(Written from Comic Con at 1 in the morning! Apologies for any of those kind of grammar snafus and snobbles that come up when one does such things… ON TO THE POST!)
So, one of my fellow bloggers wrote about Raiders and you can read his writing on it here.
I am continuing his grand tradition by also writing on Raiders of the Lost Arc. Which we are not the only ones to do of course. People have talked about how they hate the ending, or how they defend the ending. How the exposition scene is impressive, how Indy never takes off his hat but everyone remembers him going after it (Which only happens in the sequels).
Let us look instead of that at the most important part of the script. The first ten or so pages. Kasdan, the screen writer of Indiana Jones and many other excellent films was always worried about one thing. That Indy would be like the two fisted pulp heroes before him. A hero with no flaws. Someone that can take any situation, woo any woman, kill any badguy.
So, what does Kasdan do with the script? He writes some of the best opening pages of all time.
We open on a jungle. We see a guy who’s obviously the hero. Fedora and leather jacket = hero. Everyone knows this. Someone pulls a gun on our hero and CRACK! He’s disarmed by a bullwhip. The hero? Is also odd, but in a super manly and cool way. Established!
Then there’s the treasure cave. He finds a dead adventurer like himself. He finds some spiders. A pit. Some deadly darts. He passes them all.
Then the idol. He measures out the sand and makes the switch and… fails.
He has to run from his failure, and his failures keep stacking up. His guide has tricked him and steals the idol. He is chased by a massive boulder. He then gets it back but finds that another treasure hunter has gone about this all much smarter than him and he only just barely escapes thanks to luck and determination.
He flies away a beaten man with his tail between his legs.
So, if really all the opening is, is one giant build up to Indy being in over his head and not up to the challenges around him, why is it one of the most parodied and memorable opening sequences of all time?
Because it’s all about Indy being in over his head and not up to the challenges around him. That’s what the WHOLE movie is about. Indy is powerful, he is manly, he is strong, smart, quick… and he is out of his depth. It’s the entire basis of the film. He is a pulp hero who is not quite up to snuff.
Think of the scene everyone remembers where he guns down the swordsmen. In this sequence he fights and beats dozens of men… and loses the girl. She’s kidnapped. He fails. It’s like this over and over again.
Remember the big man he boxes in front of the flying wing? The guy punches him and has him on the ground before the propeller saves him.
The key to the opening is the key to the whole movie. Indy is never invincible. For as over the top as he and his adventures are, the adventures are always literally one step away from killing him. His adventure is raw because it truly seems to be about to take his life. Everything is one milometer from the edge. Not in the James Bond sense of the bomb about toe explode. Indy is embarrassed by his failures. He’s bloodied by them. He’s laid low and often mocked by his mistakes.
The intro has many plants and pay offs. The bull whip, the opening where some of his guides turn on him, the discovery of the corpse of a rival adventurer, the talk of the ancient people and their beliefs. It all comes back around to show how human Indy is.
Then it ends on the note of his great fear of snakes. The final moment of the opening is to tell the audience Indy’s biggest weakness.
And somehow our hero still comes off as cool and awesome and fun in this intro. That… that is what makes the opening of Indian Jones such a master stroke. That Indiana Jones walks away from that series of well written failures as a cool main character the audience roots for. He’s in over his head, but he always swims as hard as he can. He struggles harder than most other pulp heroes, and that is why he’s so easy to get behind.
It’s easy to be the hero when you always come out on top. What Indy does is hard.