Indiana Jones turned 40: why they didn’t want Harrison Ford as the lead

The giant rock that threatens to crush the famous archaeologist Indiana Jones at the beginning of The Raiders of the Lost Ark he actually weighed about a hundred and forty kilos.

Although made of fiberglass, plastic and wood, it came more than once dangerously close to harming the humanity of the world. actor Harrison Ford, who repeated the shot about ten times before el director Steven Spielberg you will be satisfied with the result.

Many years later, the creator of ET would acknowledge that it was a mistake to allow the actor to star in some of his own stunts, and that he could have gone down in history not as the maker of so many memorable hits in movie history, but as the man who killed Han Solo on set.

For milestones like that –and for so many others, of course–, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, whose premiere is 40 years old, it is one of the immortal emblems of a movie era lost forever. Those times when things actually happened on the screen.

In the beginning, Indiana Jones was going to be Jeff Bridges. Then Bill Murray. Harrison Ford entered through the back door. Spielberg loved it, but Lucas had his doubts.

Television and childhood. George Lucas conceived Indiana Jones in the early 1970s, while his debut feature American Graffiti earned him high critical acclaim and Star Wars it was just a diffuse idea that did not know well how to face or present the big studios.

After several unsuccessful attempts to bring the adventures of Flash Gordon, began to grow in his mind the character of the archaeologist who investigates the great myths of the past, inspired by old adventure TV serials from the 1930s and 1940s, such as Buck Rogers and The Fox.

Risky. The snakes in the movie Indiana Jones were real. / File

When he brought up the idea to screenwriter Philip Kaufman, he suggested set the story during World War II and focus it on the search for the ineffable Ark of the Allianceto. Hitler’s sinister profile and his interest in the occult made the future hero his perfect enemy.

By those mysterious designs of fate, Lucas managed to bring out Star Wars before the adventures of the archaeologist, but the uncertainty surrounding the premiere of his magnum opus led him to take refuge in Hawaii during the first weeks after the opening of the box office.

No one (not the producers, not the protagonists, not Lucas himself) believed that the film would recoup its investment, but when the film began to explode the box office of the world, Lucas felt more confident to face a new project.

Kaufman had already been involved in other searches, but George found himself in Hawaii with his friend Steven Spielberg, who had come from revolutionizing the industry with Shark but he was having a pretty bad time in the face of the commercial and critical failure of the maddening war satire 1941. At that time he urgently needed to relaunch his career.

Build a character.

Indiana Jones was, at first, Indiana Smith. He was an archaeologist, yes, but also a playboy nightclub owner, inveterate womanizer and arrogant cynic, very much in the vein of the character Humphrey Bogart had made his mark on in Casablanca.

Lucas wanted him to be an expert in Kung Fu and Spielberg insisted that he be a hopeless alcoholic and a kind of dusty James Bond, skilled at handling all kinds of weaponss and technological gadgets. The only thing they agreed on at the beginning was the name change and the design of some great action scenes that they could not miss.

All the producers who were taught the project fled in terror, scared by the huge budget required and for the bad press of Spielberg, who was already famous not only for his talent but for precisely bursting the initial budgets extending in shootings that went far beyond what was scheduled.

But Lucas’s word had become sacred in Hollywood after the success of Star Wars and it was his insistence on keeping his friend Steven on the project that finally got the green light for him to take over the leadership.

Steven Spielberg created miniature sets for the film. / File

Steven Spielberg created miniature sets for the film. / File

The next step was order the hundreds of ideas – often contradictory – with which Spielberg and Lucas wanted to put together the film. Paramount assigned producer Frank Marshall to keep young Spielberg’s overflows on track, and Lucas went to see screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan to add him to the creative team.

The decade of the ’80s began and Kasdan had already helped Lucas to make the universe more complex Star Wars with the much darker The Empire Strikes Back.

The writer listened to the ideas of Lucas and Spielberg and six months later delivered a script that achieved a kind of miracle: containing all the visual ideas that the duo had conceived and build, at the same time, a lovable and magnetic main character.

In the beginning, Indiana Jones was going to be Jeff Bridges. Then Bill Murray. Jack Nicholson, Nick Nolte and Chevy Chase were considered. Finally, everything seemed aimed at having the face and body of Tom Selleck (George Lucas’ favorite for the role), but he preferred to honor his contract with the television series Magnum.

Harrison Ford entered through the back door. Spielberg loved it, but Lucas had his doubts. I had already worked with him on The galaxy wars and he feared that he would be identified for life with a single actor. Finally, he had to give in to the enthusiasm of whoever was to occupy the director’s chair.

As the seventy-two days of filming progressed, Lucas had to admit that his friend was right. Ford gave Dr. Jones a personality (a mixture of vulnerability and late romanticism) that today makes it impossible for us to imagine him with another face.

Actress Karen Allen was terrified of reptiles. Spielberg had no better idea than to have one of the snakes thrown at him to achieve the scream that the scene required.

As if trying to redeem himself with an industry that already had him between his eyebrows, Spielberg completed the shooting of The Raiders of the Lost Ark fifteen days before what is stipulated in your contract. It was something of a miracle, considering the director’s meticulousness and the complexity of a shoot that toured continental Europe, England, Tunisia and Hawaii.

Before starting the post-production process, the first film in the saga already exhibited a corporeity and a visual rhythm that would transform it into the highest point of an adventure cinema, unthinkable today.

The influence of the Indiana Jones saga was felt in many other franchises that honored her (the films of The Mummy) or they simply looted it without shame or talent (the last chapters of the contemporary trilogy of King Kong), but none of them could, ever, recover that jumping and irreverent spirit prior to computer technology.

Everything that today is solved with gimmicky and brilliant special effects generated by powerful state-of-the-art computers, Lucas and Spielberg did it by resorting to the suicidal audacity of stuntmen (stuntmen), to the photographic trick, to the models and the miniatures, achieving unrepeatable and endearing choreographic feats.

That physical realism, like a deranged comic book, would end up shaping the irresistible charm of the series.

Towards the end of each of the movies, When Indiana Jones appears to us exhausted, bruised and dusty It is, to a large extent, because both the actor who represents him and all those who replaced him in a particularly risky scene, really carried out that physical display.

The saga created by George Lucas has four films and a fifth is scheduled for 2022. / Archive

The saga created by George Lucas has four films and a fifth is scheduled for 2022. / Archive

That artisan brand was some milestones that fueled the hollywood story machine for years. Added to the gigantic rock in the opening scene were the thousands of real snakes that were imported from England and India for the scene where Indi and her friend / girlfriend Marion descend into the catacombs of Tanis.

People say that actress Karen Allen was so terrified in the presence of the reptiles that she couldn’t even utter a word, so Spielberg had no better idea than to have one of the snakes thrown at him to achieve the scream that the scene required.

The Raiders of the Lost Ark meant the final consecration of “Industrial Light & Magic”, the visual effects company that George Lucas had founded in 1975 to produce Star Wars, and that throughout the ’80s would inevitably be associated with some of the most resonant titles in action cinema and fantasy, like Poltergeist, E.T., The Ghostbusters and Star Trek.

When it was released in 1981, Indiana Jones’ big screen debut had a tough competitor, Superman II, although with the passing of the weeks the adventures of the archaeologist would be able to impose themselves at the box office over the new adventures of the man of steel.

The Raiders of the Lost Ark garnered nine Oscar nominations (including best film and director) and swept all the awards in some of the most important technical areas: art direction, editing, sound, sound editing and visual effects.

The injustice: John Williams did not win the statuette for best soundtrack, although the famous composer can, today, boast of something reserved for few: For 40 years, the immortal score that he composed for the saga calls in the memory of millions of fans and moviegoers some of the greatest moments lived in a darkened room, bolted to the seats and with the heart jumping.

E.M.

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Indiana Jones turned 40: why they didn’t want Harrison Ford as the lead