TALKING FILMS

Why archaeologists hate (and love) Indiana Jones

With a fifth movie featuring Harrison Ford’s iconic hero in the works, it’s time to look closer look at the irreverent adventurer.

After years of rumours, it’s now official! The Disney studio recently announced that the next Indiana Jones film is in the making, and will be released in 2019.

The entire saga began on a beach in Hawaii in 1977 with a conversation between George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Lucas apparently asked Spielberg what he planned to do next. Spielberg replied that what he really wanted to do was to direct a James Bond movie, but that the producers had turned him down, twice.

That conversation eventually ended up with the creation of the bull whip-wielding, leather-jacketed archaeologist Indiana Jones and the film franchise that owes more than a little to James Bond. In fact, Indiana Jones was listed by the American Film Institute as the second-greatest hero in cinema history (after Atticus Finch, the lawyer hero of To Kill a Mockingbird but, ironically, ahead of Bond himself at #3).

Indiana Jones is a character with whom archaeologists have a love-hate relationship. On the one hand Indy, with his tough-guy persona, exotic adventures and cynical wisecracks, has probably done more to popularise archaeology as a career than any other single factor. In fact, John Rhys-Davies, one of the regular Indiana Jones crew, claims that he must have met over a hundred young archaeologists who confessed to him that one key reason for their career choice was the fact that they had watched an Indiana Jones movie in their childhood.

On the other hand, archaeologists are embarrassed by Indy’s knuckle-dusting heroics, his lack of scholarship and – most of all – the fact that today he would be described as a “tomb robber” rather than an archaeologist. As an archaeologist once observed about the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark: There is Indiana Jones, surrounded by all the engineering marvels of an ancient civilisation, and all he can think of is how he can get his hands on that golden idol. For a proper archaeologist, it would be the least interesting thing around; but for a tomb-robber like him, of course, it was the most important.

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The opening scene of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’.

So who was the real Indiana Jones? And was he based on any real-life archeologist?

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg say no. According to them, the inspiration for Indy came from a variety of explorers in the action movies of their childhood. But members of their scriptwriting teams have admitted that they researched some real-life personalities and blended their elements into the final Indiana Jones mix – some of the names mentioned being Otto Wilhelm Rahn and paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews. In fact, these are just two of the dozen-odd historical models who are believed to have been the real-life Indiana Jones.

Otto Wilhelm Rahn.
Otto Wilhelm Rahn.

Otto Wilhelm Rahn was a German medieval scholar of the 1930s who searched for the Holy Grail – the mythical cup that was used to hold Jesus’s blood when he died – based on cues he had discovered in medieval texts. When Heinrich Himmler, the Nazi leader, read about his quest, he funded Rahn’s expeditions to bring back the Holy Grail, with its occult powers for himself (shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade). But Rahn’s quest didn’t lead him anywhere. Persecuted by the vengeful Himmler, he committed suicide.

Roy Chapman Andrews.
Roy Chapman Andrews.

Roy Chapman Andrews was not an archaeologist, but a paleontologist (or, loosely, a “dinosaur hunter”). He was, like Indiana Jones, not just a college professor, but a rugged, two-fisted adventurer. In the 1930s, he went on expeditions to remote corners of the planet, including Mongolia and the Gobi Desert, where he discovered the first-known fossil dinosaur eggs. Andrews, like Indiana Jones, habitually carried a gun, which he used to hunt for food as well as to protect his party from bandits. And, interestingly, like Indy, he also habitually wore a broad-brimmed fedora hat.

While both the men might have contributed to the colourful amalgam that is Indiana Jones, a more likely historical model is believed to be the swashbuckling archaeologist Hiram Bingham III. Leading a Yale University expedition to Peru in 1911, Bingham discovered the lost Inca city of Machu Pichu and became an overnight celebrity, returning home with a hoard of 40,000 priceless Inca relics, and writing a best-selling book about his adventures. (And he too, like Indy, habitually wore a broad-brimmed fedora hat.)

Hiram Bingham III.
Hiram Bingham III.

The more convincing piece of evidence connecting Bingham with Indiana Jones, however, is the 1954 film Lost City of the Incas, based on Bingham’s adventures and featuring Charlton Heston in the lead role. It’s interesting to note that, when preparing for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg’s team studied Lost City of the Incas very carefully, and “borrowed” various important elements, including Indy’s costume (down to that hat). But, more than that, they lifted from the Jerry Hopper movie the entire iconic scene of the scale model of the lost city, where Indy uses an ancient reflector to catch the beam of sunlight and thereby reveal the location of the Biblical treasure (the only difference between the two films being that in the 1954 original, the scene is set in South America instead of Egypt).


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A scene from ‘Lost City of the Incas’.

In recent times, Hiram Bingham III’s reputation has been tarnished: he has been accused by the Peruvian government of looting its treasures, which Peru is trying to recover from the US. And so that is perhaps another similarity between him and Indy: they were both, at the end of the day, just “tomb-robbers”.

So does all this mean that today the romance has gone out of archaeology and that today’s archaeologists are just a bunch of dry-as-dust academics? Not really. One contemporary archaeologist whose adventures have been in the Indiana Jones tradition (well, almost) is Ivan Sprajc, who has made a career of finding ancient Mayan cities lost in the jungles of Mexico, doing Indy kind of things like hacking his way through the dense foliage with a machete and dealing with poisonous snakes, jaguars and local bandits. According to his photographs, he even dresses like Indy, in khaki safari gear, leather boots and, yes, that good old broad-brimmed fedora hat.

Ivan Sprajc.
Ivan Sprajc.

Yet, as somebody once succinctly put it, the Indiana Jones theme music gives the game away: instead of the existing adrenaline-pumping brass-and-percussion march, a slow, introspective cello piece would have been much more appropriate to the world of archaeology. The rule of thumb for an archaeologist, after all, being that for every hour of on-site excavation, you spend four hours in the lab analysing and documenting your finds.

All this brings us back to the new Indiana Jones movie, tentatively referred to as Indy 5. All we know for sure about it so far is that Harrison Ford will star, Steven Spielberg will direct, David Koepp will write the script, Janusz Kaminski will be the cinematographer, and the film will be released in July 2019.

But there’s obviously a great deal of speculation. First of all, this will clearly be Ford’s last Indiana Jones movie (he’ll be 77 when it’s released). So how will the series be kept alive after his departure?

Who knows? Perhaps the film will begin with Ford, and then go into a flashback of a fresh new star who will play a younger version of Indiana Jones for now, and the future.

And if there is to be a new star, who will it be?

The names that are being mentioned are Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper and Robert Pattinson. River Phoenix, Sean Patrick Flanery and Corey Carrier have also played younger versions of Indy in the past.

Well, just as long as it’s not Shia LeBoeuf, who played Indy’s son in the supremely awful Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it should be okay.

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The trailer of ‘The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’.
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

Watch Billions Now

2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

Watch American Horror Story Now

6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

Watch Empire Now

7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

Watch Modern Family Now

8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

Watch The Deuce Now

9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.