Thursday, March 16, 2006

Indiana FINALLY gets the green light?

Could it be? Is it true? After four years of blurbs in the trades and rumors on Aint It Cool , Yahoo! News broke a story last night, quoting Harrison Ford from an interview with a German magazine, in which he said that the current draft of the fourth Indy installment had finally been OK'd by the powers that be, AND there was actual talk of pre-production. It was almost a year ago (last May), when I last blogged about the status of Indy 4, sparked by an announcement in VARIETY that Ford and Spielberg ha approved Jeff Nathanson's script of the project, and were awaiting word from George Lucas. Ten months later it seems that Lucas has warmed to it after all. The three men had made an agreenment years ago that they would not proceed with the project unless all of them were pleased with the script.

Now, there is no direct quote from George Lucas in the article elucidating upon his official approval of the draft. Well not directly anyways… Lucas' producing partner Rick McCallum alluded to the fact that both he and Spielberg were doing their own little tweaks on the latest draft of Indy 4. Lucas' role as a producer and story teller might be essential to that magical formula for Indiana Jones, but I have some concerns about his role as a writer…. I mean, for whatever visual masterpieces the recent Star Wars films might have been, they were certainly not, how should we say, the most adroitly written things in the world. Not only is Lucas apparently putting his one two cents in the actual drafting process, but he has always been the most finnicky about the written word of Indy 4. Both Ford and Speilberg had expressed interest in earlier passes, by the likes of Frank Darabont and M. Night Shyamalan, but Lucas had reneged on both, halting pre-production on the film in both instances.

That's right, Lucas, God bless him, has been the most discriminant about the quality and tone of the script. This from the man who wrote lines like “I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth. Like you.” And “I killed them. I killed them all. They're dead, every single one of them. And not just the men, but the women and the children, too. They're like animals, and I slaughtered them like animals.” And of course who could ever forget: “Better dead here than deader in the Core. Ye gods, whatta meesa sayin'?”

Whatta meesa sayin', indeed. The fourth Indiana Jones film has a strong writing legacy to live up to, as the first three Indy films are basically how-to models for writing a terrific action adventure. Granted, I have never read any of these drafts, but Lucas' reasoning puzzles me. Darabont and Shyamalan eat your hearts out, Jeff Nathanson this is your lucky day. Yes, the writer of Rush Hour 2 and 3 beat out the writers of The Sixth Sense and The Shawshank Redemption. Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson has had an interesting career. After a short lived stint in TV, where he wrote for the show, “Bakersfield, P.D.”, he wrote a small independent romantic comedy, “For Better or for Worse” in '96, which was directed by Jason Alexander. Shifting gears yet again, Nathanson's next film project was Speed 2: Cruise Control, which I have actually seen in passing on Saturday afternoon Television. It is not good and borders on the nonsensical, chock full of comedic Sandra Bullock lines like “Jack, he was never the romantic type. For our anniversary he gives me pepper spray. PEPPER SPRAY. I think it's perfume. I end up in the emergency room.”

For a little while it seemed Nathanson was going to make his name with lackluster action sequals, when he followed up Speed 2 with Rush Hour 2. But then something strange happened. Rush Hour 2 came out in '01 and then in '02, Catch me if You Can was released, which Nathanson also wrote. How he made the jump from B action movies to Steven Spielberg, I'm not sure -but it's a heck of a transition. The story for Catch Me if you Can was intriguing enough, though Nathansan had the luxury of the stories of the real man and his autobiography to help him along. Apparently Speilberg really took a shine to Nathanson, because he hired him to write his next script, The Terminal. Inspired again, from a true story, The Terminal seemed to be widely regarded as one of Spielberg's weakest films in years, and for me, a large part of the problem lay in the script. I thought the first half hour with Tom Hanks trying to accquaint himself with the airport and creating his new lifestyle there was endearing, but once Catherine Zeta-Jones' character entered the mix, it fell apart. Their love story was not believable in the slightest.

Yet the mediocrity of The Terminal was apparently not enough to dissuade Speilberg from hiring Nathanson a third time, to write the fourth chapter in the Indiana Jones legacy. But even Nathanson was not Speilberg's first choice to write the picture and from the outside looking in, it would seem sort of haphazard that Lucas would suddenly agree on the script. I suppose there's always the chance that Harrison Ford finally threw down the guantlet and said, “Look. I'm not getting any younger -let's make this thing, it's now or never!” Yet the idea of the boys getting back together to make Indiana Jones with whatever script they have in hand just because time is running out is not exactly reassuring. One can't help but wonder if they're settling. Especially, when one compares, even though one shouldn't, the unveiled screenplay to those of the three prior films. The first three films are filled with great action set pieces, clever banter and interesting twists. Let's take a look at what sort of people penned the original Indy trilogy.

Raiders of the Lost Ark, deemed by most to be the strongest of the three, was written by Lawrence Kasdan, a screenwriting Hollywood legend, who wrote the best of the Star Wars trilogy -Empire Strikes Back, as well as Return of the Jedi (yes the ewoks were a little too cute, but its still a great movie). One might compare Kasdan to Nathanson and think…Oy, what has the franchise come to. But lest we not forget that Kasdan in more recent years has also written The Bodygaurd, and the unforgettable Dreamcatcher (Dudditts!). Temple of Doom was written by writing team William Huyck and Gloria Katz, who also authored such respected works as American Grafitti and Radioland Murders. But they also wrote Howard the Duck, a film which I will defend to the bitter end, but which I must also recognize as flawed. The Last Crusade was written by Jeffrey Boam, who wrote solid genre fare like The Lost Boys and Innerspace, but also wrote Leathal Weapon 2 and 3. I find this factoid particularly interesting since Nathanson has written Rush Hour 2, and the upcoming Rush Hour 3. So maybe the series hasn't gotten too far off after all. All writers, even some of the best, have their misses, and sometimes writers with botchy histories, may breakaway from their past to impress. For all my postulating on how good or bad the next Indy film will be, it is impossible to say at this point. The right talent is involved, and as fans, all we can only hope that the enthralling image of that archiologist with his whip and his fedora will be done justice once more.

According to the Yahoo! article Spielberg's people have confirmed that “…this is certianly the closest where we've been in this whole development process.” Spielberg's next project is the Lincoln biopic with Liam Neesen, but there is hinting in the article that he may bypass that for a bit to do Indy 4 first. This means we could potentially be seeing the new Indiana Jones by next summer if they really fast track it…. Still, as I've said in the past, I'm not holding my breath.


Blogger DoorFrame said...

Weird, we're both writing about Indiana Jones today. Yours was clearly more relevant, but I was comparing the new webpage logo for Snakes on a Plane to the logo for Indiana Jones.

Similar, no?

8:45 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

You are right! I was just checking out the official site and was a bit disappointed to see how paltry it was. Yours is far superior.

8:49 PM  
Blogger The Coen Bros. said...

Good or bad, just make this thing and get it done. I am tired of seing Harrison Ford suck. Not to mention, once he does this film, his career is basically done and over with. Every crappy film he does (and that is all he does nowadays) everyone says, well, at least he will do Indy 4. Now that will be gone.

Meanwhile, Spielberg is making a Lincoln biopic? Could anything sound less interesting than that?

7:28 AM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

I know its like Amistad Part Deux.

11:58 AM  
Blogger jeremybgg said...

yeah, uh, who gives a shit about, uuuuh, Lincoln? it's not like he was the most enigmatic, troubled, competent, literate, important president in US history.

also, i only saw howard the duck once, a million years ago, and i recall liking it. especially the very beginning and the very end.

2:09 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Hooray for Howard the Duck!

2:14 PM  
Blogger The Coen Bros. said...

My point is, just make an interesting, ORIGINAL movie. Stop rehashing the same crap again and again. I know Lincoln was a great man. I also already know a shitload about him.

Great, so now I get a movie where I might get to see him say the gettysburg address. Wow. I can't wait for the scene where his wife says, "try on this hat" and it's his trademark hat. Awesome. I am getting in line right now.

2:16 PM  
Blogger jeremybgg said...

lincoln is far more complex and interesting than any history you might think you know; actually, i think a lincoln biopic could educate people beyond the simple "iconic" lincoln (which was his own creation, anyway) and i look forward to it. obviously, if the source material is crap, i'm sure it'll suck. but if they build off a decent biography and deal with his complexity instead of making a disney "great man frees slaves" picture, it could be great.

3:28 PM  

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