Thursday, June 12, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Last Tirade

Oh, hell. I went and did it again. But this is the last one. I promise. Do you really think I’m going to be writing blogs about Indiana Jones when I’m sixty? Okay. Maybe if I get the right idea for a blog. But it absolutely has to be the right idea. And George Lucas has to approve the concept.
My change of heart came last night when I received two e-mails. The first was from my friend, Brendan, mentioning that the Frank Darabont Indiana Jones script, Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods, had been leaked online. The second was from another friend, Rooster, and contained a copy of said script-- the script that Spielberg loved and that was going to be filmed until the Lucas veto. Honestly, it wasn’t a question of whether City of the Gods would be better than David Koepp's script for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was a question of how much better.
First and foremost, there is no Mutt. This isn’t a story to set up the next franchise; this is an Indiana Jones movie. Otherwise, the plot is largely the same, involving a crystal skull and the search for the fabled lost city of the gods.
But this script is well written, and makes much more sense than Crystal Skull. Still wondering why the Russians kidnapped Indy (in his archeology gear for some reason) in the first scene in Crystal Skull and how the ensuing warehouse sequence connected to the plot? In City of the Gods everything makes sense. Indy shows up at the top-secret army warehouse because he sees his Russian friend sneak some fellow Russians into the base using Indy's own car. There is no mention of an alien or Roswell or any of that. The Russians are there for stolen plutonium and a mysterious object in a bowling ball bag.
After escaping the same nuclear blast in Crystal Skull and being accused of being a spy because of his connection with the Russian friend, Indy is put on leave as a professor and becomes the victim of an assassination attempt. When his would-be assassin kills an FBI agent, it looks like Jones did it, so now the police are after Indy too. This series of event leads Indy to the contents of the bowling ball bag-- the crystal skull. Off to Peru to clear his name, Indy delivers the skull to Marion Ravenwood, who doesn’t know that she is working for Russian spies. Indy decides he’s going to tag along in the search for the city of the gods, and Indy and Marion are soon being pursued by the Americans, the Russians, and the Peruvian government. The script certainly raises the stakes, and is that much more exciting as a result.
But most importantly, Darabont gets the characters right. Marion is as feisty as ever. And she is not outwardly happy to have Indy tagging along. Indy soon learns that Marion is married to a competing archeologist. Hence actual character development and story arc as Indy must come to terms with the fact that he has always loved Marion and has lost her. In Crystal Skull they seemingly get together for no other reason than they are supposed to. There’s also a fantastic mid-air fight sequence between Indiana Jones and the Russian friend who betrayed him. It’s too bad this wasn’t filmed. The river sequence is much better as well.
The script is not perfect. It’s long, and there are some drawn-out moments of exposition. There is still a Tarzan scene, and there aren’t three, but four waterfalls. There are also giant jungle creatures, which I’m not sure works, but at least explains how a horde of ants could eat a person in two seconds. Ultimately, the few outlandish action sequences make just enough sense to allow the reader suspend belief, a fine line that the Indiana Jones series constantly toes. Unlike Koepp and Lucas, Darabont seems to understand this dance. It’s the difference between forgiving some of the more over-the-top moments and not. In other words, there are no gophers.