How to Make an Indiana Jones Movie
Last weekend I had an amazing opportunity (well, amazing by my standards). Every Super Bowl weekend, my favourite movie theater has a film festival of fan favourites. Because of my love for movies as well as my love of football, I’m usually torn. Last year on Super Bowl Sunday, they had a marathon of the Back to the Future trilogy (I was only able to catch the first one). Fortunately this year the planners smartened up, and they moved their trilogy showing to Saturday. The trilogy? Indiana Jones.
I do hesitate to say the phrase “trilogy” when talking about Indiana Jones, but not enough to correct myself. I understand there was a fourth one. I understand that they had wanted to use the same storyline much earlier in the series. I understand that it had its great moments. But the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t needed. Watching the three movies back-to-back was enlightening to me, not only as an Indy fan, but as a film fan. There’s an underlying formula to the films, constants that are present in each, but not in the way you might think. Here are your ingredients to make an Indiana Jones film.
You can’t really have an Indiana Jones movie unless you’ve got Indy setting out to look for something. Even though the subplots and relationships of the story often drive the majority of the drama, we still need Indiana Jones on a quest of some kind. In the first and third films, he’s looking specifically for a Christian artifact, with the remaining films springing from other religious cultures.
One of the reasons that Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code” was so popular was because it works history into mystery and adds a quest. While Indiana Jones is a little more adventure than mystery, it’s the possibility of getting a glimpse into another side of history that people enjoy. The Indiana Jones stories work wonders with this base knowledge without going over the line and stepping out of the historical into the unbelievable… at least, not in the first three films.
When it comes to villains, the Indiana Jones series isn’t exactly original. Sure, Temple of Doom had an unlikely enemy, but on the whole it largely misrepresented India and Hinduism. Then again, nobody really watches Hollywood movies for accuracy, do they?
When you’re someone like Indiana Jones, famous American archeologist and adventurer extraordinaire, chances are you’re not going to be fighting another American. That’s just unpatriotic. America loves Indiana Jones. It’s almost every other country that doesn’t like him, if his enemies are any reflection. In the first movie we have him pitted against the Germans and a French explorer. In the third film, he’s against more Germans (with Hitler personally declaring “war on the Jones boys”). Even the fourth film, which will only be acknowledged here, has Indy pitted against Russians.
All you need for an Indiana Jones enemy is to decide on a time period, figure out who the biggest threat to America is, and pit him against them. It’s not exactly propaganda, but it’s pretty close if you think about it. But really, it’s Indiana Jones. Who wants to think about it?
If fans of the series consider Indiana Jones to be the son of James Bond (especially when the best Bond of all, Sean Connery, plays his dad), then he’s definitely picked up his penchant for women. Indy has a different woman in each of the three films. On the surface, that’s what most people consider to be a love story. My definition, however, goes a bit deeper than that.
Indiana Jones is a man who braves danger and, more often than not, those with him are affected. It’s during these times that we get to see who he really loves. In the first film, it’s Marion. That’s the love story there, the story of redemption and second chances between these two that is obvious from their first scene. In the second film, it’s Indy and Short Round. Say what you will about Kate Capshaw, but that film would have been just as good without her. The best scenes, from heart-wrenching to heart-warming, are between Indy and Shortie: the card game in the jungle, the dual whipping, Short Round trying to break Indy’s trance. That’s where the love story is, between father and son. The third film then flips this, and the story we’re captured by is the story between father and son, this time with Henry Jones Sr. and Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr. That’s what anchors the story and, in my opinion, is what makes it the best one. We see how Indy came to be who he is, and how he’s come by his traits and characteristics honestly.
To make an Indiana Jones film, you need a love story. It doesn’t matter who it’s between, between Indy and a woman, Indy and a son (hello again, fourth movie), or Indy and his own father. There needs to be a friendship, relationship, or even bromance of some kind.
It’s painfully clear from the first movie that Indiana Jones has a phobia of snakes, something that makes him not only entertaining but also mortal. Having a fear makes him just a little more like us. We can’t really sympathize with him being chased by natives at the beginning of Raiders after having failed to steal a priceless artifact (well at least I can’t), but being trapped in a tomb full of dangerous asps and going face-to-face with a King Cobra? Indy wasn’t the only one squirming, that’s for sure.
To make an Indy film, you need to incorporate snakes in, however briefly. In The Last Crusade, we only see the fear of snakes develop at the beginning of the film, but it’s enough. It also helps to strengthen the father-son bond for us to discover that Henry Sr. has a fear too: rats. So feature the fear of snakes and, if there’s another prominent figure in the film, why not give them a fear too? I wonder what Sallah is afraid of…
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