Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The messy, brilliant origins of Indiana Smith... er... Jones

In 1978, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan got together for several brainstorming sessions about a movie with a "Clark Gable-type" who carries a whip. The result was, of course, Raiders of the Lost Ark. They recorded the marathon sessions, then had them typed up. Recently, the transcript found its way onto the internet, where you can download it here.

Okay, first a little fanboy hyperventilating. When Indiana Jones made it to the theaters (and then repeated endlessly on the new-fangled VHS machines we had back then) I was at the prime age for him to be so much more than a movie character. Running around on the playground, bullwhipping Nazis then swinging to safety, was an integral part of my childhood, ranking in importance somewhere between my mother's love and the pet turtle I kept in a cardboard box on the front porch.

To a guy like me, this is just incredible. I love that Spielberg hated the name "Indiana." I love reading the initial brain spark that leads Lucas to the final shot in the movie. He rambles for pages coming up with not much of anything. Then out of nowhere, he says, "The end sort of, is that he takes the Ark... It's crated up, no one even looks at it. They crate it up put it in an Army warehouse somewhere. That's how it ends, very bureaucratic... The bureaucracy is the big winner in the film."

(I also think it's interesting that that final iconic scene is one of the very first they come up with.)

But even if you're not humming John Williams' score thirty years later, this is still a pretty amazing document. Nobody really knows what was going through Shakespeare's head while he was writing Midsummer Night's Dream, or when Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn. But here is 125 pages of three artists at the top of their games working through the creative process in all it's messy, manic beauty.

They start with the spirit of the thing. They know they want to recreate the adventure serials that had been integral parts of their childhoods, and build a movie around that idea.

Nobody bothers with actual research until pretty late in the game. Before that, they're just spitballing ideas as fast as they can. Most of what they come up never made it into the final film. They initially imagined Indy as a bounty hunter instead of an archeologist, which would have sucked. Also, at one point he was going to fight both Nazis and samurai warriors, which would have been so awesome my six-year-old eyeballs might have burst into flame.


Jill said...

Great post, Kristopher. Thanks for sharing the link.

Becker said...

Very cool! The Indiana Jones comics are one of my fondest childhood memories. And I had a pet turtle, too! (though he lived in kiddie pool in the back yard...)