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The Lost Scripts, Part III: Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods

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While it’s not unusual for a film to have unused screenplays hiding in a filing cabinet somewhere, the lost scripts of Indiana Jones are a fascinating look at what might have been for everyone’s favorite whip-wielding, fedora-wearing archaeologist. We've discussed Indiana Jones and the Monkey King and Indiana Jones and the Saucermen from Mars. Our final lost Indy script involves The City of the Gods.

The Story Behind the Story

In February 2000, the American Film Institute held a ceremony honoring the life and work of Harrison Ford. His old Indiana Jones friends, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, were on hand to speak at the event, marking the first time they'd all been in the same room together in many years. During the night, the idea was floated that they should do another Indiana Jones movie. Swept up in the moment, everyone said yes. Now they just had to come up with a script.

As Lucas and Spielberg started working on ideas for another movie, Lucas refused to budge from an idea he had five years before – a 1950s sci-fi B-movie tribute involving aliens and flying saucers. Spielberg also refused to budge on not liking that idea. But the two worked out a compromise - there could be aliens, but there couldn't be flying saucers. That was enough for Lucas to dig out his old story notes, outlines, and screenplays, including one for a never-filmed episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles that dealt with the real-life mystery of strange, Peruvian skulls carved out of crystal.

Once he had an outline ready to go, Lucas hired director/screenwriter Frank Darabont, still fresh off his Oscar-nominated screenplay for The Green Mile. Darabont turned in three versions of his screenplay, culminating in 2003's Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods.

The Plot

It's been 20 years since Indiana Jones was in his prime. Now, in the 1950s, his research expeditions are solitary affairs in the Nevada desert, searching for small fragments of ancient Native American pottery; a far cry from the jungles and adventures of his youth. At his latest dig, a Russian friend and colleague, Yuri Makovsky, has been visiting him for a few weeks. However, on the last night of his stay, Yuri breaks into a secret U.S. military base, where two American traitors give him a canister of plutonium and an ordinary-looking bowling ball bag.

Indy gets his hands on the bag and finds it contains one of the 13 legendary crystal skulls. With the skull in his possession, Indy winds up in Peru where he learns that his old flame, Marion Ravenwood, is the one that hired Yuri to get the skull for her. She's leading an expedition into the jungle with her husband, famed archaeologist Baron Peter Belasko, to find the lost City of the Gods, and needs the skull to unlock the city's secrets.

Although he no longer has the skull, Yuri doesn’t give up. He convinces the President of Peru, Presidente Escalante, to go after the skull with the promise that the lost city will give Escalante anything his heart desires.

After many entanglements, the expeditions arrive at the City of the Gods and enter the giant pyramid at the center. Inside they discover a circular room filled with 13 golden thrones, each occupied by a headless, crystal skeleton. When the skull is attached to the correct skeleton, an alien presence welcomes “the five chosen ones” who will help rejuvenate the mummified remains of the beings buried inside the pyramid. In exchange, the alien will grant them one wish.

The Chosen Ones – Indy, Yuri, Belasko, Escalante, and a German researcher named Von Grauen – are lifted by a swirling alien vapor that hypnotizes them. Belasko, Escalante, and Von Grauen have their wishes granted first, but in a Faustian twist, they are immediately killed; their “life forces” assimilated into the alien mummies. When Indy is asked what he wants, Marion is able to shake him out of his trance, and that's when he realizes all he wants is her. The alien releases him and moves on to Yuri. But before Yuri's wish is granted, Indy shoots the crystal skull and it explodes into tiny shards.

The pyramid begins to shake and crumble apart. As Indy is leaving the room, he looks back and sees the alien mummy, rejuvenated by the deaths of the men, rising from its sarcophagus. He shouts, “Hey! Welcome to Earth!” before firing the rest of his rifle rounds into the thing’s body.

The survivors escape just in time to see the land swell and then break away. A flying saucer erupts from the ground, lifting the ruins into the air, but soon the machine sputters and falls back into its ancient grave. The nuclear explosion that follows wipes the City of the Gods off the map for good.

Safely back in the United States, Indy and Marion tie the knot with all of their old friends in attendance.

The Action

As you'd expect from any Indiana Jones script, action sequences are abundant and relentless in City of the Gods. The moment Indy gets out of one jam, something goes wrong, and he's in another life-or-death situation. It's quite a thrill ride that barely gives the audience a moment to breathe.

Many of the set pieces were dictated by Lucas and can be found in other Indy IV scripts, including some that made it into the final film, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. For example, Indy gets into a fight on a rocket sled, Indy survives a nuclear blast inside a lead-lined refrigerator, the expedition is attacked by huge, red army ants, and a truck Indy’s riding in goes over a series of waterfalls. However, Darabont got to design his own action sequences too, and they're just as exciting.

One of the best Darabont action scenes shows Indy and Marion flying to meet up with Belasko, when they’re attacked by Yuri in another plane. Yuri's co-pilot uses a machine gun to take out one of the support struts on Indy's biplane, which means Indy has to walk out on the wing and lash it back together with his whip. Meanwhile, Yuri comes up fast and uses his propeller like a buzzsaw, chopping up the tail on Indy's plane. To stop Yuri, Indy lets go of his plane's wing and is whisked back to Yuri's plane, barely grabbing that wing's support strut. He then swings around and decks Yuri, forcing the plane to swerve and dive. Indy climbs into the gunner's seat and Yuri flips the plane upside down, hoping to make Indy fall out. Instead, the gunner falls out and Indy uses the co-pilot controls to flip the plane upside down again, causing Yuri to fall out.

With Marion in an unstable plane, Indy tells her to wing walk over to his plane. But then Yuri appears, floating down on a parachute, armed with a machine gun. He fires at Indy, taking out the plane’s engine, so now Indy's in worse shape than Marion. She flies over the top of Indy’s plane, he grabs the bar that spans between the landing gear, and then lets the plane he’s piloting fall out beneath him. But little do they realize there's a jungle plateau ahead and Marion can't get the plane pulled up in time. Indy is dragged through the canopy, hitting treetops and scaring monkeys, until the plateau ends and he is finally able to drag himself into the cockpit.

“I'll take it from here”, he says. The engine dies the moment he puts his hand on the stick. The plane comes in hard and fast, its wings sheared off by jungle foliage and it belly flops on the ground. Indy gives Marion a cocky smile, and she points to the flames that have just erupted from the engine. They grab the skull and make it out just before the plane explodes. Thankfully, he is able to recover his whip that is still wrapped around the wing struts. And of course, his hat is still on his head.

The Aftermath

City of the Gods is a very “tight” screenplay, meaning every scene has a clear objective, and either relays information that is useful later on, or is an event that leads directly into the next scene. In addition, the script is filled with interesting Indy-esque characters, such as a henchman known as The Thin Man, who dresses in black and has a scar running down his face through a milky-white eye.

The script is often very clever. For example, the Belasko Expedition uses drawings of the Nazca Lines - gigantic, ancient figures that have been etched into the Nazca Desert – and lays them over the top of a map so that the figures match to geographic features. In this way, the Lines actually point them to the City of the Gods like enormous road signs.

So why didn't the script get the green light? In a reversal of the situation surrounding the 1995 script, Indiana Jones and the Saucermen from Mars, Spielberg and Ford loved Darabont's final script, but Lucas felt it needed more work.

Over the next few years, Lucas continued to develop the story, even retitling it Indiana Jones and the Phantom City of the Gods (no joke!). He also brought in a new writer, Jeff Nathanson, who authored Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal. Nathanson's script was called Indiana Jones and the Atomic Ants, but that script wasn't quite up to snuff, either. Finally, David Koepp — screenwriter for Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, and Spider-Man — was hired. Koepp turned in a screenplay titled Indiana Jones and the Destroyer of Worlds, borrowing from a famous quote by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father” of the atomic bomb. This script was tweaked and became Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

The City of the Gods script was leaked to the internet shortly after Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released in the summer of 2008. It was widely reported beforehand that Darabont had written a rejected Indiana Jones screenplay. So when many fans were unhappy with the final film, some believe Darabont secretly made his script available as a way of saying “Don’t blame me!”

Whether it would have actually made a better movie than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is impossible to know. But either way, Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods is an interesting look at what might have been for Indy’s latest silver screen adventure.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Library of Congress
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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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