UPDATE: Since writing this article they’ve announced and are filming a new Indiana Jones movie with Harrison Ford which is . . . fine. It’s fine.
In the space between me conceiving this article and drafting it, the rumor that Disney/Lucasfilm was thinking of doing Indy with a new actor under the hat has been squashed. Sort of. Frank Darabont, the writer in the rumor, has come out to say there’s no truth to it. Frank Marshall, famed producer of the franchise, had a less definitive denial, saying this on twitter: “Due to the ridiculous rumors that keep popping up, like agents pipe dreams, I will stop commenting on our projects until I have real news.”
Not exactly a firm denial that something is happening, but the comment could definitely construed to mean: “The exact details of that rumor, ie, the Bradley Cooper casting, are incorrect. There will be future, different details about new Indiana Jones projects.” At least the way I interpret it.
“Latino Review,” the original publishers of the rumor, notably haven’t updated their article to debunk it (at the time of this writing). “Latino Review” is well-known for getting the scoop on these kind of situations, so who knows what the truth actually is. Still, the idea of recasting Indiana Jones hooks sharp talons into the minds of the internet, as evidence by the various social media flashfires of outrage that I’ve seen.
In the past, I wanted you to chill out about Batffleck. In the interest of fairness, let me explain why I think . . .
Recasting Indiana Jones is a Great Idea
Don’t be mad, if you are mad. If you’re not mad that’s cool brother, Jah will provide mon. Obviously Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones – I’m not for one second questioning the might of the man who started it all. Harrison Ford has the rare luck of playing two iconic characters that helped redefine the entire American cinema business, and he gets full props for both.
This isn’t even a cheapshot at the underwhelming “Kingdom of the Crystal Whatever.” It’s also not to say that the idea of an Indiana Jones movie featuring an old Indy is an inherently bad idea. It isn’t, necessarily. However, Indy’s roots come from serialized, pulp action heroes. He isn’t a hero in the David Copperfield mold – we don’t need to see him born, grow old, have kids, and die. That’s not why you watch Indiana Jones – it isn’t a biography.
Indiana Jones is (and always has been) a story of a 30’s pulp adventurer raiding tombs, solving puzzles, and beating back those evil Nazis with his two fists and his stubbly jaw. He’s not supposed to be relatable, we’re not supposed to see the human journey in his story. We are supposed to be taken away, to be filled with wonder, to want to escape into his shoes and live the fantasy of the globe-trotting, girl-getting, blimp-fucking Indiana Jones.
Harrison Ford cannot do that at age 80. He can no longer fight Nazis, because there aren’t any. His character HAS to be adventuring in the 1960’s, even the 1970’s, in an age where the world has been mapped by airplanes, where even the first computers already exist, where science and the atom bomb are king and mystical artifacts and ancient tombs are filled with nothing but clay and old bones. He has to be the “aging man out of time,” a dinosaur of a forgotten era. We have to see him “pass the torch,” we have to see him get married.
This setting, this story, makes the iconic character nothing more than a slave to his all-too-mortal actor. Are our legends so fragile?
Why So Mad?
The problem with movies is that they are a relatively young medium. While movies are amazing, they haven’t even spent 100 years in the mainstream yet. If you argue that “Jaws” or “Star Wars” created the current blockbuster-format that transformed movies into the cultural zeitgeist-defining megabeasts that they are now, then movies have only been the apex predator for less than forty years. As an art form, that’s infancy. That’s pregnancy. That’s zygote-ery.
This is why the anger about recasting movie characters is often so powerful, and why movie-goers (geeks like me especially) get so passionately betrayed when they see a character “stolen” from an actor. Indiana Jones is one of the most famous fictional characters on Earth, and he’s only ever been played by Harrison Ford. Wolverine has only ever been played by Hugh Jackman. Chief Brody from “Jaws” has only ever been played by Roy Scheider. We want these heroes to be eternal. What we don’t realize is that THEY ARE.
Allow me to elaborate – Hamlet. Jean Valjean. Romeo. Juliet. Sherlock Holmes. Hercules. Nobody gets mad when these characters have a new actor inside of them, because the idea of Hamlet “belonging” to a living actor is a joke. It is honestly laughable. I am laughing. And we don’t mind this because all of these characters come from media that are ancient: literature, theater, and myth. It’s common knowledge that, in theater, an actor gets a crack at the classic character and then moves on. Even if they generated the role (Les Miserables only first took the stage in 1985), they don’t get to “keep it.” They do their duty, and the next guy gets his chance.
Movies are new. Movies are recorded, unlike theater, and constantly replayed. If you want to see a production of Hamlet, you physically have to go see Hamlet, you understand that not one “Hamlet” can exist all across the planet. In contrast, Harrison Ford CAN be all over the world – when I in California and a kid in Latveria hit “play” on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” at the same time, we both get Ford’s handsome mug on our screens. It’s conditioned us to believe the character IS the actor – it’s likely the root of our entire obsession with actors. We can’t separate them from the heroes they play.
What we need to understand (myself included), is that characters don’t belong to actors. They don’t even belong to writers, not the icons, not the legends. Mythological characters belong to the society – their stories can’t end because the man who wears their suit does. That’s not how culture works.
This goes double for “adventure” characters, because . . .
We’ve Already Started Doing It
The actor/character swap has already begun in movies. The medium is maturing to the point where it’s becoming necessary. We didn’t retire Superman after George Reeves passed away, or after Christopher Reeve aged out of the part, or when Brandon Routh starred in a boring one, or when Batman killed Superman in “Man of Steel League 2 Batman is In Everything Plus Flash.” If you’re going to say, “Aww, but he’s was a comic book character long before – ” lemme stop you there.
James Bond has had seven actors (more if you count radio/tv/non-canon movies). Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan has had four actors. Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s iconic smartass noir detective, has had a staggering 9 actors. “Wait a daggum minute,” you might say, “Those are book characters!” And right you are. Why? Because audiences understand that those characters can’t possibly belong to an actor.
Why is a character who’s made for a movie any different? Should they be any different? The answer is, of course, no. Do we really want to never recast these roles, never tell new stories with these characters, and let an entire generation of heroes fade into obscurity? Allow our children to never feel a rush of joy as Indiana Jones barely escapes a sure-death situation? To never experience that shocking swell of inspiration and “fuck-yeah-edness” that orgasms across your heart when the Indiana Jones theme kicks up into max volume?
“Just show your kids the old movies,” a reasonable person might say. And they’d be right. However, try showing a current 7-year-old a Bela Lugosi Dracula movie when he asks to watch “Van Helsing.” See how well that goes. The kid might be able to appreciate old movies when he’s matured (just like we all do), but he’s never going to get that kid experience that makes a hero live inside of you. Like it or not, kids like new stuff. They just do. Go YouTube any scene from the Star Wars prequels, and look how many tweens there are violently defending them as “totes way better than the originals.” I’m not even kidding. It’s shocking. And it’s not their fault – they’re dumb kids. Dumb kids don’t understand that the Vader/Luke “Return of the Jedi” fight has the most pathos, which makes it the best lightsaber fight of the saga – they just don’t see enough flipkicks or volcano surfing and think “boooorrrring.”
Let’s say you don’t want to “think of the children.” Think of yourself – don’t you want new Indy adventures? Don’t you want to see Indy explore Chambhala, or Iram of the Pillars, or El Dorado? Well, if you do, you should play Uncharted. ZING! Seriously though, if you love something, don’t you want more? I sure as hell do.
Also Bradley Cooper would make a great Indy. Asshole + charming = Indy. Search your feelings. You know it to be true. I mean, come on. Imagine him kicking back in a cargo plane with a fedora down to his nose while he catches a few winks. Tell me that image didn’t just leap out at you.
Don’t think I’m giving producers carte blanche to make reboots and remakes forever, unending. “The Godfather” doesn’t need a remake/recasting because that story is about the fall of Michael Corleone. He’s not a “serialized adventure character” – we don’t want to see how Michael Corleone would deal with frozen tundra or a tiger attack – he lives in his mileu.
I’m talking about iconic, serialized heroes who thrive in new adventures. I’m talking about Indiana Jones, Harry Callahan, and Robocop. I’m also talking about pop, pop, pop music.