Alexandria, VA – It’s July. Summer is here at last. A celebration of American Independence means fireworks and fanfare, barbecues and beach forays, and that icon of American anti-heroism Indiana Jones. June 12, 2021, marked the 40th Anniversary of the ‘80s Spielberg/Lucas thrilling action-adventure flick Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Working from an $18-$20 million budget, the first film in the Indy franchise earned Paramount $389.9 million at the box office and five Oscars (from eight nominations), including Best Picture.
The fifth film in the franchise series was set to premiere this July after production delays, first in 2018 for a July 2019 release, followed by another setback that shifted the film to a July 10, 2020 date, and then to July 8, 2021. And then COVID capsized Disney’s “set in stone” planned premiere for this month. Let’s hope four pushbacks is the charm for a highly anticipated, yet to be named sequel to the widely panned 2008 Crystal Skull. Mark your calendars (in pencil) for July 29, 2022. All signs point to It’s A Go.
Filming began in London last month with Logan (X-Men franchise) director James Mangold taking over the helm from Stephen Spielberg, who directed all four of the Indy films. Spielberg was initially slated to direct the fifth but will act as an executive producer along with the original dream team of George Lucas, Frank Marshall, and Kathleen Kennedy.
By all accounts, despite a super-secret set, Indiana Jones has landed in the turbulent 1960s on the heels of the 1957 Crystal Skull Cold War timeline.
Harrison Ford has been photographed in London wearing the signature distressed brown leather bomber jacket and fedora, sans whip but sporting a very 2021 face mask.
In a Tweet from earlier this year, Mangold wrote, “The Velvet Underground are f—-ing great. That’s it. That’s my Tweet. (Note, I’m mentally in 60s NYC right now, ‘cause that’s where all the movies I’m working on take place).”
Reinventing 2021 pandemic London as gritty 1960s New York will take more than this visionary filmmaker’s vivid imagination, 21st-century CGI, and a lot of suspended belief. Let’s hope Indy in the tumultuous, anti-establishment 60s NYC makes for a better storyline than Wonder Woman in Reagan’s 1984 Washington.
We can expect it to be virtually impossible for Spielberg to sideline his creative input. But Mangold has got serious chops. Aside from the Marvel franchise films Logan and The Wolverine, Mangold has Ford v Ferrari, 3:10 to Yuma, and Walk the Line to his credit. Mangold also directed Harrison Ford in last summer’s Call of the Wild. The Indy hand-off to Mangold made sense because Spielberg was occupied with post-production on what may well be his film masterpiece to date, West Side Story, due out Christmas Day this year.
The never-ending Marvel franchise success is not lost on the legendary filmmaker who was more amenable to detaching himself from directorial control of the Jaws and Jurassic Park legacies than the Indiana Jones epics. In the pipeline eight months after Star Wars invaded the planet, Raiders kicked around among the kitchen cabinet camaraderie of Lucasfilm/Skywalker genius George Lucas, Amblin Entertainment’s Stephen Spielberg, and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan.
Indy was originally not Jones but Smith. Indiana Smith would have been a nod to Steve McQueen’s character Nevada Smith. Indiana was the name of Lucas’s dog and the inspiration for Chewbacca in Star Wars.
Spielberg filmed the first three Indiana Jones movies without the advantages of computer-generated imagery. Most of the set design for Raiders consisted of laboriously painted backgrounds. That final scene, especially memorable for those of us living and working in the federal government-oriented DMV, depicting the Ark of the Covenant sealed in a seemingly unmarked crate wheeled into an expansive, nameless DOD warehouse (supposedly Hangar 51 in the Nevada desert, according to the plotline of Crystal Skull) took artist Michael Pangrazio three months to paint.
The matte painted backgrounds were commonly used in early Hollywood, which gave Lost Ark and Indiana Jones that Bogart film-noir mystique. Typically these backdrops would last only a few seconds on screen to sustain the illusion of reality, but the final scene of Raiders lasted almost half a minute. Who knew it wasn’t a secret location somewhere in Suitland?
The prior scene where Indy, Marion, and Marcus Brody defeatedly exit a classic government building in D.C. in defeat, having failed to secure the Ark’s apocalyptic power, was actually the San Francisco City Hall.
The Indy fanbase is a tough crowd. In response to recent outcries regarding Mangold versus Spielberg’s directing, some casting choices, and Amblin films longtime producer Kathleen Kennedy’s involvement, the disappointment expectation bar for the next film has been set considerably higher than most sequels. The Temple of Doom (1984) proved to be a regrettable argument against sequels. The film was even banned in India for its offensive representation of Indian stereotypes.
Current casting for the next installment offers some hope. Confirmed talent and set sightings include Oscar-nominated Bond villain and Doctor Strange star Mads Mikkelsen, Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Black Panther’s Shaunette Renée Wilson, and Marvel stars Toby Jones, Thomas Kretschmann, and Boyd Holbrook.
It had begun to feel as if Indy’s last stand was somewhere in Peru. Rest assured, Indy 5 won’t be another spin-off reboot, according to Kathleen Kennedy. Mangold says he wants to push the franchise, to boldly take it where it has never gone before.
In a recent media promo for Disney, Mangold explains, “In dances I’ve had with any franchises, serving the same thing again, the same way, usually produces a longing for the first time you ate it. Meaning, it makes an audience wish that they just had the first one over again.”
That certainly was true of the Temple of Doom (1984) and Crystal Skull (2008). Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) was a delightful exception to the age-old sequel prophesy: doomed to disappoint. A new vision for the final episode of the adventures of Indiana Jones, as only Ford can portray him, promises a new hope for a happy ending. Karen Allen and Jonathan Rhys-Davies have expressed interest in reappearing. With Denholm Elliot and Sean Connery having passed, the affable sidekick Marcus and the distinguished Henry Jones, Sr. won’t be seen again.
But who knows? The magic of movies recreated Phillip Seymour Hoffman after he passed while filming Mockingjay I and II. And, as Indy himself once quipped to Marion, “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.”
Raiders of the Lost Ark is rated P.G. for violence. It’s now available in 4K for purchase and on-demand.