For anyone who’s been following the copious online coverage of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it should come as no surprise that the casting of Shia LaBeouf might serve a purpose other than pandering to a demographic that was born after the 1981 theatrical release of Raiders of the Lost Ark. So while Vanity Fair‘s Jim Windolf freely admits he’s speculating in this blog entry (his, like, eighteenth addendum to his cover profile), there is every reason to believe he’s right in suggesting that LaBeouf’s presence has everything to do with extending the franchise for another couple of films or, perhaps, longer.
Here’s a salient excerpt from Windolf’s January 4, 2008 post:
"Steven Spielberg, the director of all four Indiana Jones movies, seemingly dropped a big hint to this effect. When I asked him why he hadn’t gone forward with the ‘Indy IV’ script written by writer-director Frank Darabont, he said, ‘In this case George [Lucas] was passionate that this was not the story he wanted to tell at this point in the Indiana Jones saga …’ Noting that he had used the magic phrase ‘at this point,’ I followed up by asking him, ‘Is that leaving room open for another one?’ To which Spielberg replied, ‘Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t even thought about that. I’m still in the cutting room. I can’t even think beyond the next cut.’"
That’s a skillful dodge from Spielberg (and, to be fair, maybe a genuine one, too), but I’m not buying it. Look at that comic book cover or the February ’08 issue of Vanity Fair: they’re both about juxtaposing LaBeouf with Harrison Ford. The more I think about it, there’s a clear "passing the torch" vibe being given off here – and, as Windolf notes, this is entirely consistent with George Lucas’s handling of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. Lucas doesn’t understand the concept of "well enough"; he’ll extend and expand and augment until there’s not a shred of mystery left to any of his once captivating universes. And, per Windolf’s VF piece, he’s already resigned to the critics’ and fans’ outright hatred of the fourth Indiana Jones movie! Dig this:
"Whatever, Lucas is convinced he won’t please everyone. ‘I know the critics are going to hate it,’ he says. ‘They already hate it. So there’s nothing we can do about that."
"’The fans are all upset,’ Lucas says. ‘They’re always going to be upset. ‘Why did he do it like this? And why didn’t he do it like this?’ They write their own movie, and, then, if you don’t do their movie, they get upset about it."
So even if the unthinkable occurs (i.e. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a Phantom Menace-size letdown), what’s to deter Lucas from pressing on with the franchise. especially after the fourth film grosses, at least, $300 million domestic? As long as the public and the grumpy-but-faithful/masochistic fans turn out, he’ll have every reason to segue into the LaBeouf-led era of the Indiana Jones franchise. And since Lucas is the creator of Indiana Jones, he can do pretty much whatever the fuck he wants with the character (and his sidekick/son).
And I’m convinced that Spielberg will gladly step back, take an executive producer role, and let the franchise continue without his direct participation. Reading his comments about "approximating" the look of the director he once was (which also forced Janusz Kaminski to light like retired cinematographer Douglas Slocombe), I can’t imagine that Spielberg, at age sixty-one, wants to clutter his dance card with more frivolity of this nature. He’s already got Chicago 7, Lincoln and Interstellar in development, all of which are far more thoughtful and challenging than the serial-inspired Indiana Jones movies. As I wrote in a previous essay, he’s matured; aside from an exercise in nostalgia (and a belated breaking of his populist filmmaker staff), there seems to be little in the way of artistic fulfillment here.
This may have been a collaborative affair before, but, given the way he wore down Spielberg and Ford on Frank Darabont’s draft (which was apparently cannibalized by David Koepp), this is Lucas’s franchise now. And since Ford is well into his sixties, the commercially expedient thing to do is find a new star. Happily, for everyone involved, LaBeouf already qualifies as one.