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The Making of

Chapter 1: Cliffhanger Classics


The real story of Indiana Jones started in 1973 when director George Lucas was looking for ideas to be transferred into celluloid. He had already done American Graffiti, which had turned out as a worldwide hit earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. An old movie poster of a hero jumping from a horse to a truck reminded him of the Republic serials - made in the 1930s and 1940s - which he watched when he was a kid. Serials like Spy Smasher, Zorro's Fighting Legion and Don Winslow of the Navy, a cliffhanger about a two-fisted serviceman who fought the Nazis. "Why don't they make this kind of movies anymore?" he wondered and imagined a movie about an archaeologist in a leather jacket, felt fedora and a three-day beard who carries a bullwhip and run around the globe seeking ancient relics and lost civilizations. At the same time Lucas was interested in making a movie adaptation of the popular comic hero Flash Gordon. When he failed to obtain the rights he decided to create a new space hero and an entire new universe. In order to create his universe he had to put his archaeologist character aside.

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Truck chase sketch.

Two years later, while Lucas was still trying to complete the script of his space adventure now called Star Wars, he met with director Philip Kaufman and the idea of the adventurous archaeologist emerged during a conversation. The two men continued their meetings for three weeks exchanging story ideas. Kaufman, remembering a story he had heard by his dentist when he was a child, introduced the Ark of the Covenant as the story's plot device. Lucas hoped that Kaufman would write and direct the film, but when the second was offered to direct The Right Stuff he left from the project. Since Lucas wasn't through with Star Wars yet, he put the project on the self once more.

On May 25, 1977, Star Wars was released at cinemas across the country but Lucas wasn't around. He was on vacation at the Mauna Kea hotel in Hawaii in order to recover from his Star Wars obligations and because he didn't want to be near Hollywood on the premiere of his film. He was afraid the film would be a tremendous disaster. Together with him was another director, Steven Spielberg, who was also relaxing from the making of his last movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

One evening over dinner Lucas received a phone call. It was from Ashley Boone, Twentieth Century Fox's marketing chief. Star Wars was a success beyond anyone's expectations and it had almost begun to evolve to a phenomenon. The next morning Lucas relieved and in very good mood started talking with Spielberg about future projects while building sandcastles. Spielberg told him that after Sugarland Express, his second film, United Artists asked him to do a film for them. "I'd like to do a James Bond film", was Spielberg's enthusiastic reply. But the studio refused to do that since the adventures of 007 are a British privilege behind the cameras as much as it is in front of it.

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Lucas and Spielberg.

I've got a better film than that", said Lucas. Have you ever heard of the lost Ark?
"Noah's Ark?" asked Spielberg.
"No, no, no, not Noah's Ark", said Lucas and he begun to explain, and at the same time describe the story of Raiders of the Lost Ark as he called. The Ark of the Covenant was the chest the Hebrews used to carry around the Ten Commandments that Moses brought from mountain Sinai. The Ark was believed to obtain mystical powers and according to legend an army that carries the Army before it is invincible. The Bible actually mentions that during the siege of Jericho the Hebrews heard the voice of God advising them to march three times around the city with the Ark at the head. With the completion of the third round they blew their horns all together and the walls of the city collapsed giving them the chance to assault. Lucas' story begins in 1936 when the American Government recruits famous archaeologist Indiana Smith to find the long lost Ark before the Nazis do. Unseen since its disappearance from the Temple of Solomon nearly three thousand year ago, the Ark - as prophesied in the Old Testament - was to be recovered at the time of the coming of the new Messiah. The Fuhrer Adolf Hitler wants to recover the Ark, thus legitimizing himself as the Messiah and his lust for world domination. This would be part of a series of Raiders sagas following the exploits of Indiana Smith, not unlike the Tarzan series not unlike the serials of the 30s and 40s. The difference would be that the leading character would be involved in mortal adventures and also in "otherworldly" events. And all this in a period when adventures could happen, a romantic time without advanced technology, when the cleverness of the individual against the enemy was what mattered.

Spielberg's enthusiasm was more than present. Like Lucas he had grown up with the same old serials, and the chance of resurrecting them for a new generation of cinemagoers was tempting beyond expectation. "That's a great story George, I'd love to do that", he said. Lucas then informed him that the film was probably going to be directed by Philip Kaufman who had helped him with the plot. But he promised him that if Kaufman weren't interested he would be his next choice. Six months later Spielberg received a phone call from Lucas: "Are you still interested in that movie I told you about in Hawaii because Phil isn't going to do it now?"

The two directors started pre-production work while they were involved in other pictures. Lucas was working with Francis Ford Coppola as executive producer in Akira Kurosawa's The Shadow Warrior while at the same time he was developing The Empire Strikes Back, the much-awaited sequel to Star Wars. On the other hand, Spielberg was directing 1941 a comedy with John Belushi.

Next: Writing Pains >>


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