Keeping Up with the (Indiana) Joneses
When Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade debuted in 1989, it was supposed to be the last of the eponymous character's big-screen adventures. Director Steven Spielberg said that he "invented the shot of Harrison Ford riding a horse into the sunset" as a not-so-subtle hint that the franchise was over. However, fans never stopped clamoring for another movie and, eventually, Ford himself decided that the world needed more of Indy and began to get "very proactive" about playing the character one more time. Though he now proudly takes credit for adding "nuking the fridge" to pop culture — for a time, the phrase supplanted "jumping the shark" as the colloquialism used to describe a moment when a TV series or movie franchise moves beyond relevance or hope of recovery — Spielberg has often said that, since Ford is the one who got the ball rolling on Indy 4, that everyone should "blame him."
The first official word that an Indy 4 was in the works came from Ford, who revealed at the 1994 Venice Film Festival that he was "reading scripts" for a sequel to Last Crusade. In the years that followed, however, Indy 4 would begin its long, gradual slide down into Development Hell. Only six months after Ford spilled the beans in Venice, Variety reported that the project had stalled out because creator George Lucas found Jeb Stuart's (The Fugitive) script lacking. The content of Stuart's script was never revealed, but the first indication that Indy might have to tangle with Soviets and aliens in the next movie came around the same time, when The Last Crusade writer Jeffrey Boam revealed that he had been asked to write a script that may or may not have had to do with Soviets on the moon and a UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico.
Two years would pass before anything more would be heard about Indy 4. Ford said in a March 1997 interview that he would play Indy again "in a New York minute," and that the only problem was "finding a slot" that he and Spielberg had in common to shoot the movie. Later that year, Lucas confirmed that Indy 4 was in the works, but that the screenplay was still being worked on. While Lucas busied himself with the Star Wars prequels, rumor after rumor concerning the plot of Indy 4 kept popping up online — from Indy searching for an artifact said to hold the secret to eternal life to Indy discovering the Garden of Eden to Indy on the hunt for the device that sank Atlantis.
In December 1998, the synopsis of a script entitled Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars appeared online. Purportedly written by Jeb Stuart, from a story by Stuart and Lucas, the script found Indy involved in a race between the Americans and the Soviets to discover the secrets of a crashed alien spacecraft's fuel supply. Though the veracity of the screenplay synopsis was never verified, it did include a scene in which Indy survives a nuclear explosion by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator so it appears to have been genuine.
Despite claims by Spielberg's publicist at the 2002 Golden Globes that the filmmaker was in "development heaven" on Indy 4, the reality was the movie was without a script and stuck in Development Hell. In April 2002, it was revealed that Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) had been hired to write the script for Indy 4 , making it "the only gig" Darabont had ever accepted "sight unseen." Though Lucas ultimately rejected the script, and the movie would remain in Development Hell for another five years, many elements of Darabont's screenplay would pop up in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, despite the fact that Spielberg's "closer," David Koepp (Jurassic Park), received the sole writing credit. Writes Hughes:
Darabont's script, entitled Indiana Jones and the City of Gods, opens in 1952 with the hot rods racing in the Nevada desert, and Indy's betrayal by an old friend — here, a Russian named Yuri Makovsky, rather than a Brit named Mac, who is on the trailer of plutonium, rather than mummified alien remains. Instead of being captured by Russians infiltrating a U.S. military base at Area 51, Indy sneaks into the base (a scene reminiscent of the 1998 PlayStation game Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft), where he discovers the "huge cavern filled with...well, everything. It's a maze of gantries, catwalks, experimental arcana, machinery, and mountains of crates marked "Top Secret."
The next several scenes closely mimic those from the final film: a Jeep chase through the cavernous hangar, narrowly avoiding the blasts of flame from experimental jet engines, Indy and Yuri propelled across the desert on a rocket sled. Indy is captured by the Russians, thrown in the trunk of a car, driven to a fake town constructed as part of an A-Bomb test, where he survives the blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator. After a radiation scrub and debriefing, Indy is accused of selling secrets to the Russians, put on a leave of absence from the university where he has tenure, gets drunk and bewails his lot to the statue of Marcus Brody, before visiting a display case containing, among other artifacts, the Cross of Coronado from Last Crusade and the fertility goddess from Raiders.
Darabont later called his time working on the script for Indy 4 "a tremendous disappointment and a waste," a statement that echoes the way many Indy fans feel about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Still, the movie ended up grossing $787 million, making it the most successful movie in the franchise, if not the most popular. It was so successful, in fact, that Lucas is currently at work on the story for a fifth movie. But, whether it will see the light of day or get mired in Development Hell is a story for another day...