Leaked Transcript of the Raiders of the Lost Ark Brainstorming Session

We’ve heard a lot of “what ifs” about Raiders of the Lost Ark (full review). Originally Tom Selleck was going to be Indy, but took “Magnum, P.I.” instead. The iconic fight scene where Indy shoots the sword-wielding guy in the market only happened because Harrison Ford had a bad case of the shits. Hell, I once heard John Amos say that he was in the running for the part, which would have been awesome in many ways. But now the Grail of what-ifs has been released- Someone has leaked a transcript of the 9 hour story sessions between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan.

Jim Steranko’s concept art for Raiders

Say what you want about them, but these men are master storytellers who’ve given us some of the most memorable movies of the last few decades, whether it be Star Wars or Jaws or Body Heat. Kasdan wrote the script for The Empire Strikes Back as well. The leaked transcript is 125 pages long, and begins with some basic ideas about creating a modern pulp hero from the ’30s mold, when he was just an idea- Indiana Smith- and you can see how they shape the character, the story, and the legend. For lovers of the movies, or aspiring screenwriters, this is a goldmine of enjoyment.

I got the concept art from John Leighton‘s blog.

They talk about everything from Toshiro Mifune’s screen presence to how they want to spend all their money on stunts. This was after they’d hit it big, but it showed what made them different from the traditional directors of epics who they superseded. You get to see where famous scenes such as the giant rolling boulder came from:

S — You know what it could be. I have a great idea. He hears the sand… When he goes into the cave, it’s not straight. The whole thing is on an incline on the way in. He hears this, grabs the thing, comes to a corridor. There is a sixty-five foot boulder that’s form-fitted to only roll down the corridor coming right at him.’ And it’s a race. He gets to outrun the boulder. It then comes to rest and blocks the entance of the cave. Nobody will ever come in again. This boulder is the size of a house.

And also things that sounded awesome, but never made it to the final script:

S — You know how fast a camel can run? Not only that, he can jump over vegetable carts and things. It could be a funny chase that ends in tragedy. You’re laughing your head off and suddenly. “My God, she’s dead.”

S — We still have the big fight in the moving truck to do. And now we have a camel chase.

G — We’ve added another million dollars.

Of course, it’s a scan of typed pages- welcome to the days when word processors wore skirts- but it’s a great read. The transcript is available for download here.

…and if you don’t own them, get ’em without Crystal Skull (full review) while you still can!

80s Trash of the Week: Willow

It was nice that after making Warwick Davis suffer the indignity of performing in an Ewok costume, George Lucas came up with the lighthearted fairy-tale fantasy of Willow to give a starring role with some real face time. Mr. Davis is quite talented, but unlike little people Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent, Find Me Guilty, Death at a Funeral) and Jordan Prentice (In Bruges) he has been saddled with make-up, sort of like Ron Perlman. Such is often the lot of the little actor. Warwick played the diminuitive Irish imp in all the Leprechaun movies, Marvin the Robot in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Filius in the Harry Potter movies; it’s rare that he see his face unlatexed, but most recently he and Peter Dinklage both had parts in the second Narnia movie, Prince Caspian.

Ride of the Valkilmers!

But Willow is where he shines; it’s a big role with lots of character, and he fills it perfectly. The whole movie has a lighthearted tone plucked from The Princess Bride and a story taken from the Brothers Grimm, and while hardly original it still entertains. The story is a bit dark at times, just enough to get kids scared and really interested. In the late 80’s I rarely saw my young cousins not planted in front of a TV with Willow on. The story is simple- a child is born with a birthmark, fulfilling a prophecy portending the doom of Evil Queen Bavmorda’s reign. Ol’ EQB (Jean Marsh, looking like a killer nun) has people looking out for crumb-snatchers being born with goofy marks, and the child is to be put to death. Luckily the midwife takes the kid on the lam, pursued by shaggy wolfdogs and soldiers, feeding the brat on Enfamil infant formula for all we know.

Maleficent or Mother Superior?

When she knows her fate is sealed, she pulls a Moses and sticks the bambino basket in a floating mat of bulrushes, sending it downstream, and into the life of Willow Ufgood, who is a hobbit Nelwynn– a group of short-statured folk who live far from the lands of men. Willow’s kids find the baby and want to keep it, but times are tough- a grumpy fat farmer lent Willow money that he is yet to repay, and wants to send him to debtor’s prison. Willow is a magician, and performs at a local fair, and mucks up his disappearing piglet act in front of everybody. And just then, the soldiers arrive with their mutant dogs, and Willow knows that he can’t keep the baby. It’s too dangerous.

Gimme my bottle or I’ll break my stick off in yo ass, Peck!

After listening to wizard Aldwin (played perfectly by the justly ubiqutious Billy Barty), Willow and a few other hobbits Nelwynns decide to go on a quest to bring the baby back to the land of men. Shortly thereafter (no pun intended) they find a skeevy scoundrel hanging in a cage at an abandoned post. This is Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), who claims to be a great swordsman, and is sort of like a less charming, more Real Genius kind of Han Solo dude. He eventually cajoles them into releasing him, but not before a parade of soldiers off to war pass by- one of whom conveniently knows him, and mentions that he’s untrustworthy. Willow doesn’t have much choice, as his fellow hobbits Nelwynns flat-leave him out in the wilderness, satisfied that dumping the baby with some soldiers is quest enough.

Real Genius with braids

Madmartigan plays the lovable rogue with loyalties flicking about like a compass in an iron mine. They resume The Quest, only to be set upon by brownies- even smaller folk than the hobbits Nelwynns- who look like tribesman action figures come to life, capable of hijacking barn owls for aerial assaults, and shooting you with sleeping darts to perform Lilliputian indignities upon your dormant body. They have appropriately high-pitched voices and somehow manage to not get stepped on, despite all my wishes. When your Ewoks doff their costumes, you need something even cuter and smaller to fill their place, apparently. Thankfully they are not that bad.

Oh yeah this is how he gets out…

Madmartigan and Willow eventually find the good witch Fin Raziel, who has been turned into a possum by Bavmorda and is thus unable to help much. She gives Willow her wand and tries to teach him magic, so he can turn her back. Where there’s a willow, there’s a way (a line wisely not used in the film) and he manages to turn her into all sorts of other animals as the film goes on. As Bavmorda’s troops approach- led by the treacherous General Kael (named after film critic Pauline Kael, har har) and the queen’s hot daughter Sorsha (sorceress + Porsche, I guess) we remember Lucas’s penchant for fucking stupid names. Madmartigan likes Sorsha’s boobs, and this being a fairy tale, they of course betray their sides out of instant love for one another. Kilmer’s performance saves it, keeping everything on a ridiculous level. Madmartigan may not have Han’s charm, but he definitely has the early Kilmer manic energy.

Toothwang the dragon

Though it made no sense, I liked when a critter turned into a huge two-headed dragon called an Ebersisk, of course named after Siskel & Ebert. You know a movie isn’t going to be great when it insults critics as some sort of joke, like Mayor Ebert in Roland Emmerich’s shitfest Godzilla. Lucas and Howard should know better. But who cares, it’s a fire-breathing dragon! That looks more like a two-headed turd. The desgn is different, for sure, but not scary or interesting. The effects looked good for ’88, though. The rest of the adventure to save the baby from Bavmorda plays out predictably, and that’s the movie’s real weakness; it feels like something Lucas hashed out on cocktail napkins, and the memorable characters- Willow and Madmartigan- ride solely on the charisma of the actors alone. Even the score by James Horner leans heavily on Mozart’s Requiem, and everything else feels just as derivative.

“I am contractually obligated to show my chest to the 13-18yr female demographic.”

It’s a fine film for kids of the right age- some scares and blood, but nothing gory or too terrifying. And plenty of fun. They’ll be calling each other “peck” (the slur for hobbits Nelwynns) all day. Warwick Davis shows his chops, and hopefully will get to show them again next year, when he’ll be starring in a heist movie about 5 little people robbing diamonds. Named ShortFellas, it promises to be entertaining. It’s a damn shame that Peter Jackson didn’t use him (or many little people, if any) in the Lord of the Rings movies. Sure we needed big names for Dildo and Frito, but the smaller parts could have gone to folks sans CG enhancement.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 1
Could it be remade today? Certainly
Quotability Rating: minor
Cheese Factor: Mad-havarti-gan
High Points: Funny Kilmer, Warwick as always
Low Point: Brownies
Gratuitous Boobies: just Val’s

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What’s so great about Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Everything! I just watched it again last night in prep for the Indiana Jones nerdathon that will accompany the release of the 4th movie, Indiana Jones and the Worst Title Since Phantom Menace, this Thursday. And it’s just as thrilling and enjoyable as when I first saw it as an 11-year old goober on the edge of my seat.

Tennessee Williams

Besides being one of the best action-adventure movies ever made, with one set piece after another, getting topped each time, it’s also got great slapstick comedy and introduced one of film’s enduring characters. That’s right, Karen Allen.

She cost my mom a lot of Kleenex in 1981

Sure, she’d been in that legendary college film Animal House, and that nostalgic memoir of early 60’s city life The Wanderers, but she’ll always be immortalized as the feisty Marion Ravenscroft, daughter of Indiana Jones’s mentor. Abner Ravenscroft, if you forgot, was the original seeker of the Ark of the Covenant and the archaeologist who found the headpiece of the Staff of Ra, instrumental in locating the lost Ark. We never find out how he died, but I imagine that creepy Nazi guy, Toht, whose name I know only because it was on the action figure package, tortured him to death with that funky coat hanger he had.

Another lost toy to re-buy on ebay

Oddly enough that joke was snatched from a James Bond movie, but it works so well that we allow Lucas and Spielberg the discretion. Unlike Temple of Doom, where we see Indy in a white tux bargaining with Chinese gangsters and wonder where the hell his fedora is. I’ll get to that tomorrow; I was a Temple of Doom apologist for a while, and I still think it’s a good movie; it’s just “the worst” in a great bunch. And hopefully it will remain at the bottom, come Thursday.

Major Toht models a Hugo Boss trench, $2430

Raiders works so well partly because there is very little exposition, except when necessary. We see a man with a whip, a gun and a hat guided into a cave; he bypasses some traps with aplomb, gets cocky, and then the real fun starts as he stumbles through them all at breakneck speed to get out of the collapsing ruins, with each trap getting exponentially worse. Alfred Molina, probably best known now as Doc Oc from Spider-Man 2, played the funny-looking guide who utters the immortal line, “toss me the idol, I throw you the whip!” and it’s amusing now to watch him, but he was perfectly cast.

I love his goofy expression.

We meet the villain soon after, with no introduction; the dialogue deftly speaks of the past between the two men and how their morals differ. Then we’re back at Marshall college, where Indy is Dr. Jones, the professor whom girls swoon over and boys admire. No time is wasted; we meet Brody, played by Denholm Elliot, who will be sorely missed from the new movie; he died of AIDS a few years after Last Crusade. He did a wonderful comic turn in that movie, but in Raiders he’s the straight man (no pun intended) and great as always.

How’d you like to polish my apple?

Government men arrive to advance the plot- something about Nazis seeking Biblical artifacts- and Indy is off to meet the plucky Marion, seeking the medallion her father discovered. She’s introduced in the middle of a drinking contest, that she wins handily; she runs a ramshackle tavern in Nepal for sherpas, a fitting place for a pulp adventure. They both lie to each other and only get thrown together when the nefarious Nazi Toht shows up. What perfect casting there- Brit Ronald Lacey looked like a mishmash of every Japanese and German monster in the Allied propaganda posters had a redheaded stepchild and beat them with a creepy stick night and day. He steals every scene he’s in and sells it back to us. They shoot up the bar in a brutal and bloody gunfight with men on fire, bright red fake blood spurting from people’s heads, and guns that change from revolvers to Colt .45’s from one shot to another, but it’s so much fun we don’t even care.

Tomboy hotness defined.

From there it’s off to Cairo where we meet another great stock character, Sallah the digger and fixer, played so charmingly by John Rhys-Davies. The film is so full of memorable scenes that I have to skip them; you know them already, or if not, you should go see them for yourself! We get a famous chase and fight through a bazaar, where we learn you don’t bring a sword to a gunfight, and soon they’re sneaking amongst the Nazis in the ruins to find that Ark in the title.

Asps. Very dangerous. Indy, you go first…

But name another movie whose set pieces come so perfectly paced. An escape from a tomb full of snakes; a bare-knuckle brawl with a Max Schmeling clone underneath a runaway flying wing and a tanker truck ready to explode; a chase up to, into, under and over an Army truck in a caravan, then onto a submarine to a deserted island. It’s hard to believe it’s all in one movie, when you think back on it. Other movies often try to cram so much in, but it rarely works. Casino Royale is the most recent one in memory.

Freudianly, she fights off snakes

And Lucas and Spielberg manage to cap it all with an incredible ending full of top-notch and still believable special effects, showing us the power of the Ark without explaining a damn thing about it. I watched the ending three times last night, sometimes in slow-motion, and it holds up to modern effects in believability. I breathed a sigh of relief when I read that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be done mostly with stunts and traditional effects. About 30% will be CG, and Spielberg (unlike Lucas) has a good eye for when computers are necessary. It’s also being done on film and not digital; the original stunt coordinator and cinematographer are busy or retired, but the new ones studied Doug Slocombe’s work to mimic the look of the original films. That all speaks well for the new (and most likely final) entry.

Cate and Karen at Cannes with Shia Le Douche

The new movie also has … Karen Allen! She was terrific in the underrated Starman, another nerd favorite, but semi-retired to raise kids and knit sweaters in recent years. It’s good to see her in a “big” movie again. (Starman will be an 80’s movie of the week sometime soon, Jenny Hayden). She was at Cannes when the movie premiered this week, looking as feisty as ever. Alongside another fave actress of mine, Cate Blanchett, who plays the Ninotchka-esque Soviet villain. Firecracker may get jealous when we go see it Thursday…

Sexy Soviet

Raiders’ final shot of the huge warehouse full of who-knows-what is one of the most famous endings in film history. How can you top something like that? The other sequels certainly didn’t. I don’t think this one will either, but I imagine it will be a heartfelt and satisfying capper to one of the most beloved series in cinema. When I read that they had 5 films planned, part of me wishes I could go back to the 90’s and smack Spielberg and Lucas around. Did Jurassic Park need a sequel?

Everybody! Do the the Electric Nazi!

Then again that was Spielberg’s sappiest era, when he was putting walkie talkies in E.T., and Lucas was dreaming up the cheese-fest of the prequels. Maybe they weren’t ready to make another Indy movie then; I hope they are now, because if Indiana Jones and the Unwieldy Title is more Temple of Doom than Raiders, I will transform into The Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons and cry out “from hell’s heart I stab at thee!” from my seat before I shuffle out of the theater muttering every profanity imaginable.

“Did you see Shia Le Beef in Transformers?”
“Aghgghhghg yes!”

Here’s hoping Shia LaBeouf tones it down a bit for Indy 4… I bet Mr. Ford would’ve smacked the shit out of him otherwise.