'You should not have invaded Poland,' says Indiana Jones before sending another German to hell

He is tall, well-built, toting a fedora hat, a tattered leather jacket, a whip, revolver and a five o’clock shadow. The fifth part of the adventures of Indiana Jones, the intrepid archaeologist who is afraid of snakes, has hit the screens. 

The comeback of Indiana Jones came at a time when everyone had already come to terms with the idea that Harrison Ford’s last hurrah as the adventurous archaeology professor had come with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. Although not a very successful film, it nevertheless made a lot of money, as well as incurring the wrath of Putin's countrymen. Communists in St. Petersburg demanded that “Film Number Four” be banned from screening in Russia because it offended the Soviet Union's secret services.

On the silver screen, the KGB elite chased pre-Columbian gadgets in the hope of possessing alien knowledge Never! “We cannot allow the deceitful lies of the West to influence our youth,” thundered the red dinosaurs, failing to see that Comrade Spalko and her subordinates were clones of characters from Cold War productions from the Truman and Eisenhower eras.

The filmmakers themselves have subsequently come to the conclusion that they went astray. Since the Bolsheviks came out lukewarm on the screen, it was necessary to reactivate an opponent that is universally despised: the Nazis. It has been in bad taste for some time now to further darken the reputation of swastika-wielding nemeses. In "Five", Indiana forgets himself and crushes Dr. Voller with the retort: “you're German, don't make jokes.” However, the film is set in 1969, and WWII is of little concern to anyone. The veterans want to forget, the executioners want to blend in. America has chosen the future. Neil Armstrong has walked on the moon, young people do drugs and are protesting against the Vietnam war, the Beatles are more popular than Jesus. A resigned Dr. Jones calls himself an “ancient man”.

The Archimedes method

Happily, this is only a temporary crisis. When his goddaughter gets embroiled in an international scandal, the archaeologist-avenger is back in the game. Harrison Ford holds up pretty well for his age, but in the prologue, he had to enlist the support of expert CGI specialists. I can already hear the whining that such solutions spoil the fun for fans of the old analogue Jones. After all, Indiana Jones “combines supreme intelligence with record physical prowess” (to quote famed Polish film critic Professor Jerzy Płażewski), and was a mythical character from the start.

George Lucas, the godfather of the "archaeological" saga, wanted storylines with Indy to refer to objects shrouded in a mystical aura. The Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stones, the Holy Grail and the Crystal Skull fulfilled this criterion. This time, the Nazis intend to win the war using the Spear of Longinus, also known as the Spear of St Maurice. One copy of the priceless relic is located in Kraków.

However, Doctor Jones did not go to Wawel Hill, because the scriptwriters suddenly changed their minds and miraculously pulled out an artefact which (in their opinion) has a stronger impact on the imagination. It is an instrument for calculating the position of celestial bodies, found in the early 20th century in a wreck near the island of Antikythera. The assumption that Archimedes created the ancient mechanism was the least likely of all the theories. Everyone has heard the name. The film shows that the sage from Syracuse was also involved in “space-time meteorology”.

An antique load of BS

The first episode of the cinematic series about an archaeologist who is afraid of snakes was spectacular, the second was scary, the third was family-friendly, the fourth unnecessary. By the fifth, the balance between humour and seriousness has been tipped in favour of nostalgia. There is a lot of repetition, and Dr Jones' world has shrunk considerably. Except for the Alpine prologue and the New York chapter, the film is set around the Mediterranean. The main adversary is strangely reminiscent of V1 and V2 rocket designer Werner von Braun, who switched fronts after the war and co-founded the US space programme.
Harrison Ford in Berlin at the German premiere of the most recent Indiana Jones film. Photo: Hannes Albert/dpa Supplied by: PAP/DPA
Interestingly, the protagonist reacts coldly to the plan to kill Hitler and never even considers helping to carry it out. Despite his declared lawfulness ("all treasures must go to the museum"), he bestows the most important of them on a friend. Nor does he bat an eyelid when the priceless artefacts are destroyed. Wanting to block the way for the agents who are pursuing him, Indy unhesitatingly knocks over shelves filled with antique ceramics. Well, we love him for being so nonchalant, if nothing else.

The Antikythera mechanism is 2,200 years old. The roots of the cinematic pentalogy do not go that deep. Of course, you can look for (and find) Jones's protoplasts among the people making up the foundations of archaeology. If someone were to make a series about the life of Giovanni Battista Belzoni, many viewers would find it hard to believe that this adventurer was also a pioneer of Egyptology and, had he lived longer, would certainly have made further era-defining discoveries. But Indy is, in fact, an angel of vengeance. He has appeared to punish the California dream factory for deviating from its original mission, which was to make people feel better.

  Hollywood's power was built on escapist spectacles, but snobbery and a misjudgement of reality caused such films to virtually disappear from screens in the 1960s. The studios opted for “serious cinema for grown-up people.” The result was a string of critical successes, praise from reviewers and… a financial disaster. Spielberg and Lucas were the first to realise that this was a dead end and proposed a return to the past. The success of “Star Wars”, “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” infuriated critics. They began to grumble about “popcorn cinema,” “infantilised audiences” and directors chasing the whims of teenagers for financial gain.

The intellectual with a whip

Indiana Jones, formally speaking, was born on a beach in Hawaii in May 1977. He has no mother, but as many as two (and including the screenwriters, four) fathers. According to another version, he is a Frankenstein, i.e. a monster sewn together from fragments of other people. Such as Errol Flynn, Humphery Bogart (“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”), Charlton Heston (“The Secret of the Incas”) and Jean-Paul Belmondo (“The Man from Rio”). Last, but not least, he was an improved Bond. The adolescent audience enthusiastically welcomed performances in the retro spirit, using state-of-the-art technology. For the price of a cinema ticket, you got a veritable roller coaster ride of emotions. Constant fireworks, and a breakneck pace of adventure.

At times it may have seemed as if the filmmakers were carried away by their imagination. Jones had to deal with supernatural forces. Malicious people claimed that with the golden age of Hollywood, the (neo)colonial point of view and misogyny had returned. Indeed, initially, the role of women in the series was reduced to issuing cries of horror. Fortunately for damsels in distress, Indy came to the rescue with his bullwhip only a crack away.

Indy has something of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde about him. When he lectures and teaches students, he appears to be an intellectual. However, when he goes on a “business trip”, a new spirit enters him. He may be reckless and gruff, but he has a moral backbone of steel. This is to Spielberg's credit, as Lucas was always tempted to make the down-and-out character into something more sassy: a hedonist and playboy, living off the sale of the artefacts he discovered.

As he grew older, Jones became more and more brooding, gradually losing his charm. Even before retiring, he discovered that the most important thing in life is family, which includes companions from past adventures.

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How is it even possible that Harrison Ford wasn't the first choice? It seems Lucas resented him for dominating “Star Wars”. Tom Selleck won a casting call, but NBC TV quickly snatched up the winner because they were in need of a tough guy for Magnum, P.I. And it worked out well. Can you imagine Indiana Jones with a moustache?

Hollywood studios did not trip over themselves to finance the extravagant projects of the two bearded men. Spielberg – hard to believe today – had a reputation as a risk-taker who tempted fate by exceeding budgets and missing deadlines. Contemporary news articles said that his “1941” comedy only got made because “He got his way.” Negotiations for Indiana Jones dragged on for over a year. Lucas negotiated for his friend, but the Paramount contract stipulated draconian penalties if the director spent more than $19 million and spent more than 88 days on set.

If the hat fits…

By 2012, when the rights to the series were acquired by Disney, the archaeologist with the revolver had amassed a fortune for his fathers, estimated at two billion dollars. But what's the point of money? What's more important is that ‘New Adventure Cinema' set, and to some extent still sets, the tone for the American film industry, the most powerful one in the world. Paradoxically, Harrison Ford put on the fedora less and less. After 'The Last Crusade', audiences had to wait 19 years for a sequel.

Successive versions of the script landed in the bin, with Lucas insisting on sending aliens to the franchise. Spielberg said it was a bad idea. Another 14 years passed, and Disney bosses would have to reboot the series. The characters are immortal, but the actors are gone. While we wish Ford a long life off screen, let's thank him for entertaining us for so long and so effectively. So what if Indy’s adventures were not set in the real world? As one archaeologist used to say: "If you're looking for the truth, enrol in a philosophy class".

–Wiesław Chełminiak

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

–translated by Roberto Galea
Main photo: The Indiana Jones statue in Leicester Square, London. Photo: BACKGRID / Backgrid USA / Forum
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