The long praised, little seen, famous Frank Darabont draft of Indiana Jones is now out on the internet. Obviously downloading it would be just terrible and though initial hosts have gone down, it seems hard to stop a torrent of fans who have been baying for this for some time. Ahem.
So now the real question is, how does this compare with what we got in the end? The talk was always that Frank Darabont, who you’ll remember served time on Young Indiana Jones before making pictures like The Shawshank Redemption, had delivered a true Indy adventure, and that he was being diluted in the final picture. First of all, I should mention, since I did not review the latest Indiana Jones film here, that I did enjoy the new picture. Yes, I was frustrated with it on a number of levels, but my overall impression was positive, though not the second coming of Raiders. On that level, I agree more with that outlaw critic Vern, it was entertaining fluff and if I didn’t read the internet, I may never have known it was such a horrible travesty. It can’t score less than The Mummy Returns. You can’t take away marks for what you thought it was.
As an adult fan of the older films, I knew it didn’t feel right, but it settled into a kind of middle. It annoyed me less than Last Crusade but didn’t have as many stand out memorable moments as that picture. People, such as my brother Marcus (not Brody), seem to have a better image of Crusade because of the excellent Grail Trial sequence at the end. When you think back on the film as a casual viewer, you remember those parts, not the winking jokes and cheesy lines which must grate on anyone over 12. As for this new picture, the kids at my screening loved it, taking part in the action sequences as people in North America are want to do. Will it have the effect on them that Raiders had? Most likely not, but it’s hard to deny that kids all over the world have been enjoying Indiana Jones, and that‘s good. Worldwide, this film is about to make 600 million dollars. Perhaps some of those people will invest in the box set and watch the older movies.
So my main object in reading the Darabont draft was not to look for reasons to discredit the new film, goofy as it is. It was more the curiosity of what he made of it. Darabont is a fan of Jones and, as I mentioned, wrote him for the small screen. He’s also an established filmmaker in his own right. Taking the screenwriting duties on an Indiana Jones film is kind of a reverse for him in his career, going back over a decade to when that was his day job, but he must love the character enough to do it. So I was intrigued.
The first reports I heard of his script several years ago was that it involved aliens and Area 51, and I assumed his draft was thrown out because this was considered too far of a stretch for Jones, but as we all know now, that was not the case. In fact, the biggest mystery surrounding this script to me now is how they got away without crediting Frank Darabont in the final picture. Crystal Skull takes so much of what he has written, and simply twists it in another direction. If the WGA decided he hadn’t had the preponderance of influence on the finished film, then that was a very curious decision indeed. Perhaps Darabont didn’t want to be credited on what they came up with in the end, but his recent comments would suggest otherwise.
Anyway, Drew McWeeny has long championed this draft as the picture they should have made and the knowledge that the finished film threw out a number of these ideas has dogged the picture in talkbacks and comments. Certainly the assertion was that this is the most Indy-like draft, something later writers moved away from. I think a microcosm of the whole script is the introductory sequence, from there the differences to the finished film can be better examined. I’m judging the start of the film to be from the beginning to Indy getting back to college. Both Raiders and Crusade have extended sequences before Indy gets back to his day job, and Doom does not escape to university, but does take a breath at the Indian palace.
First of all, the script does not open as big as the film. The movie has the hot rod sequence, mentioned in the script as an introductory side note. Indy is introduced in the script eating their dust, at the truck stop shown in the film. Personally, as introductions go, I thought it was a better sequence for Indy to be dumped out of a car trunk than stand coughing at the side of a road. So in that respect the finished film wins. The main character is always introduced differently in each film, as the adventurer in the first film, as James Bond or Bogart in the second and as a Boy Scout in the third. Obviously the fourth will have him as an old man, but dumped out of a boot is more interesting than coughing on some fumes.
The dialogue as well is a complaint. It’s over explanatory. People had this complaint against the finished film, which I think is valid. In Crystal Skull, Indy frequently talks about how something relates to skull legend, and explains the lore to anyone who’ll listen. Personally I don’t think anyone could care less. In Raiders they mentioned the Ark of the Covenant and Indy explained it once, but as a child I wasn’t so up on Biblical lore to understand exactly what he was talking about. They left it there and continued on with the adventure. In Skull they over-explained to the degree that it was slightly halting the adventure.
In Darabont’s draft, characters over-explain to another degree. For instance, when Indy measures sand in Raiders and then steals the statue, he doesn’t say what he is doing, he just does it and the audience understands. Darabont apes this scene exactly at one point, but he doesn’t seem to understand in his own thrilling sequences that he needn’t spell out exactly what is going on to the viewer for them to follow it. Several times in the opening sequence, the Russian soldiers are made to talk about what is going on. Oh and also mention how they don’t like America.
By the way, on the jingoistic line, I think it’s better the way they cut it down on the final film. The “I Like Ike” line, which was one of my favourites in the film is, in the draft, simply “I love America”. I think this is a kind of hint at the kind of less than witty repartee than Darabont sometimes engages in through his draft, as though he designed a conversation piece but forgot to make it funny or interesting.
But that’s the end of the criticisms because what Darabont did right at was a high action sequence that was more true to the character. It loses a little from jumping in location and setting up characters a bit too much before the sequence. Compared to the other films, it starts a little slow. But once it gets going, it blows away what was filmed. My favourite line is what now seems like a tease. A chase is described as “giving Mr. Spielberg the chance to shoot the greatest near-misses put on screen” or something to that affect. Shame, then, that he didn’t bother in the final picture.
It also answers a number of quibbles I had with the same sequence in the cinema. Why is Indy helping the Russians so much? In this draft, he doesn’t. Why doesn’t he fight with the Russian on the rocket sled? In this draft, he does. I’m sure over the next couple of days we’ll see a run of comparisons between this script and the finished film. I hope they don’t give away all the interesting moments, but no doubt they will. But the real question is, what does it say for George Lucas, or the big studios, that Darabont’s version was no good, but a similar version that fixes very little faults and destroys some of the best moments, is OK?
Personally, for all the anger against Lucas, I still think the blame is on Spielberg for listening to him, and who also seems hell-bent on shooting all his pictures these days in the least possible time. That’s fine when you are Wong Kar Wai and shooting a drama in your neighbourhood, but a jeep bound swordfight will probably expand your schedule.