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.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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