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Published: Wednesday, 5/7/2008

Everyone's favorite archaeologist - Indiana Jones - is ready for his close-up

BY DAVID GERMAIN
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), left, and Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) ponder their latest dilemma in a scene from
Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.
Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), left, and Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) ponder their latest dilemma in a scene from Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.
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LOS ANGELES - Marion Ravenwood might have been speaking for us all when she set eyes on Indiana Jones for the first time in years.

Her caustic greeting to the archaeologist-adventurer in 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark: "Indiana Jones. I always knew someday you'd come walking back through my door."

It's been 19 years since Indy literally rode off into the sunset in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but like Marion, could anyone doubt that the world's most famous tomb raider would come back into our lives one day?

For 27 years, Indy has stood as one of cinema's ultimate Everyman heroes, a poster boy for the idea that there are some good men you can never, ever keep down.

"He's a real guy. He's just like us," said George Lucas, who dreamed up the character and reteams with director Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford as Indy for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, due out May 22.

"He makes lots of mistakes," Lucas said. "He kind of goofs up. He has the same kind of thinking that we have. He's beat up all the time. It's like he's not a superhero. He's just an average Joe that's always in over his head that somehow seems to get through it."

The new movie co-stars Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko, a Russian operative with crisp black bangs who's after the Crystal Skull of Akator, an ancient artifact that could help the Soviet Union dominate the world.

Ray Winstone plays a new Indy ally, and the film also co-stars John Hurt and Jim Broadbent.

Raiders fans are thrilled over the return of Karen Allen as Marion, while Shia LaBeouf plays Indy's new sidekick, Mutt Williams.

An early press kit for Crystal Skull describes Mutt as a "rebellious 20-year-old with a chip on his shoulder and some personal business to discuss with Dr. Jones." Fans have speculated that Mutt is the love child of Indy and Marion, though the filmmakers won't say.

Resurrecting Indy took more than a decade of debate, disagreement, and compromise among the film's three principals, Spielberg and Ford disliking a way-out-there initial idea Lucas had.

"It was the three of us, Steven, George, and I, coming to agreement on the central notion of it all," Ford said. "I think the original idea is still a large piece of it in the movie, but it's been developed and worked on in ways that made it a lot more palatable to Steven and I."

Though the filmmakers have been tightlipped on the plot, the era - 1957 instead of the 1930s - and the trailer's image of a crate marked "Roswell, New Mexico, 1947," imply aliens are involved. Roswell is where UFO buffs claim an alien spaceship crashed in 1947.

Just as the first three Indy flicks were inspired by the supernatural B-movies of the 1930s, Lucas conceded he took his cue for the new film from the equivalent of the 1950s, when B-movies centered on extraterrestrial menace.

Just how far Crystal Skull might venture into E.T. territory remains to be seen, though it clearly was not as far as Lucas wanted.

"The MacGuffin of it slowed down a little bit from what my original enthusiastic version was. Again, that's the way it works with Steven and Harrison and I," Lucas said. "We're not going to do anything anyone's uncomfortable with. We want to do something everybody likes, we in the group, the three of us.

"They wanted to go off on some other tangent. I said, 'I'm not going to do that. I'm going to stick with this no matter what, so we either do this or we don't. That's it.' Finally, we got something that we could all compromise on and all be happy with. It wasn't quite as wacky as I wanted it to be, but it still is subtle and nice and works really well and has the same idea behind it."

Likewise, Crystal Skull has the same idea behind the action, presented in the Indy-making-it-up-as-he-goes-along style of the earlier films rather than the glossy computer-generated imagery that makes most of today's action spectacles look as slick as a video game.

"We did it sort of old-school-style," Ford said. "Certainly, there is a fair amount of CGI that will be used, enhancing a lot of what we did, but generally not in the action area. It will enhance some of the physical sets. In the action area, it was pretty much done for real."

The filmmakers are keeping the movie under tight wraps until its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival just four days before it opens in theaters.

But members of Indy's inner circle have seen it, among them Sean Patrick Flanery, who played the character in the 1990s TV adventures of Young Indiana Jones.

"It's the same vibe, the same feel. They didn't miss a beat," Flanery said of Crystal Skull. "People are going to love it. It's what everybody's been waiting for."

Fan buzz online has been intense. On IMDB.com, the Internet Movie Database, a post from a user called zac2347 chides fans for claiming Crystal Skull is the summer's most-anticipated movie, insisting it "looks like a rehash of the same stuff" and that the three trailers for The Dark Knight have elevated that Batman sequel above Indy.

Responds another poster, indyjones32: "Three trailers vs. 20 years of wait, disappointment, and build-up. My money is on the 20 years."

Raiders, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Last Crusade presented a rich warehouse of detail to define the character, from his fedora hat and whip to his snake phobia and bookish classroom demeanor.

His quips were wonderfully quotable: "Trust me" "It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage" "Nazis. I hate these guys" - and, informing passengers after tossing a Nazi out of a zeppelin, "No ticket."

Raiders was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best picture, director, and score, whose fanfare is one of the world's best-known pieces of music.

Indy placed second on the American Film Institute's list of movie heroes, ahead of James Bond, Superman, and Ford's Star Wars character, Han Solo. The only man to beat him was Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird.

While all three films had wild action and memorable exchanges, Raiders has stood as the critical favorite.

"Like all megahits, you look back and see that every element was perfect," said director Rob Cohen, who resurrects another archaeological-adventure franchise this summer with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

"Harrison is an A actor in a B-movie setup, and Spielberg is an A-plus-plus-plus director taking on the Saturday morning serial. So you get a humanity and sophistication that you wouldn't get if you did the cardboard version," said Cohen, who added that he introduced Spielberg to Allen, the future Marion Ravenwood, on a double date in 1980.

Lucas went through years of grousing and second-guessing by fans who picked apart his Star Wars prequels. He expects the same on Crystal Skull, saying it's impossible to satisfy hardcore fans.

"Whenever you do a film like this, people expect the Second Coming, and that's not what it is. So fans all get grumpy, the critics are already grumpy," Lucas said. "If you're going to say, 'I'm going to get my Academy Award this year and finally I'm going to be loved by all the critics, and the fans are just going to go crazy' - not going to happen."

"So you only do it because it's a fun experience to do, and we love the movies," Lucas said. "We're doing it primarily because we want to see it. I want to see it, Steven wants to see it, Harrison wants to see it."



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