In 1969, James Bond appeared on screen in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but he didn’t look anything like Sean Connery. Because he looked like George Lazenby. Fans who had grown to love Connery’s schpecial appeal over the series of five films, in a role he originated for cinema, were asked to accept this new guy parading around in the movie as “Bond.” Many didn’t. Even the critics who liked the film pointed out that it was in spite of Lazenby – an actor who had been promoted from making candy commercials to fill the fantastically large loafers.
Lazenby was gone by the next entry – 1972’s Diamonds Are Forever – and Connery’s return definitively labeled the one-timer as something to forget. A mistake. Don’t worry, everyone, the real Bond is back.
Then he was gone again. Connery packed up his massive paycheck and made room for the longest-running Bond actor, Roger Moore, to come aboard the series. The funny thing is that he didn’t make an instant hit either. His first two outings – Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun – weren’t reviewed favorably, although he arguably took less of a direct shellacking than Lazenby did. Maybe audiences were more prepared for a new Bond this time, or maybe (more likely) Moore handled the character better, or maybe the movies’ general convoluted nature took the critical weight off Moore’s shoulders.
At any rate, it took a third time as Bond to charm audiences and critics; The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the best entries (and is undoubtedly Moore’s best performance as Bond).
So what does all that ancient history have to do with Indiana Jones, a character who would debut four years after The Spy Who Loved Me?
It’s a narrative that might also represent Jones’ future in film. If Disney is destined to make new Indy movies (and they are because they paid a lot of money for the rights), they may deal with their own version of The Lazenby Problem. That is, if they recast Indiana Jones, and they don’t necessarily have to. There are really two overarching methods for bringing the character back to life:
- Recast Indiana Jones, continue fighting Nazis in the 1930s and treat Jones as James Bond; or
- Have the elder Indy pass the torch to an able-bodied adventurer who owns an Apple Watch
The bottom line problem for the first method is that any actor pretending to be Indiana Jones will inevitably be judged against Harrison Ford, which will be a lot like comparing a guy selling candy bars to Sean Connery. Yes, even Chris Pratt. (Plus, do we really want Pratt to be every adventurer character out there?)
Jones also isn’t a spy, so we won’t be able to spin conspiratorial theories about “Bond,” being a code name adopted by a half-dozen suave operators. Jones gets his W2 from a university, so when someone new shows up in the classroom, it’ll be that much harder to accept him. (Or her. That would be an interesting move, right? “Indiana” isn’t really gender-specific.)
But there’s a problem any new Indiana Jones will have to face that the older James Bond never had to: it’ll have a blockbuster budget with no real room for failure. Back when Lazenby and Moore were playing spy, Bond films were mid-budget affairs looking to score huge box office receipts thanks to populist appeal. The Spy Who Loved Me was made for an inflation-adjusted $54m, but Daniel Craig’s movies are $200m affairs. Flopping because audiences refuse to buy anyone but Ford as Indy isn’t an option, although it might be inevitable. Granted, it’s hard to believe that Disney would abandon the character after a bad showing, but they also won’t have Ford to bring back if their Lazenby fails.
As problematic as recasting is, it’s still a hell of a lot better than the second method. As excellent as it would be to see Ford running a victory lap through one last Indy movie, and as much as passing the torch may seem to legitimize the new hero, there’s something inherently maudlin about it. Plus, it literally wouldn’t be Indiana Jones.
The modern Bond movies have proven that the super sky belongs in a stylistically and tonally different new era, and it’s possible to bring Jones into the twenty-teens, but it would never gel properly. Jones was never about gadgets and gizmos. He was at home with his fists and his whip. That’s not to say that Jones is a fossil now, but drawing him into our time would require twisting the character; even if it works, it’ll never be 100% right.
A far better plan is to thread the needle of finding an actor who can replace Ford as Indiana Jones without doing an impression of him. To prove from frame one that he’s worthy of our open minds. And, then, to accept the distinct possibility that we won’t accept it.
This is a long way off. LucasFilm needs to, you know, actually have a story to tell. But there’s a lot they can learn from the way James Bond crawled his way back into audience hearts after Connery left. After that, a modern Indiana Jones will have a lot to learn from Indiana Jones.