Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Indiana Jones and The City Of The Gods (Darabont draft)

Genre: Action-Adventure
Premise: Indiana Jones goes in search of the famed “The Lost City Of The Gods,” which is supposed to hold inside it all the knowledge in the universe.
About: Before Spielberg’s go-to writer David Koepp wrote Crystal Skull, super screenwriter Frank Darabont worked on a draft of the script. Darabont, like many who took on this role (I think 7-8 writers in total worked on the project) expressed dissatisfaction with how unfocused Spielberg and Lucas were, and the impossibility of satisfying both. Word on the street is, Spielberg backed Darabont’s draft, but Lucas didn’t like it.
Writer: Frank Darabont
Details: 140 pages – 11/4/03 (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

It’s baaaaaaaaack. Yay! More Indiana Jones debate! You guys wanted me to review Frank Darabont’s Indy 4 draft so here it is. The plan here is to do the usual break down and analysis. But let’s be honest. The reason to review this script is to figure out which is better, City of Gods or Crystal Skull. Did our crime-fighting beard-donning duo drop the ball by spending another four years to come up with Crystal Skull when they had a great script right under their noses? Or was Darabont’s Indy interpretation as off-target as Lucas insisted?

What’s lost in all of this is an old interview M. Night gave at the peak of his powers, when he was recruited to write a draft of Indy 4. He said that Spielberg and Lucas had all these story elements they absolutely had to have in the script, and M. Night simply couldn’t work that way. In fact, the deciding factor may have been Darabont, who said to Night that the writing of the script was basically a “wasted year of my life.” Ouch. The irony, of course, is that Night would give up his youngest child to get an Indy writing assignment from Lucas and Spielberg these days. But I digress.

Hey, what do you know, Gods starts out with cars racing in the desert. Kind of like Crystal Skull. And just like Skull, none of our main characters are in those cars. Why would they be? That would be exciting. Instead, we have Indy hanging out at desert non-spot “The Atomic Café,” pawning off pottery barn level relics to his good friend Yuri, a jovial Russian who for some reason finds value in this garbage.

Someone pointed out in the Skull comments that the opening of Gods sucked because Indy was introduced in a café doing nothing. I agree that introducing Indiana Jones in any sort of passive or reactive manner is a risky proposition. But at least here there’s a character motivation for it. Indy is retired. He’s too old to go swashbuckling for ancient treasures anymore. I liked that. It made sense in the context of where Indy was in his life. However, like most elements that hold promise in Gods, it’s forgotten soonafter, and never heard from again.

In a bafflingly clumsy segue, we cut to a few hours later where Indy is hanging out in the desert eating lunch and he spots a few military men right there in the open, lining their cars with artificial “American” insignias. And at the helm of this tomfoolery? Yuri!

Indiana decides to follow them, taking them (and him) into that AREA 51 warehouse that Skull starts with. Personally, I thought this was a better choice to open the film, since Indy DECIDES to go on this adventure instead of being roped into it. He *wants* go after Yuri, making him, and the whole warehouse sequence, more active.

We then, of course, get the whole atomic bomb sequence because Spielberg just had to have it in there. And afterwards, just like Skulls, Indy gets fired from his job. This is followed by a rather clumsy “Indy gets drunk in a museum scene,” which at first I hated, but then when I remembered he was basically responsible for getting half these relics on display, there was a poignant sadness to it that ALMOST worked.

After a fight to the death with the evil “Thin Man,” Indy gets a key to a locker at Grand Central station where he finds the Crystal Skull (yay! The Crystal Skull lives!), and is immediately mistaken for someone else who gives him a ticket to Peru to meet his “contact.” (uck. My guess is that Lucas is responsible for this choice, as he used the same painful plot device in Attack Of The Clones, when Obi-Wan was conveniently mistaken for an evil jedi at the Clone Farm).

Off we go to Peru and who’s Indy’s contact? Why Marion of course! Finally, around page 50, the plot to City Of Gods is revealed. They must find the Lost City Of The Gods, where this skull will reveal an unknown power. So Indy and Marion buddy up with an expedition team (no Mutt), head into the jungle, and try to find the mythical lost city, while two groups of baddies (I think it’s two – it’s not entirely clear) are hot on their tail.

So, let’s get to it, shall we? Which script for Indy was better? Gods or Crystal Skull? If my life was on the line and I had to choose one, I’d probably choose this one. But it wouldn’t be easy. Here’s the thing. City of Gods was more focused. Things made more sense. Once we actually get to our story (Find the Lost City Of The Gods), we actually know what's going on. Whereas in Crystal Skull, I was constantly confused about where we were going and why we were going there.

However, Crystal Skull was just more…fun. I mean it’s hard for me to say that since that script is so damn all over the place, but the three-way dynamic between Indy, Marion, and Mutt, believe it or not, is more fun than any of the character dynamics in City Of Gods. And that’s surprising because Darabont actually comes up with a way more interesting dynamic than adding Mutt to the fold.

Here, Marion has a husband, Baron Peter Belasko, a wealthy archeologist who’s in it more for the fame than the hunt, and who has numerous best-selling books about archeology. In other words, a big fat fake. Really, the PERFECT foil for Indiana Jones, made even more perfect by the fact that he’s married to the woman Indy still loves. I mean, this was just ripe for comedic conflict-packed banter. And yet…it’s barely explored. Maybe it’s because Belasko comes into the story so late but he just never becomes a big enough character to care about (we never truly believe they’re married even). This leaves Indy and Marion treading the same dialogue waters they’ve always tread, giving their relationship a “been there done that” feel.

City of Gods also suffers from a lack of interesting bad guys. Some of you pointed out how Russian Pyschic Chick from Crystal Skull sucked as a villain because she wasn’t the least bit threatening. She never killed anyone. Never did anything that bad. In retrospect, I agree. If we’re not afraid of your villain, we’re not afraid of what happens to our heroes if they get caught. Here, we have the jovial Yuri, who I’m about as afraid of as a tickle me Elmo doll, and some local guy who’s so forgettable I don’t even remember why he was chasing Indy in the first place. So the lame villain streak continues.

The thing is, the scariest character in both movies, a tall pale Harry Potter-like villain named The Thin Man, is killed off before we even start our adventure. I mean of the 260 pages (in both scripts) of searching for ANY memorable villain, they actually had one and they killed him off BEFORE the plot started!!

There is one aspect I really liked about Gods, and that’s an ambitious and well-crafted airplane chase sequence. It was the only scene in both Gods and Crystal Skull that brought something new to the Indiana Jones franchise, and yet felt like it was steeped in what made the original movie so fun. You have our characters walking along the wings of bi-planes, moving from one plane to the other, all while fighting off baddies. It was quite clever, and my favorite part of the script.

As for the silly stuff, there’s no vine-swinging in Gods. Oxley is WAAAAAAAAAAAAY less annoying in this one (although he is kept in a cage like an animal, lol). A giant snake eats Indy in this one (The power of the Lost City has affected the growth of animals in the area so all the animals are bigger – I seriously doubt Darabont had anything to do with this idea). And there’s still a spaceship in the end.

But what’s different is the entire final act has way more purpose in Gods. You actually feel like their exploration of the city is structured. That there’s a point and plan when they go inside (return the skull, which will result in the City showing them all the knowledge in the universe). In Crystal Skull, I had no idea why we were in that cave at any point.

All this brings about a question I can’t help but ask. There’s a lot of people on this board who would die for the opportunity to write an Indy film. So let me ask you, if you were to write Indiana Jones 5, what would your plot be? Let’s see if you can outdo Lucas and Spielberg at their own creation.

Script link: This script is out there in several places via a google search.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: We all get attached to scenes/characters/and moments in our screenplays. But over time, screenplays change. They take on a new direction, and many of the elements in that original version you conceived no longer apply. If you try and hold onto those elements (even your favorite ones), they may prevent your story from reaching its potential. It’s clear that Spielberg and Lucas had a list of “must-haves” they included with every Indiana Jones 4 writing assignment, and that those elements weren’t working. I mean, if you give your script to 7-8 of the best screenwriters in the business and all the scripts come back sucking, chances are, it’s not their fault. I find that, sometimes, getting rid of that scene you love so much from the original draft can open the door to a million new story possibilities. In other words, don’t be afraid to get rid of something you love if it means improving the overall script.