Frank Darabont’s Indiana Jones IV script

John Moore laments the lost, Shia-free version of Lucas and Spielberg's summer hit...but is it by Frank Darabont?

Things coulda been so different. Well, fairly different...

I’m over George Lucas now, but it was a tough divorce. Halfway through the Star Wars prequels I knew our relationship was coming to an end. We gave it a shot, but it just wasn’t working out; I tried to keep the love alive, but in the end, we’d just drifted apart. We were different people who wanted different things.

It’s sad, but that’s life. One of the things that let me knew that George and I weren’t destined to be happy together was when I read that he’d put Indy IV on hold, after rejecting a script from Frank Darabont. It felt like a bad decision at the time, and it still does now.

Then I heard he was messing around with David Koepp, letting him tweak the story he’d outlined into a screenplay. Wha? You’re replacing the writer of some of my favourite Young Indy stories, The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption (which he also directed) with the guy who wrote the frankly laughable Panic Room (featuring the least scary villains since Dastardly and Mutley). A man who is best know for polishing up the half-film that is Speilberg’s War of the Worlds, and Jurassic Park. I felt cheated, betrayed. I felt like I didn’t know George anymore.

I’m so over the whole Lucas thing that, until last night, I hadn’t even seen Indy IV; and nothing I’d read about it made me want to, particularly. Yes, the ache of nostalgia had almost got me to the box office: but dalliances with old flames are never good, and I’d managed to resist. Too much baggage, too much water under the bridge, too many consequences.

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Then, this script appeared on the internet. Darabont’s script, allegedly. The script I’d been waiting three years to read of a film I’d waited 10 years to see – but never will… Indiana Jones and The City Of The Gods. I wanted to look at what I could have won. And I did; and then I went to look at what we actually got. What a shame.

Firstly, let me say this. I don’t ‘know’ this is the real Darabont script. There are some fanboy moments in it that I’d’ve removed, personally… Not least “worshipfullness” and “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

But, if this isn’t Frank Darabont’s version of Indy and The Aliens, then we should track down the person who put this together, and give him or her a job. They’ve got talent, and what they has provided us with is a wonderful variation on the central themes of the movie that actually got made; in many ways excelling it. It feels wonderfully right, the genesis of a movie that shouldn’t have finished as far away from this as it eventually did.

Most of the tentpoles of Lucas’ story (for it is his story) are still present and the bookend set-ups and payoffs remain; the opening still takes place in New Mexico, the warehouse, the rocket sled and the fridge still feature. Here Winstone’s ‘Mac’ is ‘Yuri’, and Blanchett’s female psychic is a far more reliable Indy-standard Nazi – dispatched early in a great University-based set-piece fight, replacing the motorbike chase.

Not earth shattering stuff, but adding a great ‘feel’. Also, in City Of The Gods, the whole alien thing is a slow reveal, not explicit from the start. This script is far more subtle in many ways.

What’s really missing in this script in the whole Son of Indy plotline; a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Here our hero is our hero – the lone, grouchy old wolf we know and love – but with a real sense that his best days are behind him. Here Indy’s tired and reluctant to be drawn into the action – but is put in peril far more realistically than the way he is dumped before us in the actual film – no matter how cool as the ‘shadow’ reveal is (copyright George Lucas).

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The key to Darabont’s script is that what’s happening is no longer the norm for Indy, he is not the man he was 10 years ago – but he draws on his resolve and patriotism (something that’s far more stressed in this film than any of the others) to rise again.

What we get instead of Shia ‘bloody’ LeBeouf, is more of the wonderful Marion Ravenwood. Now, this is a very good thing. It’s what I, as a fan of that first movie (and her as by far the strongest female character Lucas has created since Leia) want.

The progression of her relationship with Indy here is far more believable than the rather fawning fayre we get in the final film; she’s married for a start, and she’s happy, until Indy arrives back in her life.

This is where City of the Gods excels; it’s never a sure thing that the two will end up together – OK, well, it is… But at least they make it more like the kind of match-up you’d expect between two feisty characters – far from the ‘you were always the one’ stuff in Crystal Skull. Here, Marion has a purpose other than to deliver up a continuation for the franchise, an heir to the thrown, she’s more than the breeder we see in the finished product. Here, she’s, well… Marion. Feisty, and fighting the whole way – especially in her classic introduction, and a nicely scripted and mapped-out Bi-Plane chase that begins the middle section of the film dumping the team unceremoniously in the Peruvian jungle – another set-piece I would’ve loved to see. Here, happiness between the two is not sealed until a twist that ends the second act.

I could go on forever about the subtle differences in tone and content here. But that’s not really the point, you can hunt around, find this script and read those for yourself. What you need to know is that it offered far more for the characters to chew on, and – most importantly – a real ending to the adventures of Indy.

From the start of City of the Gods, there is sense that this is the end, whether Indy lives or dies. He’s implicitly, and explicitly a museum piece – he actually has to retrieve his satchel from behind glass – and he knows it; he and we know that this is the last crusade. What Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does in contrast is provide the Hollywood ending, inasmuch as it leaves a door open. City of the Gods closes the book on Indy in fine style.

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Unlike the final film, it offers him a genuine choice. A real temptation in its final act, a real choice and a really rounded set of nemeses to deal with and contrast him against… It cuts to the core of why Indy picked up the hat and whip in the first place, and what would make him put them down.

Here, Henry Jones Jr. looks into the mirror and decides what really makes him happy, what he really desires, what his greatest wish is… And we believe him. What the script sets up brings verisimilitude to his decision, greater tension to the film’s dénouement and reality to his choice. It still leaves Indy happy, with closure – at a wedding, with his father belting out Frank Sinatra badly (yes, he’s alive), just how we’d like to think of him winding up, but it makes him work far harder for it. This surely makes the reward all the sweeter.

I could give you a treatise on Lucas and his treatment of female characters – but I think you’ve probably read it all before. But here is a classic example of how to remove all of a character’s best moments, thus reducing her to a totally functional role and belittling her interactions and role in a film.

Poor old Padme Amidala, poor old Marion Ravenwood: they could have had it so much better. They could have been more than just babymakers. City of the Gods probably isn’t the finished article, it’s not the perfect Indy script, it needs cooking a little longer. However, if this film were a meal, City of the Gods would be like cooking the same recipe with better quality ingredients. Certainly something to chew on.