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The Growth of the Indiana Jones Character
by Mitchell Hallock - posted on Jan. 15, 2008

With all the talks of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull plotlines, co-stars, set leaks, what treasure he will be looking for and Harrison Ford's age - there has been one curious topic that hasn't been addressed; Which Indiana Jones will be on the screen?

I am not talking about which actor will be up on the screen next May, but rather I am talking about the character of Indiana Jones. You see there has been many variations, call it development or interpretations of the intrepid archeologist in the films, TV series, novels and comics and when discussing it with fans, everyone sees him a bit differently. And that may have been the key to Indy's big screen success.

Let's go back to the beginning, that fabled day in May when the creator, George Lucas casually mentioned an idea of a character he thought up to his pal , Mr. Duel, Steven Spielberg, he envisioned a playboy, rogue like archeologist -- called Indiana Smith!

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"Fortune and glory, kid."

As we all know, along with the surname change there would be a shift towards academia rather than a ladies man. Yet, what was the dynamic that drove Indiana Jones? Why did he do the things he did? In an interview during the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford laughingly calls him a grave robber. But where's the scholar, the man who claimed since a teenager that ancient items "belonged in a museum"? Odd that the obtainer of rare antiquities was going after a Shankara stone one year earlier before the Ark, for the sheer "fortune and glory" of it all!

Now, contradictions are bound to arise as writers change from film to film, but unlike the James Bond character, who had many years and actors to alter the way fans viewed him, thus creating a Bond for different tastes – what happened to Indy? In the novelization of Raiders, author Campbell Black describes Indy as a former WWI veteran, who gets an actual thrill when he touches long lost artifacts. He does it to satisfy his never-ending thirst for knowledge. Clearly, this is an Indiana Jones molded after Henry Jones, Sr. - a man who is more focused on people who lived thousands of years ago. Setting up this rivalry between that professor Indy and Rene Belloq, a former archeologist turned mercenary fortune hunter who has no love for nostalgia beyond what it will bring him monetarily. That is until he gets the chance of lifetime - to talk to God! Yet the two do share one great similarity - they will stop at nothing to get their goals, though Belloq wouldn't dirty his hands in the same way Indy would. When it comes down to it, Indiana Jones is leaving a big body count behind as he gets his booty while we never see Belloq actually kill anyone. Let us not forget that Indy also does things for the - as the line referring to his satisfactory "settlement" states he didn't look for the Ark solely out of the love for learning. Maybe Belloq was right and Indy was just a shadowy reflection of Rene after all?

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"All I want is the girl."

However, there is a huge character defining moment in Raiders, when the scholarly, soldier of fortune who would do anything to get his treasure - only to admit at the end that when it all came to pass he would pass up the Ark and that all he wanted was the girl. I always remember that as the defining moment, one that turned Indiana Jones from just another comic book hero to one of some substance.

After the release of Raiders, Marvel Comics showed us an agnostic, Indiana Jones, who thinks nothing of saving his own skin and letting the villainess die at the hands of an ancient, golden zombie in The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones issue # 2. Now, while the writers on this series changed so frequently that a consistent Indy character never establishes himself, we do get glimpses of the playboy Indiana Jones when he is reunited with Marion Ravenwood at her club in a tale by Howard Chaykin. Alas, the book really collapses in on itself as it becomes a repetitive series of two issue story arcs and never touches on the thrills of the films.

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"The deal was for
the diamond."

The original, cinematic view of Indiana Jones in Raiders is what was etched into the minds of moviegoers in 1981. But when the sequel or rather prequel came along in 1984, another, more cynical Indy showed up. Was the deal for the diamond benefiting Marcus Brody's gem collection at the National Museum or Indy's bank account? He is giving up the remains of the first emperor of the Manchu dynasty for the money? This Indy is more Han Solo, "in it for the money", than the scholarly professor. So much so that he sets out seeking fortune and glory, to benefit himself. As we learn in the dinner scene, his reputation and long line of "misunderstandings" puts him back into the rogue/playboy/fortune hunter than we were led to believe. Is it the redemption that comes from waking from the black sleep of Kali - that changes Indy into the village savior? The Indy at the end of the movie doesn't want the Shankara Stone to become another rock collecting dust in a museum, he sees the "magic" that can save a village - and lets it go! So, if we put the Temple in chronological order - we have just witnessed the emergence of the "new" selfless, Indiana Jones. So, where was the Indiana Jones who loves the thrill of discovering ancient artifacts rather than money before all of this? Maybe he was still feeling the effects of Lao Che's poison and forgot.

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"Yes, I understand its power now."

Even with all of its wild antics, there is still an Indiana Jones character evolution in Temple of Doom, it was the seeing the "magic" of the rock, and the power of being part of a community over the shallowness of "fortune and glory". It was like Han Solo realizing he wasn't just in it for the money as he turned the Millennium Falcon around and headed back towards the Death Star. ` But wait - the man with the hat returns in 1989 and is now dedicated to finding treasures and putting them in museums, as he states several times, even as a youngster. He is back as a professor, though one who is somewhat negligent in his student care (just ask Irene when he will get around to grading those papers). Yet, he actually passes initially on the chance to get the Holy Grail, and only begins the quest to find his father. At this point, I could diverge from the topic of Indiana Jones and asked what happened to Marcus as he became a bubbling idiot rather than someone who once felt he was up to the challenge of the Ark quest, but that's another story.

In Last Crusade, it was a double-edged discovery, as Indy's and his father, discover what they had always been searching or was in front all along - each other and understanding of what motivates people.

Young Indiana Jones
Sean Patrick Flannery as Young Indiana Jones

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles are unfortunately a mish-mash of character development - brought on by the switching of writers and directors. Sometimes we see the fun adventurous Indy, then a somber Indy. Granted the show illustrated his life from a boy of 9, to a teenager facing the horrors of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and in the Masks of Evil episode - vampires? Indiana Jones was meeting real life historical figures, and the character was transformed into more of a realistic one - that is in some episodes. There is no consistency, and the audience never gets to see what turned the character into who he was on screen - this was not the Batman Begins or Casino Royale of Indiana Jones. One explanation of why the TV Indy isn't not like his celluloid version comes from comic book version of the show. In the intro of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles comic book, "old" Indy is complimented by a valet that he had enjoyed reading all of Dr. Jones adventure books! Maybe the adventures of the cinematic Indy, were supposed to be the wild retelling's of an old man's vivid imagination.

Now, seeing the Indy "family" standing around on the set during the Comic-Con video and the bits of film and photos that have come out from Lucasfilm, one couldn't help but get a big goofy grin and some chills. The wait to May 22, 2008 is one that is up there with the one moviegoers haven't had since May 1983. After years of anticipation, Star Wars ended in applause as the heroes of the trilogy faded off into cinema history surrounded by a Ewoks. And what will happen to the man with the hat this time as he matures?

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Harrison Ford in the
Comic-Con 2007 video.

Now, Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood are together again. That is the pairing we all waited to see in 1984, when the Indy returned. Yes, Temple of Doom was entertaining, and who didn't get a kick out of the interactions between Indy and Short Round. But it was missing something. In 1989, moviegoers met Indy's Dad, and it was fun, especially with Marcus and Sallah thrown into this adventure, as well. But as the gang rode off into the sunset, in the back of everyone's mind was that nagging question - did Indy ever end up with Marion? The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series showed us that at some point episode Indy settled down, had a daughter and grandkids. But who was the lucky lady? Willie Scott? That student with the "Love You" eyes? No there was only one person who could match Indy's reckless nature and keep him grounded and that was the shot-swilling, two-fisted, freckled heroine, Marion. With her return to Indy's world, maybe that is a glimpse at the next evolution of the character of Indiana Jones.

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George Hall as the
"Old Indy".

On reflection, and seeing that the "Old Indy" segments have been removed from the upcoming DVD releases indicates that Lucas and Spielberg may have revised Indy’s fate. So, one tends to believe that "Old Indy" is no longer part of the Indy Jones cannon material anymore – so with Indy 4 who knows what the future holds? Note, Lucas has performed "revisionist history" on his creations before – "Old Anakin" portrayed by Sebastian Shaw was replaced by "Younger Anakin", Hayden Christiansen in the DVD release of Return of the Jedi. This appears to be the case with eye-patch wearing, George Hall’s performance as Old Indy, he lives now only in our memories and some of those fans lucky enough to have saved their old videotapes they made back in the early 1990s airings.

And now with Indy 4 - which could be called Indiana Jones and the Road to Eternity instead of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, he is about to realize what one leaves behind and how it affects the lives of those one encounters - even after they are gone. With the character facing his own inevitable mortality, loss of old friends (like Marcus and maybe his Dad), and the discovery of a possible new "family". I think the audience will see an Indiana Jones, once again risking himself to save something much more special than a gold plated trinket - not to be preachy, but the Indy films have always had more substance to them, and that is what the poor imitators (like the Tomb Raider series) have never understood.

Think about it, in all his adventures - Indy never gets to keep any of the treasures he chases after - he always has them "in his hands", but loses them - but he always gets something he never bargained for. And contrary to the popular saying, maybe you can teach the guy named after the dog some new tricks!

This time he may find something more sacred than any of the other items from the previous films – he may even find a family! Imagine what changes will the character go through when he knows that he isn't alone and has a new role!

So when the whip cracks once again in theatres next spring, we can once again see what life is like trying to keep up with the Joneses! We will we see a kinder, gentler, softer side of Dr. Jones? Perhaps one that has been, dare I say domesticated? How funny would a closing shot of Marion making dinner, as Indy comes home from a long day being a curator at the museum or to grade papers be? The camera pulls back as Indy hangs up his fedora on the coat rack and he sits down and asks Marion, "How was your day, dear?" I don’t’ think so. Then again, she could punch him in the face because he forgot to take out the garbage or pick up milk.

However the character behaves and evolves in the next film, there is one sentiment that all fans can agree on; "Welcome back, Dr. Jones – we really missed you!"

Fade to black.


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