has confirmed he will not be directing it.
Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @VoguishFiction_