Last night at at a theatre in downtown Los Angeles (sprinkled with the likes of Damon Lindelof and Simon Pegg) the LA Times Hero Complex hosted a thirtieth anniversary screening of director Steven Spielberg’s beloved homage to the adventure serials of the 1930s – Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The director was on hand for a conversation with Geoff Boucher following the screening, in which he looked back at the creation of what has become one of our culture’s most iconic characters — Indiana Jones. Mid-talk, the two were joined by none other than Indy himself, Harrison Ford, who offered his own insights about Raiders as well as what may be in store for the future of the franchise.
Suffice is to say that both Spielberg and Ford have said they are “hopeful” about an Indy 5, though Ford did give the caveat that he will, “not be going to Mars.”
Details of the conversation will follow below, but first it feels appropriate to reflect that I am probably not alone in being struck by how a film that was (in many ways) born of a sense of nostalgia has now taken a place of not just nostalgic longing, but reverence within the entertainment community.
Many long for, and emulate, the Spielberg films of the late 1970s and early 1980s. This summer alone we have seen several films that were either openly touted as “Spielbergesque” or contained subtle (or in some cases not-so-subtle) references to his films. J.J Abrams’ Super 8 was as direct an homage to Spielberg’s early sci-fi films as Raiders was to the serials it drew from; and Captain America was, in many respects, the Super-Hero version of an Indiana Jones film (not so much in the character, but the construction of the story, and tone of the film).
I must confess that Raiders is just as entertaining, just as much fun to watch today as it was when I was a little girl who insisted on being given her very own bullwhip with which to rangel wayward helpers on the hunt for artifacts. One of the joys of the screening was the untouched quality of the film print, which allowed us to embrace the event for what it was — an opportunity to revisit something from our pasts as it truly was, and/or introduce the film to a new generation without the loss of what it had been. Raiders has been restored, of course, but one of the first points that Spielberg stressed was that he had worked from the original negative and had neither removed nor added anything via the use of CGI.
This naturally led to a discussion about the recent (and not so recent) changes that have been made to the original Star Wars series by the man Spielberg calls his best friend, George Lucas. Spielberg initially forestalled giving his thoughts on the alterations calling it a “hot topic.” He then said that he felt that Lucas was a great director, and noted that if it weren’t for him the we wouldn’t have Star Wars or Indiana Jones. He had already joked that after his (fairly unsuccessful) offering, 1941, the only person who would hire him was his friend, Lucas, for Raiders. Spielberg’s take is that Lucas is entitled to do whatever he wants to with his films, but that his own experiment with remastering had left somewhat of a sour taste in his mouth:
“I tried this once and lived to regret it. Not because of fan outrage, but because I was disappointed in myself. I got overly sensitive to [some of the reaction -- including parents who had been less than pleased with the guns in the film] to “E.T.,” and I thought if technology evolved, [I might go in and change some things]…it was OK for a while, but I realized what I had done was I had robbed people who loved “E.T.” of their memories of E.T.”
The director then took a survey of the audience to see who would like to see the original 1982 E.T. released on Blu-ray, sans the inclusion of the digitally remastered version. When the overwhelming response was in favor of reverting to the film we knew from our collective childhoods (puppet warts and all), Spielberg said simply, “Okay, done.”
As far as indelible cinematic memories are concerned, it is hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones, but the truth is that the part originally belonged to Tom Selleck, who had to bow-out due to his commitment to the television series Magnum P.I. During the time that Spielberg was searching for his lead, he was invited to an early, rough-cut screening of The Empire Strikes Back where, as he tells it, he realized he already had his Indy.
“After [the screening of The Empire Strikes Back] was over, I said, ‘We’ve found our Indiana Jones.’ And George said, ‘Who?’ I said, ‘That guy right there, Han Solo.’ And George said, ‘yeah, he’s a great actor, but he’s identified as this character now in Star Wars.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but he’s an actor! He’s supposed to identify with different characters.’ George had never thought about that, but then he said, ‘yeah, that’d be great’.”
It was more than great. In a time when we often bestow far more significance on childhood properties than they perhaps carry, we can honestly say that Harrison Ford and Steven Speilberg co-created a character that lives in the hearts of a generation, and changed what we wanted to see from our cinematic Heroes.
When the possibility of revisiting Indy via a fifth installment in the franchise was broached, and one enthused fan whooped from the audience, Spielberg (with a tongue-in-cheek understanding of his fan base) quipped “I think that’s the one we didn’t alienate with the fourth” to which Boucher responded (in essence) “I think that’s Shia.”
In truth, the director does seem interested in revisiting the character, and Ford, who eventually said it is a simple and absolute pleasure to play this role and work with Spielberg, seemed more than open to the possibility – though he did say:
“Maybe a fifth, but I ain’t going to Mars. Next time we get a script for Indiana Jones, I’d be delighted to play the character. Each time we meet him, we wanted to advance the audience’s understanding of the character, not just by putting him in adventures, but by learning something about him…that’s what led to the meeting of his father [in The Last Crusade], played by Sean Connery, and his son [in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull], played by Shia, and bringing Marion back.”
As much as Ford expressed an unabashed affection for Jones, he did joke that Spielberg only hires him to play Indy, even though he is an actor. To which Spielberg returned:
“You know who I offered Jurassic Park to? This guy. Alan Grant, Jurassic Park, right here.”
As to a Blu-ray release of the Indiana Jones series, the director said only that it would be coming up, and that as soon as Lucas is done with Star Wars, Indy should be next on the docket.
During the course of their talk, Ford and Spielberg touched on topics ranging from who was truly responsible for the famous “just shoot the swordsman” gag; the connection between Raiders and Spielberg’s upcoming CGI adventure film Tintin (which he refers to as being, “thirty years in development”); Ford’s insistence that Indy feel and express fear (a choice that helped define our concept of a fully-developed Hero); and the state of the industry today — which Ford calls in some ways “soulless.”
The Los Angeles Times will be releasing videos from the event in the coming days, which we will be linking to here, so stay tuned for more from this entertaining and revealing conversation.
A special thanks to Geek Tyrant for the quote transcriptions.
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