Most people know Professor Henry Walton "Indiana" Jones, Jr. as played by Harrison Ford, star of four films, three of which take place in the late 30's and the fourth of which takes place in 1957. But how many of you remember that there was also a television series that brought us the exploits of a younger Indiana Jones? Briefly going over his birth in 1899 before showing us the adventures he went on while traveling the world with his parents from 1908-1910, and finally showing us what he was up to during the turmoil filled years of The Great War (before it was sadly reclassified as merely World War I) and readjusting to civilian life afterwords as he prepares to go to college to study archeology?
I've owned the four films for a while now, as well as the three boxed sets containing the television series. But you know what I've never done before? I've never just marathoned the whole saga from beginning to end, following Indy through his lifetime of adventure. Until now, that is. And I thought I would share some reflections.
First, some reflections on how I watched it. The television series on home video is not quite the same thing that it was when originally broadcast. Of course, this should come as little surprise to anyone. It is a George Lucas production after all, and "Lucas" and "re-edited" are not two concepts that are strangers to each other. Originally titled The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the series ran for a few seasons, and episodes were presented in flashback. A contemporary Prof. Jones in his 90's (played by George Hall) would find anybody he could get to listen to him and tell that person some adventure from his past. The adventure then played out to the audience over the next hour. In this format, the tales came not in a chronological order, but just in whatever order the older Prof. Jones happened to relate them.
For the home video release, however, the show received quite an overhaul. Now retitled The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, episodes were re-ordered to be chronological, and they were also combined together to make 22 feature length episodes. Sometimes this even necessitated filming some new linking material to bridge the two halves. On occasion this can be a bit jarring. For one thing, the chronological reshuffling split up the already feature length first episode of the broadcast version of the series, where a loose end from an adventure young Henry had in Egypt in 1908 isn't resolved until Mexico in 1916. Now, you have to wait quite a while for that to happen! Of course, this way I suppose it just plays as a nice call back.
For another thing, you definitely have to suspend disbelief concerning the age of the actor playing the younger young Indy. This mostly comes to play in the first episode of this new version, where the actor was at his youngest during the first half, but at his oldest in the second half. He grew about a foot between the two, and went through a bit of a vocal change to boot! Only for him to shrink back down again for the next episode. But... If you can suspend disbelief concerning that one point, it otherwise holds up decently in this new version.
Lost, however, were all of the book ending sequences with the 90's old Indy. To be honest, I can hardly remember them myself, and it is my understanding that few people see this omission as any great loss. (Although I did include him in the photo up top!) Only one episode kept any sort of book ending sequence with an older Indy relating the tale in flashback... but that was because it was an episode with a very special guest star, one Mr. Harrison Ford as Indy in 1950. Cutting that out would have been a crime, so I am quite glad they did not.
So, with most of the series re-edited to be in chronological order, that was how I watched it. I started with My First Adventure, watched through the end of the younger young Indy (as played by Corey Carrier), popped in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to watch the opening 1912 sequence with River Phoenix, then watched the rest of the television series, following Indy (now played by Sean Patrick Flanery, later of Boondocks Saints fame) from the end of high school, through the war, and afterwords as he enters college. After that came the movies. I started with Temple of Doom, as it is set before Raiders of the Lost Ark. Then came Raiders, the rest of The Last Crusade, and finally Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. (The only break in chronology I allowed was for the book end sequence I'd mentioned on one episode of the show. Set in 1950, it would come between Crusade and Crystal Skull, but it would really break the flow to try and watch it there.)
Also, I have not played any Indiana Jones video games, or read any books or comics. So my reflections will be based strictly on things from the movies and television series.
Well now, that all out of the way, on to my reflections on the viewing! (There will be spoilers, but I shall try not to go into so much detail so as to not ruin things for people who haven't seen the series.)
I must admit, I did not exactly take notes while watching, and the viewing did take a few weeks (it is the equivalent of 26 films), so pardon if my thoughts are a bit on the vague side. But I shall do my best to convey my reflections.
The series starts off strongly. We meet young 9 year old Henry Jones, Jr., his father Professor Henry Jones, Sr. (played by Lloyd Owen, doing a passable performance of a younger Sean Connery without letting it fall into caricature) and his mother Anna Jones (Ruth de Suza). Henry Sr., having written some fairly prominent books, has been invited on a lecturing tour that will take him around the world for the next few years. He hires his own old tutor, Ms. Helen Seymour (Margaret Tyzack), to travel with them to see to Henry Jr.'s education, and the four of them are off to see the world! This is pretty much the format of the episode with the younger young Indy, with these four characters consistent throughout.
The first story brings them to Egypt. Here, Henry (who soon starts calling himself "Indiana," after the dog he misses who he had to leave behind at home) discovers an interest in archeology which I suspect may someday become a big part of his life. He also discovers (somewhat ironically, some may say) that people who raid sites for profit rather then carefully excavating them for study are bad people, indeed. He learns this while in the company of people such as Howard Carter and T. E. Lawrence. And this is something you have to get used to, fast: Indy meets many, many actual historical figures during this series. Why? Well, simple. The series was intended to be educational. But don't let that word scare you... It actually pulls it off in an entertaining way.
With the younger young Indy, the educational elements can get a bit... well, for lack of a better word, "lecture-ish." But hey, with a kid this young, sometimes that is how they have to learn things. And they are never lectures that seem forced, rather they seem appropriate to the moment. And don't worry, it isn't all lectures... Just as often, you learn something by experiencing history along side young Master Jones. And the adventure element that was the primary focus of the films is never completely left behind.
But forget all of that for the moment... Let us talk about the characters. If you are coming into this having previously seen the film, only two of them will you have met before.
The first is Indiana Jones himself. Here, he is just a young child. He is already smart and sure of himself, but he still has a child's innocence, and a lack of any worldly knowledge. And despite his innocence, he does already display a huge lack of respect for any rules. If he wants to do something, he will do it, even if it means having to sneak out after bed time! Henry wants to go to a party with his friends Norman (Rockwell) and Pablo (Picaso)? Out a window he goes! Henry has a crush on a young girl? It doesn't matter if she is a princess and he has been forbidden to see her... he'll march right up to the palace gate and demand to be let in!
His father... well, it had already been established that father and son were estranged in the film series, so it should come as no surprise that the relationship between them isn't the warmest of ones here. It is obvious he cares about his family, but he is not necessarily a warm man. And he is definitely a strict person with his son. However, there is one episode in Greece where the two Henrys are stuck alone together, and while things are tense in the beginning by the end they really come together in love and respect. Knowing what will come of their relationship makes it quite a melancholy "what could have been."
His mother is a new element in the series. Really, watching the series, once you get past the episodes with the younger young Indy, not much of an impression is left behind. She is not an infallible woman. In fact, in one episode there is a sub-plot with Puccini getting the hots for her and trying to tempt her away... and without spoiling how it ends, let me just say she is tempted... Also, in another episode she almost lets her son die because, when he gets sick while they are in a rural part of China, she insists on waiting for a doctor of western medicine before allowing him to be treated. Still, the impression she leaves behind is one of an almost idealized mother figure: young, beautiful, and full of unconditional love for her son.
Ms. Seymour, on the other hand, is a much more interesting character, and one who likely left much more of an impression on young Henry's life overall. When hired, she insists she is not a governess, but she definitely ends up taking on a caretaking role during their travels. But, of course, paramount is his education as she takes him to many areas of interest. In the beginning, she is somewhat aloof towards young Henry. And, of course, he has little love for her. But over the course of the episodes with the younger young Indy, we see mutual love and respect grow between the two of them. When they meet again in his older young years, it is quite an emotional moment for both the characters and the audience.
Eventually, though, at some point in 1910 the world tour ends. We next briefly meet up with young Indina in 1912. Strangely, his family is living in Utah now, even though before their home residence was in Princeton, NJ, and it will be again. Of course, we only see Henry and his father... Ominously, there is no sign of his mother. Perhaps something has happened, and Henry, Sr. temporarily moved to get some distance?
Anyway, we are treated to a brief adventure where, while out on a trip with his Boy Scout troop, 13 year old Indiana tries (and, alas, fails) to steel an artifact from looters so that the artifact can be given to a museum. During the course of this adventure, Indy has to quickly learn to use a whip (scaring his own chin in the process), falls into a snake pit leading to a very acute fear, and — as consolation for not winning the day — is given a hat by one of his adversaries along with the advice, "You lost today, kid. But that doesn't mean you have to like it." This very fun sequence from the beginning of the third film was, of course, the inspiration for the television series.
Next we jump forward to 1916. Indiana is close to finishing high school. He and his father are back living in Princeton. Still no sign of his mother, and it is mentioned that she has passed away some years back. After a brief adventure with his high school sweetheart (which involves Edison, of course) Indy and his father take a trip west to visit some relatives. While there, Indy and his cousin decide to travel south into Mexico to visit a brothel, telling their families that they are just going camping for a few days. Of course, before they can get to the brothel they run into trouble, get separated, and Indy ends up riding with Pancho Villa! (People who have only seen the films may remember an older Indy mentioning this in passing in the fourth film.) In the end, however, he decides that maybe the revolution in Mexico is not his fight. And together with a Belgian friend he has made in Mexico, Indiana decides to travel to Europe and see if maybe the war going on there might be something worth fighting over. (Before he leaves, though, he has a chance to tie up that aforementioned loose end from Egypt in 1908.)
The Belgian is named Remy, and while not in every episode by far, he is the character who reoccurs the most throughout this period of the show. Anyway, Remy and Indy arrive in Europe and enlist in the Belgian army, Indy lying about his age and taking the alias of Henri Defence. After a few adventures while waiting for their orders, off to the trenches they go.
The older young Indy episodes are definitely less "lecture-ish," as at this age and with the events going on around him, Indiana is much more able to experience history rather then just be told about it. And the war-time setting definitely allows for much adventure! At the same time, it doesn't glorify war and not every episode has a happy ending. Over the course of the war, Indiana experiences much. He starts out in the trenches of Europe, spends time in Africa as well, and eventually joins the Intelligence service, which takes him on further escapades through Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He meets many more historical figures, and even runs into a few familiar ones, most notably his friend Ned (more formerly known as T. E. Lawrence) who he often corresponds with during the war.
It is really during this period that you start to see him growing into the man he will be. He starts off full of idealism, but by the end of the war he has seen a lot and done a lot, and it has changed him. And even after the war, thinking things are finally over he tries to return to his idealism, only to get a sharp slap of realism while working as a translator during the Paris Peace Conference.
Returning to civilian life isn't easy. He and his friend Remy swear that nothing will ever come between them, but quickly find themselves going in different directions. He's been away from home a long time, and not everyone he was looking forward to seeing again is still around. And one person he was a bit scared to see again proves those fears were warranted: When he first sees his father, who he hasn't seen (and barely corresponded with) since when he left for Mexico, the entirety of the rather one-sided conversation that ensues is, "Well. I see you're back from your little adventure. Your room's as you left it. Dinner is at 7:30, sharp." Things remain tense and there is even quite a blow-up between them, although Indiana also reminisces about their time in Greece, and at one point they almost reconcile... but then Indiana mentions plans to go to the University of Chicago (because of their superior archeology program) rather than his father's preferred Princeton, and his father's response is to almost literally tell him not to let the door hit him on the way out.
We then follow him to Chicago as he starts college, and then the following summer as he has summer jobs in New York and Hollywood. These final episodes feel a bit more stand-alone, and while you still may learn a thing or two and meet a few interesting historical figures, a shift of emphasis seems to make for a start of a transition to the feel of the film series. It is a bit of a shame the series was canceled when it was, it is my understanding that future episodes would have indeed tied more into the film series, including finally getting to meet Marion's father Abner Ravenwood, mentioned in Raiders as a professor Indiana had had at the University of Chicago. Still, the final Hollywood episode kind of works as an ending, being one of the most adventurous episode, and playing as a nice tribute to 20's cinema, not too far removed from the 30's adventure serials that were the inspiration of the original three films.
Some final thoughts on the series before moving on: How does it hold up? Pretty darn good! Occasionally some special effects may be a bit obvious, or a bit of stock footage may stick out... But for a television series made in the early 90's that is a period piece, much of it a war-time period piece, with constantly shifting settings and only one constant character throughout... Well, it mostly holds up! There is the occasional suspension of disbelief necessary, but nothing that is impossible to watch.
For the most part, things were very grounded in the show. There was one (half of an) episode that was a bit strange, with Indy vs. Dracula, and it does seem somewhat jarring coming after all of the very real horrors of war he has faced. But considering some of what he later goes up against in the films (the Thuggee cult in Temple, for example, who's leader could rip out your still beating heart without it visibly injuring you or immediately killing you) is Dracula really much of a stretch? Still, it is one of the weaker stories.
The guest cast is consistently impressive, with some already well known faces (Christopher Lee, Max von Sydow), some familiar faces from other Lucasfilm projects (Anthony Daniels, Ian McDiarmid), and some faces that would someday be better known (Daniel Craig, Clark Gregg). (Sadly, Christopher Lee was not the aforementioned Dracula, that might have made that story much better!)
The show was intended to be educational, but if the concept of "edutainment" scares you, don't let it here. It really is handled well, and feels an organic part of the narrative. And if there is anything that, while watching, brings to mind the phrase, "Would you like to know more?" the DVD release has you quite well covered. There is not a single standard extra feature such as behind-the-scenes making ofs, which is a bit of a shame. But what there is are many half-hour length documentaries (multiple ones for each episode), produced by Lucasfilm specifically for this release, that elaborate upon many of the people, events, or concepts that are presented within the narrative. The documentaries are quite good (although occasionally a bit dated) and make me nostalgic for a time when The History Channel had a bit more on it than shows about pawn shops and auto detailing.
Moving on, I suppose I'll have a bit less to say about the films... After all, most of you are much more familiar with those! But what I was doing here was watching the entire saga as a whole. So how do the films feel in that context?
When watching the films alone, I always would watchthem in production order. But here, I watched Temple first. After all, it does chronologically come first. And honestly... watching it between the series and the other movies does actually make for a nice transition. This movie always felt a bit different from the other two films set in the 30's, but it does work really well as a transitional piece.
One episode of the show featured Indy and Remy looking for a large diamond known as the Peacock's Eye. It is this quest that sadly draws Indy and Remy apart, as eventually the quest has no end in sight. Indy wants to start his studies, and Remy wants to continue his search. Although never established on screen, I have heard that word of god has said that the diamond Indy unsuccessfully is trying to get at the start of this film is the very same Peacock's eye. Alas, his luck with it seems to be remaining constant.
Next up is Raiders. Watching it so soon after the TV series, Indy's line about knowing Abner from having him as a professor at the University of Chicago really stuck out. (A shame that, as I mentioned, plans to produce an episode where Indy and Abner meet never came to be.) Of course, most of this film is another rollicking adventure! But it is interesting to see that in some ways Indiana has also taken after his father. While he may not have gone to school there, he has followed in his father's footsteps in becoming a professor at Princeton University. Also, even if he doesn't even practice what he preaches, at least he it trying to teach his students proper archeology. (Even if half of his students might be in his class for different reasons.)
The Last Crusade. Well, most of it, since I already watched the 1912 sequence. Indy gets some resolution on the artifact he was after in 1912, and is finally able to see that it gets to a museum. But really, the big resolution in this film (if taken as part of the Indiana Jones saga as a whole) is finally he and his father are able to come to understand one another. It is a shame that so much time was lost between them, but it is good that they were at least able to make peace with one another while his father was still alive.
Finally, the much maligned Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I know I shall probably get flayed in the comments... but you know what? I like this film! Sure, it is no Raiders or Crusade, but it ain't bad!
Okay, yes, the sequence where Indy survives a nuclear blast in a lead lined fridge is stretching things a bit... but this is in a series where we already had Willie Scott survive being suspended a few feet above molten lava, for an extended period, in a metal cage, with no ill effects! So I'll forgive a bit of fridge nuking.
And the other thing people complain about... OMG! Aliens! Eh, so what? The first three films, set in the 30's, were love letters to 30's adventure serials. So why can't the film set in the 50's be a love letter to 50's sci-fi B-movies? And in a series that has included Dracula, Thuggee cults, melting Nazis, and a super rapidly aging John Glover who chose poorly... Well yeah, I don't see aliens as too much of a stretch.
Then, of course, the thing people most love to hate... Shia the Beef. Okay, the man did himself no favors with the Transformers films. (Even as a big fan of Transformers in general, I'd have to say those films weren't that great.) And yeah, his real life activities the last few years have been a bit strange... But in this film? I like him, and I like his character! Maybe it is because I got to see Indiana himself around that age, and I can see a lot of the similarities. So it isn't too hard to think that Mutt Williams will eventually mature to be more like his dad as an adult. And it is also funny to see, once their relationship becomes clear, how much of Henry Sr., Mutt brings out in Indiana. Although at least Indiana and Mutt are able to come to terms by the end of this film, instead of becoming estranged for decades.
So, what does the future hold? Well, if rumors are true, we can look forward to a reboot, and I've been hearing Chris Pratt's name rumored as a new Indiana Jones. It could be good! But I cannot help but be saddened at the thought. After watching the current iteration of Indiana Jones from his birth through his late 50's, what I'd really love to see is one more adventure with him and his son, before finally passing on the torch for The Adventures of Mutt Williams. But even if, as seems likely, that doesn't come to pass, at least it has been a great adventure with Indy, from young and innocent boy, to a teenager off to adventure, to a somewhat more cynical war veteran, to the adventuring rogue with a fundamentally good heart. Almost sixty years of history and adventure with Indiana Jones!