ComingSoon.net got all up in George Lucas‘s grill recently and asked him a few questions. Lucas, perhaps best known as the producer of Howard the Duck and Ewok Adventure, answered a few questions about a follow-up to this summer’s box office smash Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Coming Soon asked Lucas if a fifth installment was, in fact, coming. Lucas replied, “Yes – we’re looking for a “MacGuffin,” which is an object that he goes after. They’re very hard to come by!”
Are they? A MacGuffin, for those who missed Film 101 (a class Lucas passed with a C-), is a plot device that propels a plot forward. The item itself is not so important, but what’s necessary is that it pushes the conflict between the characters. For instance, the bag of money in Psycho is what makes Janet Leigh’s character go on the run, thus landing her at the Bates Motel. The suitcase in Pulp Fiction is a classic MacGuffin because Tarantino never actually alludes to what’s inside (though many theories exist, including the possibility that it may be Ving Rhame’s soul). The Indiana Jones movies have been good at constructing plot devices such as the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders and the Holy Grail in Last Crusade. However, those are plot devices that fail to be MacGuffins, and it’s always bugged me that Lucas has never understood the definition.
The term itself was described wonderfully by Alfred Hitchcock (or Alfred Hancock as some of FSR’s talkbackers have argued) in a story about two men on a train:
One man says, ‘What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?’ And the other answers, ‘Oh that’s a MacGuffin.’ The first one asks, ‘What’s a MacGuffin?’ ‘Well,’ the other man says, ‘It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.’ The first man says, ‘But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,’ and the other one answers ‘Well, then that’s no MacGuffin!’ So you see, a MacGuffin is nothing at all.
Hitchcock thought that the audience should care about the characters, not the MacGuffin, whereas Lucas has said “the audience should care about it almost as much as the dueling heroes and villains on-screen.” So in essence he means that the Crystal Skull was as much a character in the latest Indy movie as Shia LeBeouf.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: WE DON’T CARE ABOUT THE ARTIFACT! WE CARE ABOUT INDY! It would serve Lucas, Speilberg, and the writers to actually devote time to character development and carefully constructed action sequences (that don’t involve douchebags swinging through trees). Indiana, Marion, and Mutt could be searching for the remnants of Jesus’ nutsack or the Reese’s Pieces bag consumed by E.T. We. Don’t. Care. Give us characters that intrigue us and you won’t be accused of raping Indiana Jones, as sirs Parker and Stone hilariously did on a recent episode of South Park.
I once saw a poster for The Phantom Menace that read “Plot Matters” which parodied the Godzilla one-sheet saying “Size Matters.” Don’t get me wrong, plot does matter; the plot device does not.