Thursday, June 12, 2008

The RIGHT name for adventure

The reason my Kung-Fu Panda review got pushed back is because last night I finally got my hands on the 2/3 approved (Spielberg and Ford liked it, Lucas didn't) draft of Indiana Jones IV by Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, The Mist) and proceeded to stay up late reading the entire thing in one excited sitting. Having now read it and digested it for a bit I don't know if I can't say that it's the most perfect Indiana Jones script that ever was, but I will say that it is a damn sight better than the sloppily constructed hodge-podge that David Koepp helped usher into being.

The script, entitled Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods (already we're well out of the gate with a way better title) is a sharp, exciting romp that is respectful of the Jones legacy and feels a bit more grown-up then the Star Wars prequel-esque, explain everything to you as it's happening coarseness, of Crystal Skull. Yes the crystal skull is still in the movie as are aliens, but they're better balanced (and the skull can really only give off vague psychic emanations, it isn't an all purpose McGuffin like it is in the film). The biggest loss, there's no Mutt in this version of the story, though Marion's role is vastly beefed up. As in Raiders she's not just a side-kick to Indy, she's his "damn partner." The story contains similar elements but they are very differently explained and solved. Also this movie has colossal amounts of action where Indy, Marion and their pursuers get to show their stuff.

Like the film, the script begins in the desert as kids race by listening to Bill Haley, however this time the car they are passing contains a driving Dr. Jones and his companion Yuri Markovsky. Yuri is sort of a conflation of the Mac and Irena characters. He betrays Indy revealing himself to be a communist but Darabont let's us get to know him and see his and Indy's friendship first so his betrayal actually means something to the audience. The two are out in the desert digging up native ruins but Yuri is secretly helping a group of soviets infiltrate an army base in order to obtain plutonium (no skull, no magnetism, no alien corpse and no prairie dogs in this version). Indy gets involved and this leads to a similar but not identical sequence to what we see in the film. There's no whipping, just a lot of clever sneaking around followed by a larger scale truck and foot chase through the warehouse as Indy has to dodge jet engines going off. Indy again finds himself at the nuclear test site and that plays out exactly as in the film but since the previous scene just featured a plutonium hand-off it doesn't feel disconnected.

What follows includes Indy's interrogation (this time done by seven men in shadows as opposed to the janitor from Scrubs) but now his blacklist has actual repercussions. In addition to losing his job Indy gets an FBI tail to follow him around and most of the characters he encounters doubt him, as he is now an outlaw. He bids a sad goodbye to his class and proceeds to get drunk off his ass and chat with a statue of the late Marcus Brodey (all the while still being tailed). After a very amusing scene which calls back the opening of Raiders (except set in the university museum) Indy must fend off an assassin who before dying sends him off to a locker in Grand Central Station. Before going though, Indy stops at home to grab his things and encounters Henry Senior. Yes Sean Connery's character is still alive in this version of the script. Henry chides him for being a drunken mess but when Indy explains his night Henry helps him escape from the cops (who think Indy killed his FBI tail when in fact it was the aforementioned assassin). The Grand Central lead puts Indy in position of the crystal skull which in turn points him to Peru where he is supposed to make contact and find the fabled lost city of the gods. In Peru he meets his contact, one Marion Ravenwood. The script really pops here as Darabont completely gets the patter of Indy and Marion. Marion is one pissy, albeit very competent broad, something that was kind of shrugged off to the side in Skull. Indy's delight at the reunion is cut-short however upon discovering that Marion has married a handsome, rugged archaeologist, author and European royalty, Baron Peter Belasko. Belasko is this story's Belloq, a dark version of Indy and competitor for Marion's affections. Marion and Indy must charter a plane to get to their expedition crew in the jungle and this leads to what could have been one of the most thrilling set-pieces of any action movie (let alone any Indiana Jones movie) I have ever seen. A mid-air battle between Indy and Marion in one plane and Yuri and a communist confederate in another. Passengers get switched, planes swoop, gun-fire is traded and there is a whole lot of free-fall and there's even a monkey (who is not biased in who he attacks). Once Indy and Marion reach "safety" and encounter Peter and his search team there are plenty of threats, switched allegiances and Indy constantly has the shadow of his blacklisting hanging over the proceedings with an agent of the state department present. There are not just giant ants in this draft but over-sized hummingbirds and a very different, VERY funny snake encounter. Professor Oxley shows up but it is always Indy who is leading the group forward and solving the challenges (though Peter somehow keeps getting credit). A lot of brutal action follows and the ending, while similar features a much more vocal (he speaks through Oxley's body) and nasty alien who wants to grant several of the characters wishes. It's exciting readable stuff but never forgets that Indiana Jones is the star of the movie. The make a wish stuff gets a bit saccharine but there's enough gory stuff happening around it it's not so jarring.

The movie ends with the wedding where Sallah shows up with some bear hugs and Henry Senior gets to drunkenly croon some Sinatra (oh I would've paid a hundred buck to see that). It's an Indiana Jones movie I would recommend without reservation instead of just kind of scrunch up and get angry about. Do you have specific questions or thoughts on the script if you've read it yourself? If so, please ask away in the comments.


Anonymous said...

wow, thanks for that post. reading the plot summary almost made me feel like i saw another indy movie. i really wish that a more satisfying story, like the draft you read, had come out. has spielberg and lucas just lost touch with what makes a good adventure film? i dont know why they settled for what they did. its like they just wanted to make an indy movie and get it over with, but if you waited 20 years already, why not make it spectacular?

El Gigante said...

If I understand it correctly there was a brief window of time when all three men had their schedules open and as a result a smaller, less ambitious, less demanding film would be needed. This version calls for a lot of work from actors in their 50's and 60's (the plane stuff alone would've taken at least another week of shooting and another month of post easily) and that would probably require an extended shooting schedule. Not that anyone is going to rush Spielberg other than Spielberg but having read this draft and contrasting it with what was on screen there was a sort of "all right let's do it and get it done with" sort of attitude for a lot of the elements of the production.