This year at ShoWest, we got the rare opportunity to chat with George Lucas about his upcoming Star Wars: The Clone Wars theatrical release. It's a project he seems quite enthusiastic about. And hopeful. He truly believes that it will restore faith in certain longtime audience members who have maybe given up on that particular franchise. Even if it doesn't, he really doesn't seem to care either way, though. Why? "It's not that you can't please everyone. It's that you can't please anyone. I learned that long ago." That, and he knows he has another, bigger problem to worry about this summer. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He's already built an imaginary bomb shelter over his head. Because he knows people aren't going to like it by default.
"When you make a movie like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, people automatically expect the Second Coming. They set themselves up to hate it. I went through the same thing on Star Wars. Nobody is going to be happy. When you make a movie like this, all you can do is lose." It's a statement he has made many times. And fans on the Internet have reiterated the sentiment tenfold without having seen more than two minutes of the film via the handful of trailers and TV spots that have slowly spilled forth from Paramount.
Lucas has made it clear that this new addition to the Indiana Jones franchise is not coming from the same place as the last three films. Dr. Jones has aged appropriately, and the events seen in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull take place approximately twenty years after we last saw Indy and Company in The Last Crusade. Where those films reflected the black and white adventure serials of the 30s and 40s, Lucas and his director Steven Spielberg wanted this new film to reflect the B movies of the 1950s.
George tells us, "The new film takes place in that time period, so we wanted to look at what kinds of B movies were popular in the fifties. We wanted to use that as our uber-genre. With this new film, we didn't look at it as a Saturday matinee serial from the 40s. We wanted it to reflect what was going on with the B movies of the fifties." What are some of those influences? Well, after speaking with Lucas, we were able to come up with the ten films you need to see before embarking on your holly quest to catch Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in theaters. After viewing the films on this proceeding list, you will have a better understanding of the mythology and subtext found in George Lucas' latest film.
1) Rocketship X-M (1950): As Lucas puts it, "When we made the original films, they all took place in the 1930s. They would have been impossible to do without having the Nazis as our antagonists. Now that we are dealing with the 50s, it's the same thing with the Russians. Because that's who we were up against at that time." This was the second post-war science fiction film to hit in the 1950s, and it delivered a powerful anti-nuclear war message. This same message is prevalent in the underlining mythos of the new Indiana Jones film. In Rocketship X-M, five United States astronauts are in a race against Russia to become the first people to walk on the moon. After a mishap with the integral workings of their spacecraft, they land on Mars only to discover an ancient and once powerful civilization that has destroyed itself. The plot found in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull closely mirrors this, as Indiana is in a race against the Russians, and in trying to keep them from a higher power, he stumbles upon an ancient and once powerful civilization that may or may not be of extraterrestrial origins.
2) King Solomon's Mines (1950): Based on a 1885 novel by Henry Rider Haggard, the exploits of Alan Quartermain have long served as a template for the Indiana Jones character. In this particular film, Quartermain finds himself unwillingly thrust into a worldwide search for the legendary mines of King Solomon. The look and feel of Indiana and his past adventures are quite apparent here, and his new quest follows some very similar through lines. Like Quartermain, Jones is reluctantly forced into helping the Russians find the Lost Temple of Akator and the Crystal Skulls mentioned in the film's title. Both Quartermain and Jones are confronted by angry villagers and a myriad of dangerous booby traps. Look to King Solomon's Mines for a good idea on the feel and tone Lucas and Spielberg are after with their latest Indiana Jones outing.
3) Day the Earth Stood Still (1951): In creating the lastest Indiana Jones escapade, Lucas didn't just look to the adventure films of the 1950s. The B grade science fiction films that came out of that era have also heavily influenced his script. And no other film has had quite the impacted this masterpiece has had on the director. Day the Earth Stood Still has served to influence pretty much everything Lucas has created up until this point. You can look for Klaatu's message of peace to be heavily referenced in the science fiction elements found in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The film was created at the start of the Cold War, and examines the development of the first atomic bombs, which is discussed heavily in Indy's latest venture. Both films strongly and iconically address issues of violence, politics, and the fear of global annihilation.
4) 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953): Speaking of being under the influence. Without this Dr. Suess fantasy film from the mid-fifties, we wouldn't have Star Wars or Indiana Jones. While many site the Flash Gordon serials, the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, and Joseph Campbell's Man of a Thousand Faces as planting the seeds of inspiration for the creation of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, it was really 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T that Lucas stole huge chunks of exposition from. Not to mention various visuals that must have tattooed themselves on his young, impressionable brain. The Lucas Stormtrooper is a direct descendant of Dr. T's minions. And take a look at the elevator operator. Lucas should have been sued for direct plagiarism. If that's not an early prototype for Darth Vader, then Hayden Panettiere has a penis. Not to mention the story is exactly the same. Boy tries to rescue captured Princess (here its his mother, not his sister) from maniacal music teacher who has created a giant piano (i.e. the Death Star). He does this with the help of his dog and a plumber that's in it only for the money. The sentence, "You're my only hope!" is spoken twice. And the kid even goes as far as to blow up the giant piano at the end. For God's sake, it's the same freaking movie! Dr. T didn't only influence Luke Skywalker and his exploits, though. There are other scenes that have been directly ripped from this rousing musical and placed into Lucas' previous works. Take the original Raiders Of The Lost Ark, for instance. Remember the part where Marion hides in the wicker basket, and the monkey gives her up? That exact same moment can be found in Dr. T, only its young Bart Collins that tries to hide, and it's his own dog that gives him away. And then there's that scene where Indy hides from the Nazi's inside the smoke stack of Katanga's ship. That moment was directly photocopied from a scene in Dr. T. How will 5,000 Fingers directly influence the new adventures of Indiana Jones? Well, it, too, takes place during the Cold War. And it plays to the worries of Atomic energy. But we'll have to wait until the movie actually opens to see which scenes Lucas directly ripped off this time around.
5) Them! (1954): "Ants? Why did it have to be ants?" Indiana Jones has gone up against snakes, rats, bugs, and various other creatures in his previous films. In The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, its an army of angry fire ants that try to keep him from his intended goal. The critter of choice this time out was directly influenced by this Cold War mutation film, which saw Atomic energy creating giant Ants that terrorize our universal community at large. Again, this B movie deals with themes of nuclear radiation and the dangers of Atomic testing, which will play a huge part in the new Indy film. As evident by one of the recently released pictures, Dr. Jones comes to find himself trapped on the set of an Atomic Test area. But it's doubtful that the radiation leaked from this particular test has any affect on the ants seen on screen, since they never come in contact with each other. Both films also adhere to a 1950s military esthetic, which shows the army being the lone savior of the United States.
6) Naked Jungle (1954): Speaking of ants, this film also had a lot to do with influencing the obligatory "critter" scenes in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Ants were a major problem back in the 1950s, and, like the Russians, George Lucas just couldn't create the perfect 50s throw back without including them in the mix. Naked Jungle is more of an action-adventure yarn than it is an environmental warning wrapped up in a cheesy horror flick. Based on the short story "Leiningen Versus the Ants", the plot finds Charlton Heston guarding his family estate from legions of army ants known as "The Marabunta". Heston's Leiningen offers the same type of flawed human qualities we see in our beloved Indiana Jones. They also both adhere to the same type of fighting spirit, and share a certain struggle with age.
7) Rebel Without a Cause (1955): No fifties era film would be complete without the requisite greaser. And there is no bigger influence on that cultural paradigm than James Dean himself in what would become his signature role. While the character of Mutt Williams (played by Shai LaBeouf) is based on the numerous B movie thugs seen in such films as Jail Busters (1955) and Crashing Las Vegas (1956) , it is Dean's Jim Stark that serves as the perfect archetype for this particular brand of sidekick. While Mutt also has touches of the The Bowery Boys and Fonzie locked in his genes, Stark serves as the best example of this particular type of youth subculture branding. His iconic posturing went on to influence such cultural milestones as Happy Days, The Outsiders, and even Lucas' own American Graffiti. And that rebel-like embodiment has directly influenced Mutt's greased back hairstyle and his leather jacket, not to mention his own on-screen demeanor.
8) Around the World in 80 Days (1956): With Indiana Jones, its more like Around the World in "A" Day. As with all of the previous Indiana Jones adventures, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull spans the globe as our treasure seeking archeologist goes from one world location to the next, seeking out the Lost Temple of Akator. The inspiration for the exploits of this world-weary traveler can be traced back to this particular film, which is based on Jules Verne's classic novel. The plot finds an English gentleman by the name of Phileas Fogg who wagers that he can circumvent the globe in less than eighty days. A similar request is foisted upon Indiana Jones, as the Russians demand that he seek out the Crystal Skulls in a similar type fashion.
9) Atomic Testing (1945-1955): This 37 film set contains all of the Atomic Testing propaganda films from the forties and fifties, and a lot of these iconic scare tactics influenced what we will see in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It's a little known fact, but back in 1955, Doc Brown was actually going to use an Atomic Test exercise to send Marty McFly Back to the Future. That scene was later changed, and instead of a nuclear blast, the needed 1.21 gigawatts came from a bolt of lighting. Producer Steven Spielberg has remained fascinated with some of the early schematics of that particular scene, and utilized some of those same visuals here by having Dr. Jones trapped by the Russians in one of the faux-houses used in the Atomic Testing exercise. This is cold war propaganda at its best.
10) Matinee (1993): While this last film wasn't produced in the 1950s, it revolves around the trade and exhibition of the 1950s B movie and its market place. It certainly gives a bird's eye view of what it was like to be a kid back when a lot of these films were being produced. Cold War paranoia, Atomic testing, mutated alligator men! It's all here in this exciting ode to the films that Lucas and Spielberg are trying to emulate with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The film was directed by longtime Spielberg collaborator Joe Dante, and stars John Goodman as a William Castle-like independent filmmaker who descends upon a small community in Key West, Florida during the height of nuclear paranoia. It's another Cold War era masterpiece that will certainly tide you over until the 22nd.
George Lucas is quite prepared for the negative reviews that are bound to come his way later this May. But he hopes that, after viewing a few of the films that served as inspiration for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, you'll have a little better understanding of its roots in 1950s B movie lore. Stay tuned for more Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull news as it becomes available.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opens Thursday, May 22nd, 2008.