It is most likely inevitable, but that doesn’t mean I have to go along with it.
First, Disney floated the idea that they like to do more Indiana Jones stuff, possibly with Chris Pratt in the role. Then, on Friday, Deadline reported that Steven Spielberg would be happy to direct Chris Pratt in the part if the script were right. I don’t entirely blame Disney for wanting to maximize the Lucasfilm IPs they just paid top-dollar for, or Pratt if he takes an iconic, big-bucks role he’d be crazy to turn down. But I do not want to see this happen.
Indiana Jones fandom is a tricky thing; different people like the movies for very different reasons, and almost nobody likes all four movies equally (though they differ in which one, or two, they dislike). So here are MY reasons why a Chris Pratt reboot sounds only slightly less appealing than a tomb full of snakes.
1. Harrison Ford Defines Indiana Jones.
I already know the instant rebuttal: “People used to say that about Sean Connery as James Bond!” I know they did. And they were wrong. Ian Fleming’s novels defined James Bond; Connery offered one interpretation of the role. Just like Adam West and Christian Bale offered different takes on Batman, or Basil Rathbone and Robert Downey Jr. on Sherlock Holmes. Literary characters will always be redefined so long as the books they’re in keep being enjoyed by new generations.
Now, Indy wasn’t necessarily always going to be all Ford; we came a hair’s whisker away from Tom Selleck and the Thingdom of the Sexy Mustache. But you can’t separate the two now – Ford’s line delivery is Indy’s, as is his sexiness, his finger-point of doom, and the way bad guys squoosh his face up against something at some point. Other actors have played the role, most notably River Phoenix in Last Crusade – but they were imitating Ford more than interpreting things in a new way.
Recasting Indiana Jones as an adult is like doing a Commando reboot with somebody not named Schwarzenegger playing John Matrix, or a Stallone-less Rambo or Rocky. The actors’ distinct tics ARE the characters’ distinct tics. I’m sure Christian Bale, for example, can yell “Yo Adrian!” in a Philly accent, but he wouldn’t be creating a character interpretation from scratch.
We do have a major possible exception to this rule coming up in Mad Max: Fury Road, but I’d argue that Mel Gibson’s star persona doesn’t necessarily eclipse the Max character, who’s basically the Man With No Name given an Australian accent. Try to cast Tom Hardy in a Lethal Weapon remake as Riggs, however, and I shall imagine myself ripping your lungs out.
2. He’s Kinda Been “Rebooted” Before.
Prior to shows like Smallville and Gotham establishing the “alternate-origin-for-TV” genre, we had The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, inspired by the love for River Phoenix as young Indy in the third film. I confess to never having watched an episode – the moment I heard that the show had young Indy crossing paths with every major historical figure alive during the time period, I bowed out. Indiana Jones’ appeal is that – nuke fridge survival aside, which hadn’t happened yet – he is an ordinary guy thrust into insane situations. If, as a teen, he was crucial to the history of the world by influencing every major player, you take that away. And while I do have one friend who insists I give it another chance (“When he LOST HIS VIRGINTY? To MATA HARI? That was BRILLIANT!”), the general reaction to that particular reboot/prequel seems to be one of indifference at best.
You can also argue that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a reboot. Shall we go there? Yes, it’s a straight-up sequel, but it’s pretty clear that the idea was to groom Shia LaBeouf for possible Mutt Williams spin-offs. And holy shit, did Spielberg overestimate his popularity.
Point is, previous attempts to recapture the appeal of the original have not worked as well as people would like.
3. So Where Do You Begin?
Let me first say that I love Chris Pratt. My gushing fandom for Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie is firmly on-record. I think he will make the new Jurassic Park movie better than it might have been otherwise. And if we have to go down this path, I’m glad it’s with somebody talented. But is he really right for Indiana Jones?
I guess a big question here is when you set this reboot. Will Indy be fighting Nazis and looking for the lost ark again, or will he be a modern-day adventurer? Can he even work in the modern day? And another question – can Chris Pratt work as well in the past?
Pratt strikes me as the epitome of the modern action hero. He’s self-aware, makes dirty jokes, offers humorous running commentary on what he’s doing, and will throw in totally random non-sequiturs for good measure. He’s very good at it. But that’s not Indiana Jones, who is an old-fashioned movie hero – the kind who makes a few words count (unless he’s actually required to tell a story or give a lecture) and who, like so many old Hollywood icons, is basically the actor just showing up and reading his lines.
So do you put Pratt into a role that negates much of his contemporary appeal, or do you force Indiana Jones into a modern setting that doesn’t make much sense? Either way, I would suggest you lose some of what made the character who he is.
And while we’re on the subject of time periods…
4. The Passage of Time Is Important to Indiana Jones.
While I loved the first two Indiana Jones movies as a kid (and felt let down by the third as a teen), my eyes were opened when I rewatched them after graduating film school. Once you realize what Lucas and Spielberg were actually doing, it adds a whole different level to what you see. And yes, rationally, I’m sure you all had some idea they were paying tribute to the films they enjoyed as kids…but it’s so much more than that. Indeed, it’s crucial to understanding why Raiders is so different from Temple of Doom, and Crystal Skull in turn (Last Crusade is superficially more similar to Raiders, but, well, we’ll get to that).
The key to appreciating each movie to the max is the understanding that each one is both tribute to, and affectionate parody of, the B-movies made in the era it’s depicting.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a combination of adventure serials from the period leading up to World War II, and contemporaneous propaganda films that showed our heroes defeating the Nazis, often by using borderline superhuman powers (like Indy being able to hold his breath for however long it was that the Nazi submarine was underwater). Temple of Doom, set in the ’30s, is much more serial-like, both in its cliffhanger-to-cliffhanger beats, and its portrayal of other countries (China, India) the way we imagined them rather than the way they are.
More than that, it throws in a Busby Berkeley musical number at the beginning, and makes each of its three principals a parody of ’30s archetypes. Indiana, objectively, is kind of an asshole in this one. He’s sexist, colonialist, a bad father-figure, and out for his own “fortune and glory,” like so many movie heroes of that time look to us now. Willie is similarly egomaniacal, insanely materialistic, and a non-stop complainer, which is how so many ’30s action serials did portray women. Short Round, a cute kid on the surface, is a criminal pickpocket who cheats at cards and abets his partner in unsavory behavior (it is notable that all three characters are named after the filmmakers’ dogs, a tradition Mutt Williams would follow). Between them, they are an utterly dysfunctional send-up of a family unit, as Chatter Lal notices when he says he cannot imagine where on earth they would look at home; by movie’s end, however, they have brought each other closer to being authentic in the familial roles.
Last Crusade bugged me at the time for favoring comedy over thrills, but that fades once you realize it’s an updated ’40s Hope/Crosby road movie if those two had been father and son, complete with bickering over a woman and countless metaphorical winks to the camera. The mission, the leading lady and the villain are almost secondary to the fact that two comedic heroes are buffooning their way past Hitler and encounter the cup of Jesus.
All of which is to say that if you didn’t expect unrealistic depictions of nuclear weapons, giant ants and aliens in the 1957-set Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, you weren’t following the thematic trend. That’s what pulp movies of the late ’50s and early ’60s were full of.
Continuing on that note, I would 100% be down for a swingin’ ’60s sequel with Indiana Jones going undercover into the ’60s drug scene, or a ’70s-set flick where he gets peripherally involved in something like the Jonestown massacre, or goes all Death Wish on muggers who kill his son. But only if it’s Harrison Ford, aging in real time.
5. Spielberg Already Has His Next Indiana Jones.
It’s called Tintin.
It may or may not be dead in the water – Peter Jackson keeps saying it’s not, and now that he’s finally milked that Tolkien cow dry he might make the next one – but the globe-trotting adventurer who finds himself in pulpy representations of what we once imagined other cultures would be like is a “boy reporter.” The source material is so rich and the movie cast so strong that I’d hate to think the cliffhanger at the end of Spielberg’s first take on the material will never be resolved. And since it’s all mo-cap, aging actors don’t matter. If you want to replace Jamie Bell with Chris Pratt, that’s cool too (don’t DARE replace Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock, though – he NAILED it).
6. George Lucas Probably Won’t Be Involved.
Yeah, yeah, you hate Lucas, whatevs. It’s his character. He wrote all the movies. And as I hope I’ve successfully pointed out thus far, they’re all of a piece, even if you don’t happen to like all of them.
And he has cashed out. Maybe you’re hoping for Frank Darabont to come back? I wouldn’t hold your breath when it’s such an obvious cash grab.
7. When Do These Kinds of Reboots Ever Really Work out?
Aside from Battlestar Galactica, which was for TV, what was the last reboot you really liked? Not just tolerated, like the new RoboCop, but actively loved as an equal with the original?
The truth is that when these things get rebooted, we have a tendency to hate them. Mad Max: Fury Road is getting a bit of a pass so far because original creator George Miller is directing, but if that were a guarantee of quality, Michael Mann’s big-screen Miami Vice remake would have been more than just a wave-crashing bore.
Reboots DO work out, however, in animated form – the Dini/Timm Batman animated series was essentially a reboot of the Tim Burton movies, while The Real Ghostbusters was probably the last Ghostbusters-related anything that everyone agreed upon. Cast Chris Pratt as a cartoon Indy, and I’ll go along for the ride.
Do anything else, and I’ll need a lot of convincing not to bust out a bullwhip.