Posted by: karlasblume | April 17, 2008

Lucas & Spielberg on Indiana Rumors

How exactly do you mediate a conversation with two of the most fertile minds in moviemaking? You hang on for dear life, that’s how! When EW sat down with George Lucasand Steven Spielberg for a chat about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which opens May 22), the pace was fast and furious. But Spielberg and Lucas were so voluble, so passionately steeped in film history, and so funny that we had to bring you more of their historic summit meeting, in which the pair discuss how filmmaking has changed in the past quarter-century, the impact of websites like this one on the experience of moviegoing, and the fate of Indiana Jones and the Monkey King

Read the interview after the break.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Gentlemen! This is like having Superman and Batman in the same room. [Laughter

STEVEN SPIELBERG: But wait a minute — which is which? I wanna be Superman! With the big S. 
GEORGE LUCAS: We should get some clinking glasses and stuff, just to screw up your tape.

So what took so long to get to installment No. 4? It’s been 19 years since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the last of the original trilogy of films. 
LUCAS: When we got to [the idea of making a fourth] one, I had already said, ”No. I can’t think of another MacGuffin.”

Meaning, the mystical thingy everyone is chasing. 
LUCAS: I said, ”I can’t do it. It’s too hard.” We barely got through the last couple of ’em with smoke and mirrors. Sankara stones, for God’s sakes?

But there’s a lot of historical data about the Sankara stones! 
LUCAS: There is, but nobody in the United States knows about it, so there’s no resonance. The MacGuffin is the key. Before the Sankara stones [which became the focus of the second film in the trilogy, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom], we’d had ideas for all kinds of other MacGuffin things. Some of them were original ones, that were in the [proposed] stories that I did. Like a haunted castle and stuff. But then Steven went off and did Poltergeist and said, ”I don’t want to do another haunted-castle movie.”

In developing the third movie, there was a Christopher Columbus script early on, Indiana Jones and the Monkey King, set partly in Africa. And that one had a preamble involving a haunted castle. 
LUCAS: We wrote complete scripts on other MacGuffins [for the third film]. And finally I said, look, let’s just try the Holy Grail. [Adopting another voice] ”Ohhh, it’s too cerebral, we’ll never make it work….” So we turned it into a tangible magic cup with healing powers, instead of an intellectual thing. It wasn’t until the idea of introducing the father came along that we kind of pulled [the third movie] out of the fire. Because it then shifted from being about the MacGuffin. But ultimately, these are supernatural mysteries. They aren’t action adventures. Everybody thinks they’re action-adventure films, but that’s just the genre we hang them on. 

SPIELBERG: There’s not one that hasn’t been supernatural. 
LUCAS: The supernatural part has to be real. [He taps the table] Which is why they’re very hard, and you run out [of options] very fast. You have to have a supernatural object that people actually believe in. People believe that there was an Ark of the Covenant, and it has these powers. Same thing with the Sankara stones, same thing with the Holy Grail. We may have exaggerated some of its powers, but basically there are people who believe there is a Holy Grail, brought back by the Knights Templar. 

SPIELBERG: Of course, I was worried that people would hear ”Holy Grail,” and they would immediately think about a white rabbit attacking Monty Python. My first reaction was to say, ”Everybody run away! Run away!”

Well to bring us into Indy 4, what kind of developmental push and pull went on once you decided to set the new film in the 1950s? 
LUCAS: The idea was to take the genre of Saturday-matinee serials, which were popular in the ’30s and ’40s, and say, ”What kind of B movie was popular in the ’50s, like those B movie serials were popular in the ’40s?” And use that as the overall uber-genre. We wouldn’t do it as a Saturday-matinee serial. We’d do it as a B movie from the ’50s. 
SPIELBERG: The Cold War came to mind immediately, because if you’re in the ’50s, you have to acknowledge the Cold War. 


ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Would it have been weird to use cartoonish Nazis as villains again, as you did in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Maybe take a Boys from Brazil tack, and follow fugitive Nazis to South America? 
STEVEN SPIELBERG: A lot changed for me after [1993’s] Schindler’s List, especially when I began working with Holocaust survivors, and being able to collect their testimonies. But I never look back with shame at Raiders or Last Crusade. We gave the Nazis the same spin that, I think, in a way, Charlie Chaplin was able to give them in The Great Dictator. There was always a bit of, We’re not going to take them that seriously. It’s just something I wouldn’t choose to do right now. I would choose not to make them Saturday-matinee villains. 

GEORGE LUCAS: If you’re going to make a movie about the 1930s, it’s almost impossible to do it without the Nazis. And it’s the same thing when we got [to the ’50s] here. We have to deal with the Russians because that’s where we were. It’s not like we set out to make a film about Russians. It was, What was going on in the world? What were the issues? Who was doing what? 
SPIELBERG: Totally. 
LUCAS: You do a whole lot of research around the subject matter to try to get it as plausible as possible. We don’t deal with time machines. We don’t deal with phony notebooks that don’t exist. We don’t deal with pyramids in 10,000 B.C., because there weren’t any.

So, Nazis out, Russians in. And that led you to a Russian villainess. 
SPIELBERG: Well, we had a villainess last time, too [in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade].

But blonde Elsa wasn’t bad from the get-go. 
SPIELBERG: Right. Irina Spalko is a villain when she [first] gets out of the car. 
LUCAS: She’s an uber-villain. 
SPIELBERG: The privilege for me was working with the great and talented Cate Blanchett. Because she is really a master of disguise. 
LUCAS: She’s just amazing. 
SPIELBERG: She is so unrecognizable in this movie. But she’s been unrecognizable in many of the choices she’s made in her career, to play characters, like Bob Dylan, that are so removed from who she is as a mom and a wife in real life. She’s a very threatening villain. Of all the villains I’ve been able to work with in the Indiana Jones movies, I can say she’s my favorite. And I think Cate made her that way. We gave her a template for this, but she invented the character.

You’ve made Indiana much older in Crystal Skull — the character is nearly 60. And Harrison Ford turned 65 while you were making the film. 
LUCAS: There was never any question about the fact that we were going to have Harrison play his age. 
SPIELBERG: There’s a line that was thematic for me, and it’s not a line that’s actually in the movie. And it illustrates why I was comfortable letting Harrison age 18, 19 years. In the first movie, he says, ”It’s not the years, sweetheart, it’s the mileage.” Well, my whole theme in this movie is, It’s not the mileage sweetheart, it’s the years. When a guy gets to be that age and he still packs the same punch, and he still runs just as fast and climbs just as high, he’s gonna be breathing a little heavier at the end of the set piece. And I felt, Let’s have some fun with that. Let’s not hide that.

Plus he’s got a sidekick to show him up — Shia LaBeouf, who plays a young ”greaser.” Did he even know what a greaser was? 

SPIELBERG: He didn’t. 
LUCAS: I had to train him. Shia got sent to the American Graffiti school of greaserland. And I became the consultant on his comb. 
SPIELBERG: [Looking bemused] That’s right. 
LUCAS: And Steve would call on me every once in a while. If I wasn’t there, he’d call me up and say, ”Look, there’s a leather jacket we have in this shot, and we need to know — should it be unsnapped, or snapped?” 
SPIELBERG: I remember that stuff too. I remember Ed ”Kooky” Byrnes [from the TV series 77 Sunset Strip] with his comb….

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Of course, there are downsides to the burgeoning Internet age — and one of those downsides is, when a popular movie is coming up, people sort of peck it to death before it even opens. There’s been a huge amount written on the Internet about the development of Crystal Skull, including lots of spoilers on chat boards — though most of it is clearly labeled. Is it getting harder to protect the development process? 

STEVEN SPIELBERG: It really is important to be able to point out that the Internet is still filled with more speculation than facts. The Internet isn’t really about facts. It’s about people’s wishful thinking, based on a scintilla of evidence that allows their imaginations to springboard. And that’s fine. 

GEORGE LUCAS: Y’know, Steven will say, ”Oh, everything’s out on the Internet [in terms of Crystal Skull details] — what this is and what that is.” And to that I say, ”Steven, it doesn’t make any difference!” Look — Jaws was a novel before it was a movie, and anybody could see how it ended. Didn’t matter. 

SPIELBERG: But there’s lots and lots of people who don’t want to find out what happens. They want that to happen on the 22nd of May. They want to find out in a dark theater. They don’t wanna find out by reading a blog…. A movie is experiential. A movie happens in a way that has always been cathartic, the personal, human catharsis of an audience in holy communion with an experience up on the screen. That’s why I’m in the middle of this magic, and I always will be.

Do you think the sanctuary of the dark theater is being eroded? 

LUCAS: No! Look, it’s like sports — 
SPIELBERG: Yes. I think it is being eroded, by too much information and too much misinformation, especially. 
LUCAS: But look, it’s like sports. This isn’t new. When March Madness gets started with the NCAA [basketball tournament], there are thousands of blogs out there. Rampant speculation. If you follow it enough, you go crazy. [With Crystal Skull], you don’t know what’s actually gonna happen till you walk into that theater. I don’t care if you know the whole story, I don’t care if you’ve seen clips. I don’t care how much you’ve seen or heard or read. The experience itself is very different, once you walk in that theater. 

SPIELBERG: Well, here’s my debate on that. I’ve always been stingy about the scenes I show in a teaser or a trailer. Because my experience has been — and my kids’ experience has been, ’cause they talk out loud in theaters, like everybody else does today — that if a scene they remember from the trailer hasn’t come on the screen yet, and they’re three quarters of the way through the movie, they start talking. ”Oh — I know what’s gonna happen! Because there was that one little scene they haven’t shown yet in the movie I’m experiencing, and it’s coming up!” And it ruins everything.

What about creating deliberate disinformation, the way, say The Sopranos‘ producers did? 
SPIELBERG: I did that, but I don’t do that any more ’cause it takes too much effort. 

LUCAS: We have managed to keep the fact that Will Ferrell is the main villain in Crystal Skull out of the blogosphere. 
SPIELBERG: Exactly. But it did get out that it’s Steve Carell, last week. 
LUCAS: Except people don’t know that they’re a team… 

SPIELBERG: [Laughs] And by the way, when you run this? There’ll be people that believe it!

Karla says:  Ryan, for what it’s worth, you are the ONLY Superman to me. Spielberg will never be RyantheMighty either. Can’t wait to see the movie, though… Maybe we should have a Mashti-Movie run??



  1. I stopped reading after Lucas said, “We’re going to make it like a B movie from the 50’s!” Look how well that worked with Star Wars… *Razza frazzin’ Trade Federation*

  2. What I love about this interview is that you get a real sense that these guys are just a couple of geeks. Nice!

  3. i love it! I am one of the people not wanting it to be ruined by blogs though. Those guys are great… i hope the movie is as good as it sounds

  4. Pardon me Mr Lucas do you have any Grey Poupon?
    But of course Mr Speilberg.

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