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From Classic Inspiration to New Horizons: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Embraces Raiders of the Lost Ark

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Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Embraces Raiders of the Lost Ark

James Mangold didn’t outright refuse when approached by Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, and Kathleen Kennedy to direct the fifth Indiana Jones film. However, he didn’t immediately accept either. In the months leading up to the pandemic, Mangold found himself in a surreal situation, being approached by his filmmaking idols for such a significant project, and yet, he hesitated.

Reflecting on the early discussion, Mangold recalls feeling a sense of danger and immense pressure due to the legendary figures involved. He was accustomed to such pressure, but for him, the crucial question was always the purpose behind making the movie. He understood why a corporation would want to pursue it, but he wanted to know the creative endeavor behind it.

The main issue for Mangold arose when Lucasfilm wanted Indiana Jones 5 to start filming in six months to meet a 2021 release date. However, Mangold needed more time. He explains, “The script wasn’t ready, and I didn’t feel ready myself. I needed to discover a unique perspective if I was going to take on this project. It’s not something you simply jump into.”

At that moment, it seemed like Mangold might have let go of the opportunity, as a delay would disrupt Disney’s schedule. However, the world soon came to a halt with the onset of the pandemic, providing Mangold with the valuable resource that would also trouble Indiana Jones in his upcoming adventure—time.

The concept of time and its impact, even on iconic figures like Dr. Jones, takes center stage in the fifth and undoubtedly final installment of the Indiana Jones franchise. When James Mangold, along with his co-writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth from “Ford v Ferrari,” joined the project, their objective was to embrace the idea that this was a hero in the twilight of his career. Both Harrison Ford and his on-screen persona have aged approximately 40 years since the events of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Mangold reflects, “It’s not that this story uniquely appeals to me; it’s that the opposite doesn’t. Creating a film about a handsome hero in his prime without any vulnerability presents its own set of issues. I’ve seen many movies, even within our modern franchise context, fail because it becomes numbing when a group of invincible characters in flashy outfits run around, blowing things up, and saving the world.” For the director, embracing Indiana Jones’ age and vulnerability is what makes the character appealing.

“My actor is 79 years old, and we have to be authentic. I understand the desire for pretense, but there’s only one man who can play Indiana Jones, and he happens to be 79 years old. So, I’m making a movie about that man, not a 79-year-old pretending to be 52 because that wouldn’t be genuine.”

However, don’t worry, as Indy 5 won’t be a somber affair. This isn’t a film in the vein of “Logan.” The tone of the new installment is undeniably joyful, albeit tinged with nostalgia, as an older and wearier Indiana Jones finds himself in 1969, nearing the end of his career. He’s finally retiring from his university position and exists in a world where he has become his own relic. Mangold explains, “Astronauts are our new heroes, and people are now venturing to uncharted territories beyond our planet. It diminishes the significance of Indy’s excavations.” However, when his goddaughter Helena (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) unexpectedly arrives one day with a clue to an ancient artifact that eluded Indy during World War II (accompanied by an opening sequence that employs highly anticipated de-aging technology), Dr. Jones finds himself back in the saddle for one last adventure.

 Indiana Jones

During the development of the story, the director reveals that a crucial aspect was addressing the shortcomings of the previous Indiana Jones film. Surprisingly, the solution wasn’t to dwell on the pitfalls of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Instead, the focus shifted towards understanding the elements that made “Raiders of the Lost Ark” successful.

Mangold explains, “[Raiders] is a unique convergence, much like what happened with Star Wars, combining classic movie serials, Golden Age storytelling, and an optimistic worldview with clear notions of good and evil.” He draws a parallel between Harrison Ford’s portrayal and Humphrey Bogart in that film, and likens John Williams’ score to the compositions of iconic Hollywood composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold. “There’s a cohesive aesthetic to the movie, even though it blends modern technology. Steven Spielberg remains a filmmaker rooted in classical traditions. It’s like classic Hollywood cinema on steroids.”

In “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” Mangold aims to channel that spirit while deliberately presenting it as a jarring anachronism. In an era where cynicism has become prevalent, and the adventures of the Golden Age have been replaced by films like “Easy Rider” or the remarkable feat of astronauts reaching the moon using rockets built by former WWII combatants, Indy’s values seem out of sync. Mangold asserts, “Men in hats with whips at their side aren’t running around Manhattan in 1969 and jetting off to Egyptian sites. That just doesn’t happen anymore.” Until it does.

With the return of that sense of adventure, it also presents an opportunity for Mangold to embrace his affinity for classic filmmaking, distinguishing himself from current Hollywood trends. It comes as no surprise that the filmmaker who crafted a superhero movie influenced by George Stevens’ “Shane” has a predilection for old-school sensibilities. Mangold even likens himself and Spielberg as part of a fraternity of directors with extensive memories of the craft.

The filmmaker asserts, “I’m not a fan of the shaky-cam approach, where there are 75 cameras pointing in every direction, inducing insanity. I don’t enjoy maneuvering the camera through a keyhole and out of a tiny insect’s behind. The relentless pursuit of one-take shots has become a sort of athletic stupidity, with filmmakers competing to outdo each other in that aspect. What about storytelling? That’s what Steven’s work consistently teaches us. I appreciate the power of the cut, the potency of well-executed camera movements, and the synchronization between the two.”

Mangold grew up reading about these aspects, admiring the work of Spielberg and George Lucas in Cinefix magazine, all while immersing himself in John Williams’ scores on vinyl. Now, all three luminaries collaborate on “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.”

“The greatest allure of this film was the idea that I would have my own personal film school experience, where I could step into the shoes of my heroes and play alongside them on their hallowed ground,” Mangold reveals.

However, if James Mangold feels like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, then the star player he has been eagerly anticipating to emerge from the cornfield must be Harrison Ford. The iconic actor, who initially recommended Mangold for the job after their near collaboration on Ford v Ferrari, finally stood before the camera on the first day of filming. As Ford appeared in full costume, resembling Indiana Jones in the flesh, the entire set couldn’t help but sport wide grins. Their excitement quickly faded when Ford glanced around and exclaimed, “What?! WHAT?!” However, Ford’s talent extends far beyond his portrayal of the whip-wielding adventurer.

“Harrison is always keen on undermining his own good looks and seeming invincibility,” Mangold explains. “He isn’t an actor who constantly says, ‘Make me look good.’ He prefers to appear disheveled, flawed, and authentic… He wants to embody jealousy, anguish, triviality, petty grudges, anger, and miscalculations.”

Mangold believes this is a significant reason why the character of Indiana Jones has captivated audiences for almost fifty years: Ford portrays him as slightly fussy and whiny, and viewers revel in witnessing his charming cluelessness. Even if a classroom full of students adored him (in a different era), Indiana only has eyes for the chalkboard, following the course of adventure it lays out. These qualities are precisely why Mangold and his team invested so much thought into finding the perfect companion for Indy during his sunset years.

“I know Harrison quite well, and he’s a handful in the most delightful way,” Mangold remarks. “He enjoys debating, pushing back, and challenging the scenes. He holds himself and everyone around him to the highest standards, so I wanted someone who would present him with daily challenges.”

However, in certain respects, it always circles back to Raiders, particularly when examining how some of the subsequent Indiana Jones sequels failed to capture the same vibrant and tenacious energy as Karen Allen’s portrayal. James Mangold believes he may have discovered a spiritual successor of sorts in Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a multi-talented individual for whom he confesses to have specifically written the role of Helena. It certainly didn’t hurt that the director was immersed in the second season of Fleabag while developing the script.

Mangold states, “She left an enormous impression on me as a powerful creative force, as well as a comedian and actress, and we needed someone very fresh to stand alongside Harrison.” It turns out Ford was also a fan, having recently binge-watched Fleabag. “Both of us simply said to Kathy Kennedy, ‘Get her.'”

Fortunately, when Waller-Bridge met with Mangold, she liked the script (or at least the two-thirds of it that had been completed). The result is a performance that her director compares to the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck: “You want to fall in love with her, but you know she’s going to shatter you. It’s this marvelous combination of chaos and artistry.”

Once again, Mangold appears resolute in connecting Indy with his cinematic lineage. If Steven Spielberg’s contributions to Raiders (as well as Jaws and Close Encounters, among others) are akin to Mozart in Mangold’s mind, the younger filmmaker recognizes that he can only offer his interpretation after a lifetime of observing and learning. Nonetheless, Dial of Destiny finally grants him “permission to indulge in all of it.”

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