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One of the many ideas fermented by the amazing George Lucas1, Indiana Jones was formed after Lucas and Steven Spielberg combined as producer and director respectively, after Spielberg admitted that he wanted to do a light-hearted action adventure, similar to the James Bond films2. The films were a loving pastiche of the old Saturday-morning Boys' Own adventure stories, and each one was scripted, in the style of the original series, to contain an element of theological significance.
Spielberg and Lucas originally wanted to cast Tom Selleck as the whip-wielding archaeologist of the title role, but he pulled out as he was contracted to a TV show, Magnum PI.
After seeing Harrison Ford in Lucas' film, The Empire Strikes Back, Spielberg cast him in the title role, later admitting that he couldn't think of anyone better to take on the role. Indiana Jones was the role that shot Harrison Ford to fame; along with Star Wars, it made him the world's number one box-office draw for much of the 1980s.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The ark in question is the fabled Lost Ark of the Covenant, the supposed resting place of the tablets containing the original Ten Commandments. Our hero is called away from liberating artefacts in the Peruvian jungle, as the US Government have learnt of the Nazis' discovery of the chamber that tells the whereabouts of the Ark in Egypt. After Indy (as he is often called) regains the headpiece of the Staff of Ra (which indicates the location of the Ark) from ex-girlfriend Marion3 in Nepal, he sets course for Egypt on a mission to find and protect the Ark.
The film produced several memorable scenes, notably the fight beneath the aeroplane and subsequent lorry-chase4. Most people also remember fondly the chase through the Egyptian bazaar, culminating in Indy's encounter with a sword-wielding man-mountain. Thoroughly unimpressed by the showmanship, Indy simply draws a pistol and shoots him, in a moment that - although re-written at the last moment in order to shift the crew out of Morocco5 - has become a cinema classic.
No less a classic is the opening sequence where the pillaging Dr Jones encounters all manner of traps while heisting a precious stone. The 'rolling boulder' sequence, although in fact derivative of a 1950s 'Disney Ducks' cartoon, became the stuff of legend, attracting countless imitations.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Accompanied by young, wise-cracking assistant, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) and night-club songbird Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), Indiana escapes drug smugglers in Shanghai via plane, only to be brought down in a remote Indian village. They are sent on a quest to find the legendary Sancara Stones, and free the thousands of children enslaved in the fortress-like mine by the reinstated Thuggee cult.
The darkest of the trilogy, but reckoned by most to be the weakest, this was strictly speaking a prequel to Raiders, and intended to give an insight into Indy's character. Whether it succeeded or not is a moot point, but the film did give us that most memorable of scenes, the underground mining-car chase, which naturally became a cgi-enhanced ride at Florida's Universal Studios.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
This time, Indiana Jones is sent to find his kidnapped father (Sean Connery), and the pair inadvertently start a race against time to find the Holy Grail before the Nazis do.
Played very much for laughs, the film was hugely successful - as one would expect from any film co-starring Ford and Connery. Connery's appearance also completes the circle of James Bond inspiring the Indiana Jones films. In real life, Connery is just 12 years older than his screen 'son'.
The film draws some interesting contrasts between Joneses Senior and Junior. Philandering seems to be a prominent theme, as are some common phobias (we know Indiana is scared of snakes - his father is petrified of rats). In addition many of Jones' characteristics, such as his whip, his hat, his fear of snakes and the distinctive scar on his chin6 are explained by the opening scene, featuring River Phoenix as a 15-year-old Indy. This scene later went on to inspire a television spin-off series.
The film's memorable moments include a marathon tank-chase and Indiana finally coming face-to-face with Hitler, although actor Michael Sheard7 must have been having an off-day; in a superb movie blunder, the famously left-handed Hitler writes his signature right-handed, and misspells his first name as 'Adolph'.
The distinctive music for the three films was composed by John Williams, and to many people is the very essence of Indiana Jones. A brassy march theme, it has been a mainstay of youth orchestras ever since and will often trigger impromptu sing-alongs in any place where people drink alcohol.
Indy has many famous trademarks, not least of which is his battered bush hat, which he famously never loses. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the only reason that he kept hold of his hat was for continuity purposes, until Lucas realised what a great gimmick the idea was.
Another running joke is the fact that whenever Indiana steals someone else's clothing, it is always too small. Perhaps something of a pseudo-Herculean reference as well...
Indiana is not only named after the family dog in the film, but the dog that Lucas owned while making Star Wars. It's not the only link to Star Wars in this trilogy either. For example, the bar seen at the start of Temple of Doom is called 'Club Obi-Wan'.
Each film begins with a shot that somehow mirrors the logo of Paramount Pictures, distributors of all the Indiana Jones films.
Dan Ackroyd's appearance as the plane's engineer in Temple of Doom was a quid pro quo for Spielberg's cameo appearance at the end of The Blues Brothers.
The fourth Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released in 2008. Set in the 1950s, it saw Indy fighting Russians, teaming up with his old flame Marion, and finding aliens. A scene in the film altered that common term 'jumping the shark'8 to 'nuking the fridge'.