Since the generally accepted disappointment that was 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, talk of a fifth and possibly final entry in the Indiana Jones franchise has lingered. Harrison Ford has flirted with the idea whenever asked on talk shows or publicity trails (“if we crack the script then yeah”), Spielberg, up until a few weeks ago, has been enthusiastic (“if Harrison is game then so am I”) and George Lucas has been, wisely some might say, quiet on the subject. Seeing as he took most of the flak for the lacklustre Crystal Skull, I can understand why he’d rather lick his wounds and glance sheepishly at the others before making any commitment one way or the other.
While writers have come and gone on the mooted Indy V project (three writers at last count), Ford recently confirmed on CBS news that filming will begin in about two months (this was pre-Coronavirus and Ford’s estimated start time may now be about as solid as smoke). It was also just before the disappointing announcement that Steven Spielberg will no longer be directing the film. What’s that noise? Can you hear it? Sounds like wheels coming off a wagon to me.
Okay, I’ll be serious for a moment as this is serious business, the notion of an Indiana Jones film without either Ford or Spielberg is a strange one. Yet, regardless of what was thought of the last entry in the series, the idea of a new Indiana Jones film continues to excite me. I’m not sure how I feel about Spielberg dropping out; at this moment in time I think it might be for the best. I don’t know if Spielberg’s heart was truly behind directing a fifth Indy movie and for this iteration of the franchise to go out with a bang, I think you need energy. So, Spielberg stepping back isn’t a deal breaker for me, but I do have one query. Considering Harrison Ford is only a few months shy of his 78th birthday, and the suits at Disney have plans for an Indiana Jones franchise, I ask: can anyone else play the role of Indiana Jones?
Not earth shattering, I know. And even though I have mentioned Ford’s age myself, his age is not the primary reason behind my question. It is not a concern at all. In fact, I am curious to see how the character slips off into retirement. Yet, so far, I have chased an answer to my question in much the same manner as Scrat chases acorns in Ice Age. Plenty of industry but no real luck! That was until recently; I had an epiphany regarding the fate of who wears the fedora and found an answer just presented itself, whole and certain. And what was that I hear you ask? Quite simply it was no, absolutely not. When Harrison Ford goes “the way of the dodo” then so must Professor Henry Jones Jr, known affectionately to his friends as Indy.
Let me explain a little backstory. Indiana Jones is my favourite franchise, Indy himself is my favourite character and Harrison Ford ranks as one of my favourite actors. I have grown up with Indiana Jones, he was the corner stone of Halloween fancy dress, birthday parties and Christmases all through my childhood and into adulthood. Indy has always been there. Considering this, my eureka moment must come as no real surprise to you. Bearing in mind my affection for all things Indy, you’d imagine I’d be wholly in the “nobody-but-Ford” camp; but I wasn’t always.
No, as heretical as it may sound, initially I found myself seeing the potential in Chris Pratt as a re-booted Indy. The now famous doctored image of Pratt’s face perfectly photoshopped over that of Harrison’s Indiana really made me think that the Indiana Jones franchise had legs with someone else in the lead role. In debates I even put up a strong case for the new Bruce Wayne, Mr. Robert Pattinson, to step up (in a few years maybe) to take the mantle (and I’m still kind of sure that, in time, Pattinson is the best option if the role, as opposed to just the franchise, passes to another actor).
The thought of someone else carrying the torch forward made me as giddy as a schoolboy and while I am not one of those Crystal Skull deniers, I am also not an apologist for that film either. In fact, I got a bit of a kick out of seeing Shia LaBeouf attempting to wear Indy’s fedora and found it reminiscent of the scene in Last Crusade where the Cross of Coronado grave robber (known as “Fedora”) slips his battered hat onto young Indy’s head, anointing the teenager and signposting who he will eventually become, “You lost today kid. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.”
When it comes to Crystal Skull I neither hate it nor love it. I think it sits nicely if a little uncomfortably with the other three movies: it just isn’t anywhere near as good as its predecessors. I embraced the concept of its sci-fi/B-movie inspiration. The originals were set in the 1930s and their visual style and motifs were influenced heavily by the serials of that era, so with Crystal Skull set in the 1950s (to account for Harrison’s age) it made logical sense that the influence here should be that of the 1950s B-movie. It was a stroke of genius really because utilising the influences of the era was something very much a part of the Indiana Jones DNA.
I just didn’t like it. I much preferred the 1930s-set adventures with Indy knocking seven bells out of a load of Nazis; of comic sidekicks and feisty dames; and of dark, far flung locations and theatrical bad guys. That is why I wanted someone else to take on the role. I didn’t want to see another 1950s, now 1960s set (if Indy V does make it into production), Indiana Jones adventure. I want the 1930s Indy movies and those are just impossible with Harrison Ford in the titular role (bar the greatest use of deepfakes technology ever). So, my personal preference for the 1930s over the 1950s was my sole reasoning and logic regarding recasting the role. But who could take up the mantle?
Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Michael Fassbender were all names bandied about and all three are a ‘no’ from me. None have the blend of gravitas, grit and wry humour or carry themselves the way Ford does. Then Chris Pratt was brought into the mix and yes, initially I thought he was the perfect fit. He looked the part and the Jurassic World films only enhanced his chances.
Ford had one franchise under his belt when he took on the role of Indiana Jones. Pratt has two – Jurassic World and Guardians of the Galaxy. Ford was famous for playing a wise-cracking space cowboy before Indiana walked into his life. Chris Pratt? Yes, I think that’s also an apt description for his Starlord character in Guardians! Stubble? You betcha. Good looks? Yes indeed. Can he roll with the punches as well as the belly laughs? Yes, and yes again! Sign the man up. Give him a five-film contract thus virtually guaranteeing my 1930’s set Indy adventures to continue for another decade or so.
But no, something just did not sit right with me and it might be obvious to you reading this – the comparisons were that of Pratt to Harrison Ford and not to the character of Indy. This feeling was then copper-fastened by the addition of one other name to the list of possible contenders, an outsider by called Anthony Ingruber.
‘Who?’ I hear you ask. Ingruber is an actor best known for his impersonations on YouTube. He is chiefly a voice actor but has appeared on the big screen in a few films, his biggest film being The Age of Adaline where he portrayed the younger version of a character played in the same film by…Harrison Ford. And why was he initially cast in The Age of Adaline? I can’t say for certain but I’m sure a YouTube clip of his almost impeccable impersonation of Ford went a long way towards convincing producers that he was the right casting choice for the role. He even bears more than a passing resemblance to a young Harrison to boot. This really changed my outlook on this most pondersome topic; it’s one thing to try cast a new actor who resembles the original, but something else entirely to look for someone who can impersonate an actor.
Let me dig a little deeper. The concept of impersonation is not unique to Anthony Ingruber’s inclusion in the Indiana Jones casting shake up. Believe it or believe it not, seven actors have played the role of Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford and River Phoenix played him in the films, and Sean Patrick Flannery, Corey Carrier, George Hall, Neil Boulane and an infant named Boutalat all played the character at various ages in the television series,The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. I’m sure that came as a surprise, but why? Six is currently the same number of actors who have played the part of James Bond in official, canon Bond films!
More actors have played Indiana Jones than James Bond and using Bond as an example of actors interchanging in a role has been commented on ad nauseum since Crystal Skull. The Bond franchise has endured beyond Connery for well over 50 years because of those subsequent performances. Until that is, you look at it in terms of impersonation. None of the other Bond actors tried impersonating Connery. Roger Moore is as far from Connery as you can get. Dalton is on a different wavelength to Moore’s portrayal and Brosnan’s Bond has very little in common with Daniel Craig or George Lazenby’s Bond. They each brought their own little touches to the role, some for the better and some for the worse (let it be stated here that I am not a fan of what Roger Moore did with the character and feel almost a personal aggrievement at how Dalton did not get more than two films). Everyone has their own opinion on who played Bond better but when it comes to Indy it seems that who played the character better is not as important a question as who can play him the same.
This, crucially, is where it affects Indiana Jones (and as we will see the concept of impersonation is not a strange one). River Phoenix, the only other actor to play the him on the big screen, in 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said that his portrayal of teenage Indy was not based on the character in the previous two films but on Harrison Ford himself. Phoenix had ample time to mimic Ford as three years earlier they had spent several months together making Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast in the jungles of Belize in South America.
Phoenix was in fact suggested by Ford to play the young Indy as, according to Ford, Phoenix spent the entire shoot of The Mosquito Coast impersonating him, perfecting his voice and mannerisms. In trying to deviate as little as possible from Ford’s Indy, Phoenix succeeded by mimicking a young Harrison Ford, not a young Indiana Jones. This is incredibly evident in the 11 minutes that Phoenix had on screen. Take his weary surprise when he delivers the line, “everybody’s lost but me” or his exchanges in the cave with his bugle playing buddy, Herman, or the look of surprise on his face when he jumps for the horse but misses. It is pure Harrison Ford. For me this is proof enough that Harrison Ford, and Harrison Ford alone, is Indiana Jones. He is the alpha and the omega of the character; it did not exist before him and should not exist after him.
While comparing Indy to Bond, I would like to highlight that Bond is not the only iconic character played by multiple actors. Sherlock Holmes, Lisbeth Salander, Dracula, Willy Wonka, Carrie White, Hannibal Lector, Bruce Wayne and Vito Corleone are all examples of characters played by more than one actor, some by several. Yet Indiana Jones is different in one fundamental way: one I alluded by saying that Ford was the alpha and the omega of the character. Each of characters named above existed in a medium other than film before their film incarnations were created. They were a pre-existing intellectual property. Indiana Jones was created purely for the silver screen. With Indiana Jones there is only one touchstone, and that is Harrison Ford.
And what was the eureka moment I mentioned earlier where I found “illumination?” It was a podcast. I’m a subscriber to The IndyCast podcast and the producers recently created a 2-hour radio drama, Indiana Jones and the Bridge to Yesterday (for anyone who is an Indy fan then I can’t recommend this highly enough!). I was struck by several things, one being how much effort the producers put into making their radio drama as tonally similar to the films as possible, but the most obvious was how much Alex Levitsky, the voice of Indiana Jones, sounded like Harrison Ford.
It wasn’t his natural accent or tone, you can tell he is putting effort into sounding as much like Ford as he can, getting the cadence of Ford’s speech as exact as possible. This being a radio drama, the audio was key and Levitsky really gave the audience everything they wanted – an impersonation and not an interpretation of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Impersonation may be the highest form of flattery, but this lovingly produced radio drama only reinforced my belief that Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones, and no one else could successfully re-interpret the role; both Ford and Indy are irrevocably intertwined.
Yet, I want to take a moment to throw something else into the mix. I believe that only Harrison Ford could play Indiana Jones on the big screen in a sequel. But I have a totally different opinion on whether another actor could play him on the small screen. The fact of the matter is that Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion; for that money they purchased every Lucasfilm property, from Star Wars to Willow to Howard the Duck (you win some, you lose some).
This gamut of franchises and properties includes Indiana Jones. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles already exists. Sean Patrick Flannery played the character for two seasons (from the ages 19 to 21, roughly). This is where it gets interesting as when George Lucas conceived of the TV show, he originally planned enough material to take Indiana up until his 24th birthday. And what does Disney have opening in a matter of weeks? Disney+, its very own streaming service.
I think there is undoubtedly an appetite for Indiana Jones considering the amount of column inches and online content (this article included) has generated. Rebooting the TV series, considering the wealth of TV talent there is now, would be an ideal way to develop (I hate the fact that I am saying this) an Indiana Jones universe, not necessarily focusing just on Indy but on the supporting characters too. That will probably be the only way I could entertain the idea of another actor playing Indiana Jones. And if the TV series takes off, maybe a film could come from that, who knows?
Yet I suppose the final word really should go to the man himself, Mr. Harrison Ford. Ford, in a recent appearance with Craig Melvin on NBC’s Today show, made it quite clear what he thinks when he said “Nobody is going to be Indiana Jones, don’t you get it? I’m Indiana Jones. When I’m gone, he’s gone. It’s easy.” And I must agree.
On this occasion it’s not the mileage but the years. Ford is enthusiastic, but I doubt his hips, knees and vertebrae are. The franchise could run and run, but without Ford I believe there is no real need for it. Though oft delayed, if Indy V does come to pass then Indiana Jones should be allowed ride off into the sunset (like he tried in Last Crusade). If it doesn’t then that’s okay too, we need new heroes and not a string of cookie cutter copies to thin the charm and magic that made an audience fall in love with the character or the franchise in the first place.
Indiana Jones was my childhood, maybe I feel some sort of nostalgic responsibility to it when I say, and it pains me to do so, that without Harrison Ford there is no Indiana Jones. And that’s final.