Indiana Jones and the Lost Script of Darabont

Remember the old gag? The starlet was so dumb she made the mistake of sleeping with the writer.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released to fanfares about a month ago. The adjective ‘long-awaited’ doesn’t do justice to the roads travelled by its creators and its fans. This is not development hell, of course. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is development hell. But it is a curious form of limbo – and the version of the film that eventually fell to earth is not quite the avatar we were all hoping for.

Frank Darabont spent a year on the project. Darabont, for those who don’t know, is the writer/director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and an underrated picture called The Majestic. Darabont has also written episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and is well regarded as a script doctor.

Frank Darabont is not a happy bunny. His script, he claims, was loved by Steven Spielberg…and met with indifference by George Lucas.

George Lucas? Three words: Howard. The. Duck. No, make that six: Caravan. Of. Courage. (Readers should feel free to keep counting with, perhaps, ‘Jar Jar Binks’, ‘Stupidly re-edited scene with Greedo’… then get into the really high numbers with ‘Killing younglings!’.)

Is George Lucas overrated? Does an Ework shit in the Forest of Endor?

Darabont feels that he wasted a year of his movie-writing career on a script that he loved, and, by all accounts, Spielberg loved. (Readers should feel free to hum the Ark Theme from Raiders over my next sentence.) His Fabled Script of Legend was held on George Lucas’s Hard Drive of Doom, afterwhich it feel into the clutches of the Printer of Death…and then vanished.

But not completely. Rumours surfaced two weeks ago that the script had appeared in a series of tubes. And lo! I downloaded it immediately from an obscure French site before George Lucas’s clone army of lawyers could take out the server in a shower of piss-poor CGI.

What we have is a script titled ‘Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods’. It’s billed as a screenplay by Frank Darabont, based on a story by George Lucas, and dated 11th April, 2003. It’s 140 pages. Given the action set pieces, I’d guess that the running time is well over 140 minutes; nearer 2 hours, 30 minutes.

Is it a fake? The script contains a number of typographical errors that, while surprising, don’t necessarily make it phoney baloney with a side order of bullshit. It suggests a mid-to-late draft. I’ll assume it’s genuine.

Jazz break.

There is no doubt that this script is much stronger than the final shooting script, and in several respects.

First, there is an (almost) indescribable sheen of quality that seems to be missing in the film. The script is not really B movie material. Sure, it contains the same brief characterisations, the villains, the set-pieces, but they are handled with much greater verve.

Second, Darabont has connected the scenes with a stronger sense of causation. This isn’t easy to do; when a scene is already developing character, entertaining us with one-liners, and pushing towards the next scene/moment, the writer has enough on his plate without making the next bit seem like the only way the story could continue. Darabont achieves this in his draft. In the shooting script, the audience is constantly uncertain of its footing, and one can never be sure what is coming next, or why. Where Darabont makes the story proceed with elegance, the shooting script proceeds haphazardlyWho exactly is Mutt talking about when he first meets Indy? Why are we in a South American asylum suddenly?.

One example of this dislocation is the manner in which Indy arrives at a nuclear test site. In the shooting script, Indy stumbles upon this test site following his escape from the Russians. There is a palpable sense of incongruity that is only saved by the acutely atmospheric rendering of the deserted town and Indy’s (i.e. Harrison Ford’s) reaction to it. In Darabont’s script, Indy has been taken to this test site quite deliberately by his Russian captors (two henchman who don’t know the full story). It’s a subtle change, but it makes a connection. Sure, it’s an outrageous connection, but it has power: How to get rid of Indiana Jones? A nuclear bomb should do it. Plus, Darabont works comedy into the tension by having Indy briefly join forces with the hapless Russian henchmen. It’s classic Indiana Jones; it’ll never be made.

Some sequences exist in the shooting script that do not exist Darabont’s draft. In the latter, the warehouse is more like a workshop, and does not contain the Ark of the Covenant. No alien autopsy is performed. For Darabont, this sequence is motivated by the Russian’s desire to steal a nuclear warhead, and it is considerably the better for it. Not only does this McGuffin avoid the clunky elements in the shooting script, it foreshadows the nuclear testing scene. Why else would there be a nuclear detonation so close to a top-secret warehouse protecting unique objects?

Ray Winstone’s character is not present in the Darabont draft. Again, I think this is an improvement. Winstone is replaced (more or less) by a Russian agent called Yuri, who somewhat combines the role played by Winstone and that played by Cate Blanchett. It has to be said, though, that Blanchett’s character and performance represent an improvement over Yuri, who is somewhat forgettable. Likewise, Darabont has no Mutt; but he does have Henry Jones, Sr. The lack of Mutt is an improvement overall, I’d argue, notwithstanding Shia Labeouf’s excellent performance. And Darabont’s rendering of Henry jones, Sr marks him as an ineffectual addition.

Other differences aside, it is the concentration on the relationship between Indy and Marion Ravenwood that really sets the draft script apart. The film had Marion play a minor, almost cameo roleAnd Karen Allen’s performance was ruddy awful.. Darabont’s script puts her firmly at the centre of the action and the film’s theme. It is Indy’s love for Marion that resolves Darabont’s story. This contrasts with the non-ending of the film. Darabont’s version is more powerful and satisfying.

One last thing to mention is the greater sense of complexity in the world of post-war America. This will come as little surprise for those who’ve seen The Majestic or Shawshank, but Darabont is big on heroes for whom the ‘win’ at the end of the film – its message – is the realisation that those who keep and protect their core values are the greater. Darabont turns up the volume on this aspect by having Indy fired for his involvement in the nuclear test, not just given a holiday. Red paranoia is everywhere. For Darabont, there is no Jim from Neighbours to breeze in and sort shit out. Indy is outcast from the country he has served so courageously. But he retains what he thinks are the values of that country and holds them to his heart. This is why he survives the attention of the crystal skull at the close of the movie. This is why Darabont’s Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods is better.

Kevin, roll VT.

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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