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Indiana Jones 4: The Scripts That Weren’t

10 years ago by Tom Burns

[Disclaimer: Although this is an exploration of previous unused Indy 4 scripts, alleged storylines, and information that has appeared online over the years, the aggregated info MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS AND THEORIES about the franchise at large. If you don’t want to speculate along with us, we urge you to TURN BACK NOW.]

Admit it, movie nerds. As soon as the lights went up on The Last Crusade back in 1989, you immediately turned to your friends and started to argue about whether or not Indiana Jones would ever return to the big screen. Theatre lobbies around the world were filled with shouts of “How do you top the Holy Grail?!”, “He rode off into the sunset!”, and “It’s called The LAST Crusade, moron!” as Indy fans struggled to come to terms that the Man in the Hat, alas, might never come back. Things probably seemed fairly bleak until George Lucas announced his Star Wars prequels, and the fan community realized that if King George is crazy/stubborn enough to bring back the galaxy far, far away, then maybe things weren’t so hopeless for our favorite Nazi-punching archaeologist.

After almost 19 years in development, this Memorial Day Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will bring Harrison Ford and his fedora back to silver screen. While we don’t know much about the plot (see our previous round-up feature on everything we know about Indy 4), it’s safe to say that over 19 years, the story has probably evolved and changed considerably. Lucas and Spielberg have had a small army of well-known screenwriters trying to hammer out another Indy sequel since 1989, a select club that includes Jeff Nathanson, Frank Darabont, Jeffrey Boam, Jeb Stuart, and Mr. Twist himself, M. Night Shyamalan. According to reports, David Koepp, the film’s final screenwriter, had the job of taking all of the previous drafts, mining out the best bits, and assembling them into a story that pleased Lucas, Spielberg, and Ford to return to their action-serial roots.

Some of the early scripts have seen the light of day, even making it online, while others are as hard to locate as footage of Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly in Back to the Future (Look it up, it’s true). Since, as some outlets have suggested and reported, Koepp’s script is allegedly an amalgam of past drafts and new material, we here at The Deadbolt have taken a look at a couple of the defunct scripts and all of the information surrounding the early works to see what secrets might be hidden. Who knows, maybe they’ll shed some light on where Indy is heading in Chapter 4? We’re also going to explore what we’ve heard surrounding a couple of fake Indy 4 scripts that have made the online rounds (believe us, they’re everywhere), so you’ll hopefully know a B.S. spoiler when you see one.

So grab your whip, don’t eat those dates, and step into the alternate universe of Indiana Jones movies that never happened.

Script: INDIANA JONES AND THE MONKEY KING

Writer: Chris Columbus (writer of The Goonies, but you know him best as the director of Home Alone and the first two Harry Potter movies)

Authenticity: Strong. (Though there is some debate regarding which draft is available on the internet and whether or not that draft has been tinkered with.) Spielberg and Lucas have both confirmed that Columbus did work on a Monkey King-themed script. Here’s the thing – this script originated back in 1985 and was supposed to be the follow-up to Temple of Doom. Ultimately, it didn’t work out, however. Spielberg told theraider.net: “Chris writes comedy brilliantly and his script was very humorous … It was upbeat and full of the same nostalgia that we tapped into in Raiders of the Lost Ark, so in that sense Chris was right on the money. But I don’t think any of us wanted to go to Africa for four months and try to get Indy to ride a rhinoceros in a multi-vehicular chase, which was one of the sequences Chris had written.” It was rumored that the script was retooled following Last Crusade as a possible Indy 4, but this has yet to be confirmed.

Plot: Indy heads to Africa to find the lost civilization of Sun Wu-Kung, the legendary Chinese Monkey King, who is said to have a Garden of Immortal Peaches that can grant eternal life.

The Good: Say what you will about Columbus, but the man knows how to write action. His Monkey King script is filled with elaborately-imagined action sequences, which would’ve made this a $200 million dollar movie, even back in 1985. Apparently, Spielberg liked the action so much, he borrowed some of Columbus’ set pieces for Last Crusade (the Venice boat chase and the tank pursuit both have their origins in this script). Plus, even though the general public (i.e. cargo pants-wearing Americans) don’t know much about the Monkey King, Columbus gets points for adding a Chinese deity to the canon of other Jones-discovered religious artifacts.

The Bad: Yes, Columbus can write action, but he writes pure-bred CRAZY action, crazy on a level that’s appropriate for the Mummy movies, but not Indiana Jones. There IS a sequence where Indy rides a rhino while chasing a tank, and there’s an extended battle at the end with Indy organizing an army of African pygmies and super-smart gorillas to battle an army of Nazis Ewok-style. No fooling, there’s a bit where the gorilla starts driving a tank. Plus it opens with a bizarre sequence where Indy is fighting a banshee in a Scottish castle and it has NO relevance to the rest of the story (just something that happened on his vacation). He’s not a Ghostbuster or Fox Mulder, he’s an archaeologist!

The Ugly: Beyond the implausibility of Columbus’ script, there’s also a disturbing undercurrent of stereotyping and misogyny. There is literally a part where Indy’s lovelorn grad student, Betsy, attempts to commit suicide again and again because Dr. Jones won’t return her affection, and Indy couldn’t care less. (He’s mad that she almost ruins his whip by trying to hang herself with it.) And Betsy remains a punching-bag for the rest of the script. If that wasn’t bad enough, the foreigners are all painted with such ridiculously broad strokes – the Scots are all drunks, the Africans are simple primitives – that it’s cringe-worthy. And we’re not even getting to the fact that Indy DIES at the end of the The Monkey King, only to be resurrected by Sun Wu-Kung, who tells Dr. Jones that he has enjoyed watching his adventures from the heavens. How do you say “lame” in Chinese?

Script: INDIANA JONES AND THE SAUCER MEN FROM MARS

Writer: Jeb Stuart (writer of Die Hard and The Fugitive)

Authenticity: Pretty good. We know Stuart worked on an Indy script, and the Indy fan community seems to vouch for its authenticity. The real juicy part is that this is one of the few scripts that have made its way to the public that was officially written post-Last Crusade as an Indy 4 candidate AND that uses the special “MacGuffin” that Lucas demanded for Indy’s fourth adventure.

Plot: Set in the 1950s, Indy gets left at the altar by his linguist fiancée (no foolin’), so he follows her to White Sands, New Mexico, where he discovers that the U.S. Government has obtained a strange alien knick-knack from a crashed flying-saucer. But both the Russians (and some little green men) want the artifact for themselves.

The Good: Any hardcore Indy fanboy would LOVE the wedding portion of the script – not because Indy takes the plunge (he falls in love very early), but because of all the cameos. Not only does Henry Jones Sr. show up again as the best man, but we get Sallah and Short Round as ushers and Willie Scott and Marion Ravenwood show up to take Indy out drinking after he gets dumped. (The best exchange is when Marion and Willie mentioned that they can’t believe that Indy found someone, and Sallah comments, “You mean other than yourselves?”) The script also does a nice job of working in references to Indiana’s age and how the good doctor is functioning in the 1950s. (We learn that he was an American spy during World War II.)

The Bad: For an Indiana Jones story, there’s a disturbing lack of globe-trotting in “Saucer Men from Mars.” Aside from an opening sequence in Borneo, Indy travels between New Jersey and New Mexico, and that’s it. Talk about the most boring map montage ever. And, like we mentioned, like James Bond in Casino Royale, Indy finally does say “I love you” in this script and it’s really early on. The problem is that Stuart never really shows us why Dr. Elaine McGregor is so noteworthy or alluring. She’s simply “the girl” in the story, and she makes you long for Karen Allen or, hell, even Allison Doody. Finally, some of the 1950s American government/A-Bomb/Roswell conspiracy stuff is handled pretty heavy-handedly. There’s a ridiculous moment where Indy survives an atomic blast at a bomb test site by hiding in a refrigerator. “Duck and cover” was plausible back then, but now… sheesh.

The Ugly: What we’ve heard about this makes us nervous about the alien aspects of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The aliens within Saucer Men are seemingly beyond generic – an apparent mixture of the aliens from Close Encounters and Signs with even less backstory. It also features a stone cylinder – an ET power source – covered in markings that hint that the aliens have been coming to Earth for centuries. For some unknown reason, it’s also a ticking time bomb that needs to be placed in a specific altar on a specific mountain or else… bad stuff will happen. That’s all the explanation that’s given. The Ark, the Sankara Stones, and the Holy Grail all had centuries of mythology to wrap around those artifacts. This Saucer Men alien icon has nothing – we get weird Communion-esque aliens and a flying saucer dogfight that feels like something out of Independence Day. Thank God, Lucas actually used something out of real archeology – the Crystal Skulls (though their origins are widely debated) – to tie in the alien aspect of Indy 4 rather than this new age mess.

Script: Frank Darabont’s INDIANA JONES 4 script

Writer: Frank Darabont (writer/director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist, among others)

Authenticity: Don’t wet yourselves… WE DON’T HAVE A COPY. We’ve simply heard the rumors like everyone else.

However, that’s not to say that there aren’t fake versions of Darabont’s script flying around out there. We’ve heard about one alleged Darabont draft that worked in a lot of “already announced” details with excerpts from other internet Indy 4 fakes. Most notably, this faker apparently borrowed heavily from the Indy and son storyline in the known-bogus Indiana Jones and the Sons of Darkness, a fan script (mistakenly attributed to Jeffrey Boam for a long while) written by a guy named Robert Smith, hoping to jump start his screenwriting career. (For more on the Sons of Darkness, go here.)

So if you read anything online about Indy and his son Abner looking for Noah’s Ark, beware. Besides, even Darabont himself commented recently that the whole “Shia as the son of Indy” aspect never appeared in his script. He told MTV that “That’s a whole new element that’s been brought in. Shia? I don’t remember writing that character.” Darabont also mentioned that he considered writing the script – a screenplay that apparently both Spielberg and Ford wanted to film until Lucas refused to accept it – “a waste of a year… At this point, I don’t give much of a damn what George thinks, but I wouldn’t want to harm my friendship with Steven“. Darabont later told MTV that he wasn’t holding a grudge and wanted to move on.

The two big questions surrounding Darabont’s Indy 4 script are – “How much of Darabont’s draft is David Koepp using?” and “Will Darabont appeal to the WGA to get a screenwriting credit?”

For hardcore Indy fans, who lovingly remember Darabont’s work on the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding these questions. You can bet that if Darabont doesn’t get credit on Indy 4, there are going to be a lot of people that COULD BE interested in making Darabont’s draft public, so that the fan community can judge for themselves how much Frank contributed to the final product. (Much like how Brian Helgeland’s original cut of Payback hit the bootleg circuit after Mel Gibson took over control of the film.)

Script: (Unsubstantiated) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Writer: George Lucas and David Koepp…. ALLEGEDLY

Authenticity: Weaker than weak. How about “flaccid”?

If you go to SuperShadow.com, you’ll be introduced to SuperShadow, a man who claims to be “very close, personal friends with George Lucas” and alleges that his website “played a crucial role in the development of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.” He even states that: “Lucas has acknowledged many times in public that SuperShadow is the best thing to ever happen to Star Wars” and that “SuperShadow.com is the official web site of George Lucas.” (If you can find proof of ANY of these claims, then you’re the real archeologist, not Dr. Jones.)

Mr. Shadow has created a formula that SUPPOSEDLY breaks down the plot of every Indiana Jones movie, and he claims to have detailed plot outlines for Indiana Jones 4 (and Indiana Jones 5 too!). The ONLY reason we’re even mentioning this… ahem… “special” individual is that his plot summary has been re-pasted onto several message boards (with claims of its authenticity) and we don’t want anyone unfamiliar with SS to be taken in by the… let’s just say it… hoax.

The one thing you have to give SuperShadow credit for is his ability to take the tiny bits of information leaking out about the production and weave them into his flimsy narrative. If you’ve read the Vanity Fair article about Indy 4, saw some of the on-set photos from Yale, looked at the cast announcements, and read one or two interviews, you could’ve written a similar plot summary.

Basically, it claims that Abner Ravenwood, Indy’s mentor and Marion’s father, was even more interested in the Crystal Skulls than the Lost Ark, but apparently, he never mentioned it much. When Indy’s colleague Hawthorne (Jim Broadbent’s character) brings Indy a crystal skull to examine in the 1950s, the Russians kill Hawthorne and take the skull, leaving Indy and his student Mutt to track it down. The Commies capture Indy and Mutt and, by an AMAZING coincidence, they’re also holding Marion, who admits that (unbeknown to ANYONE) that Mutt is Indy’s son. It gets worse from there.

CONCLUSION:

Don’t believe the hype. If you read online that someone’s read a script for Indiana Jones 4, take it with a BIG, BIG GRAIN OF SALT. This is one of the most anticipated movies in YEARS, so you know that the security surrounding the project is airtight. (Well, except for the image debacle a few months ago… and the Russian dancer extra who ignored his non-disclosure agreement… never mind.) If you read anything about Indy and the Monkey King, Saucer Men, Sword of Arthur, Sons of Darkness, Lost City of Atlantis, or a Tomb of Ice – smile, nod, and check your calendar again. Memorial Day 2008 simply can’t get here fast enough.

What do you think?

Tom Burns was a feature contributor of The Deadbolt between 2006 and 2008. Tom founded MovieRetriever.com and wrote for such outlets as UGO.com, Hollywood Chicago.com, ScreenTalk and more.