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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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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. John Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’s 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS' WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating, “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that features a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination).

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. “The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, ‘Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that.”

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen brothers are plenty fond of The Dude; after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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