Building on the success of his previous book The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, author David Hughes continues his quest to tell the stories behind cinema’s most famous, infamous and interesting projects that never were. It just so happens that many of these projects have a geeky slant. And his newest venture, Tales from Development Hell is no different. The other day our friends at /Film debuted an excerpt from Hughes’ chapter on Darren Aronofsky’s Year One with Clint Eastwood. Today, we’ve got ourselves a neat exclusive, debuting an excerpt from the chapter on Frank Darabont’s Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods. Remember that Shia LaBeouf-led storyline about Indy’s grease-ball accomplice slash (spoiler) offspring? All those flying monkeys? That wasn’t in the one written by the guy who would later bring The Walking Dead to the small screen.
What was in Darabont’s Indy IV? Well, you’ll just have to read on to find out…
Darabont’s script, entitled Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods, opens in 1952 with the hot rods racing in the Nevada desert, and Indy’s betrayal by an old friend — here, a Russian named Yuri Makovsky, rather than a Brit named Mac, who is on the trail of plutonium, rather than mummified alien remains. Instead of being captured by Russians infiltrating a U.S. military base at Area 51, Indy sneaks into the base (a scene reminiscent of the 1998 PlayStation game Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft), where he discovers the “huge cavern filled with…well, everything. It’s a maze of gantries, catwalks, experimental arcana, machinery, and mountains of crates marked ‘Top Secret.’”
The next several scenes closely mimic those from the final film: a Jeep chase through the cavernous hangar, narrowly avoiding the blasts of flame from experimental jet engines, Indy and Yuri propelled across the desert on a rocket sled. Indy is captured by the Russians, thrown in the trunk of a car, driven to a fake town constructed as part of an A-Bomb test, where he survives the blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator. After a radiation scrub and debriefing, Indy is accused of selling secrets to the Russians, put on a leave of absence from the university where he has tenure, gets drunk and bewails his lot to the statue of Marcus Brody, before visiting a display case containing, among other artefacts, the Cross of Coronado from Last Crusade and the fertility goddess from Raiders.
Here, he is attacked by a ‘Thin Man’ whom Darabont describes as “Death in a homburg hat. Dressed all in black. Rat-thin face with a long scar bisecting a milky dead eye.” The Thin Man shoots the FBI agent tailing Indy, and when he falls to his death during the ensuing fistfight with Indy, leaves behind the key to a left luggage locker at Grand Central Station — and a lot of questions. Later, as Indy packs a suitcase, he is scolded by his father, not only for getting drunk, but for running away. “It appears there’s a reason you’re named after the dog,” he quips, a reference to the origin of the ‘Indiana’ nickname.
The left luggage locker leads Indy to a disheveled hotel room, and a bowling ball bag containing a (human) crystal skull. “Perfectly formed, life-sized, smoother than glass, kicking light like a giant diamond orb,” it is the ‘Skull of Destiny.’ Moments later, a gangster named Reggie Nalder, mistaking him for Yuri, hands Indy a passport, some cash — and a plane ticket to Peru. As Reggie pays the price for his incompetence, Indy makes his way to a Peruvian backwater named Madre de Dios, where he is surprised to find his (Yuri’s) contact is none other than Marion Ravenwood, who he hasn’t seen for twelve years — and who greets him with a punch in the mouth. “I told you if I ever saw your face again I’d pop you one!” she says, before demanding that he hands over the crystal skull.
Marion convinces Indy to accompany her — and her husband, handsome Hungarian explorer Baron Peter Belasko — on an expedition to La Ciudad de Los Dioses, the fabled ‘Lost City of the Gods, which Professor Vernon Oxley, an old friend of Indy’s father, was trying to find when he disappeared without a trace three years earlier. According to Marion, one of Oxley’s retainers survived, crawling out of the jungle having found the crystal skull — but lost his mind. Together, they figure out the legend: “There are thirteen skulls in all, fashioned by the gods as they lay dying,” Indy explains. “When all the skulls are brought together again, the gods will be reborn and reward mankind with all the knowledge of the universe.”
Flying over the famous Nazca lines, which Oxley believed to be a map showing the way to the lost city, Indy and Marion are shot at by a biplane bearing Yuri, leading to a barnstorming aerial dogfight, a good old-fashioned ‘wing walk’ by Marion, and a crash-landing in the Amazon rain forest. Yuri continues to stalk the team as they survive such hazards as poisonous frogs, mutated bugs, the local despot’s armed goons, Yuri’s Zhukov commandos, rapids, waterfalls, a giant snake that swallows Indy, hat and all — and Marion’s husband, who, it transpires, is working for the Russians, who seek to harness the skulls’ psychic powers to use as a weapon in the Cold War.
Arriving at the fabled City, they discover huge water wheels, fifty feet in diameter, being spun by the rapids, acting as gigantic turbines in a ten thousand year old electrical generating station! Deep in the bowels of the ancient machine, Indy & Co stumble on the chamber which collects the relics of lost civilizations, and the throne room with thirteen (rather than just one) headless crystal skeletons. When Indy replaces one of the skulls, the creatures speaks through Oxley: “We are the ones who fell from the heavens,” the alien voice explains. “We are the Nephalim. We are the Rubezahl. We are the lights in the sky.” With echoes of von Däniken, StarGate and 2001: A Space Odyssey, the voice goes on to explain that they nurtured, enhanced and advanced the human race thousands of years ago, and were worshipped as gods. Now restored to their former glory, the aliens take off in a huge flying saucer — which then crash lands, exploding with the force of a nuclear blast, destroying the Lost City of the Gods forever. Indy winds up marrying the newly divorced Marion, at a ceremony attended by Professor Oxley, Henry Jones Sr, Sallah, and President Eisenhower himself.
While Lucas, Spielberg and Ford considered Darabont’s draft, delivered on 4 October 2003, the appetite for a fourth Indiana Jones was further whetted by the DVD debut of the original trilogy, previously available only on video and laserdisc. While fans reveled in the copious bonus features on the new DVDs, Spielberg and Ford both reacted enthusiastically to Darabont’s script. Lucas, however, did not. “It was a tremendous disappointment and a waste of a year,” Darabont later told MTV. “I spent a year of very determined effort on something I was very excited about, working very closely with Steven Spielberg and coming up with a result that I, and he, felt was terrific. He wanted to direct it as his next movie, and then suddenly the whole thing goes down in flames because George Lucas doesn’t like the script.” A despairing Darabont confronted Lucas directly. “I told him he was crazy. I said, ‘You have a fantastic script. I think you’re insane, George.’ You can say things like that to George, and he doesn’t even blink. He’s one of the most stubborn men I know.”
© 2012 by David Hughes. All rights reserved.
Tales from Development Hell is available now from Titan Books. Buy it here on Amazon.