Last week, word came from Up on High (courtesy of our fellow movie aficionados over at Variety) that the latest entry in the Indiana Jones series of films will roll without the directorial guidance of filmmaker and living legend Steven Spielberg.
This was a blow for the fifth outing of everyone’s favorite and much put-upon archeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones as essayed by the unflappable and nigh immortal Harrison Ford. After the 2008 release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the seminal debate which followed of whether or not a 1950s Frigidaire could in fact survive a nuclear explosion with its titular character all but unscathed (YAWN – It’s Indiana Jones, people, not 127 Hours), this projected new chapter in the film franchise was seen as something of a smart and needed reset, albeit one that, other than the diehard Indy fans, no one was really clamoring for. Still, in an era of Big Studio franchises where anyone with the last name Warner – or, er, Universal – has their own space opera/fantasy/sci-fi odyssey/super-hero/fast sports car bacchanal cued up to ring cash registers the world over, what audiences want is not always the point. More savvy and wiser studio heads have determined that, for the good of the Republic, we need a new Indiana Jones film.
Which makes last week’s announcement of Spielberg bowing out of the director’s chair problematic but not a deal breaker; In an era where the ironhanded George Lucas no longer even controls the destinies of his Star Wars characters, why should one more former Lucas franchise not be ultimately parceled out to the newest and kewlest generation of celluloid mythmakers?
And that brings this article to another absentee creative force that will be taking a mucho slumber fest rather than dealing with the fedora wearing Dr. Jones in this new adventure: The creator and writer of the Indiana Jones series, George Lucas. As far back as 2016, no less of an industry source than Collider revealed that any new Indy film will be sans Lucas. For fellow filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who had directed all four Indy films from George Lucas written scripts, this loss must have had some bearing on his recent decision to sit out a new adventure.
Instead, master filmmaker James Mangold (Ford v Ferrari) is now in talks to helm Indy 5. Although this is not as dire as it might seem at first blush – Mangold did, after all, jump in at the last moment to direct the last and most critically lauded entry of the Wolverine franchise – ye olde scribbler on all things pop culture can’t help but wonder if it’s the wrong tack to take, carrying on without Spielberg, let alone Lucas. One of the things that earmarked the Indy films – and other films that made up a series such as Star Wars, the first two Superman films (the real ones with Chris Reeve and Richard Donner), etc. – was that they contained a singular and unique artist’s voice from the top on down. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are not interchangeable with, say, Michael Bay or Zack Snyder (or vice-versa). But in a Hollywood system where the global box office is put first and foremost at the top of any studios list, before even the quirky and singular talents that have a big hand in creating some of our more intriguing stories before they’re commercialized and farmed out as Happy Meals, even uber-big names like a Spielberg or a Lucas are not given as much weight as they once were in the 70s, 80s or 90s.
Harrison Ford is still attached to star in Indy 5, even as the release date for the film continues to lindy hop all around the production and release schedule. Ford, at least, seems ready to crack the trusty old bullwhip and don the dusty fedora one last time, even as his two cohorts – Spielberg and Lucas – ride off into the sunset without the hero of their movie serial inspired quadrilogy.