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Paul Shipper

Young Indy Chronicles
The Making of
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The Making of

Chapter 6: Outcome


Ever since Lucas announced the creation of the Young Indy Chronicles he cleared out that the series would have nothing to do with the feature films. Instead, he refused to adopt an unadulterated action formula that would have insured a long and prosperous run for the series and declared his intention to get young people interested in history. Unfortunately, the final result was not exactly like that. Certainly, the Verdun 1916 and Somme 1916 episodes managed to create a great atmosphere and illustrate the horrors of warfare marvelously, but the way some of the historical figures were treated was inexcusable. Especially, in first season’s episodes, the presentations of Franz Kafka, Pablo Picasso and Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev, for example, had nothing educational about them, but, in favor of creating comedic episodes these wonderful personalities were shown as caricatures. At the end of each episode the audience couldn’t remember who these people were and why they should remember them.

Another thing that troubled viewers was the anti-chronological presentation of each episode. Although Lucas had created a storyline for the entire show by naming each episode by the time and city it took place, the episodes were shown randomly, therefore creating confusion among viewers. Nobody knew if this week’s episode was going to take place right after last week’s or five years before.

The idea of bringing in a new director for each episode was another crucial factor to the limited success of the Young Indy Chronicles. The idea worked perfectly in the case of scriptwriters and that’s because the writers had the chance to work together and develop all the stories altogether. Directors don’t work this way. Each director stepped in, did his episode and took off, never really understanding what the show was all about. Some of them did a wonderful job while some others had their own specific ideas about the character that made it difficult to connect with the rest of the show. Rick McCallum, who was Lucas’ man-in-the-field and tried to keep his vision for the show, tried hard to keep the directors in Lucas’ guidelines without rising creative limitations.

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Sean Patrick Flanery

The very first person to find such a hard case to break was poor Flanery. In an interview he gave to Starlog magazine in October 1998 the frustrated actor explained his point of view. "We had so many directors. One wanted me to do pratfalls the other one wanted me to be very dark. That was eerie. Some of the shows I really loved and some of them I thought were nonsense. The audience varied from week to week because of that. One episode would plug into 13-year-old boys, then another would get 60-year-old women writing me letters. Some of them were just different altogether. They had the same character, Indiana Jones, but some directors had me do completely different line readings. I would be like, ‘That’s not the character. That’s this absurd farce.’ Some of the directors just resigned themselves to setting up a scene. ‘OK, we have 40 feet of track, let’s track in out of focus, then go in focus. OK, bring in the actors and have them say their things.’ They didn’t even know what the dialogue was. Mike Newell is an actors’ director. He says things like, ‘Thespians, gather around.’ We would all do this huddle. It was like theater. That was great."

Of course, the points that deprived the series’ success should not cloud the good ones. First of all, Lucas managed to develop the character of Indiana Jones and even dared to show him as an old man, freeing him from the 1930s time frame established from the films. Sure he could have been less preachy, but Lucas decided to be realistic and present him just like an average man would have turn to at the same age. Has anyone ever wonder what ever happened to Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent or Peter Parker? Haven’t they got old? No, they are stuck in their age, fighting enemy after enemy because their creators feared of destroying their image. Lucas didn’t fear, he opted for his hero to have a whole life and through the Chronicles he gave viewers the chance to see it.

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Flanery with Liz Hurley
in the
London, May

The series had a great cast lead by Flanery who was so convincing as Young Indy. Though not successful as Phoenix, Flanery was charming, funny and well up to both action and drama. You could believe that he would grow up to be Harrison Ford. Supported by a wonderful cast of veteran actors like Vanessa Redgrave, Douglas Hen shall, Christopher Lee, Max Von Sydow, Paul Freeman, Michael Kitchen, Bob Peck, Friedrich von Thun, Jennifer Ehle and Joss Ackland Chronicles offered subtle performances and became the starting point of then unknown Anne Heche, Catherine Zeta Jones and Liz Hurley.

Another asset that Chronicles had was its ability to incorporate different styles. The constant change in tone from romantic love story to action adventure to comedy to drama became a common feature on US television, but at the year 1992 was something new to the sitcom-based television and this is evidence that the series was ahead of its time.

At some point in 1996 Lucas made the decision to comprehensively re-edit the entire series into 23 TV movies of about an hour and a half in length, and arrange them in chronological sequence. For a very short time the series was renamed The Adventures of Indiana Jones as a Young Man only to be re-renamed into The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. Still, new titles were invented for each TV movie, the Old Indy bookends were removed, and, where necessary, new footage was shot to make the material run smoothly in its new format. The new linear approach to the series’ chronology presented particular problems with the Curse of the Jackal which jumps forward, in mid-plot, from 1909 to 1916. In the end a large amount of new footage was shot, the story split into two movie-length installments, and tagged as Episode One and Six in the series’ new numbering system. In a frankly astonishing bit of technical legerdemain, new scenes shot with actor Corey Carrier as the pre-teen Indy were matched with film from five years before by digitally shrinking the actor to make him appear the right size in relation to other performers. Once the new editing was complete, the series was aired on the USA cable channel and BBC1.

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Flanery in uniform.

The marrying of two episodes, similar in tone in order to create a 90-minute movie was not always successful. The Curse of the Jackal worked wonderful because it was conceived that way while the Masks of Evil, for example, had two different stories with the only common thing being the main character and the dark mood. Many of the weaker episodes were improved while others that worked perfectly as single episodes lost their original impact, not to mention that in some the switch between two entirely separate segments was laughably easy to notice.

In 2000, Lucasfilm released on video sell-through The Complete Adventures of Indiana Jones, which consisted of 12 of the newly editing Young Indy TV movies plus the three feature films. To accommodate the theatrical films under the general new title Raiders of the Lost Ark was renamed Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, causing even more confusion to hard core fans. The series wasn’t a financial success on video either and the remaining tapes never saw the daylight. At the dawn of the DVD age Rick McCallum announced that the entire Young Indy series would come on DVD with behind the scenes material and documentaries on the historical figures appearing in each episode. The development of such a project was considered very time-consuming and McCallum set a release date sometime in 2007.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was one of the most overlooked properties of 90s television, despite its flaws. It was Lucas’ choice to change its form that hurt the series more than bad ratings. Let’s all hope that the expected DVD release will restore the "spirit" of Lucas’ initial dream.

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