[The photo above is courtesy of our friend Alan at Burbanked.]
Well, the cat’s out of the bag. Darabont’s script has leaked onto the web (I believe it’s still available here) and Indy fans are talkin'!
Let me just say that a hell of a lot of love and heart went into Frank Darabont’s rejected Indiana Jones and the City of Gods script. There is NO question that his script would have been THE film Indy fans were waiting for. There is also NO question about its superiority of craftsmanship over Koepp’s or most likely any other draft.
Let us validate his work once and for all.
Hope you enjoy it.
50 Strengths of Darabont’s Draft
** Total Spoilers **
1) City of Gods is a vastly superior title.
2) Indy – Okay, let’s talk characters. I’m reminded of a complaint Languatron’s Bane made about Crystal Skulls. He was one of three guys that posted scathing early reviews. Bane complained that there was nothing about CS that stood on its own, that it was constantly leaning on the past, and failed to bring anything new to the franchise. He gave an example from Rocky Balboa: “Stallone used nostalgia to further a new story – Rocky’s obsession with the past allowed the audience to relive some of their favorite moments, but it also showed us who Rocky is now – lonely, lost, a little pathetic. It used old story elements to tell something new.” That is EXACTLY what Darabont did with Indiana Jones. Indy’s age wasn’t addressed with a few throwaway jokes that had no bearing on the story. Indy’s age was addressed through character, particularly in the opening scenes. He’s no longer doing adventures, but he still loves archeology. He’s out there camping, riding his horse, collecting Indian pottery, taking photos, and making notations. After being forced to take a leave of absence and getting humiliated in the newspapers, Indy gets sloshed and tours the college museum at night, which gave us the opportunity to hilariously relive the opening scene of Raiders, a moment I will treasure forever. But you see, we weren’t reliving this moment for the sake of reliving it. This was an integral part of a new story about the different obstacles Indy faced at this stage of his life within this very different era. Who wouldn’t look back at himself and his past?
3) Indy’s Motivation – My biggest complaint about CS was the fact that Indy was either under-motivated or there were too many confusing multiple motivations. This was never a problem in City of Gods. Indy falling under suspicion of being a commie is what drove the story forward. Period. He left for NYC out of self-preservation and to solve the mystery of the secret activities of the Russian spies.
4) Marion – I could’ve easily titled this article “50 Ways Darabont Got Marion Right.” She was, first of all, given a far better, more humorous entrance in the bar, like a femme fatale from a 50’s film noir. I loved it. And what does she do? She walks up to Indy, punches him in the face (knocking him off the bar stool and on his ass), and says, “What the hell are you doing here?” THAT, my friends, is Marion Ravenwood. And THAT is how you introduce her character in an Indiana Jones film. But then what does she do? She tells him off, downs his martini (also in her character, if you recall), and she storms out of the bar drinking straight from a gin bottle. I love you, Frank Darabont.
5) In CS, Marion was practically an inanimate object that was added just for show. In COG, Marion was an integral part of the action. Consider the airplane sequence. Indy screams at her, “PULL UP! PULL UP!” She says, “I WOULD IF THERE WEREN’T A DEAD GUY ON THE STICK!” “WELL TRY HARDER!” Hehehe... I loved it.
6) And let us now praise the banter between Indy and Marion. Darabont got their banter down so well I doubt anyone in the audience would’ve felt that his version of Indy IV was an empty exercise. There is so much entertainment value in seeing those two go back and forth that almost every audience member would’ve thought, “Yup, THIS is why I want to sit through another Indiana Jones film.” There are so many examples of their great banter, but I’ll provide just one. How about when they’re both flying two, parallel, damaged planes:
Marion: NOW WHAT?
Indy: CAN YOU FLY?
Marion: DOES ONE LESSON COUNT?
Indy: OKAY, PLAN B! GRAB THE SKULL! I’LL GET MY WING UP TO YOUR COCKPIT! YOU WINGWALK OVER TO ME AND WE’LL FLY AWAY!
Marion: YOU CALL THAT A PLAN?
Indy: YOU GOT A BETTER ONE?
Marion: WHY DON’T YOU COME TO ME?
Indy: UH, LET’S SEE… COULD IT BE BECAUSE YOUR PLANE IS SHOT TO PIECES AND WILL FALL APART AT ANY MOMENT? NO? OKAY, HOW ABOUT I CAN’T FLY AND WINGWALK AT THE SAME TIME! AM I GETTING WARMER? LOOK, EITHER DO IT OR DIE ARGUING!
7) The Evolving Relationship – I have said this many times before, but great screenwriting charts an evolving relationship over the course of three acts between lead characters. You never had that in CS. Marion shows up alone in the jungle, single, and with his child. It couldn’t have been more obvious where their storyline was headed. In Darabont’s script there was an evolution to their relationship – first anger about seeing each other again, a nice plot twist about her being married to another archeologist, her throwing into Indy’s face how great and handsome her husband is, Indy’s regrets, and then there’s Indy’s choice about her in the end, and ultimately, their reconciliation. That is a vastly superior approach to their storyline.
8) The Baddies – Unlike Irina Spalko, Darabont’s multiple baddies were truly bad, and he made a point of stamping fear into our hearts about each one before Indy had to fight them. The Thin Man was not only a scary figure in the warehouse, but he also shoots the federal agent in the museum (as well as the artifacts, much to Indy’s chagrin) before he tries to kill Indy. As Indy and Marion were talking over their plans at the banquet table, President Escalante (“El Presidente”) has a line of men paraded across a stage behind them and hung for treason.
9) Warehouse – There is much to say about Darabont’s warehouse sequence, which was undeniably superior to what we saw in the finished film. Let’s talk about the slow start to the script. It is, first of all, now more in Indy’s nature to have a slow start to a new adventure. I recall someone asking, “why did we have to see that diner scene?” Oh come on, you screenwriters, you should be able to see why Darabont had that diner scene! Do you recall my complaints about Mac’s betrayal in CS? Mac's betrayal happened way too quickly and before we ever had the chance to get to know the guy. It was like character whiplash! But here, Darabont gets it right and accomplishes two things with the diner scene: 1) He makes us spend time with Yuri and makes us love Yuri with all his talk about how much he loves America before he reveals Yuri’s betrayal. 2) “I love America” sets up Indy’s line before those two characters duke it out. The fact that we spend time with Yuri gives an added emotional punch to his betrayal and makes the audience more involved in the fight scene.
10) The writing styles of the warehouse sequence is a classic showdown between on-the-nose dialogue vs. dialogue with subtext. I’ll take “No loading zone, pal” over “Damn, I thought that was closer” any day of the week. “I thought that was closer” was obvious, on-the-nose, and not very funny. “No loading zone, pal,” means Indy’s going to royally kick your ass. How about the difference between “I like Ike” vs. “I love America?” “I like Ike” was never setup. It came out of NOWHERE and bombed with audiences in both screenings I sat through. Darabont’s “I love America” was full of subtext. Indy was throwing Yuri’s words right back in his face meaning that he’s a big liar. He’s also basically saying, “this is why I’m foiling your plans. You really DON’T love America, you two-faced liar, but I do.”
11) The Collision – Did you notice the improvement in the head-on collision? In CS, Indy uses his whip to swing out of his jeep right before a head-on collision, a spectacle that would involve three vehicles. The collision in Darabont’s version was a textbook example of how a moment like that SHOULD BE DONE. So Indy’s driving his truck down a big aisle in this warehouse and he finds himself trapped. There’s a jeep headed straight toward him and another one right behind him. He quickly spins the truck to slide into a side aisle while the two jeeps collide right in front of him. And then what happens? Indy puts it in gear and – BOOM – plows right through the wreckage and takes off! Then you cut to Indy looking back, grinning from ear-to-ear, and THAT, my friends, would have been THE MOMENT that heralded THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN of Indiana Jones! This is HIS MOVIE and he’s back and better than ever! If you can just imagine Williams’ sweeping score, Indy grinning after that moment of triumph, and I swear to you, audiences around the world would’ve applauded. This wasn’t just about seeing a head-on collision. It was action punctuated with Indy’s moment of triumph; it was a big, fun statement about an iconic figure.
12) So what does Darabont do right after that? He does what Koepp consistently failed to do, what is so crucial to an Indiana Jones film, and that is, once Indy gets out of one bad predicament, he finds himself in an even worse predicament. I loved how he set it up, too. The Russians run to the end of the aisle to cut him off but they see a sign, “Engine Test Area. Extreme Hazard!” and they let Indy pass by. And there’s Indy laughing. But his laugh turns into a classic “oh shit” look as he drives right between two rows of massive jet engines, which of course, the Russians turn on. There are only two words to describe the jet engine sequence: GREAT FUN. Here you would’ve had the sense that Indy really got himself into some big trouble, a feeling we never got in the finished film. And you have this humorous moment of Indy frantically driving his truck forward and backward to avoid the random engine blasts. I know that would’ve played well.
13) Rocket Sled – In CS, Indy battles some unknown Russian guy we don’t really care about on the rocket sled. In COG, Indy battles YURI, the man who betrayed him. Yuri: “Sorry about your truck.” Indy: “Sorry about your plutonium.” Not only that, Darabont gives us a fight while the rocket sled was rocketing down the track.
14) Details – Guys, I admired the hell out of Darabont’s attention to detail. I loved the choice of the Russian Burp Guns:
Plus, we had Indy driving up to college in his very classy, open-top, BMW 328 Roadster. Yeah, baby!
15) Scene with Dad - I like it. It’s not happy, funny banter that we’re used to seeing, but it serves an important purpose in the narrative. It escalates the growing tension at home, defines why Indy needs to leave, sets up the pay off at the end about his love life, and ultimately, Dad supports him by holding off the police.
16) Travel Montage – I loved the travel montage! We weren’t watching a montage for the sake of watching a montage just because it’s always been part of Indiana Jones films. Darabont does something FUN with it and he gives us a comical shift in values where it starts with Indy flying out of New York City in style in a beautiful McDonald-Douglas Constellation. But then, over the course of his layovers on the way to Peru, the quality of his transportation progressively deteriorates until he’s riding a “scary old DC-3 with rags stuffed in the windows… and the aisle is packed with crates of live goats.” And then it ends with Indy “jostling around in the most godawful rickety bus ever…” I love it! That’s the heart of screenwriting, isn’t it? Scenes and sequences are almost always about a shift in values of some kind. Tension gets raised, circumstances change, etc. What did we get in Koepp’s script? Indy looking at Mutt waxing his bike. Ho hum.
17) By the way, seeing Indy in Manhattan and Grand Central would’ve visually taken our breaths away. That would’ve been cool.
18) A Bomb – I think the A Bomb sequence would’ve played better in the context of Darabont’s narrative. The events that lead up to it in CS were so over-the-top that this just made it seem that much more preposterous and bloated. In COG, though, nothing was terribly unbelievable leading up to this sequence. And we never would’ve felt this was done just for the sake of doing it, because Indy runs into this town with the Russians hot on his trails. There was definitely more tension in Darabont’s draft leading up to the A bomb explosion. You may recall in CS, the Russians drove into town and sorta wandered around looking for Indy. In COG, the Russians were HOT ON HIS TRAILS. And it was funnier. Indy yells at the troops in Russian, “You idiots shot the car!” They respond, “Shut up and run!”
19) Tension, Act One – Okay, let’s consider all the ways Darabont kept up the tension throughout his script. We had in Act One the rising tension inside the warehouse of a dirty deal going bad, which was right before Indy’s intervention. As I mentioned, there was more tension leading up to the A bomb explosion in the fake town. With Indiana Jones and the Mushroom Cloud, we saw in CS, Indy looking at the cloud and walking off. In COG, Indy looks at the cloud, turns, and raises his arms because the U.S. military had guns pointed at him.
20) Tension, Act Two – Even when Indy returned to college, Darabont never let up on the tension. We had the federal agent watching him and taking notes. We had the Thin Man in the museum. We had police arriving at Indy’s home while he was talking to his dad. We had the gangster watching him in NY. In Peru, he was surrounded by “a nefarious bunch” in the bar. You always felt like things could go wrong very easily and quite often, that’s what happened. Oh, there was also the wall of El Presidente’s photos of all the people who tried to find the City of Gods and never returned. (And I love that moment where Marion looks at the wall and through gritted teeth and a forced smile, she says to El Presidente, “Lovely tradition. Lovely.”) What else? Lars’ death helped maintain good tension during the expedition. And then there was the tension in the showdown between Yuri, El Presidente, and Indy’s team. This sequence began with a simple fight between Indy and Peter, followed by the arrival of El Presidente, followed by Yuri’s men (talk about ESCALATING TENSION), which was followed by an unexpected conclusion that creates pandemonium, that is, big damn ants. Darabont described very graphic destruction.
21) Tension, Act Three – What did I say about the third act of CS? “How can there be any tension leading up to the Third Act when Indy has the McGuffin in his possession and he’s doing what the Russians want him to do (without forcing him to do it) and he’s also doing what the skull wants him to do…? If anything, the Russians should’ve obtained the skull in the chase sequence, captured Indy and the gang, and they all marched up to the chamber together.” And that’s exactly what happened in COG. Not only that, we had the tension of them tied to the TNT and a 3-minute fuse. That’s great tension. You also had Oxley growing more terrified as they arrive at the grand plaza of The Great Stone Temple of the Gods. And then Porfi walks down the steps holding the machete and severed head. THAT is how it’s done.
22) The Big Bang Theory of Film – In the comments section of the 50 Flaws article, I remember saying about CS that there should be a new screenwriting theory: The Big Bang of Openings! If you open with a big bang, you damn well better close with an even bigger bang! In COG, Darabont did not make that mistake. His ending wasn’t just about a spaceship taking off. There was far more to it than that and we got an even bigger bang than what he gave us in the opening.
23) Indy was allowed to show pain.
24) Darabont never sanitized the violence.
25) After complaining about pacing missteps in CS, I admired a number of places where the pacing felt so right to me. I loved the scene in Indy’s Hotel Room with Marion. That was great screenwriting. The scene was book-ended with a setup and payoff. The setup was Marion walking around the room while they talk as she searches for the Crystal Skull. The scene ended with the visual revelation about where Indy had kept it hidden – in the overhead light fixture.
26) It ain’t the mileage, sweetheart. It’s the years. – Following the airplane crash, Indy could barely move. Marion says, “What’s the matter, Jones? Mileage finally catching up with you?” Indy says, “It ain’t the mileage, sweetheart. It’s the years.” Indy wasn’t just saying this line of dialogue for the sake of saying it. In this context, I think it’s perfectly acceptable. First of all, on multiple occasions, Indy was allowed to show us his pain. This line, just as in Raiders, was in the context of his pain and in the context of his relationship with Marion, and a part of their ongoing battle of wits. He's also him proving himself to her again. It was a moment of honesty, too, about how he’s changed, and that, in a small way, rekindles her respect for him again.
27) Exposition – What did we learn about exposition in our study last year? The best exposition is usually fed to the audience in the context of something else. Koepp gave us two talking heads in a diner. The exposition in Indy’s Hotel Room in Peru in COG was spoonfed to us in the context of Indy and Marion’s rocky relationship and dueling wits.
28) Same goes for the exposition about the skulls between Peter and Indy at the expedition base camp. This wasn’t just about the skulls. This was also about two archeologists with different belief systems challenging each other in front of Marion and trying to prove who is the better archeologist. Peter wins that battle, and Marion says, “I knew you two would hit it off.” Of course, Indy would win in the end.
29) The revealing of the McGuffin was, indeed, more special. The slow revelation, and then the Secondary Heading of “INDY” (to indicate a closeup) who is completely thrilled and yet completely stunned. You know damn good and well in this moment that Indy cares DEEPLY about the skull. “Skull of Destiny. My God,” he says. And then we have a moment where Indy is entranced by the skull, which suddenly ends with the pounding on the door. The moment where Indy was entranced by the skull in the CS was preceded by a lot of verbal exposition about its powers. Here, we learn with a simple moment of “show, don’t tell” that it HAS powers without being TOLD that it has powers before we SEE it. The pounding on the door and gangster watching Indy are just more fine examples of how Darabont never let up on the tension.
30) Great transitions – We had Yuri interrogating Reggie the gangster and asking him, “And what did this man look like?” and then we cut to a tight shot of Indy. We had El Presidente saying to Yuri, “Now. Tell me about this skull,” and then we cut to a tight shot of the skull. And at the end, we had Indy telling Ike, “Mr. President, there are only two words I’d like to say today…” and we cut to “I do.” I cannot think of one good transition in Koepp’s script.
31) Setups and Payoffs – The setups and payoffs were managed better. Remember my complaint about the scorpion sting in CS? “What was the point of the scorpion sting on Mutt's hand? Shouldn't that have led to something else? Or a setup to a joke of some kind later?” Well, here we had a poisonous, black, red-striped frog that killed Lars. That was not only used to help maintain tension during the expedition, but it was also a setup to a funny payoff in the Third Act.
32) Plus, the stream of frogs leaping out of Lars’ mouth was the kind of classic Indiana Jones brand of “EWWW!” moment that was sadly missing in spades in Crystal Skulls.
33) Here, the action was always Indy’s, not handed over to some kid wannabe. This was INDY’S movie, as well it should have been.
34) Monkeys - Koepp’s script: bad monkey scene. Darabont’s script: good monkey scene. Koepp’s script: nothing funny about his monkey scene. Darabont’s script: the whole point of the monkey scene was to enjoy two funny gags: 1) the monkey landing on Indy’s chest as he’s hanging on for dear life on the landing gear under Marion’s plane, which makes the monkey scream, which makes Indy scream, and 2) a few seconds later, when Indy’s back in the plane, we get a great line of dialogue: “the monkey pooped on my chest.”
35) Snakes - Koepp’s script: bad snake scene. Darabont’s script: good snake scene. I recall, after they made an announcement about Indy IV, complaining that they’ll probably give Indy a character arc, and I remember Unk saying, “Yeah, they’ll make him overcome his fear of snakes.” And damned if that wasn’t exactly what Koepp tried to do with that stupid sandpit scene. But with Darabont, it was handled better. Indy surprises everyone by announcing that he’s overcome his fear of snakes. But then he has a really bad experience with a really big snake, and thus, he’s fearful all over again. It’s perfect. The more Indy tries to change, the more he stays the same.
36) In CS, I never understood the “wish” in the third act. It just came out of nowhere. Here, it’s explained on the way to the lost city.
37) I’m running long, so I need to shorten my last few points. The treatment of Oxley, his powers, etc, was handled far better. It was a surprise to me that he was in the cage. That was a great moment.
38) Waterfalls - To have Oxley announce beforehand that there will be three waterfalls is no fun. You mentally count them as they go over. That’s NO FUN! Here, we don’t know how many waterfalls there are. Each new waterfall is a surprise. Darabont had four in total, and it’s a running gag. It would’ve played better, because you’d be going through that experience WITH them, not counting them off.
39) Yes, the swinging in the vines scene is better in COG. It’s Indy trying to swing, which would’ve been funny to watch. Plus, he’s chasing after something HE desperately wants.
40) I never understood, as they were running out of the Chamber of Gods in CS, what that whole room with the spinning wheels and water was all about. Here, Darabont explains the aquaducts before going into the Chamber, and thus, no confusion.
41) I wasn’t confused about the number of Skulls, either.
42) Darabont never indulged in confusing double meanings of words.
43) The plot with the FBI and Indy being under suspicion was a fully developed plot. In CS, we had no idea how this plot got resolved and Indy’s name restored. Here, the plot about suspicions of Indy carried over into Peru with the U.S. diplomat recognizing Indy and keeping an eye on him. This was plausible because Indy’s name had been in the newspapers as this was a scandal for the college. We also know how this plot gets resolved. The diplomat witnessed Indy fighting the Russians on the expedition and thus, cleared his name.
44) Okay, the finale. It was a bit long, but it made much more sense to me than what we saw in CS. The aliens were pissed because they DIDN’T have all 13 skulls, and that is why they were in trouble. The aliens were all about giving them what they want before killing them.
45) INDY makes the choice to put the skull on the head of one of the skeletons, NOT because the skull told him to. The only thing the skull told him was which skeleton the skull should be placed upon. Even then, I think that verbal piece of exposition could’ve been handled visually with perhaps the skull glowing near the appropriate skeleton.
46) The ending (brilliantly, I thought) put Indy into a position that exploited a lifelong inner conflict – his love of knowledge or Marion. And ironically, in a contrast to the ending in Raiders, she saves him.
47) The fact that Indy chose Marion over his lifelong desire for knowledge in that crucial moment in the Third Act when his life was on the line gave an added emotional boost to the wedding scene.
48) No bad third act dialogue.
49) I know how some feel that, “well, Darabont’s script still involved aliens and that just doesn’t feel like an Indiana Jones film to me.” I’ll give you that. But Darabont didn’t have the luxury of choosing the McGuffin. So the question I have to ask is, given what Darabont had to work with, did he realize the full potential of this concept? YES.
50) And finally, in the 50th comment in the 50 Flaws article, I wrote, “they should’ve turned to me for the writing duties.” I take it all back. Had they turned to me, I would’ve said, “Lucas, you dumb ass, you should go with Darabont’s script.” Hehehe…