In the spring of 2007, Indyfans around the world rejoiced as official word of Indiana Jones' return to the big screen for a fourth installment in the series would soon begin production. The as yet untitled Indiana Jones film worked under the name of GENRE Productions until the official title of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was revealed by the film’s co-star Shia LaBeouf during an MTV Movie Awards altar in the Summer of 2007. This time the adventure would feature an older Indiana Jones in the late 1950’s and the tone and the plot of the film would reflect the type of sci-fi films of that era centering around fears of UFOs and nuclear war, along with the baddies being the Communist Russians stepping in for the Nazis.
The film’s script had gone through many revisions and hands over the nineteen year period since Indy’s last big screen adventure ended in 1989. The challenge over the years had been getting a McGuffin, or treasure, for Indy to pursue. Finally all three parties (Lucas, Ford and Spielberg) settled on the crystal skull and its connection to inter-dimensional beings. It should be noted that elements of an earlier, unused script Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods by director and screenwriter Frank Darabont, who had worked on the Indiana Jones character in the Young Indiana Jones TV series, found their way to the finished screenplay. The return of Indy’s Raiders sweetheart Marion Ravenwood, the atomic bomb testing, Indy’s escape from the bomb blast using a refrigerator, and more were included in the final version credited to screenwriter David Keopp. Regrettably, the film would not include the return of Dr. Henry Jones as actor Sir Sean Connery had retired from movie making, and the great Denholm (Marcus Brody) Elliot had passed away in 1992. Fans rejoiced with the news of actress Karen Allen’s return when it was announced at the San Diego Comic Con via satellite feed from the set by Spielberg, Ford and new cast members Shia (Mutt) LeBeouf and Ray (Mac) Winstone. Spielberg went on to say that the film was being made “for the fans” who had been asking him film for years for another installment in the popular action series.
Reprising his role as the intrepid archeologist once again was Harrison Ford, who appeared earlier as a 1950s era Indy for bookend segments on the Young Indiana Jones television episode Mystery of the Blues in 1993. Ford was in fine form and openly boasted that the costume, as well as the fedora, still fit fine. Though the film would be set in locations such as Peru and the South American rain forest, it was the first Indiana Jones film to be filmed solely in the United Sates. Filming locations ranged from New Mexico to Yale University in New Haven, CT stepping in for Marshall College to Hilo, Hawaii as the location for the jungle sequences. The Warner Brothers studio lot, the Fresno airport and special effects work at ILM in San Francisco rounded out the locations. The film made headlines when an extra violated the secrecy around the set and his non-disclosure agreement when he told a newspaper key plot points and character developments resulting in his being sued and having to pay damages.
Crystal Skull opened the prestigious 2008 Cannes on May 18th Film Festival where it and its cast and crew received a standing ovation from the notoriously fickle crowd of critics in attendance. In addition, unlike the previous Indiana Jones films, Crystal Skull received a massive marketing campaign from fast food tie-ins to promotions with Dr. Pepper, and a line of toys from Hasbro, to name just a few. Predicted to be the biggest of 2008, the film opened to eager crowds on Wednesday, May 22nd to a mainly positive reception. Many news outlets hailed it as welcome return to the fun and thrills of the 1980s film series that inspired it, and received 3.5 out of 4 stars from critic Roger Ebert (the same rating he gave 1989’s Last Crusade). Crystal Skull’s release with over 12,000 prints worldwide was the largest ever for Paramount Pictures.
Crystal Skull not only reintroduced moviegoers to the intrepid archeologist and adventurer, but introduced Indiana Jones’s son, Mutt Williams. Speculation grew that the motorcycle-driving, 50’s era punk son of Indy would be star in his own film series, a notion which was furthered by Indy co-creator George Lucas in remarks made after the film. However, as the film started to receive a negative backlash from diehard Indyfans that idea went away. The reaction amongst die-hard Indyfans turned negative, as many felt that the story and representation of the character was not what they had come to expect. Fans also criticized the overuse of CGI effects and plot elements such as “alien” beings as just too far-fetched. Regardless of their gripes, the film was a huge success and was the most lucrative in the Indian Jones series. The movie went on to be one of the top grossing films for 2008, just behind Iron Man in the U.S., and actually the number 2 film in international box office results behind the The Dark Knight.
Plans for another Indiana Jones film have circulated endlessly since 2008, as Ford, Lucas and Spielberg continue to say they are working on an idea for the McGuffin. Recent remarks by co-stars Harrison Ford and Shia LaBeouf range from the principals involved “agreed on a germ of an idea” to having “cracked a story.” Until the house lights dim and the projector rolls on an Indy 5 fans will just have to wait and see.