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Help Support Features Articles The Return of Harrison Ford
The Return of Harrison Ford
by Stephen Jared - posted on April 3, 2007
I get mad when people call me an action movie star. Indiana
Jones is an adventure film, a comic book, a fantasy.

- Harrison Ford -

As all the world knows by now, Harrison Ford is set to finally return to the role of Indiana Jones. Mostly, this news has been met with excitement. But, not an insignificant number have wondered if, after all these years, the sixty-something year old Mr. Ford can pull it off.

American Graffiti
American Graffiti (1973)

Clint Eastwood made Unforgiven and In The Line of Fire after turning sixty. John Wayne made True Grit and The Shootist. These are films that poignantly dealt with characters of advancing age. They are each classic. However, the Indiana Jones series, whether we call them action films or not, always dazzled with spectacular stunts. The above mentioned classics are hardly stunt-driven vehicles. So, the comparison is not perfect. The fourth installment of the Indiana Jones adventures will be different. The fact is, with a sixty-something year old star, it promises to be something never done before.

Star Wars
Star Wars (1977)

It may be a difficult pill for some skeptics to swallow, but the truth is Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Paramount Pictures are taking a bit of a chance. There have been successful "re-imaginings" of franchises lately and if Indiana Jones 4 was only about cashing in (as has been suggested), that's likely the route Paramount would insist upon. The easiest thing to do, if the studio simply wanted to rake in revenue, would be to recast the role with a young star and do a whole series of new films. It has been suggested for many years that Indiana Jones could be like James Bond. So, why cast Harrison Ford? And, is he too old?

Call me naive, but I think this will be one of the rare times when Hollywood is willing to spend tens of millions of dollars to produce something that will not just turn a profit but will actually be a worthwhile contribution to cinema history. Harrison Ford is one of America's greatest actors and as far as the perception that it's all about money goes, why spend ten years developing a single script?

Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now (1979)

Of the three previous Indiana Jones films that starred Ford, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was the most physical. The new one will likely compare as the polar opposite to that film. It will probably play out more as mystery than actioner. Therefore, the issue regarding a lot of old man action will be nonexistent. George Lucas said the new film will deal with the character's advancing age. Putting the same amount of physicality into the script as there was with Temple of Doom, would not be dealing with the character's age. The new film would be denying it. This is not what Lucas has promised.

Obviously, there will be a certain amount of stunt work but those worried about Ford's ability to pull it off should understand there are actors and there are stuntmen. These are separate professions. Also, it has been reported that Harrison Ford is preparing for the shoot with months of physical training; more likely to reduce the risk of injury than to beef up like Conan. Still, he is working hard to meet whatever physical demands there may be.

Raiders of the Lost ArkBlade RunnerWitness
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - Blade Runner (1982) - Witness (1985)

So, I don't think anyone need worry about Ford's age being a detriment to the film. But still, why bother, one might continue to ask? Why not make an old fashioned, action-packed Indiana Jones that doesn't have to deal with advancing age? Even if Ford can meet the physical requirements, who needs him?

For those of us old enough to have seen Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark when they were originally released it can be a strange and depressing experience to review the message boards of movie web sites and find so much cynicism aimed at one of our greatest movie icons.

Frantic (1988)

What’s wrong with these people, I wonder? I’d like to just call them names and be done with it (stupid idiots!). But maybe it's a tricky thing today, properly assessing an actor’s value. With baseball players, one can look at batting averages. With attorneys, one can look at cases won as opposed to lost. But, what do we do with an actor?

Do we judge based on oscars? Extraordinary talents like Cary Grant and Richard Burton never won oscars. Paul Lukas won one. The film was Watch on the Rhine. He beat out Humphrey Bogart for Casablanca.

Some are impressed when an actor is different in every role. While variety can be nice, when an actor decides to display extreme range it often serves his or her own needs with little regard for their films or audiences.

Presumed Innocent

One obviously necessary componant in determining an actor’s value is the real person an actor brings to a role beyond the ability to creatively interpret the script. This element can cause a fictional character to transcend beyond a film’s parameters because the performance seems so real. For example, Sylvestor Stallone as Rocky Balboa. Something in the natural make up of Sylvestor Stallone brought a reality to his performances in that role. Harrison Ford is possibly the only actor ever to be successful at this with more than one character. And, unlike Stallone, Ford created neither of these characters. The reason is because he has a remarkable ability to seem real.

It was not the success of Star Wars that launched Harrison Ford’s career. It was his success at playing Han Solo that launched his career.

Patriot GamesThe FugitiveAir Force One
Patriot Games (1992) - The Fugitive (1993) - Air Force One (1997)

Ford’s acting is so deeply rooted in reality, so solidly down to earth, that a filmmaker can cast him in the wildest fantasies and audiences will believe what they are seeing is real. His acting offers something familiar for audiences. We relate to him. He becomes the vehicle for transporting us far, far away. His performances are so true that we forget they are performances and easily follow him into worlds of pure fiction.

Six Days Seven Nights
Six Days Seven

One example of a creative choice typical of Harrison Ford is how he plays up the feeling of reluctance. In Blade Runner, his Rick Dekkard is reluctant with just about every move he makes. As Indy, Ford often shows reluctance before beating up bad guys, not because he has any reservations about whether or not he is right to do so (certainly not!), but because it’s likely to be difficult. In Star Wars, he’s reluctant to believe in the Force or be friendly to droids. Much of this is conveyed by Ford in ways aside from what is written in the scripts. We, as the audience, identify with reluctance. It rings true to life. It makes sense for the charcaters in those circumstances. Today’s young action stars, too stupid to steal from the best, leap into action with such cocksure arrogance that we are constantly reminded we are just watching a movie.

It is this special quality of Harrison Ford’s that has served the needs of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and many other great directors. Witness, Frantic, The Fugitive, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger are only a few more films with extraordinary stories where the director needed an actor who could carry an audience into worlds far from familiar.

Firewall (2006)

It has been a problem with Ford’s career that this special ability has not been necessary in films where the worlds are already so familiar, in settings too common. His greatest strength has been wasted in a number of films that offered a stage that simply wasn’t spectacular enough.

But, for as long as there are films about ordinary guys in extraordinary circumstances, Harrison Ford’s great gifts can and should be utilized. He will not grow too old to make successful movies. Youth is not his genius. It is absurd to assume Harrison Ford won’t be as effective as ever playing Indiana Jones.


- Special thanks to Harrison Ford Web and their impressive photo galleries.
- Harrison Ford on


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