The Return of Indiana Jones
On June 6, 1981, the roof almost blew off the Century 21 movie theater in Denver, Colorado.
It wasn't a tornado or any other type of disaster, natural, man-made, or otherwise.
No. It was the audience. And they were cheering. Loudly.
The reason for the earth-shattering applause? A new hero had come to the silver screen. His name was Indiana Jones and, after having brandished his bull whip against one bad guy after another, he had finally had enough. He pulled out his revolver and shot a big ol' swordsman who was a mere swipe of the blade away from slicing and dicing this most human of heroes.
It was a moment of pure cinematic bliss. It was unexpected and it is still, 27 years later, unequalled.
The movie was Raiders of the Lost Ark and the crowd attending that very special sneak preview will never forget the singularly thrilling experience.
The summer of '81 was supposed to belong to the Man of Steel in Superman II. Instead, it belonged to the man in the hat. Raiders of the Lost Ark stormed to the top of the box office charts worldwide and Indy never looked back.
While Raiders is a terrific throwback to the classic serial adventures that fueled Hollywood's earliest successes, its lasting appeal runs to a much deeper, fundamental level. Raiders tells the story of one man who has no quit in him. Indy will get the job done, by boat, plane, train, horse, sheer will power – whatever it takes.
Nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1982, including Best Picture, Indy walked off with four. But, just like Indy never gets to keep the treasures of his pursuits, John Williams' masterful, triumphant score lost out to Vangelis for Chariots of Fire and Harrison Ford… well, he didn't even get a nomination.
Perhaps those two sleights helped grow the chip on Indy's shoulder when he entered the Temple of Doom in May 1984. Those who criticized it as too dark overlooked the sequel's many daring aspects. Most notably, it took the character in a new direction and the darkness was fueled by a magnificent, pulpy setting of pure, unadulterated evil.
In a novel twist, The Temple of Doom actually took place before Raiders of the Lost Ark. There were no Nazis and no deserts. Most shockingly, though, its heart-wrenching action (quite literally) was enough to send the U.S. ratings board into a frenzy and, subsequent to the sequel's release, the PG-13 rating was born.
With Indy Jones firmly entrenched as a favorite character, the creative trio of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford were cautious about undertaking a third outing and carefully scouting out the right story led to a five-year stretch before Indy returned in May of '89 for The Last Crusade.
Returning to the elements that made Indy such an iconic character, Indy's quest for the Holy Grail brought him face-to-face with Adolph Hitler and sent him back to the harsher elements of the Mediterranean.
The big twist this time: Sean Connery as Indy's dad. Who else could possibly father Indy Jones than James Bond himself? It was a case of Hollywood casting made in Heaven. With Connery fleshing out the role, the elder Jones was certainly a harsh man, but the academic Henry Jones, Sr., also had an old-school charm about him.
Those three adventures have aged well over the years, to the point where each one is every bit as comfortable as Indy's favorite leather jacket. But, unfortunately for all of us, that five-year stretch between the last two Indy movies was mere child's play in comparison to the daunting 19-year drought that has elapsed since Indy's last silver screen crusade.
Helping to ease the jonesing for Jones, in March 1992 Indy resurfaced on TV in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a stunningly ambitious series that was a beautiful blend of history, adventure, romance and anthropology. Each episode, whether it featured the younger, nine-year-old, Indy or the teenage Indy, offered up terrific, old-fashioned storytelling.
Even with that Indy fix, chatter of another cinematic adventure has served as constant grist for the rumor mills. So many story ideas ran the gauntlet only to be gunned down. False starts were numerous. Hopes were raised then dashed.
Well, thankfully – mercifully – it's May 2008 and Indy is finally coming back and the world is eagerly awaiting his return.
For the record, four other actors have filled the role: River Phoenix, Corey Carrier, Sean Patrick Flanery, and George Hall. All brought out different aspects – and ages – of everybody's favorite archaeologist, but no other actor on Earth can fill the fedora like Harrison Ford.
Upping the ante in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Ford's accompanied by a treasure trove of A-list actors, including Cate Blanchett, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, and the rapidly rising star that is Shia LaBeouf. Oh. And don't forget Karen Allen (yes, Marion Ravenwood) is back as well.
Indy's impact has been far reaching on a cultural level and now Indiana Jones is synonymous with classic, globetrotting adventure during a time when the world was still full of mystery and uncharted territories.
In a table-turning salute, even National Geographic's recent edition of The Tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter starts off its introduction with a reference to Indiana Jones in the very first sentence.
With all that said, it's time to pop the corn, grab the soda, dim the lights, and thrill, once again, to the adventures of one of Hollywood's greatest icons, Indiana Jones.
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Originally written as a contest entry for the Cannes Special Issue of Moving Pictures magazine. It didn't win. But, given the circumstances, it's not too surprising. It was written late one night, and I had returned from Egypt little more than a week earlier. Plus, I was still recovering from having stressed myself out over meeting Frank Marshall during his visit to Denver the night before. He lives up to the hype, by the way. He's a really nice, down to earth person. And he called me "The Cairo Guy." So I still win!