The Greek gods go, the warrior women stay.

From USA Today‘s story on the “tightrope” that the makers of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian have walked, between satisfying Christian fans of the book and broadening the movie’s appeal:

He also had to leave out some beloved scenes and characters. Goodbye to Greek God Bacchus and his wild girls who in the book accompany Aslan on a joyful romp; writer Stephen McFeely said the Greek gods are no longer an easily recognizable cultural reference.

Um, isn’t that kind of the point of the story? That the culture — both Narnian and English — has lost touch with its mythic, imaginative roots, etc.? Certainly one of the things I always liked about the Narnia books — and movies like Fantasia (1940), pictured above, which also depicts Bacchus — was the way they introduced me to stuff like this when I was a kid.

I do like the Gresham anecdote that comes near the end of this other bit from the USA Today story, though:

Adamson also updated the movie for 21st century mores. To make it more inclusive, he added female dwarves, child-aged fawns and an “Afro-centaur” (Cornell John) as Glenstorm, the noble half-man, half-horse. In addition, the Pevensie sisters, Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), join the battle, which they avoid in the book.

For Adamson, it was an obvious choice to allow women an active role in the fight. Referring to the gift of bow and arrow that Susan received in the first movie, Adamson laughs, “If she’s just going to make sandwiches, then give her a plate and a knife.”

Adamson made his case for the changes to Gresham by arguing that Lewis’ female characters become stronger as the book series progresses — something he attributes to Lewis’ real-life romance with Gresham’s mother, Joy Davidman. Gresham agreed. As evidence, he recounted an encounter he witnessed between Lewis, Davidman and a longbow-wielding trespasser on their property. Davidman carried a small “garden gun.” When the man aimed a drawn arrow at the pair, Lewis chivalrously stepped in front of Davidman to shield her. He remained for a moment until Davidman, a Bronx native, commanded, “Goddamn, Jack, get out of my line of fire.”

“That whole kind of experience of my mother’s determination and personality I think changed Jack’s ideas towards women,” says Gresham.

I have heard variations of that anecdote before, and I do like it, even if I am somewhat dubious about the way Adamson invokes it here — or the broader characterization of Gresham’s mother — to turn Susan into another generic “girl power” killing machine.

Canadian box-office stats — May 18

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

The American Trap — CDN $113,597 — N.AM $113,597 — 100%
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay — CDN $6,470,000 — N.AM $34,098,389 — 19.0%

The Forbidden Kingdom — CDN $5,210,000 — N.AM $50,368,985 — 10.3%
Made of Honor — CDN $3,280,000 — N.AM $33,903,519 — 9.7%
Forgetting Sarah Marshall — CDN $5,310,000 — N.AM $55,313,405 — 9.6%
What Happens in Vegas — CDN $3,790,000 — N.AM $40,341,516 — 9.4%

Iron Man — CDN $18,590,000 — N.AM $223,124,385 — 8.3%
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian — CDN $4,110,000 — N.AM $55,034,805 — 7.5%
Baby Mama — CDN $2,620,000 — N.AM $47,343,255 — 5.5%
Speed Racer — CDN $1,460,000 — N.AM $30,284,073 — 4.8%

A couple of discrepancies: The American Trap was #10 on the Canadian chart (it does not appear on the North American chart at all), while The Visitor was #10 on the North American chart (it was #11 in Canada).

Expelled — coming to Canada after all?

Various blogs and websites — here, here, and here — are reporting that the pro-Intelligent Design documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed may be coming to Canadian theatres June 6. The rumour had better be right, since Ben Stein has already begun to promote the film on Canadian TV, chatting about it a few nights ago on CBC’s The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos — where, bizarrely, he seemed to imply that gravity and the laws of thermodynamics fall under the heading of evolutionary theory.

This reminds me, I’ve been meaning to post some extra thoughts that I’ve had on the film since I first commented on it one month ago, shortly after it was released in the United States. (Many thanks, by the way, to the people who wrote me to answer David Berlinski’s question and explain what a “species” is!)

Let’s start with John Derbyshire‘s post from a few weeks back, when he noted that Ben Stein made the following comments while promoting this film on the Trinity Broadcasting Network:

When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you. . . .

Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Well, it’s a good thing so-called Intelligent Design theory isn’t science, then! Otherwise it might kill someone.

Okay, that’s being snarky. But you have to wonder why a film that demands “academic freedom” for people pursuing a, let’s say, unconventional sort of science would be constructed and promoted in such a way as to denigrate science itself. How can the makers of this film say they want ID to have a place at the table when the table itself is so horrifying to them? (I have always found it interesting that, when I interviewed Stein myself, he issued his strongest denunciation of scientists while answering a question I had asked about the film’s treatment of ID scientists!)

In a similar vein, one of the best critiques I have read of this film was written by Jim Manzi and posted a couple weeks ago at National Review. Manzi makes much the same point that I made last month, regarding how the movie needs to demonstrate some of the actual alleged science behind ID if it wants ID to enjoy any sort of “academic freedom” — but he makes the point more methodically, and in greater detail.

Then there is the political element.

When I interviewed Stein, he said he was approached by the film’s producers because he was one of the few “conservatives” in Hollywood. But is ID necessarily a “conservative” movement? Various people in the film argue that ID, as a science, is not tied to any particular religion — and indeed, Stein himself is Jewish, though the film still fits broadly within the category of “Christian filmmaking” — so why would they imply that it is tied to a particular end of the political spectrum? (As my colleague Josh Hurst points out, it is odd how “footage of Ronald Reagan starts to pop up everywhere” in the film’s final moments.) Shouldn’t ID be just as politically neutral as it is religiously neutral? And shouldn’t it be presented as something that stands or falls on its own scientific merits?

Matters are further confused when the film quotes Eugenie Scott to the effect that many Christians believe evolution and religion are compatible, and then the film cuts to a journalist who asserts first that all religions can be broken down into “liberal” and “conservative” camps, and then that liberals will side with anyone against the “fundamentalists”. The clear implication seems to be that only “liberals” will accept evolutionary theory — yet surely there are many politically and even theologically conservative Christians and Jews who accept it, or are open to it, as well. (Hint: One of them is writing this post.)

Finally, a point of terminology.

One of the filmmakers wrote me after my review went online to say that I had gotten my facts wrong when I wrote that “the film never acknowledges that some ID theorists actually believe in evolution, albeit perhaps only to a point.” He sent me a few quotes from the film which, he claimed, did affirm “evolution” of some sort. But when you look at them closely, it turns out they don’t — at least not in the sense that most people use that word.

Paul Nelson, a young-earther, affirms nothing more than “change over time”, while Jonathan Wells affirms nothing more than “minor changes within species” — and he explicitly belittles Darwin’s efforts “to show how this same process leads to new species, in fact, to every species.” William Dembski comes closest to affirming “evolution” as most people use the term, except he pours on lots of qualifiers and never mentions any of the particulars of evolutionary theory except to marginalize them; after stressing the limitations of “natural selection”, whatever those limitations might be, he concludes: “What we’re finding with Darwin is that he had some valid insights, but it’s not the whole picture.”

So nowhere in this film do any of the IDers affirm, say, common descent, which is a key part of the sort of evolutionary theory that I had in mind when I wrote that sentence in my review. Nowhere does anybody say, as I gather leading ID theorist Michael Behe has said, that animals did evolve more or less as Darwin said they did, but there are just some things we can’t account for at the microscopic, cellular level. So I think my point stands. (Behe does not appear in this film at all, by the way — though he does appear in the ID-skeptical documentary Flock of Dodos (2006).)

The film has grossed $7.5 million since opening in the United States five weekends ago, which makes it one of the dozen top-grossing documentaries of all time. It will be interesting to see what waves this film makes, if any, should it actually be released here in Canada — especially given that it is a Canadian production.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

To get ready for the rumoured alien visitation in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I recently spent a few nights watching all three versions of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) — a film that I had not seen since high school — and I found it interesting on multiple levels.

For one thing, there are only two feature films where Spielberg has had sole credit for the final screenplay — this film and A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) — and both of these films make significant use of characters, themes or music from Pinocchio, either the original book written by Carlo Collodi in 1883 or the animated film released by Walt Disney in 1940. The two Spielberg films emphasize different aspects of that story, though; Close Encounters is all about “wishing upon a star”, whereas A.I. is all about trying to become a “real boy”. And, interestingly, Close Encounters is all about a child-like man who abandons his family to commune with the aliens, whereas A.I. is all about a child-like robot who yearns to be with his human family, or at least his mother, rather than to commune with his fellow robots.

For another, there is the film’s attitude towards family — which varies depending on which version of the film you’re watching. As Glenn Kenny has observed, the original theatrical version of the film — which had never been released on home video prior to the 30th-anniversary edition that came out several months ago — introduces Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) as a sort of lovable loser who has never properly grown up, and who drives his family away with his obsessive behaviour. But the “special edition” released in 1980 cuts out some of Roy’s most pathetic behaviour, both before and after he first encounters the aliens, and it adds new scenes which depict his wife and kids nagging at him before he encounters the aliens and yelling their hatred of him after he encounters the aliens. As Kenny writes, “this new introduction posits a family so awful one would be a fool not to leave it. Here, Neary isn’t the schmuck, and the family IS the monster. Ruthless, like I said. But effective.” For what it’s worth, the “director’s cut” released in 1998 balances things out a little more; it stays true to the “special edition” for the most part, but it reinstates some — not all, but some — of the footage that was unique to the original version.

Also, speaking as one who first saw this movie in his teens and is now re-visiting it in his late 30s, it is striking to me that Spielberg and Dreyfuss were both in their late 20s when they made this film — though Roy, the Dreyfuss character, gives his date of birth as December 4, 1944, which would make him not quite 33 when the film came out in November 1977. (Spielberg actually turned 30 late in the production.) Already, at that age, Dreyfuss was playing a family man with a house and a wife and three kids … and he drops it all to follow the aliens. Spielberg says he wouldn’t tell the story this way nowadays; he says the character’s readiness to abandon his family for a ride into space reflects the “youth” that he, Spielberg, was feeling at that time. (Spielberg’s first child would not be born for another eight years; he now has several.)

Interestingly, though, Roy is accompanied to Devil’s Tower by a woman who is desperate to get her son back from the aliens. Roy’s wife puts family first, and ends up looking kinda bad; but Roy’s friend puts family first, and ends up looking pretty good. The main difference between the two seems to be that one (the married wife) is holding Roy back, while the other (the single mom) is not.

While watching this film, I actually found myself beginning to imagine E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) — which came out five years later — as a sort of sequel in which Roy’s wife and their three kids move to a new home and find themselves deep in denial, persuading themselves that Roy has gone to Mexico with “Sally” instead of into space with the aliens. Spielberg has always said that E.T. was inspired by his parents’ divorce, and I wonder if the slightly-younger Spielberg ever tried to see the marital split in Close Encounters from the children’s point of view, rather than Roy’s. (In that regard, one of the commenters at Kenny’s blog has an interesting theory: “I’ve always seen Roy’s story as an abandoned child’s idealized version of ‘where daddy went,’ but one that still carries a strong undertone of ‘it was your fault’ guilt.”)

Like I say, I hadn’t seen the film in over 20 years, but I have always vaguely remembered the scene where Roy’s wife complains that the kids shouldn’t stay up late to watch the rest of The Ten Commandments (1956) because the movie is way too long. (Hey, I remember staying up late to watch that film on TV when I was a kid back then! With commercials and everything, it really did take up the whole evening!) Spielberg would go on to reference the story of Moses elsewhere in his career — he featured the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and it was his idea to make the first DreamWorks cartoon The Prince of Egypt (1998) — and it’s not too hard to draw parallels between the alien encounter at Devil’s Tower and the divine encounters at Mount Sinai.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I am reminded of how the barriers placed by the U.S. government around Devil’s Tower — and the way the local livestock are knocked out with nerve gas — are vaguely reminiscent of the instructions God gave Moses specifying that no animals and no other persons should come up the mountain, on pain of death. So it is striking that Spielberg has Roy, an “everyman”, punch through the barrier and make contact with the aliens against the wishes of the official, institutional powers that be. Of course, the “everyman” does this because the aliens have summoned him; so if one wanted to pursue the Devil’s Tower – Mount Sinai connection, one could say that one of the themes of this film is that “everymen” have been called to commune with God directly, and that institutional religions get in the way with all their don’t-cross-this-line rules. (Christianity mixes things up a bit by ripping the veil that separates God from man, but improper contact with the divine can still be lethal.)

In any case, I had remembered most of that stuff, either from my one viewing of the film way back when or from reading about it in the interim, but I had completely forgotten about the religious service that is held for the government or military agents in the red suits just before they approach the aliens, asking to be taken as “pilgrims” into outer space. And this scene is prefigured, to a certain degree, by an earlier scene in which one of the military bigwigs says he wants to come up with a plan that will allow the army to evacuate every “Christian soul” away from the vicinity of Devil’s Tower. A throwaway line of dialogue, perhaps, but when that religious service came up near the end, I began to wonder. Spielberg himself is not Christian, but his inclusion of these details says something about the way he saw his country, and about the way he thought it saw itself, at that time. And hey, incidentally, the first time we see those people in red suits, they are walking through an air hangar partly filled with crates. Crates.

And speaking of possible Raiders of the Lost Ark allusions, I was also struck by how the American government sets up a bank of movie cameras to film the arrival of the UFOs at Devil’s Tower … late at night, surrounded by craggy rocks … just as the Nazis set up at least one camera to film the opening of the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders … late at night, surrounded by craggy rocks. (See the screen captures below: Close Encounters on the left, Raiders on the right.) And of course, Raiders, too, plays on the idea that the government — even the American government — is paranoid and secretive and doesn’t want people to know when it has come into contact with awesome supernatural forces.

In one of the bonus features, the point is made that Close Encounters was the first major pop-culture expression of the idea that we had nothing to fear from aliens — and I found myself wondering about 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which came out nine years earlier. Kubrick’s movie is rather ambivalent on the question, I suppose: the aliens do encourage the advancement of the species, but at the expense of individual persons (a similar theme comes up in Arthur C. Clarke‘s Childhood’s End); the first sign of alien influence on human development is the rise of a new kind of warfare; and if you follow Clarke’s version of the conclusion of that film, you learn that the Star Child is capable of saving the Earth from nuclear self-destruction, which raises interesting questions about the other ways in which he or the aliens guiding him might try to “control” us, so to speak. And, hmmm, what about The Day the Earth Stood Still way, way back in 1951? Yes, there is a threat of doom there, but only because we already pose a threat to each other and to the various worlds beyond our own; apart from that, the aliens are our friends. Sort of. Hmmm.

Anyway. Watching Close Encounters again after all this time, and seeing how it connects to some of Spielberg’s other films, has been really interesting and informative in its own right. If the rumours prove false and there really isn’t anything all that extra-terrestrial in Crystal Skull, I won’t mind; my time has not been wasted.

Re-making movies on home video in the ’80s.

Last week I had the pleasure of going to see Son of Rambow with my priest. The movie concerns two British boys who make a home-video sequel to First Blood (1982), and since one of the boys comes from a Plymouth Brethren family and is not allowed to watch movies, and since my priest grew up in a Plymouth Brethren home, I figured I’d get his perspective on the film.

For what it’s worth, he said the film’s portrayal of the boy’s family was a very accurate depiction of a certain kind of Brethren sect that he had had some contact with, though it was not the particular sect that he himself had grown up within. The one detail he quibbled with is the scene where Will Proudfoot, the Brethren boy, tells Lee Carter, the other boy, “We’re Plymouth Brethren! it’s our religion!” Apparently the Brethren, in their desire to be as biblical as possible, use terms that are found within the Bible itself, such as “Brethren”, but do not use terms that come from outside the Bible, such as “Plymouth”. Perhaps, if Will had been aware enough of his external environment and the vocabulary that other people used to describe his religion, he might have used the term, for the sake of clarity with Lee — but Will didn’t seem quite as “aware” as all that.

My priest and I also had somewhat mixed feelings about the film’s depiction of the Brethren simply because a lot of films tend to set up all-too-easy contrasts between the restrictive, stifling nature of “religion” over here and the exciting, liberating potential of “art” over there — and Son of Rambow, on one level, certainly fits that template. But at the same time, such sects really do exist, and I know that I, for one, have had to resist the mentality that is characterized by such sects at various points in my life — so if the film’s depiction of the Brethren really is accurate, then fine, I don’t really have any interest in defending such groups. And we both appreciated the brief, subtle way the film shows Will bringing his art and his faith together in the end.

As for the film as a whole, I found parts of it more entertaining than others, and at times I found it less whimsical and more about the idea of being whimsical; I particularly wasn’t convinced by the subplot concerning the French foreign exchange student, whose pseudo-macho androgyny is regarded by all the English students, male and female alike, as the very height of cool. (But maybe that just means I’ve forgotten what it was like to be a high-schooler in the early ’80s.) And at other times, I thought the film pushed the “danger” button a little too strongly, to wring pathos out of the comedy.

But I did chuckle a fair bit throughout the movie, and the two boys who play Will and Lee are amusing and engaging in their own right. As Chris Knight rightly notes, “They are of an age when a line like ‘This has been my best day of all time’ can be uttered without a whit of irony . . . or when a heated argument between leading males can end in mutual tears.” No argument there.

If I didn’t like the film as much as Knight did, it might be because, only five days beforehand, my wife and I caught a benefit screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989), a virtual shot-for-shot home-video remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) that was actually produced by teenaged boys — and at least one girl, you gotta have a girl playing Marion Ravenwood — over the course of several summer vacations around the same time that Son of Rambow is set. And as funny as the movie-within-a-movie in Son of Rambow is, absolutely nothing can compare to the real deal.

The funniest thing about The Adaptation is the fact that, well, the funniest things aren’t what you expect them to be. For obvious reasons, everyone who hears about The Adaptation wants to know how these kids pulled off such stunts as the boulder chasing Indy out of the cave, or the truck chase where Indy is thrown through the windshield and dragged both under and behind the Nazi vehicle. But boys will be boys, and boys love playing with toys, and when these sequences appeared in the film, the audience just cheered the guys on. The more amusing bits, I found, were things like the scenes in which the government agents show up to consult with Indiana Jones and Marcus Brody — i.e., the scenes in which these 12-year-olds, or whatever, had to dress up in suits and be very adult and say things like “Doctor Jones, you must understand that this is all completely confidential” or “We have top men working on it right now.” There is nothing all that unusual about children playing Superman, but playing Clark Kent? Now that’s funny!

But I don’t mean to belittle the stunts at all; they are just as amusing and entertaining as anything else in this film. There were gasps of disbelief and, I think, shock throughout the theatre during the bar-fight sequence, in which these kids actually set fire to each other in their parents’ basement! During the Q&A; afterward, director-star Chris Strompolos — who is now in his mid-30s — discussed how he and his friends got in trouble with their parents, and he advised the handful of kids in the theatre not to try this themselves. (Yes, the old “Do as I say, not as I did” routine.) Suffice it to say that this scene was one of several that caused my wife to lean over and say, through her laughter, that we were not going to let our own kids see The Adaptation for a long, long, long time.

There are lots of other fun bits too, like the way Indy seems to suddenly age a year or two in the middle of the truck chase; it seems the chase was shot over the course of at least two different summer vacations. And I found myself wondering how old the girl playing Marion was by the time they filmed the scene where she takes off her bra while Rene Belloq watches in the mirror. But the best part, by far, is the way these kids used a dog to play the villainous monkey … and how all the kids continue to carry the dog on one of their shoulders, exactly the same way that the man with the eye-patch carries the monkey in the original film.

Also funny: During the brief Q&A;, a kid who couldn’t have been more than 12 — he definitely looked prepubescent — asked the director if he and his friends did anything else with their summer holidays. Or, as the director rephrased it, the kid basically asked if they all “had a life” — and the director was amused that a kid, of all people, would ask him this. I believe the short version of his answer to that question was, uh, no.

The screening was sponsored by my old colleague Jason Kurylo, who first heard about The Adaptation when it was profiled in the March 2004 edition of Vanity Fair, and I’d say it was a success all-around — easily one of my best experiences in a theatre in ages. At least two reviews have come out of that screening; you can read them here and here. And if you ever get a chance to see this film, especially on a big screen surrounded by cheering fans, by all means do.

Indiana Jones odds and ends.

I haven’t gotten around to re-watching the entire Indiana Jones trilogy yet, but I am seeing the new film tomorrow, so I figured I might as well get around to posting some of the Indy-themed things that I’ve been sitting on.

First and foremost: The character’s ambivalent relationship with real-world archaeologists. One of the reasons my wife and I like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) better than the other two films is that it is the only film in which we see Indiana Jones doing real archaeology, with surveying equipment and picks and shovels and whatnot. True, he may be just a treasure hunter, and he may be neglecting some of the more finely-detailed work that modern archaeologists are supposed to do — noting where coins and bits of broken pottery were found on carefully plotted grids, etc. — but at least he’s not just running around like a spy. He’s actually doing the work. And I actually get a kick from sequences like the one below, where we see the archaelogical dig from Indy’s perspective, and we see how following the calculations leads him past a few other spots before it takes him to the actual spot where he needs to start digging:

Anyway, I bring this all up now because a few news stories have popped up that address the question of what real archaeologists think of Indy. First, there was this bit from the Associated Press:

Though he preaches research and good science in the classroom, the world’s most famous archaeologist often is an acquisitive tomb raider in the field with a scorched-earth policy about what he leaves behind. While actual archaeologists like the guy and his movies, they wouldn’t necessarily want to work alongside him on a dig.

Indy’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach to archaeology will be on display again May 22 with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” in which he’s sure to rain destruction down on more historic sites and priceless artifacts.

Real experts in antiquities acknowledge that the movies are pure fiction that present archaeology as blockbuster adventure, yet they cannot help but cringe at the way Indy manhandles the ancient world.

“There are codes of ethics in archaeology, and I don’t think he would be a member. Not in good standing, anyway,” said Mark Rose, online editorial director for the Archaeological Institute of America. . . .

The reality of archaeological field work is not a lone hero dashing into hidden chambers with a bullwhip and a pistol and coming away with a priceless relic. It’s large groups of academics and students painstakingly sifting through grids to retrieve artifacts as mundane as pottery fragments.

“It is rather adventurous in a way, because for the most part, you’re going to some exotic country and delving into their past. But it’s not an adventure with a whip and chasing bad guys and looking for treasure,” said Bryant Wood, an archaeologist with Associates for Biblical Research.

“You’re working at one site tediously, probably for many, many years and spending more time processing the finds and writing reports than you do actually digging at the site. But that wouldn’t make for a very good story, spending 70 percent of the time in a library.” . . .

Other than Indy’s brief classroom scenes, the closest thing to authentic archaeology in the “Indiana Jones” flicks is done by the bad guys, whose elaborate, systematic digs in “Raiders” resemble actual excavations.

“Not a whole lot of what we know as archaeology goes on in these movies, except what the Nazis do. They seem to be doing some real archaeological work,” said Walsh, who wrote the cover story in the May-June issue of Archaeology magazine examining the real history of crystal skulls featured in the new “Indiana Jones” movie. . . .

The final paragraphs of the AP piece raise an interesting point that might actually be redressed by the new film:

“Indiana Jones” and other productions such as “The Mummy” and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” flicks benefit archaeology by getting general audiences thinking and talking about the ancient world, said Bob Murowchick, associate professor of archaeology at Boston University.

But the movies emphasize the tomb-raiding aspect, leaving the impression that artifacts are there for the taking by whoever stumbles on them first, he said.

“The one thing we do worry quite a bit about is the looting aspect, because archaeological looting is really a serious issue,” Murowchick said. “This kind of glorifying of breaking into a tomb and snagging a crystal this or golden that feeds into the notion that these are valuable objects, and we should all get it while we can.”

As it happens, the newest trailers for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull make the point that one can control the power of the crystal skull only by taking it back to the lost city or temple from whence it came. That suggests a somewhat different trajectory from, say, the opening scene in Raiders, where Indiana Jones essentially stole an idol from a South American altar. And come to think of it, the narrative thrust of Temple of Doom (1984) is that Indy ultimately brings the Sankara Stone back to the village that needs it, while Last Crusade (1989) makes the point that the Holy Grail really cannot be removed from the general place where Indy finds it; in both films, Indy ultimately discovers something better than “fortune and glory”.

Anyway, two days after running that story, the AP ran another one in which they revealed that Harrison Ford, the star of the Indiana Jones series, has been elected to the board of directors for the Archaeological Institute of America — the same outfit that publishes the aforementioned Archaeology magazine! And, as Christopher Campbell notes, that is also the same outfit where Mark Rose works — Rose being the guy who said that Indy would not “be a member . . . in good standing, anyway” of the archaeological community. Oh, the irony!

Turning to other matters, the Associated Press reports that “Few of today’s crystal skulls can be documented any further back than the 1860s, when Europe was swept by a rage for pre-Hispanic ‘relics'” — interestingly, the Archaeology magazine article linked above indicates that the gold idol stolen by Indy at the beginning of Raiders is probably also based on a 19th-century forgery — but some people believe in them very strongly anyway. Meanwhile, a real-life crystal skull has been stolen from a New Age store in California.

The Daily Telegraph, for its part, gives us a sense of just how “wacky” the new movie could have been, if George Lucas had had his way:

If George Lucas had had his way the new Indiana Jones movie would be called “Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men From Mars”, and the iconic archaeologist adventurer would be battling space aliens instead of communists.

But both Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg firmly rejected the idea. So Lucas went back to the drawing board, and the wrangling between these three powerful, opinionated men continued for the next 10 years or so.

“There was a point where I thought George and I would never agree on the story, and I was fine with that,” recalls Spielberg. “George and I are best friends, and we always argue, and we always debate. That’s been the nature of our relationship since we met in 1967.”

Harrison Ford, who at the age of 65 has now donned Indiana Jones’s fedora and leather jacket for the fourth time, says drily: “It takes time to get Steven, George and me on the same page. George is very stubborn with his ideas.” . . .

The Associated Press echoes that bit about the “saucer men from Mars” in its own story on the shroud of secrecy surrounding this movie. So Lucas certainly wasn’t kidding when he said he was going to go all Phantom Menace on this movie. One key distinction, though, is that to get the new Indiana Jones movie made, Lucas had to accommodate other people to some degree. On the Star Wars prequels (1999-2005), Lucas was surrounded by nothing but yes-men, but on the Indiana Jones franchise, Lucas has to contend with a fellow billionaire movie mogul, i.e. Spielberg, and with a strong leading man who is absolutely essential to the continuation of the franchise, i.e. Ford.

Then again, Fox News and the MTV Movies Blog report that Lucas is thinking of maybe continuing the franchise “with Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt Williams as the main character” and “Indy [relegated] to sidekick status, a la Sean Connery in ‘Last Crusade.'” Eep.